Five Leaves of Oak

Five Leaves of Oak

IMAG0204One of our more artistic deck designs, the design for this multi-tiered deck was originally an idea I had a few years back for a Tampa customer’s cabin in Tennessee. I feel that in every outdoor living space we construct, the two most important aspects to take into consideration when designing are first, the customer’s goals and needs, and secondly, the style of the home and setting or the environment within.IMAG0199

AERT_051 (2)A multi-tiered deck wasn’t exactly an option after looking at the cabin in the mountains of Tennesse and working with a tree wooded hillside. In fact, I think that this was the first concept and design to come to mind. In addition to the multiple levels of decking following the change in elevation of the hillside, the curves of the leaf pattern in the decks and the open space between decks allowed me to wrap my design within the existing oak trees along the hillside.

After being back in Tampa this deck design was unconsciously put on the back burner of my creative psyche, being as most of the Tampa homes and outdoor spaces I design are more in style with your typical Florida home: concrete, stucco or stone facades with yards that have little if any elevation change.

When I was contacted by Bob and Rodney to design and construct their deck, the concept was revived, modified for their space, with additional elements such as interlocking paver patios, koi ponds, water features, two pergolas, an outdoor kitchen among many other outdoor living variables from our arsenal that we use and install in our designs.

IMAG0208Firstly, I will begin as usual with my initial consultation with my customers Bob and Rodney. We sat down and discussed their goals, needs, and various ideas and options to obtain them. Both Bob and Rodney were very open to a more creative and unique approach to the design of their deck which gave me a good deal of artisticAERT_034 freedom.

My initial concept was to construct a multi-level deck, using composite decking manufactured by Moistureshield, with each deck in the shape of an Oak leaf. In addition, composite decked steps were constructed in a similar leaf fashion, where the grade lended itself to more drop in elevation. Each composite deck was designed in the shape of an Oak leaf approximately 16’x24’. A darker brown PVC composite deck board was ran horizontally in an s-curve down each deck to replicate the vein in each leaf, as well as used vertically as a wrap to outline the border of each deck as well as each stair. A lighter color composite deck board manufactured by Moistureshield was used as the main field. These deck boards were cut in and installed on a 45 degree angle and radiating upward IMAG0196from the composite vein to help emulate the look of a natural oak leaf. In addition to the decks, composite steps were added for the transition in elevation. These steps were constructed and decked in the same shape and style to complement the main decks.

A small outdoor kitchen was constructed on the mid-level deck with same moisture shield composite decking, and trimmed with the darker composite. The kitchen housed a 36” stainless steel grill, with blue stone counter tops. and built-in storage space in the composite cabinet below. A small wooden single beam pergola was constructed above. This was built, as well as the outdoor kitchen, to follow the contour of the deck’s organic edge. Finally, two large boulders were picked, and cut into the decking used to construct the walls of the kitchen cabinets. Being as Pennsylvania Antique Fieldstone would be used throughout this project, (mainly for the water features), I wanted to blend the two mediums, as well as two concepts of outdoor living together to create a better flow and balance. In addition to the kitchen, five or six additional boulders were selected and inset into the three composite decks to continue with the concepts of blending the mediums.

A larger Pergola, approximately 20’x18’ at its widest points was constructed over the lowest deck. This pergola was designed with an organic style, and cut to follow the contour of that deck. This deck was chosen and designed as the dining space and the pergola was constructed as coverage for a table and chairs.

IMAG0189As with many other projects, the two remaining “Leaves of Oak” were concepts conceived after construction of the project was well underway. As the layout between composite decking, stone, water, and the existing large Oak trees unfolded, it was decided that two additional leaves, approximately the same size and shape would nicely anchor both ends of the exisiting design. These two decks were at ground level, and instead of using composite decking, were constructed using an “Appian Stone” interlocking paver manufactured by Oldcastle Coastal. A darker color Knightsbridge was used for the vein and soldier row to emulate the darker composite used in the decks, while a lighter color oak run was used as the field for the same reason. The pattern was also run in the same 45 degree fashion. One of the patios was chosen to be solely dedicated for the use of a gas fire bowl, centered in the middle of the patio with seating completely encompassing it.The next element was to incorporate water; not just one water feature, but weaving water IMAG0179throughout. In the end six actual waterfalls or water features were constructed at various points of this project.

