Monday, January 15, 2007
You Didn't Rake the Joints!
I wanted a patio built outside of my dining room. There was a space between the dining room and the garage and to get some privacy for the new patio, I needed a wall built to enclose the space. I wanted something integrated to the house - using the same materials so, in the end, it would appear as if the patio were original to the 1947 California ranch style home. To get it done right, I hired a landscape architect. Luckily, I found one with talent, but he was just starting out on his own so he wasn't yet commanding a huge fee. The designs were drawn featuring a flagstone wall and patio with steps up to new french doors that would lead into the dining room. I hired a contractor who assured me that he had a very good mason to do the flagstone work. This was important to me because I had something very definite in mind. I am a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright and the attention to detail that he put into each of his buildings. My house is no "Fallingwater", but I did furnish my contractor with a photograph of the masonry found on that iconic structure. It featured horizontal limestone with random stones set out from the face of the wall to cast interesting shadows and add visual variety to the surface. Another feature of Wright's designs is the "raking" of the mortar between the stones. Raking refers to the process of removing the still-wet mortar at the front spaces between the stones so that the joints between stones are set back about 1/2 inch from the stone face. This makes a space for shadows when the light hits the surface of the masonry.
The raked joints were visible in the photo that I provided to the contractor, but you would have to look for them and appreciated the idea that they existed in order to notice them. When I arrived home from work one day, I was disappointed to find that the mason had indeed set some of the stones forward in a random manner, he did not rake the joints as I had anticipated. It seemed to be a big deal to me at the time, and fortunately I did not express myself by losing my temper and criticizing the mason's work. It was, after all, not his fault that I was not more specific in describing my desire for raked joints. I had just assumed that, because I wanted them there and because they were visible (albeit small) in the example photo, that they would appear in the mason's finished work. The contractor assured me that the pilasters and wall would be stronger for lack of raked joints. The scale of my masonry masses was considerably smaller than Wright's work, so the additional mortar would only make the wall stronger. That idea placated me somewhat.
The whole story reminds me to be thorough when I give direction and to be grateful for the good aspects of the work that is done. The stones were laid straight and the cuts showed an appealing variety of shapes. An amateur would not have done the job this well. I've received may compliments on the patio wall over the years and no one is aware that I originally wanted raked joints. I can imagine the sadness and anger I would have caused if I overlooked the good stuff and launched into a tantrum about the raked joints. Thank God for self control. This story might not serve as a profound metaphor for other situations in life but, then again, it might.