Every landscape designer and contractor says they want to give clients what they ask for. However, as part of a project for a local couple, Jeff Rak went the extra mile to create a cantilevered deck topped in the same masonry product as the ground-based parts of the job.
The result: Rak and his Columbia Station, Ohio-based Land Creations Landscaping, Inc., were honored by the Ohio Landscape Association with a merit award for a garden structure/pavement project of more than $50,000.
To say the lot presented a challenge would be a gross understatement. Rak explains the clients wanted an entertainment area in the rear of their home with a patio, fire feature, outdoor kitchen and covered seating area with a contemporary look. However, the property, which adjoins a nature preserve, has only a 35-foot setback, and drops into a steep ravine.
“The drop-off from the furthest point out on the desk is about nine or ten feet,” he says. “Then, it goes out about 20 feet and drops off significantly. We fit everything we could onto the solid ground, and then where we couldn’t we went the decking route and cantilevered it out over the hillside to make it work.”
Rak admits to also considering grading the area and installing retaining walls, but he felt the amount of cutting and filling required would make it difficult to do.
The idea of a deck didn’t have instant appeal to the clients, whom Rak first met at a home show. Everyone else they had spoken to about the job had talked about using a composite material, but they wanted something that was uniform throughout the project.
Fortunately, Rak had the answer for them. He says he first came across Silca System several years ago when he needed to build steps and a landing over an existing window. The Alliance, Ohio-based company’s grate system can be installed directly on top of wood or metal deck joists to support stone pavers.
“Once they saw that, they were sold on the project and that was the direction they wanted to go,” he says.
Given the go-ahead, Rak designed the project to play off the angles of the house. He says there’s one area that juts out at a 45-degree angle, and he used that as his guide, working to create good views of the natural area for the clients.
He also stresses that once the design was finalized, he took the plans to an engineer who fine-tuned the deck structure and wrote specs for the technical parts of the project.
The deck itself is built of 6 inch by 6 inch treated lumber, with 8-foot holes for the support posts. Rak says getting the equipment in to auger the postholes was difficult.
“It wasn’t the easiest working conditions,” he admits. “We had to dig some flat areas to work on and for some materials, and then we had to build up some areas around it to be able to work on some of the sections. It just happened to be at the end of the season, so we were working in the snow and adverse weather.”
Even so, the masonry part of the project, which embraces different levels, retaining walls and a walkway out to the home’s driveway, was completed between mid-October and Christmas of 2015.
“We use Unilock products from our local supplier,” says Rak. “The client wanted a contemporary look, so we used a product called Artline for the pavers, with a dark accent from the Series 3000 line. The fire feature and the bar/kitchen area use a veneer stone with granite countertops. And, for the walls and steps we used a new product called Lineo Dimensional Stone.”
He estimates Land Creations installed between 1,000 and 1,100 square feet of masonry products, and he says the clients made their selections from catalogs.
“The lady of the house was very specific about what she wanted,” he adds. “She said, ‘That’s the one,’ and that made it easy.”
The largest part of the project is dry set. Exceptions are the fire feature and the grill island. Rak says underneath the grill island is a three-foot concrete footer to help hold it up on the steep hillside. The outdoor kitchen includes hot and cold running water.
The fire feature was purchased from Eldorado Stone’s Eldorado Outdoor line and modified by his crew.
“They make a wall unit we like, but it wasn’t quite the right size for what we wanted,” he says. “We cut it up and pieced it back together because it gives us a good strong structure.”
The fire feature is one of two heat sources for the project. Rak says there’s also a heater for the deck pavilion. A bubbler rock was sourced locally.
After installing the masonry, Land Creations returned to the site with the warmer weather, doing a modest amount of planting.
“Much of that was along the walkway to the driveway, although we did some planting on one side of the retaining wall because I wanted to prevent erosion,” Rak says. “Most of it was up top.”
Finishing up in 2016 also presented Rak with what he says was truly the biggest challenge of the job: installing the metal posts and steel cables that serve as the contemporary looking railings for the project.
“It took a lot of hours getting the railing to work out with all the different situations we had going on there,” he explains. “Under normal circumstances, it’s a nice system, but we were mounting some of it to the front of the decking, and some of it to concrete down below, and some of it on the caps for our walls. Plus, we had to make the cabling work with the turns on the steps.”
Rak estimates he spent more than 40 hours on the phone with the California-based manufacturer of the system, as well as exchanging numerous drawings. Ultimately, however, the phone calls paid off and the number of posts for the railing was cut from 16 to nine.
“We cut the walls down in the back to follow the steps so we could get the cables right and it would look right,” he says. “Obviously, there are codes that have to be followed to make sure children can’t fall through them. It was very challenging.”
Even so, Rak estimates the job took no more than 80 days, using a three- or four-man crew. The railing system also provides a big piece of the project’s lighting system, with LEDs under it.
Despite the ultimate success of the railing, Rak says he’s most proud of the cantilevered deck.
“It’s pretty impressive,” he says. “A lot of people – when they go out and see it – are amazed we were able to do something like that in this particular setting. It’s almost like you’re sitting in the canopy of trees. I love being in that space.”
And, he adds that he’s proud of have come up with that solution for his clients.
Not that the six-figure-plus job hasn’t paid off in more than cash. Besides the OLA award, Land Creations was called back by the clients this spring to redo their front yard. And, Rak says it’s generated several other jobs, as well.
“People like to see the options available,” he says. “It’s hard to tell some people what the options are, but when they can see you can do with a hillside like this, it helps a lot. We try to be creative.”