The first and larger pond was a two tier koi pond starting approximately 10’ from the screen room, to the left of the upper deck. This headed pond was approximately 12’ in length, 6’ in width, and maybe three feet at its maximum depth. It was fed, as they always are, by the lower tiered pond. A large, 1000 lb. basalt imported from the northwest part of the country was the first water feature. Basalt is a very dense rock usually with unique coloring and shape and formed from volcanic lava or other output, which is why most of them are imported from the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, states and regions. The stones are bored usually long ways, as boring a shaft. This process was conceived for the purpose of creating unique water features. This particular basalt was set in the upper koi pond with approximately 3 ½’ to 4′ of stone protruding above the waterline. Smaller boulders were used at the base to create more interest with the cascading waterfall. This pond narrowed to a stream bed that ran down to and under the lowest deck and intoAERT_033 the reservoir koi pond.

This is the koi pond with the main waterfall, set between the lower deck and largest oak tree. This waterfall was approximately 4’ in height by maybe as much as 6’ in length. This waterfall would face the house directing energy back to the home. For this waterfall, Retainment would need to be constructed to allow us to obtain adequate height for the waterfall without compromising the health of the oak tree. This lower koi pond would also house all three filters, biofalls, ultraviolet clarifier, and skimmer (which houses the pump). Between these two decks an open area approximately 5’ in area was where we decided to make our transition between the two koi ponds. An 8” drop in elevation provided a very nice, subtle space for a small shear drop waterfall. The height of the spillway was an important factor, to maintain both koi ponds optimal water levels.

AERT_054The second pond, although smaller and simpler in size is basically a two tired koi pond with an additional original concept. It is an idea that rolled around in my head early on in business. It is art and I like to push the creative limits. Without going into all the construction details and specs, we basically cut out a small 5”-6” pond out of the top half of the 2”x12” joist used in framing the middle tiered deck. This space was boxed in and floored. A liner was laid in, draped in and over the joist and secured in place when securing the Moisturesheild composite decking in place, with a cut piece of Pennsylvania blue stone for a spillway. The important concepts that should be said pertaining to this is that this was not a deck that is built over a pond, but a small shallow pond built within the framework of a deck. It could be constructed in a deck, at any IMAG0174height with multiple tiers, as we have in the past.

This system consists of our final three water features. First, the spillway from the deck to the koi pond previously spoken of. Second, a small basalt that was set into this pond. River Jack and a few smaller boulders were used in this deck pond to hide the liner. Finally, a smaller waterfall that was built for the reservoir koi pond with the energy and motion flowing back towards the home and upper deck.

Next the area was graded and heavily landscaped for balance and gestalt. Finally, a low voltage system, manufactured by Garden Light, was designed and installed. 20 watt low voltage LED spots were used to accent the waterfalls well as the IMAG0170counter space for the outdoor kitchen. 20 watt LED deck lights were mounted on the 6”x6″” posts of the two pergolas aimed downward to illuminate the composite decking. Ten watt flash mounts were cut into the top riser to illuminate each stair. Lastly, Miami Pathway lights were balanced throughout the landscape.

Five Senses of Koi

Five Senses of Koi


(Photo by Julie Charlier from Exterior Concepts Holding Pond)

Five Senses of Koi:

1. Taste

Those whiskers are called barbels and koi have them to help taste. In a way, they are similar to your tongue, as they have taste buds on them. Many, many years ago, koi had three barbels, but now they only have two. Koi also have taste buds on their mouth and lips, so they have an excellent sense of taste.

2. Smell

Koi do have a very good sense of smell. Their extremely acute sense of smell and their sense of taste are their primary senses in finding food in their natural environment. When food dissolves in water it can then be detected by their nose, with the nares that are located at the base of their nostrils. The nares can be thought of as U-tubes, as the water enters through the forward opening and exits through the rear opening. Water does not flow to any other part of the body from the nares.

