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“A do-it-yourselfer is a different breed of person,” says Darlene Ill of Munfordville. “They’re adventurous by nature, but you need to balance that adventurousness with practicality.”

Ill should know. Last year, she and her husband, Brian, and their three daughters (Marissa, Allicia, and Ariana) decided to add a patio to Ill’s home and business: the Country Girl at Heart Farm Bed & Breakfast. Located in Hart County, this renovated and enlarged Amish farmhouse has five uniquely themed guest rooms with private baths and a picturesque setting, billing itself as “an environmentally friendly working farm experience.”

Ill may argue just how friendly the patio project was, but the family, with an assist from their electrician, Dennis Bishop, and their friend Robert Hale, who volunteered his tractor after learning that Darlene was shoveling load after load of sand and moving it with her golf cart, accomplished their goal of creating a beautiful outdoor space with natural materials in two weeks and two weekends, or, as Ill says, “the equivalent of two full weeks in realistic (and intense) man-hours.”

The roomy patio claims both shade and sun and a sweeping view of rolling hills and wooded trails. The Ill family designed the patio to follow the contour of their land with large, irregular-shaped pavers abutting the French doors to the inn�s great room at the back of the house. A second-story staircase that has two graceful turns descends from a deck outside the upstairs center hallway to the patio, and an existing fireplace that was incorporated into the design
is a natural draw for guests of the inn.

The patio is accessible, with entrances from a 30-foot walkway from the garden room and from the French doors opening off the great room. “When you’re on the patio looking in through all the windows or in the great room looking out, it’s all twinkling lights,” says Ill. “It’s a great gathering place.”

When Kentucky Living put out the call for new DIY home patio projects that were built with pavers, bricks, creek rock, “green” recycled materials, or a combination of several composite materials, a number of readers, including the Ill family, responded with their stories, tips, and photos. Some of the DIYers favored one material over another. Many were exactly as Darlene Ill described–adventurous by nature–and all put their own personal stamp of creativity
and ingenuity into their projects.

Improving on the original
Charlotte Box transformed the old homeplace–the family farmhouse that her great-grandfather, William Montgomery Wright, purchased in 1901 in Bourbon County–with a 22- by 16-foot concrete patio that includes a 20-foot ramp. The new patio with its vinyl railing trim sits at the back door entrance and incorporates a (raised) cistern the family still uses to water their flowers, beautiful pink Knock Out roses that add a splash of color. All of the old materials, including fence wire, related to the original concrete–a 6- by 6-foot slab immediately outside the back door–were broken up and used as filler inside the new addition.

“We made the interior ceiling of tongue-and-groove paneling, and then stained it a rich oak color and added an outdoor ceiling fan,” writes Box. “The exterior wall of the concrete patio is faced with old quarried rock that was salvaged by my brother, John P. Wright, while taking down an old barn. It gives a very warm, natural look that goes well with this old farmhouse.”

The patio project took four family members about a month to complete with the help of several local Amish carpenters, including Joe Schmidt, who designed the stonework for the patio.
“This improvement has been enjoyed daily since it eliminated steps, and makes the trek so much easier for my 91-year-old mother.”

Ernie Ezell of Auburn also transformed an old family farm, known as the Rittenberry Family Farm. Back in 2005, Ezell began planning the patio project that would take four years to complete, with a lot of the hold-up due to rain and a broken leg. The patio required 15 tons of gravel, 5 tons of sand, about 14 tons of paving stone, and lots of sweat equity.

“As I was preparing a site on my wife Elaine’s family farm for a retirement home, she said to me, ‘I would like a paving stone patio in that group of trees,'” recalls Ezell. “I have some do-it-yourself construction experience, but I wanted to do something a bit more free-flowing.”

Today, a gently curving 80-foot serpentine walkway leads to an oval-shaped patio beneath the oak trees Ezell’s wife had pointed out five years previously.

“This was probably the single most physically demanding project that I have ever attempted, or maybe I am just getting older,” says Ezell. “The excavation and gravel were completed in the fall of 2007, but everything else was completed in just seven days, in the fall of 2009.

“Now imagine a patio table, chairs, afternoon shade, good food…Just what two old retired teachers need,” says Ezell.

Reuse, recycle, repurpose, reward
Brian and Katie Farthing and their 7-year-old son Tyler completed the new patio at their Paint Lick home as a family project that began in October 2008 with the shifting of a massive rock.

