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What I Learned About Stairs, Gutters, and Hardscape (oh my) That You Might Want To Know – The Kitchen Patio Is Almost Finished!

Tomorrow we have the reveal of the patio (come back!) so I wanted to take a second to revisit how far we’ve come and walk you through some things that I learned along the way about patio construction. One of the best (and worst) things about this job is the constant learning. I’m in very good hands here, with so many different teams helping both the design and execution. In fact, with this project in particular there might have been a “too many cooks” situation if everyone didn’t work so well together (I love a buffet)! Here’s how it went down (you might need to take notes): Yardzen reached out about partnering on the areas around the house, specifically this patio area and I was so excited to see what they came up with and we hit it off. Great! Right before that Cali, from Studio Campo had signed on to design the whole homestead and our visions were so aligned, so she of course needed to be kinda involved here as well to make sure it was cohesive. We still needed a landscape contractor so we hired Northwest Native Landscapes to execute the plans. They are also a design-build company, and with Studio Campo being based both in Colorado and Oregon, there were times when we leaned on them for design changes, and when plans change then the design changes…so there was a lot of coordination. Lastly, of course, ARCIFORM was at the time doing the renovation of the house, including the exterior finishes, which shouldn’t necessarily affect the landscaping, but there are some things that crossed over – i.e. stairs, hardscape, the covered walkway, lighting, etc. It’s actually way less confusing than it sounds, but I suppose being more streamlined might have benefitted my brain at times haha. So, it’s kinda hard to talk about credit here as it was such a team effort and very nuanced. OH, and then I went ahead and changed some things at the end anyway because I’m ALSO a designer. HAHAHAHAH. I will absolutely admit that I might not have been the best client this year, BTW. It is what it is. So here we go…

Covered Walkway Change

We loved this covered walkway when we bought the house but the kitchen from the inside was designed with so many windows that the covered walkway actually hit halfway through one of the windows. I don’t think that the walkway was calculated in the interior elevations and we weren’t living here. So, after the windows were installed we came to the house and we were like, uh guys. After many months of trying to figure out how to fix it (and it was rotting anyway), we ultimately decided that the kitchen would be better if we simply cut off half of it because even if the door had lined up with the walkway (it didn’t), we would be staring out the kitchen window onto a roofline. But not having a covered walkway in Oregon is pretty unadvisable. At this point, our roof was already done on our house so we couldn’t even add an overhang over the stair landing unless we ripped off part of the roof and reframed it, and since our kitchen windows are so tall there is no room to add even a bracket to do an overhang or awning. Believe me, we went through ALL of the options. Do I wish the kitchen door had a 3′ overhang so that the kids could take off their shoes before they come in? Sure. But honestly, it bothers us way less than we thought it would.

Where the walkway ends is a bit abrupt so we are going to mask it with a mature cherry tree that is like “look at me look at me” and eventually add more rain chains (my new favorite architectural jewelry) to bling up that awkwardness. Jamie (ARCIFORM) cut it off and made it as solid and seamless as possible but there was a while when no one knew whose responsibility it was to design or fix it and it held up literally everyone’s plans. I’ve learned this happens way more than you think and that’s ok:)

Brick Layout Obsession, Then Last Minute Change

photo by kaitlin green

Yardzen came up with a cool brick design layout, per my request, but ultimately when we got the brick on site I chickened out and decided to do a classic herringbone. We had some designs that were so pretty, but there was going to be more waste (and would take more labor) and I was like, “You will never regret a herringbone with a border, just do that”. But this is after I sourced like 55 different aged bricks of different sizes and played with like 90 different pattern configurations. Sometimes classic wins, but it’s “nice” to go through the obsessive exercise to make sure that you exhausted all the more interesting stuff, in favor of the stuff you will never regret (Brian will say that this is my true specialty – remember the sunroom floor?). We ended up using an aged 4×8 brick that you would normally stack vertically (think a wall or fireplace) but it has holes in the side and we wanted to lay it skinny side up (so 2″) for that look, which we LOVE, but it meant digging down further to allow for the 4″ of space and of course, it took more material. We knew this going into it and I’m very happy we chose what we chose, even though it cost more.

All in all, I believe that the bricks were $7k (including the long walkway) and the labor was around $10k (maybe more, it’s hard when it’s all wrapped up together in a huge job). Again, Northwest Native Landscapes did an excellent job executing. Shout out to Dan’l, Scotty, and their crew for their extreme precision (which is super important when it comes to hardscape).