3. Hearing

Yes, koi do hear, even though they have no external ears. This is accomplished by the koi sensing vibrations in the water. Koi hear with what is called the Weberian Ossicles, a group of bones that are connected to one end to the forward swim bladder and on the other end to the auditory center, a sensing organ that resembles our inner ear. Koi, like other fish, are very sensitive to sound and can be stressed to the point of becoming ill by loud noises, especially on a constantly recurring basis.

4. Sight

Koi see exceptionally well. They have such good sight they could probably even read a book. They actually have a greater range of vision than we do, as they have bilaterally placed eyes that are independently moveable. They also see color and black and white. The eyes of the koi are more vulnerable than our eyes because they do not have eyelids; so, great care must be taken when they are netted and handled.

5. Touch

The most sensitive area for this sense is located about midway down the side of the fish, called the lateral line. Holes in the scales lead to a canal beneath the surface that contain neuromast cells. Water movement in any direction striking the sides of the fish will cause the mucous in the canal to vibrate. These vibrations stimulate the cells that are linked to the nerve system and provide koi with one of the most effective survival techniques (flight reaction).

Originally published in Portland Japanese Garden’s Member Newsletter, July 2013


Enhancing Your Lawn Through Hardscaping

Enhancing Your Lawn Through Hardscaping

An Interview with David Hetrick of Exterior Concepts on


This article can be found on at:

Tell us a little bit about your company and its foundation.

David has a bachelors degree from Virginia Commonwealth University, and pursued post-graduate work from Philadelphia College of Art. David comes from a long line of carpenters, and has grown up with an appreciation for water and the outdoors. David has been in business over 30 years, and we work with all facets of outdoor living.

What are some of the services your company provides?

Exterior Concepts specializes in woodwork including custom decks, gazebos, pavilions, shade structures and pergolas; water features including ponds, waterfalls and fountains; hardscapes including stonework, interlocking pavers and patios; and additional structures and accessories including retaining walls, spas and hot tubs, fire pits, outdoor kitchens, misting systems, outdoor landscape lighting and custom landscaping.

How can retaining walls and other stonework help homes seem more warm and inviting?

Retaining Walls enable you to terrace land to make it usable and add outdoor living space. Stonework a nice medium. Using the same medium as the retainment wall is a nice way to balance the project.

What are some ways I can integrate walls, water features, and other hardscapes into my gardens and plants?

Water is movement, and a sense (sound). We like to integrate our hardscapes and our water scapes in order to find a nice balance on all of our projects.

What are some reasons I can utilize a patio on my lawn? Is it worth the investment?

Utilizing patios on to your lawn gives you more outdoor living space, gives you an extension of your home, and adds additional square footage to your home as well. More living space can be more inviting, and the space can be utilized for many activities. Rather than cooking in your home, you can have an outdoor kitchen. Rather than sitting by the fire in your home, you can sit by an outdoor fire pit.

In general, why is it important to include some types of hardscaping on my lawn?

Balance, functionality, and aesthetics.

Any other tips you can offer to someone who is looking to enhance the appearance of their lawn through masonry?

Masonry is simply another type of medium that is all about balance and finding the correct mediums that work well with your existing home.

What’s the best way for people to get in contact with you or your company?

The best way to get in touch with us if through email:, or (813) 731-2792, (216) 269-8051. It is also helpful to look through our website to get some ideas on your next project.

