Brick Paver Patterns and Styles

As is obvious to those who peruse this blog, I have had a fairly mad love affair of long duration with brick pavers as surface products, from roads to driveways to sidewalks to patios. Their elegant mosaic-like segmented beauty just appeals to me in its complexity. I have become particularly enthused about the concrete products but those old clay-fired bricks from homes and mostly re-used siding bricks can also make wonderful paving materials. They of course are just as segmented and are often even prettier in their rustic quality.

Here, for example, is a project we undertook just recently in Louisville, utilizing a Craiglist ad for a bunch of “old brick” someone wanted to dispose of. Needless to say the price was right, but the finished product we thought was equally satisfying.

From the back porch – nice, simple, durable and ready for the foliage surrounding it to expand and soften things nicely:

At times, simpler is just better. While strictly rectangular, a more plastic sort of design featuring gentle curves and a more rounded shape in general treat these rigid blocks as elements of more natural and more intriguing shapes.

But some patterns come already circular! From Pavestone, a product I have used many times, this gorgeous and simple integration of a small circle in an otherwise standard pattern:

Installers and designers have long since employed circular pattern insertions as points of interest and complexity. Brick Paver suppliers have oodles of “circular kits” with premade patterns which are easy to install.

Hardheads like me, however, occasionally go for the circular look as a second thought, opting to work like mad just to make things marginally more interesting for a client. What results, of course, is an absurd amount of crafty cutting, using standard bricks as our material and adapting their size to the circularity. On bricks which have an “antiqued look”, we also chip at the edges ourselves toi maintain the appearance of age and wear.

 But the variety of styles and patterns in the preformed brick-laying dimension has moved along, offering some gorgeous options in terms of coloring and shape.

The shade of this one is called “Cream and Tan” and the overall style is referred to as “Bishop’s Hat”.:

This rustic little design is a tumbled paver, composed of so many different sizes and shapes that we decided to use a completely random pattern in laying it.

The rougher, more rustic “tumbled” look has an implicit sort of aged quality – like an instant antique:

Among other virtues of these, more “imperfect” pavers revolve around the grouting, using different colored sands for the “infill” for the cracks between the bricks. With the overall coating of a coat of good sealer, the sand stays permanent and accents the stones with interest and a very functional role.

Pretty professional picture taking, isn’t it?   😉


Draining Landscapes and Gardens – Part II

I know, I know. Drainage concerns are about as fascinating as watching paint dry, just less so. In my frantic efforts in this blog to allow you all to peer over the shoulder of what a landscape designer/installer faces however, I would certainly be remiss in not giving this “take”. In any thorough look at landscaping, omitting this issue of how we face and what we do with the accumulated water from rainfall (and other sources) on the strips of land as large as we deal with would be pretty uncivilized, frankly. The fact is, it is the first thing we ever look at. Bar none. So bear with a shovel-wielding, backhoe-driving contractor for yet another teeth-grinding trip through the uber-fascinating world of drain water. Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

The creek bed drain below is taken from the same example project I featured in Part I. As mentioned, these items posed a pretty splendid solution to the larger issues of how to deal with rainfall on the landscape. Generally sloped to receive runoff, these channels allow water to leave the project, en route to safer and less destructive places.

Other projects also have in-built reasons for drains and, frankly, most of them we won’t see. The issue is to either make a drain system organic with the design or to hide them. Since drainage is a strictly functional problem, and landscaping designs are such cosmetic enterprises, it is often better not seen nor heard.

The point with all this is to appreciate the respect one needs to maintain towards rain, snow and all the potential problems they can present. Water trapped under a home can bleed it’s humid evaporation upwards, causing mildews and molds which are unhealthy and foul-smelling. And, unfortunately, not all homes are constructed with adequate drain systems surrounding their foundations, another vulnerable point in water issues. What I have found is that we landscapers have become one of the rectifiers of these problems – and, as time has gone on, perhaps the only possible ones outside of calling the home builder back to reshape the entire property.

So it became something I consider almost foremost when I analyze the possibilities and challenges of any project. Generally, of course, we slope all patio and walkway surfaces appropriately, usually at a 1-2% slope. This takes the water outwards away from problems. But what then? Taking the water away from a home is important as it can be, but what about when water is directed away from a structure towards another structure, such as a free-standing wall?