The Cement Stairs Decision

photo by kaitlin green

Onto the more boring side of things – the cement stairs. Listen, I wanted more interesting stairs. I did. I wanted brick or just something, special. But ultimately we had four sets of stairs and they came in at $10k total ($2,500 each) for pouring cement, which everyone told me was by far the cheapest option. We were done spending money at that point. But this felt like a sad way to spend $10k – on something that I wasn’t even excited about design-wise and I still think that had we had more time I could have come up with a solution. But y’all, you have to have stairs to get into your house and we designed this house with five exits – one wood porch on the back, but the other four are cement. You can’t really do one brick while the others are cement (although I did fight for it). Ultimately, I said yes to the boring cement, paid the money, they came and did the mold and it was done in two days (which was great). While it’s still not my most favorite architectural feature, the ARCIFORM team was right in saying that once everything else looks done and pretty you don’t notice the stairs AT ALL and they just disappear. You’ll see tomorrow:) (but are there times when I want to clad it in the veneer version of the aged brick?? YES).

Our Siding Choice

Quite possibly the easiest decision ever was the siding, and that’s because ARCIFORM was so clear about the overall vision – that it should look like the original house from 1910. Thank god for them. They reined me in when I was shouting about scalloped belly bands and shark tooth details. When we bought the house it had 3″ aluminum siding painted white, but underneath was the original wood siding (in bad condition of course – she’s old) and essentially what we put back on top – a 5″ lap siding. GREAT, DONE WAHOO! I LOVE how it turned out. We painted it SW 7005 Pure White By SherwinWilliams which might have been one of the better days of my life. Instantly transformed! Hope before our eyes.

Our Sconce Whoopsie/Switch

Around the entire house, we have these awesome very classic farmhouse Carson sconces (from Rejuvenation) on a gooseneck in the most beautiful copper that is going to patina like Martha Stewart on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Great. Check that box. But Brian and I’s obsession with large windows (fine, we might have overdone it) meant that on the outside we didn’t have enough room to open the door without hitting the shade. So as you’ll see tomorrow we switched out the sconce for a smaller one that totally works (but admittedly isn’t as cohesive as I’d like). We have a lot of black metal around the house so you literally don’t notice it because everything else is so pretty. I feel like I have such design mistake resilience at this point. like WHOOPS, PIVOT, TRY AGAIN, TELL THE WORLD, GET IT RIGHT. It’s a cycle I’ve become very used to.

Gutters, Storm Drainage, And WHAT ARE Dry Wells???

photo by kaitlin green

Another super fun way to spend $5k is gutters. We went back and forth for months about white versus copper, ultimately deciding that copper might actually be too much on this white house (looks better on darker houses IMHO). So we listened to ARCIFORM and just got white metal (not plastic). They are very important up here, I get that. But that’s not where it ends. Yes, they installed gutters, but the downspouts went directly into this kitchen patio (and the foundation). Northwest Native Landscapes called it pretty quickly and suggested we put in storm drainage – something you don’t need in California, but you really do in Oregon. Water is insidious. We are not going to mess with flooding, mold, foundation problems, etc. So they put in storm drainage that led to a dry well that deposited in the middle of the lawn (admittedly I don’t totally know what that means, but there are NO water issues even on the days that don’t ever stop raining so a big thank you to Dan’l’s crew).

Rain Chains (Pretty And Practical?)

photo by kaitlin green

On to good news that might make some of you enraged. I’m not a gutter purist (??) but I typically don’t like to put unnecessarily architectural things on houses (wait, isn’t that just what we do as creatives???). But the gutter was designed for the downspout to be in the corner of the kitchen patio, NOT the edge of the house where the rain chain was meant to go. You don’t need both a downspout and a rain chain – the rain chain is the downspout. So instead of re-doing the downspout or the gutter altogether, (duh) I had the rain chain installed to look like it functions, but it doesn’t. No one will know but all of you. I didn’t even tell ARCIFORM so shhh… We have three more left to hang (two on the covered walkways where they actually act as downspouts) and hang I will because they are so beautiful and special and I want them EVERYWHERE.

Stub Up For Irrigation (Why Is Borning Stuff SO Crucial)

Another thing I didn’t really know about is how important it is to irrigate underneath the patio and then stub up for planters to be watered with a drip line. This wasn’t my idea and I’m so glad it happened. We haven’t hooked them up to the pots yet, but will very soon (that reminds me I need to go water the plants).

