Sculpting Hillsides with Decorative Concrete

Hillside projects are especially hard to estimate if you don’t have accurate elevation plans from an architect or civil engineer. The client may need to hire a soil engineer, surveyor, or civil engineer to produce detailed plans that include stair locations and retaining wall heights.

The Pott residence before work began. Construction started April 2012 and was completed March 2013.

The project cost $315,199 to build and the contractor used 297 yards of six-sack concrete with five special finishes, including cast-in-place finishes for structural walls, a stamped concrete patio, a polished concrete countertop, and a special seat wall at the fireplace.

To determine costs and to show the homeowner the nature of the design, Tom Ralston Concrete laid out walls and perimeters and sent a foreman and an estimator to shoot grades. Establishing wall heights led to specifying footing widths and depths and laying out the final shape of the walls.

Because of the landscape’s twists and turns, the contractor decided that excavation by hand was the better way to go.

Tom Ralston and crew laying out walls and stairs with a simple but effective method.

Laying out walls and stairs during rainy weather was a challenge but excavating, covering, and uncovering the work was even more challenging.

After the lighting specialist, landscape contractor, and Tom Ralston laid out and re-laid out lights, the TRC crew is ready to place sleeves into the walls for drainage and lighting.

Crews worked through rain and muck. In this image, walls are covered in anticipation of another rainy period.

Conceptual sketch for the stairs and walls leading from the house to the backyard. The design takes into account the environment. These stairs split to accommodate a Japanese maple tree.

Stairs and pool deck plan: A simple sketch that takes a concept to a decorative concrete reality.

Actual stairs built from the conceptual sketch.

Orange marks on wall forms represent lighting, pink marks are for stairs.

You need the right amount of manpower to pour structural walls, and then quickly strip and finish them.

A really good pumper exponentially helps when pouring vertical concrete. In fact, the difference can be like night and day.

Workers pull stakes, cut wires, and unfasten screws and nails before stripping wall forms.

Crew members use magnetic screw guns to strip wall forms. When forms are thin and more flimsy, the magnetic screw guns are extremely helpful.

Stripping walls requires good timing and should be done with caution.

Crew members troweled color hardener mixed like stucco onto walls to eventually provide a beautiful hard-troweled finish.

You need “all hands on deck” to strip forms and add a decorative touch to structural walls. When it is crunch time the labor force has to be there and be on it!

Crew members mark the walls for deep wall joints after considerable discussion with the project manager.

Use a level to make deep joints in walls for a great straight edge that reads plumb.

Using chisels to cut joints into walls needs to be timed correctly or the finishers have to beat in the joints with sledgehammers.

Hand tooling the joint line after chiseling provides a nice rounded edge and a clean finished look to the vertical joint.

Holes are cut into walls for lights, and light boxes are mounted to the stair riser forms; after conduits are connected to the lights to run power through.

Lights were initially laid out for lighting representative to mock up lighting for the Potts to see at night.

Flags mark where step lights will be mocked up and then installed.

For the fireplace and seating, The client asked if the walls could be swooped, and Tom Ralston’s crew responded.

Finished fireplace and concrete bench. The seat wall is curved in three directions: vertical, horizontal, and concave.

The 2-inch-thick concrete seat is 18 inches wide and has a curved and cantilevered bullnose that hoods over a blond Carmel ledger stone façade for the entire seat. The concrete bench and seat is a soft buff tan color, which harmonizes with the Cappuccino concrete color hardener on the fireplace.

Tom Ralston Concrete also performed all masonry work for the Pott Residence project.

The crew pours the foundation for the pool guest house.

With the pool installed, they’re ready to finish fireplace walls and decking.

Both are picture-framed with colored concrete copings that were poured in place. Flagstone accents on spa and pool cabana columns set off this Saratoga hardscape.

The contractor used a cappuccino color hardener with cappuccino release agent on the stamped pool deck and buff tan for the hard-troweled bands and pool coping.

Tom Ralston Concrete's signature Lumi Lumi glow-in-the-dark aggregate is artistically strewn in shapes of the Milky Way on this medallion. The fireplace with curved seat wall and barbeque area with polished concrete counter is in the background.

The sun charges the luminescent concrete medallion so it can light up during the dark night.

This view shows both upper and lower medallions.

The multicolored luminescent concrete medallions sparkle at night.

The barbecue area features a grill and sink embedded in a curved, seamless polished concrete countertop.

Finished pool deck with furniture, fireplace, and pool. The project won a first-place 2014 Decorative Concrete Council Award in the Cast-In-Place Special Finishes, Under 5000 Square Feet category.

Like all Rumford fireplaces, this wood-burning fireplace has a shallow firebox and provides a large amount of heat, providing comfort on chilly nights.

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