– See more at:

Showcase display for Old Castle Paver and Ornamental

Showcase display for Old Castle Paver and Ornamental

This is a display for Old Castle Coastal that Exterior Concepts participated in the design, as well as the construction of. Old Castle Coastal is now the largest and highest in quality manufacture of pavers in North America, and one of the top internationally. At one time or another we have used every manufacturer of pavers out there, at the request of a customer or contractor, usually to match existing pavers. We have enjoyed a great and working relationship with Old Castle and use them whenever possible. Old castle also has a beautiful new line of pavers called the Belgard line, as well as very personal and knowledgeable sales department in Doug and John, as well as others. Approximately a year and a half ago Doug and Kevin informed me they were looking to enlarge, refurbish, and redesign the existing outdoor show room to display, numeroust new products(the Belgard line and/or wall stone Weston wall, Highland stone, ETC.) The display contains a sample of almost every style and color scheme of pavers possible. They also display every style and color variation of various retainment as well as free standing walls manufactured by them.20130926_113826

After doing business with them as long as I have, I volunteered to design and supply the materials and labor for a good portion of the showplace. Besides the construction of wood or composite deck (which would not have made much sense installing at interlocking paver manufacture’s showroom), and a low voltage lighting system, we had used every medium, variable, and skill that we possess in our arsenal.

To begin we installed 3 water features. The first was a large Koi pond with waterfalls and ornamental arched paver bridge. The interlocking paver bridge is a concept that came to me maybe 15 years ago. I first had the chance to implement and construct the bridge approximately six or seven years ago, and since I have lost track of how many we have installed. It has been very popular addition to some of our more complex plans, or customers looking for something different. I do not know if there are other companies in the states using this in their designs, but it isn’t an idea that I have seen in any books or magazines or by any other hardscape company, but one that just came to me, the same way many of my most creative ideas have come about. During the 30 minute shower that I take every morning to meditate, plan my day out, and pray to stay in the moment. Usually I snap out of it when the hot water runs out. (makes me wonder what kind of creative ideas I could come up with if I invest in a larger hot water heater, I imagine it would be a business expense and tax write off.) The bridge is constructed using pressure treated lumber and plywood, then base and pavers for travertine depending on the theme of the project. Recently I have designed a modification of the original designed hardscape bridge that does not just arch, but curves right or left as well.


The koi pond is a relatively standard design of ours with a few twists. First we constructed a retainment photo11    wall to get the necessary height needed for the main waterfall; we were very limited in the space and depth needed to construct a waterfall due to the amount of paver patios and walkways. The main waterfall was built around a biological waterfall/ filter, and a secondary waterfall was constructed using the water output from the ultraviolet clarifier. One difference was that although natural field stone was used as our 6” – 8” in height rock ledge for the waterline walls (so no liner is exposed directly to sunlight let alone the naked eye) so the majority of the pond is outlined along the water line with Highland stone along with the Highland wall cap this was done not to only give the Koi pond a little more creativity, but also to show the variety of applications that Old Castle Coastal Highland stone can be used. Many ornamental concrete fire pits, benches, freestanding walls and retaining walls were constructed and interwoven in the display using the Weston wall or Highland stone. This pond was stocked with Japanese koi and aquatic plants, and along with the other two water features. A Hudson auto fill valve was installed to keep the pond at a set level keeping the waterfalls virtually maintenance free.
The other two water features were pondless water features the first was a 3 basalts (a tall slender ornamental stone, drilled through length wise). The Highland wall, lined with a 45 mil. U /V protected liner with padding and was constructed to serve as the pond reservoir. The pump was encased with an AquaScape manufactured snorkel and then the reservoir was filled with Mexican River pebbles.

The third water feature was a large pondless water feature approximately 10’x 10’ x 6’ – 7’ in height constructed entirely out of Highland stone. 5 spillways were formed using bluestone and were built into the Highland wall. The pond reservoir constructed in Highland stone was finally filled with Mexican River pebbles. The main retaining wall of the water feature was constructed using four courses above the highest spill way to give us enough space to build a raised landscape.20131004_131131

The next project was to construct 2 unique pergolas / shade structures. The first was an approximately 8’ wide by 40’ in length curved pergola to cover a natural Tennessee Crab Orchard flagstone walkway, 1”x 2” slats( 1“ o/c) were bent and attached above the Pergola to emulate the curved stone walkway.  20130926_112640   20130926_112603

The second was a very unique octagonal Pergola with an 8′ wide by 12′ in length arched appendage/ shade structure covering a matching paver patio and walkway.

