by David Searls
It’s doubtful that any homeowner has found a more elegant way of decorating a neglected piece of land whose main feature is a septic tank field than the owners of the “Hidden Oasis,” a tropical-themed project that blossomed in a residential backyard in Stafford, Va.
Those wondering just how much of a difference decorative concrete can make to a property should take a good look at this project, designed and installed by Greystone Masonry Inc., a Stafford contractor. A 4,200-square-foot patch of ground that looks like an entire nursery school might have stomped and traipsed through it for a decade or so was converted to — well, see for yourself.
“We incorporated a copper-roofed cabana with flat-screen TV, decorative concrete countertops with built-in grills, refrigerators, stove top and sink,” recalls Carly Dittmann, Greystone Masonry spokesperson and niece of owner Dan Dittmann. Greystone handled all project details without benefit of architect or landscape designer, and Dan Dittmann served as project designer and manager.
At the far end of the pool is a large stone veneer fireplace with retaining walls and precast stones. A large fire pit is surrounded by masonry sitting walls. The pool includes an elevated 9-by-9 spa with jets that overflows into a 44-by-22 main pool. Remote control activates lighting, pool cover, pool heater, outdoor televisions, waterfalls, overhead fans and surround-sound music.
The starting point, and the only architectural feature remaining from before the pour, is a modest wood gardening shed. All else is a hardscape paradise of stone, masonry, copper and decorative concrete. The project incorporates this intriguing blend of hard natural surfaces and textures and water features in creating a four-season playground with an entertainment space for every member of the family. The swimming pool and cabana, the Jacuzzi, an 8-foot deep, 15-square-foot koi pond stocked with about 25 fish, the fireplace and fire pit, the playground, the volleyball pit and outdoor cooking and dining spaces accommodate a full schedule of activities day or night.
The work involved a crew of up to 25 and a three-day pour, says project coordinator Luisa Dittmann, Dan’s wife. The pool area alone took a full day. First, however, came the three porches, a few days ahead of the two days it took to pour the foundation. The sheer size and scope of the project took up time, as did the obstacle of the topography itself.
“The access challenge made it really, really difficult,” Luisa explains. “The site is surrounded by a small wooded area.” All materials had to be lugged to the site by hand because the confined space and the terrain forbade use of a Georgia Buggy. “That was really the only serious challenge we faced,” she says.
The foundation of the project is a 5-inch concrete pour over a 3-inch base of gravel. This was surfaced with a tiered concrete deck stamped primarily with an Arizona Flagstone pattern from Stampcrete. The company uses its own custom portland concrete mix. “That’s all we’ll ever use,” says Luisa Dittmann. It’s a straight portland 4,000-psi mix with air and residential fibers. It’s not so hard that it won’t stamp easily, but not so soft that it takes forever to dry.
For color (and durability), a batch of L. M. Scofield Co.’s Lithochrome Color Hardener in Steadman Buff was broadcast and bull-floated. Next came second and third applications of Steadman Buff, followed by a Lithochrome antiquing release agent in Pecan.
In all, the project employed stamp designs from three manufacturers, Luisa notes. Random Scofield acid stain highlights in Antique Amber, Padre Brown and Faded Terracotta were applied once the concrete cured. They finished with a water-based Scofield sealer.
The complex layout was completed in sections, most of the work done between November 2008 and May of the following year. “Just before summer set in,” says Carly Dittmann. The final detail was the copper-roofed cabana.
Additional concrete features include the immense concrete swimming pool, augmented by fountain jets and surrounded by a dolphin-stamped lip. (The dolphin stamp came from Proline Concrete Tools.) And then there’s all of the custom precast steps.
A surface Luisa Dittmann describes as a “rug” is a 12-by-12 raised slate-patterned space in front of the fireplace. There are two more, in front of the porch and outdoor kitchen, all raised concrete stamped and textured with a clever combination of tools from Matcrete. The raised surfaces stand out like rugs indoors.
The little dolphin statues were custom-precast from concrete and sand by a carpenter who does similar pieces for Greystone on occasion.
Add such delicate Caribbean touches as matured palm trees and shrubbery sculpted in the graceful silhouettes of tropical fish, and you have living and entertaining space that’s very difficult to leave. Who’d ever take a vacation when this Hidden Oasis is what greets you every time you step into your own backyard?
The “Hidden Oasis” project won Greystone Masonry Inc. a 2012 Decorative Concrete Award from the American Society of Concrete Contractors in the category of Cast in Place, Stamped, Under 5,000 Square Feet. We’ll publish a complete list of the award winners — plus photos — in the next issue.