The amount of pipe under this entire edifice shown above and below, from the two waterfall systems to dealing with both walls, measures in the hundreds of feet. The hidden drains and their sources measure in the smallest percentiles of slope but are enough for water to find and then get conducted away. We managed to hide the collection points for runoff possibilities in this project well enough. After all, rocks can hide a multitude of things. But there is another entire problem facing the catchments –  its final emergence. Where does it go, if not the street? What we found on this project was that we had to disperse the runoff enough to keep from eroding the hillside to the rear. That required yet another measure of construction all on its own.

Some drains are as straightforward as they can be. We will often just simply run a water test and see where it tends to go. Who woulda thought???  😉  On the creek bed below, we found an easy solution that looks good and actually adds something to the landscape, generated from the driveway behind it and its collection point. Simply put and very obviously, this one just runs off onto the street.

Other factors requiring drainage thought: water features. Nearly all of my water features have an in-built automatic fill system. Requiring a homeowner to get his hose out and go fill up the daggone pond is sometimes done – if they ask for it. But I have found the auto-fill to be simple and effective and – generally – pain free. But, things happen. If an “auto-fill” is run off the irrigation clock for example, the possibilities for mistakes are fairly numerous. Someone could forget the difference between AM and PM, for example. (Are you listening Mark? :-)). This meant 12 good solid hours of a 3/4″ pipe’s worth of water streaming into his pond and overflowing. Or, a guy could have the TV set to some compelling ball game and simply forget about that hose he set in the pond to fill it up. So we drain them as well. This is call an “overflow” drain and should be essential in any water feature, form the smallest to the very largest. These can come in straightforward and simple methods, combined with offering surface draining as well:

This one above, taken in early Spring, shows just how effective it was judging by the discoloration of the dried mud on the creek rocks. Below, we have a successfully-hidden drainage point, well-planted with swampy sorts of grasses which offer a congruency with the pond itself. It drains forward – when necessary – and onto a constructed cement drainage ‘swale’ that courses down the backs of all these properties nearby:

That about wraps up my drainage spiel. I have some fresh paint on our fence out back I need to get back to watching dry. God, this is a great day! Where’s my beer?  Roovveerrrrr!!  Darn that dog.

Incidentally, here are some shots of the more severe-looking landscape above. The first is from its onset:

The next gives a picture from the neighbor’s perspective and shows in better detail not only the killer view these guys have of Reno, Nevada but also the slope which we built on top of and which we had to somehow protect:

And here’s a few of those pipes I talked about, during construction:

Drainage – In Landscapes and Gardens – Part I

What do we mean by this term? What is drainage, a term we see referred to often but which many don’t entirely comprehend?

Simply put, the term “drainage” refers to the dealing with any water that makes it onto our land. Now this could be irrigation water, rain water, snow or even accidental flooding from such things as broken water pipes or problems from neighbors which no one ever forsaw. I have pointed out such a problem in an earlier post, where the dimensions of problems a neighbor supplied were large enough to imperil an entire 5 acre project.

In the picture above, we see the extent to which we attend to drainage issues. All the larger white and black pipes collect water from the patio we will install above it. (The other pipes are either irrigation lines or electrical conduits).  Some function to collect (the white pipe which will be the ends of a “Channel Drain” system we put in the middle of the patio) and some merely to conduct (the black pipe) water down and away to an appropriate spot where it goes into the street out front. The white extensions – capped in the picture below – closest to the house are for the eventual gutters, which will also conduct water from the roof into the same black pipes.

Here then, after installing the pavers, is what this patio looked like:

Generally speaking, the current law of the land is that each home and property is responsible for their own water. What this implies is that the property owner is liable for any damage resulting from the run-off from his property which affects a neighboring property. This is typically the focus of the law. The bottom line for designers and installers such as myself is to find some way of conducting the water to a catch basin or storm sewer so that the entirety of our problems are thus “internal” if at all. Almost all properties provide for this at the time of sale. It may be that they supply a 1% grade via a “swale” or a “scooped out” trench, but that is then what you have. The fact is, it is enough, although extremely exacting for professionals. Flat lands still need to be drained because even they get rained on. If a substantial amount of runoff ends up piled around the basement window of a neighbor and there is tell-tale evidence it came from your land, then you will at best share liability for any damages from the basement flooding.

Another very fundamental feature of drainage is to keep the water away from your home – your investment. We always slope the ground away from the house. This is an absolute “given”. It also applies when constructing any patio, sidewalk, gazebo or any number of other projects, all of which must provide for what we call “positive drainage” away from the house itself. There is no reason really to explain why. So what then? How do we do it?

