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Paving the Way

Stone and brick have been making transitions to the great outdoors for centuries, but a new product, the brick paver, lays down beautifully.
brick pavers

While brick is a traditional material for paths, brick pavers can stand up to the weather better than bricks made for other purposes. 

The most authentic-looking brick path or flagstone patio often looks as though it grew alongside the house. While brick, cobblestones, and the thin, flat stones referred to as flagging are a perfectly complementary choice outside an older home, you may also want to consider pavers, which are easier to use and often remarkably similar in appearance to traditional materials.

A paver can be natural stone, manmade stone, and either brick or tile. Stone pavers include natural bluestone and slate, and manmade materials that resemble a host of traditional stones or cobblestone. Just like facing brick, brick pavers are made of vitrified clay, but they lack the holes found in brick for certain types of structural uses. Tile pavers are often identical to traditional flooring materials like Mexican saltillo tile or antique brick, but are high-fired to withstand the elements.

The most historical stone pavers are probably cobblestones, which predate the 19th century as a paving medium, and flagstone, popular throughout the course of the 20th. Cobblestones are either rounded or square and require some skill to lay. For that reason, it’s worth considering manmade cobblestones or pavers in order to get the look you’re after. While some cobbled pavers hardly look like real stone at all, there are some good facsimiles.

A terrace laid in a dimensional pattern formed by rectangular flagging, with slate from Sheldon Slate Products.

A terrace laid in a dimensional pattern formed by rectangular flagging, with slate from Sheldon Slate Products.

Flagstone isn’t actually a type of stone per se. Flagstone (or flagged stone, or flagging) usually refers to stone that is either naturally thin or easily cleft from rock or stone, like slate or bluestone. Flagstones are usually 1" to 3" thick and are either cut to size in various rectangular shapes (dimensional flagging) or cut, chipped, or broken into irregular shapes (natural flagging).

Dimensional flagstones can vary in size from as small as 6" x 6" to 24" x 24" or larger. Varying the sizes in the pattern (using multiples of each size, both squares and rectangles) creates interesting rhythmic patterns, especially for a large expanse of flagging, such as a terrace.

Depending on where the stone is quarried, flagstone can range in color from pale buffs to rich blues to greenish-blues or even lilac. There are also variegated flagstones, and flagstone mixes of contrasting or complementary color combinations. Manmade stones usually mimic the colors and textures of traditional stone, but with more regularity of depth, dimension, and surface appearance. Often the exposed surface is treated to give it character, such as weathering, honing, hammering, or tumbling , while the hidden edges are sawn to make them more uniform and easier to install.

Square terra-cotta pavers from Classic Terra Cotta

Square terra-cotta pavers from Classic Terra Cotta create a uniform yet visually arresting surface for a walkway.

While real bricks have always been used to pave walks and paths, brick pavers have definite advantages over brick intended for other purposes. Many older bricks are vitrified only on the surface of the brick, so they can easily deteriorate if they’re cut or chipped. Pavers are completely solid, and vitrified specifically for use as an outdoor paving material. Pavers also often have beveled or artfully chipped edges to give them an aged look.

There are two basic types of brick pavers. Bonded pavers usually measure 4" x 8" and are designed to pack almost seamlessly together over a sand base. Modular pavers—meant to be installed with mortar—are slightly smaller: roughly 35⁄8" x 7 5⁄8", to allow room for a 3⁄8" mortar joint. Both types are slightly less thick than regular facing brick. A few select companies also offer antique brick veneer that can be used as a paver. These are made by slicing actual bricks to a fraction of the original thickness. Some companies make brick veneers with aged, distressed surfaces that resemble fire-scorched or clinker brick.

Tile pavers most often come in the form of terra cotta, either manufactured or handmade. Handmade terracotta tile is a traditional material for homes and patios in the Southwestern U. S. and Mexico. Like any handshaped clay, handmade tile pavers will have subtle color and shape variations that give them added richness. Tile pavers typically come in rectangular and geometric shapes that allow for the creation of sophisticated patterns. A 6" x 12" paver, for instance, is the basic building block for several classic patterns, including the stylish herringbone. Adding a small accent tile to the pattern creates a lattice effect with a greater illusion of depth, especially when the paver has a slight crown.

Whatever type of paver you choose, be sure to get detailed installation instructions from your supplier before you begin, or have your new walk or terrace professionally installed. No matter how beautiful the paving, it won’t look good for long without a proper foundation.

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