I think that is all the boring stuff that we did, that cost $$$ and or stress but ultimately I’m so grateful to have been able to get done. Come back for the big reveal and pretty photos! xx


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34 thoughts on “What I Learned About Stairs, Gutters, and Hardscape (oh my) That You Might Want To Know – The Kitchen Patio Is Almost Finished!

  1. Hanging in here for the reveal! With the concrete steps, what about painting the step in a plain colour and the risers patterned like Moroccan tiles? You can get stencils or freestyle them. Like, some time in the future when you have headspace to think about steps!

    1. Paint will scratch and peel horribly. It would be a sanding and repainting job every single year. It just doesn’t hold up on concrete, especially exposed to weather and high traffic.

  2. I was confused by your apparent surprise about gutters, until you mentioned that water is not really an issue in California. Of course! It didn’t occur to me before that there are places without enough rain to really need gutters.

    I live in the Northeast, where precipitation is steady most of the year (at least for now, water shortages may be coming…) and gutters are the norm.

    1. I’m in CA (Northern CA) and was also surprised, since we’ve had crazy water issues at each of the houses we’ve owned. But I’m always surprised by how dry Southern CA is when I visit, so it makes sense!

    2. I grew up in Houston, which gets a lot of rain, and sometimes gutters there are a problem, because they can’t handle the overwhelming volume of water. We eventually switched to a product that broke up the water instead (product is called a rain handler, I think). Gutters are complicated imho…

  3. Come for the design, stay for the boring. Thanks for showing the realness behind renovations – that boring stuff is necessary but adds up quickly.

    Do you have a source for the rain chains? And did you consider Hardiboard over wood at all for the siding? I’m just wondering if you saw it and decided it didn’t look real enough for a historic home.

    1. I’m not Emily 🙂 but just in case you’re asking because you’re considering Hardiboard, I used it for a home that I want to look classic and historic and was very happy with it. Weirdly, a number of contractors have commented on how nice our siding looks. I used the flat kind, not wood grain (because historically siding was planed flat then painted), and insisted on historically congruent trim. Not sponsored, just a happy customer.

      1. Thank you for this comment! We need to redo our 1960s [wood] siding and most contractors are pushing for vinyl/composites. Most of them have that fake woodgrain treatment that just looks, well, fake. I am considering Hardiboard because it comes in that flat finish which would be consistent with our current flat wood boards with a 7 inch return. If you don’t mind sharing, what options did you have for trim? Our most recent consult insists on vinyl for corner posts and fascias (and claims Hardiboard does not come in a wide return, which it does – so clearly, we are not going with that company!).

        1. Hi Emma! In our area in Western WA I have seen cupping, a LOT of cupping with vinyl. Plus it needs regular pressure washing. Cracking is also a thing which means whole boards have to be replaced. It often looks like vinyl too, which doesn’t bother some at all, but it is not a look I enjoy. For me it’s just another short-lived plastic product destined for a landfill. If you can afford it, invest in a longer lasting better quality product.

        2. We have had HardiePlank installed on our 1920’s home 10 years ago. The house looks like it has the original siding on it. I suggest either going in person or calling local lumbar stores and asking the about cement board, aka HardiePlank. Seeing the product and asking questions about it really helps make the right decision for your needs. It has held up very well to the weather her in SW Washington state. Whatever you do do not use vinyl. That product will lower the value of your home. Cementboard can be painted.

      2. Wanted to second the Hardiboard on a historic house. I’m in a 1930 four square and the previous owners put an addition on the house clad in Hardiboard. Everyone who comes to our house, including contractors, comment on what a nice job the previous owners did with the addition and how natural it looks. Like it was always there/ meant to be. Love our Hardiboard.

      3. Same! Hardiboard is also critter proof, we have carpenter ants and termites plus lots of mice in our wooded area. There was really no other option in our opinion.

      4. Hardiboard is great, but if you live in a historic district be aware that it may not be allowed. In my historic neighborhood you have to get approval and it’s typically only allowed on houses that are new builds. If you already had wood siding you aren’t allowed to replace with hardi.

      5. Do you happen to remember what product you ended up selecting? I am looking at hardiboard for a 1924 house but am overwhelmed by the product options!

      6. Thanks for all the replies! We’re renovating an 1872 farmhouse in rural Appalachia so I definitely want to keep it historic. We used hardiboard on our last house and loved it, but we did a wide board/batten style, which is not what this house needs. I just love you nice people on this blog!

