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Brick by Brick: Building a Patio From Scratch

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By Bill Primavera

Of all my home do-it-yourself projects, the most satisfying was the creation of a large brick patio at the rear of an 18th century home my wife and I purchased in Yorktown in the early 1970s. 

There was never any doubt in my mind as to the material I would use: brick. My love for the look and feel of an outside brick surface under my feet no doubt was born during my college years when I attended the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., where all walkways were paved in the material.

As a more practical matter, I felt that building a patio brick by brick was a project I could manage without the use of special equipment or tools. 

For those of us who live in regions that see temperatures below freezing during the winter, a brick patio laid on sand can be an excellent choice for an outdoor living space. The small gaps between the bricks and the grains of sand swept between them after being laid allow for slight movement when any moisture in the ground expands or contracts with the change in temperature, unlike a more rigid surface that may crack. In addition, bricks give a warm, natural texture to traditional country landscapes, which was the look we wanted to achieve.

In my earlier home-owning days, I found the laying of bricks and stones therapeutic, and in the years to come I would create many steps and walkways wherever I could.

The first step was to cut away the old lawn and dig a level space into the ground, deep enough to hit the more clay-like layer. The step I didn’t take, but perhaps should have, was to rent a compactor to make this base truly level. Indeed, my patio would always have a mild undulation to it because of skipping this step, but to my eyes this was part of its hand-hewn charm.

Next came my deliveries of gravel (most of which went toward covering the driveway), sand and the bricks, all of which went into separate mounds behind our garage. I used my big red wheelbarrow to make hundreds of trips between the garage and the patio site, first laying down gravel and then sand. At this point I leveled and tamped down the surface carefully. Had plastic edging been available to me back then, I would certainly have installed it in a well-camouflaged fashion, but I settled instead for using slate and wood beams to support the brick pattern.

When the bricks were finally ready to be laid in, I opted for a standard running bond pattern where the edges of two bricks meet under the center of the brick above them. Had I wished, I could have opted for many other varieties of patterns instead, such as herringbone, basketweave or radial designs. But with no tools for cutting, I felt this was my best choice.

With a little ingenuity, a homeowner could even incorporate different sizes or colors of bricks to create a unique design. As for me, the contrast between the red of the brick and the gray of the slate was intriguing enough, so I chose a simpler pattern to complement those colors. At the end I swept the fine layer of sand in between the bricks, and I was done, although today I would have finished by using a rented compactor a second time.

For the most part, the patio was perfect. The only flaw in the design is that the patio was on the north side of the house, so we always had to shovel snow away cleanly from one end to the other as the sun would not melt it for us.

It took a summer’s worth of work for me to build up each layer of the patio, but the end result was worth it. We had many years of outdoor dining and relaxing on that patio under the shade of a great, large maple tree, and when that maple eventually succumbed to disease and had to be cut down, the patio still looked well-designed and welcome-worthy under the direct light of the sun – requiring a big umbrella for outside dining.

As a sidebar, did you know that our region – specifically Haverstraw – was once known as the brick capital of the world? It achieved that status because of the large clay deposits on the banks of the Hudson River in that area.

Bill Primavera is a realtor associated with William Raveis Real Estate and founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest-running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com). To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

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