by Charles McGuigan
Victor Ayala, one of Richmond’s premier masons specializing in hardscape, tells me a story about one of his clients. He had just completed work on a fire pit in her back yard, and he asked her, as he is wont to do upon the completion of a project, if she was satisfied with the work he and his team had done. She nodded, but seemed troubled. And her eyes filled with tears.
“I wish I hadn’t taken so long to do this because now my youngest son has moved out,” she told him. “We thought so many times of building something like this for the family to enjoy, and now it’s too late.”
Then she said this: “How many memories have I lost? How many afternoons?”
Victor pauses for a moment. He owns My Outdoor Project, and has a wife and young daughter. “Don’t waste the time,” he says. “It’s not about the money, it’s about the special moments with the family you can create. If you’ve got the money sitting in the bank, use it. Memories are going to stay with you forever; money, no. If you’ve got the money, use it to create good memories with the ones you love.”
Most people who consider an outdoor project have a pretty good idea what they want, whether it’s a retaining wall, a patio, paved pathways, raised beds, an outdoor kitchen, or a fire pit.
“First, I listen to the ideas of the customer, and after that, I start asking questions like, ‘How many people are going to enjoy the patio?’” says Victor. “Some people want to do big patios, and there’s just going to be three or four people using the patio, or the other way around. Some people want to do a ten-by-ten patio, and they want to entertain large parties. So, I make recommendations.”
In many city neighborhoods, rainwater drainage is a significant problem. “You always want to push the water away from the house,” says Victor. Which can mean a simple grading of the earth surrounding the house. And before laying in a patio, it’s a good idea to install a proper drainage system, which is really nothing more than a series of PVC pipes laid beneath the patio.
“In Bellevue there’s a big issue with the alleys because they are so flat, and the water comes back into the yard,” Victor explains. “So we have to raise up the patio and run drainage pipes under the patio. We install a simple drain on the patio.”
The collected water can be diverted to the alley and the city rainwater sewers, or to garden beds. If warranted, drainage precautions should always be taken. “You can do a nice patio, but if you don’t deal with the issue of the water, your patio’s going to start sinking,” says Victor. “We try to do the best for our customers.”
Before a patio, pathway, or front walkay is installed, a solid base must be created. This can be done in one of two ways. The first method requires a four-inch layer of crushed gravel, which is then tamped tightly down. This provides proper drainage. Next comes a one-inch layer of sand. Once the pavers are set, Victor and his team fill the gaps with polymeric sand, which is sand laced with a glue that activates with water. This prevents weeds from growing out of the cracks.
When bricks are used for a pathway or a front walkway, a four-inch layer of concrete is poured in the area that has been excavated. After the concrete sets up or a full day, Victor lays the bricks with wet mortar, buttering all the sides, and then pointing the seams.
The projects Victor undertakes can be as simple as the installation of a fire pit, or as complex as a pair of brick columns and accompanying serpentine walls. He can also erect wooden fences, provide landscaping, and yard maintenance. “No job is too big,” he says. “No job is too small.”
Materials used in hardscaping include bricks, bluestone, flagstones, concrete pavers, and almost anything else you can imagine. “We use cobblestones, sometimes we use timbers for the edging,” says Victor. “Whatever the materials, whatever the budget is, we work with people.”
Victor recommends that people visit a place like Pete Rose Landscaping out in Glen Allen. There, they can eye for themselves the various mediums, and they can see what the finished product will look like.
“Pete Rose has big displays you can look at,” Victor says. “An outdoor kitchen with a built-in grill, or an outdoor chimney, or a fire pit. It really helps to see it, and the products that are used.”
We end up back at the making of memories.
“If you create that moment when your children are young, they never forget,” says Victor. “And when they grow up they want to remember that moment. They will say, ‘Remember when we had that fire in the back of the house, let’s go back to my dad’s house and make it happen again.’”
And lack of money should never be an obstacle.
“If you don’t have the money, go to Home Depot and get a mobile fire pit,” Victor Ayala says. “You can even just dig a hole and burn the wood there. If you don’t have the money to build a patio, to build a fire pit, that doesn’t have to stop you to create a special moment.”
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