At last the usual finishing visual elements were installed, including a full landscape that was installed among the hardscape. A lot of our customers seem to like the idea of hiring one company that will handle the entire design and install. Landscaping is an important element in our designs, bringing living space and softscape together where they complement each other, and most of our projects end up coming with a landscape plan as well as lighting or irrigation. With the raised bed above the waterfall we were able to landscape with a variety of shrubs including jasmine and other flowering vines that would eventually flow down interweaving with the water spillways, complimenting and emphasizing one another. Next we installed a full irrigation system to work with the landscape plan.

Various free standing ornamental block walls were constructed throughout the project for seating, as well as a Belgard outdoor kitchen and Belgard fireplace.

My thanks to all the employees of Exterior Concepts, each one( including myself) had a hand in the construction of this project. Most of all my many thanks to Doug, John and the rest of the sales team at Old Castle Coastal, as well as Rick, Tyler and the rest of the yard crew for their participation in bringing product when needed. As always it was a pleasure to work with the Old Castle team, and also have the peace of mind to know that I can send my customers there to pick a paver or retainment wall products and colors knowing that they will receive the best service and direction.
David Hetrick

Cypress Pergola

Cypress Pergola

A mammoth cypress pergola that we recently constructed for Landscape Fusion, a landscape company in South Tampa with excellent designers on board, and  a company that we have been working with on quite a few recent Outdoor Living projects. This particular pergola was designed by owner Mike Loomis. It was very simplistic in design, but the size of the components of this pergola really set it off.

Mos pergolas or shade structures basically have four components. First are the post, in this case pressure treated, octagonally cut 6″x6″ timbers were set 3 feet in the ground encased in concrete. Once the pergola was completed, cast concrete columns were wrapped around the 6″x6″. The second component is the girders. We will usually overlap these a minimum of 16″ beyond the posts depending upon the size and design of the pergola. With this particular pergola design, large cypress 8″x12″ beams were notched into each other to form a large rectangle with ornamental protruding ornamental ends on all corners. The third component of a pergola are the shades. To function most optimally they should be laid spanning as close to North to south as possible. We will vary the size and spacing of the shades depending on design, but our norm is usually 18″ on center. For this pergola 6″x8″ cypress beams were notched 3″ into the girders, also with a decorative end on both sides. The final component are slats that are attached above the shades. Our standard are 2″x4″ usually 8″ o/c, but in smaller structures we have used members as small as 1″x2″, a 2″x4″, 8″ o/c actually provides almost 50% shade on top of the percentage provided by the ornamental shades. Their main purpose is to keep the shades from buckling, not so common using 6″x8″ beams, but possible with a standard pergola using 2″x6″ or 2″x8″ as shades.

This pergola was constructed over a Belgard Paver Patio that would become an outdoor dining area bordered on one end by a swimming pool and the other by a belgard outdoor fireplace. The project was also fully landscaped by Landscape Fusion with large Sylvester Palms Lining both sides of the Pergola.

Water Sculpture/Tampa

Water Sculpture/Tampa

This formal water feature was a new design quite different from our traditional waterfalls. I have designed and constructed a vast array of designs in water features from mountain streams to copper sculptures, but this was a new design. Not only do I really enjoy designing and constructing new ideas, but there is the challenge of making a new concept function correctly and to the customer’s satisfaction.

To start with, I was given a medium size open courtyard (approx. 20’ x 20’) in the front of the home to work within. An L outer wall with a large 8’ wide by 6’ tall opening faced the street. Below this a concrete basin was constructed 12’ wide, 18” tall, protruding 2’ into the courtyard and encased by cultured stone, with a bull nose paver that would blend with the interlocking pavers that would eventually be laid down in the courtyard.

      To build our pondless waterfall we first routered out lumber on both sides to encase our plumbing, and a hollow 8’ wooden mantle was constructed at the top of the wall to encase our spillway, and allow water to spill evenly across the 8’ span. The wood was then stuccoed to match the existing wall and then painted. A 6’ x 8’ pane of textured glass was then installed to create this unique water feature. Low voltage outdoor lighting was eventually installed to create an even more dramatic effect at night.