What I have always liked doing – where possible – was to create a small creek bed, suitable for not only conducting collected water to a destination, but also to actually capture it. In the picture above the house is actually quite close on the left hand side of this picture. This small creek bed thus circles the home, with the ground sloped to appropriately collect and take away water from rain and perhaps the overflowing water feature shown in the background, if its automatic filling system somehow screwed up……..(it happens, lol. 😉 )  Or also, say, if a valve sticks in the irrigation system and the water just doesn’t stop. Measures like these can prevent small disasters from becoming something worse. Here – let’s follow this creek bed around: (This, below, is a view taken farther out back by the fence which shows how we also supplied drainage, not just next to and around the house, but also from the very rear of the property forward, out to the street. Notice the creek on the left. It joins with the creek in the above picture (shown by the shed where the picture was taken) for its journey to respectability.) It’s actually gotten nicely overgrown, hiding this feature more, but it is visible beneath the branches.

Here then is a view from the very distant fence in the second shot, hard by the front yard, looking back. The creek also picks up water from the gutter system as well, thus the crossing creek beds, also joining the main player, in the shade to the right bottom:

And here is where it all goes away:

Those small creek beds were a dynamite solution to an occasional but very serious problem. As dry as Reno may seem, it does indeed collect some dreadful amounts of rain and snow. It mmight have only gotten 7 inches a year of rainfall, but I swear it all came at once.

The World Of Brick Pavers

Things move so fast in our world. Every day, by plying away with so many hours at the computer as I seem to any more, I learn so much which is new to me and I see such wonderful accomplishments by others. It really just blows my mind. What one would consider a very tightly-niched subject – paving materials – is frankly immense, it turns out. What has occurred over time is a stunning array of breath-taking artisan creativity, from even ancient days up to now.


I am old enough to recall a time when “interlocking concrete bricks” was a term given to either the straight-ahead ‘blocks’ of square and rather boring brick pavers or to the ‘star-shaped’, or the serrated engineered brick of the past. At the time, the revolutionary aspect of this product was in their structural properties, above all. With a PSI Rating of 8,500 PSI, they seemed the next thing to Granite itself. By using manufacturing processes which produced absolutely perfect fitting elements, the segmentation and the physical durability seemed just plain off the charts, even then. But they were not known at the time for being particularly gorgeous.

My, my, what a few years has wrought:

(left click images to enlarge)


This piece above was installed by a company entirely devoted to installing “Labyrinths”. I adore looking at their work and gladly share it with you now. Their success as an incredibly successful niche business is testified to at this website – Labyrinths In Stone – and it supplies the outermost reaches of sheer professional craftsmanship, to say nothing of their fascinating designs. Below is a somewhat “pedestrian” issue of almost “average” quality:


But these gorgeous constructions are mere reminders of what is possible. I have personally worked with products whose mere shape and color provide a stunning effect, simply by laying them down properly. Design, in these cases, means far less than simply presenting a course over which they can be seen.

Here is a favorite brick style of mine called “Bishop’s Hat” (Tan and Cream) we installed for a Reno family:

(enlarged, this looks incredible, even up close)


There are some things which – installed in the right spot – make it more than it was and maybe better than someone might have hoped. Paver technology has advanced like a rocket, from occasional patios and walkways to entire airports such as that of  Hong Kong. Once again, as I have mentioned often in this blog, their innate durability, their breath-taking level of ‘hardness’ – 8500 PSI – and their amazingly engineered tight fit make them a superb choice of surface. Obviously, the ability to simply replace those ruined by stains or breakage factors in as a huge plus.

But suppliers and designers of brick also brought an “Antiquing” ability, by tumbling pavers inside sand-filled machines and prematurely aging them. “Tumbled Pavers” now represent an entire niche of their own and supply a very ‘walked-on’ appearance. Combined with media such as concrete edging, the results can be impressive:


My own constructions, for example, have led from the above to the below over the course of an ‘old favorite’ project:

(combined with the soft security lighting (7 Watts) along the edge, this very rural home had a minimum of interference with the gorgeous night skies.)

doug20and20ed20020 But these are the more pedestrian examples, pardon the pun. There are far more bizarre and excitingly-designed edifices out there to beguile us with, created by wondrous designers and installers, both.


Interlocking bricks can now be made as custom pieces, allowing a range of creativity that unleashes an entire new galaxy of possibilities.

Now a brick can be engineered for purposes of producing patterns in their actual laying which reveal a designer’s intent in its display of complexity or resonance with other factors.

The patterns below are seen outside the Music Conservatory in Toronto, Canada. The architect worked with a computer simulation of phonic graphs, displayed in these laying patterns, whereby the patrons cross over the very music they are entering the place to hear.


Sound wave City!