“That rock had been in the middle of our driveway and causing Brian grief for years,” says Katie Farthing. “So one day he pulled it out with his tractor and placed it in front of our French doors as a step. He had to do something with it.”

The family then filled in the area around the step with rocks gathered from their farm and creek, working together to complete what Katie Farthing refers to as their giant backyard puzzle. After the rocks were put into place, sand was swept in to fill the cracks between the rocks. The Farthings then selected plants, opting for perennials such as butterfly bushes and Knock Out roses, which they bought on sale. Finally, weed barrier paper was put in place and two truckloads of recycled glass–what the family chose for their ‘mulch’–were dumped at the site, raked into the beds, and tucked around the plant material.

The recycled glass, called Gemstones, was purchased from Richmond/Madison County Recycling. According to Carolyn Jennings, the center’s environmental awareness educator, the pulverized glass is a multihued mix of amber, green, clear, and even some blue glass. The decorative glass is called pulverized glass aggregate, or PGA, and can be scooped up for about $6 per 1,000 pounds. (See box below for more information on decorative recycled glass.)

With their patio project completed in August 2009, the family is now free to enjoy the fruits of their painstaking labors.

“We love to sit on the patio to eat dinner, help Tyler with his homework, and watch the sun set,” says Farthing. “It is a family patio to be sure.”

Sounds like nirvana for the Farthings–which is also the case for the Hornback family of Campbellsburg.

“Upon having our house built, my wife and I decided to design our landscaping little by little,” says Owen (Ronnie) Hornback. “Since we dreamed of a fairly large patio, the cost of pavers dropped it to the bottom of our ‘to do’ list. We could, however, expand the flower beds that would eventually border the patio and lay a few stepping stones.”

At that point, Hornback’s wife, Heather, noticed an exposed piece of flat rock in the garden and decided to use it in the flower bed. As she dug it out, she noticed another rock behind it, and another behind that one.

“On and on the process repeated,” recalls Hornback. “Because the rocks were flat and had a similar thickness and color, Heather suggested that they be used to make our patio.”

Hornback’s role in the patio project was to provide morale since Heather wanted to tackle the job on her own. She found the first rock in September 2008 and the patio was completed by mid-November of 2009. The Hornbacks’ children always knew where to find their mother: she spent days–weeks, actually–in the back yard unearthing rocks, laying a sand base, positioning the rocks, and filling the crevices between them with more sand.

“Months later, we had a beautiful patio built from our own rocks,” says Hornback. “Some people say their spouse is one in a million. My wife is one in a million who, through determination, built a patio that is one in a million.”


Here are some hard-earned tips from the trenches for DIYers who might be thinking about tackling their own patio project:

  • While Ill used her “trusty golf cart” to haul and dump sand, she recommends getting a tractor with a loader or a backhoe.
  • Double-check materials ordered when they are delivered. The Ills discovered their pavers included one entire pallet a couple shades darker than the majority, with a purple tone–even though they were part of the same load. Their solution: they dispersed them in strategic locations throughout the patio.
  • On the topic of supplies, the more accurate you can be in ordering them, the better and more cost-efficient your project will be.
  • Read directions. Darlene Ill found an article on how to lay stone after her family had completed their patio project, but she read it anyway to check their work. “Pretty good,” was Ill’s humble opinion about the job her family did.
  • Watch, or preferably assist, someone experienced at doing the type of patio project you plan to undertake. “I learned 90 percent of my patio construction skills from just watching one of my students some 20-plus years ago as he built my first patio,” says Ernie Ezell, a retired college professor. “He had learned all of his skills from his previous summer job, working for a landscape designer. Good teachers have to first be good students.”
  • When working with pavers, the essential tool is a heavy-duty, water-cooled tile saw.
  • Look in your own back yard for inspiration–and materials. “Search your own property for materials when looking to complete your next landscape project,” advises Jeremy Alexander, a landscape architecture graduate and designer with Dwyer DesignScapes in Louisville. “You’d be surprised what you’ll find when you look hard enough. Also, architectural salvage yards, like Architectural Salvage in Louisville, surplus builder supply stores, and brickyards can be wonderful resources for homeowners to hunt down some quality materials.”
  • Finally, don’t stress about your project. “Just go with the flow,” says Darlene Ill.


For a list of patio planning resources and how to use decorative recycled glass in your landscape as well as where to purchase it in Kentucky, go to Patio inspiration.

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