    2. I had Hardiboard put on my home in Texas almost ten years ago. I have since moved to the midAtlantic area and no one around here seems to use it. I highly recommend it and the only caveat would be to make sure your installer is experienced in using the product.
      My contractor said there is a learning curve to applying it but a good installer knows exactly how to use it and it will last much longer than vinyl and even resists hail damage which is a huge problem in Texas. The great thing is you can have it painted any color you want and it is also insect resistant. I definitely would use it again on my current home if I could find someone who installs it in my area.

      1. Agreed! I’m in Texas too & resided with Hardie panels and trim that replicated the board & batten siding that it was replacing. Replaced the moldy saggy fiberglass insulation with RockWool and that made a huge difference too since we’re both allergic to mold.

    3. I am wondering too about hardboard too-over wood siding. Getting ready to pull my board and batten off (has been with us for the 28 years we’ve owned) and have been advised by all siding companies that have given estimates, that it is the way to go over wood, if you have a certified installer, in the PNW.

      That brick will sure enough need maintenance against the ubiquitous PNW moss which makes it slicker than slug trails.

      Rain chains for looks-ugh, people from here will know the difference.

  4. “Sometimes classic wins, but it’s “nice” to go through the obsessive exercise to make sure that you exhausted all the more interesting stuff, in favor of the stuff you will never regret.”
    Oh my god Emily. This is my life right now. 😂 I swear for my own whole-house renovation I picked almost everything within two weeks with no hesitation (white oak flooring, soapstone kitchen counters, slate tile floors in bathroom, white kitchen cabinets, etc)….then spent the next year fretting it was all too boring and shouldn’t I look at all the beautiful and more exciting options??…..then ultimately choosing what I was initially drawn to and know I will love for decades to come.
    It is def depressing to spend so much money on crucial, but boring/unseen, aspects. Thanks for sharing all that goes into this transformation!

  5. I feel the pain and the cost. A small improvement to the house necessitated new stairway. That required a bunch of other changes in both hard scaping and landscaping. We’re doing one step at the time because of the cost and time needed. It’s the third year we’re working on our outside. I’m sad that the ROI is pretty low when it comes to that.

  6. Thanks for sharing the cost and the journey. It’s coming together great. Can’t wait for the reveal.

  7. #I.CAN’T. WAIT.TO.SEE!!!!

    Yup, for sure, the boring stuff is important!!
    Really excited to see the interesting stuff. 🤗

  8. Love, love that herringbone brick! It’s stunning and really “makes” the patio area. The covered walkway looks lovely the way you have it now, too. Also, rain chains are delightful — I had them on a covered patio and besides being pretty in themselves, they’re fun to watch while it’s raining.
    Hope you don’t do anything to your outdoor steps. Concrete is a perfectly decent material (just ask all the people using it for floors and countertops now). Plus painting it, in your rainy climate, will mean eventual peeling and future re-coatings that are a pain…

  9. Some lovely choices and results! I do wonder why you didn’t extend the concrete steps all the way to the end of the run – they could have been pretty much twice as wide and wouldn’t have been much more expensive…

    1. I second this thought as we have the exact same concrete step footprint for our front porch and when we redo the porch (because guess what? Concrete does and will break/breakdown.), I will be widening those steps. But then, I also understand that we would want a more grand/wide entrance perhaps than Em does for her back steps.

    2. I wondered the same as both Sally and Lesley! Visually wider seems more gracious AND so many people like to sit on stairs to chat. 🙂

  10. I definitely ate this post up as someone in the thick of slow-renovating a pretty run down house. Of course glossy before/afters go down easy, but yeah, these are the real things that it’s easy to watch lots of money disappearing into! Thanks for reminding me of rain chains. We moved from SoCal to Missouri and I am definitely doing a rain chain where I can enjoy it this year!

  11. If you don’t take of the “boring” stuff, all the pretty stuff will pretty much be ruined. As my geotech engineer son says: “Pay me now, or pay me later.”
    Good thing you listen to your advisors and spend way less $$ at the correct stage of development. 🙂

  12. Great insight into the bumps along the way!

    One small nitpick – instead of saying “Brian and I’s obsession”, the correct grammar for compound possessives would be “Brian and my obsession”.

  13. Everything is turning out so beautifully! Just want to mention that your landscape company is actually called Northwest Native Landscapes, not Native Northwest.

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