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Brick by Brick: Building a Patio from Scratch

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Bill Primavera
Bill Primavera

By Bill Primavera

Long before I became a realtor, I was first and foremost a homeowner, beset with all the challenges of upgrading an old, historic home. Most of the projects I tackled as a young man gave me the gristle for many of the home improvement articles I write here.

One of my first projects was to convert an amorphously-shaped gravel patio area in the back of the house, actually our main entrance through a mudroom, into a bona fide patio of brick.

I lined the driveway with gravel and built up low flower beds on either side from stone. The sloping walkway leading to the door was replaced by brick steps bordered by large slabs of bluestone, which ruined the shocks of my car when transporting them in the trunk of my car from a source an hour away.

For those of us who live in regions where temperatures fall 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 allow for slight movement when any moisture in the ground expands or contracts with the change in temperature, unlike a more rigid surface which may crack. In addition, bricks give a warm, natural texture to traditional country landscapes, which was the look we wanted to achieve.

While many people recommend having friends help with the laying of a patio, I opted to go for it alone. 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 soil’s 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 because of it, but to my eyes this was part of its hand-hewn charm.

Next came my deliveries of gravel (most of which went toward paving the driveway), sand and the required number of bricks for the patio, 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 four-inch by four-inch wood beams to support the brick pattern.

When the bricks were ready to be laid, 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. 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 a fine layer of sand in between the bricks and I was done. (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 the patio, but the end result was worth it. We had many years of outdoor dining and relaxation under the shade of a large sugar maple close to the house. When the maple eventually succumbed to disease and had to be cut down, the patio still looked well-designed and front door-worthy under the direct light of the sun.

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 ( 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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