Oak Parkers Debbie and Mark McAnn recently had their backyard transformed with a new deck and brick walkway.J. GEIL/Photo Editor

When people think about landscaping, first thoughts usually lean toward the greenery: the plants and grass. But there’s more that should be considered first in order to turn a backyard into an oasis. Patios and sidewalks are not only a necessary first step in any landscaping overhaul, they also provide a design structure that will inform the rest of the landscape plans.

Scott McAdam, of Forest Park’s McAdam Landscaping, notes that there are an ever-increasing number of products to choose from when planning to pave.

“There’s concrete, of course, and a lot of people really like Uniloc and similar products, which are basically concrete paver products in a variety of colors and shapes that hold up really well,” he says. “People now are really looking at natural stones, too. The choices are limitless.”

In Oak Park and River Forest, McAdam explains, it is important to consider the architectural style of the home. “You want to be very careful and try to keep the product choices similar to what would have been there originally for an older home,” he says.

Mark Kelty, of Kelty Landscaping, concurs that selecting a product depends on the house.

“Every house is different. It doesn’t matter if it’s a big job or a small job, what’s important is getting it right,” he says. “Materials may vary in cost, but the labor is all the same.”

Kelty’s Oak Park clients Colleen Barkley and Tom Gallagher knew just what they wanted when they replaced their old sidewalks and built a new patio.

“I wanted to do brick primarily because of the style of our home,” says Barkley. “It’s an American four-square. Stone can be a bit fancier, and I thought that pavers would be the perfect solution to our house.”

An enthusiastic gardener, Barkley deliberately scaled back their vegetable garden plans to prepare for the paving work. “We changed the location of the sidewalk to create a more cohesive flow, and it was important to get the pavers in first because they do dig up quite a bit to create a solid foundation.”

According to Kelty, who has been in the business 28 years now, brick paving has come a long way, with the least expensive brick product costing almost the same as regular cement. Barkley believes any extra expense is worthwhile.

“It’s a bit of an investment, but it lasts a long time,” she says. “Even as it gets older, it adds character. When the bricks get weathered years from now, they will still be charming.”

Oak Parkers Debbie and Mark McAnn also used brick pavers as part of a backyard remodel. After living in their home a few years, they were ready to tackle their shady yard and demolish an old deck and wooden sidewalk system.

The McAnns had their general contractor Juan Chavez design a new deck along with brick walkways, patio and planter boxes. Debbie says that the brick was a nice contrast to the wood of the deck, and she’s positive that come winter, a brick sidewalk won’t be nearly as hazardous as the old wooden walkway.

Chavez explains that with a choice between concrete and brick, concrete is standard, but brick offers a lot more aesthetically.

“With pavers you can get a seamless installation. We put in 4-5 inches of gravel for stability underneath. We can use different colors and make different patterns, however you want to play it. In the end, it’s just art.”

A carpenter by trade, Chavez often takes on many aspects of a home remodel and is careful to make sure the exterior lives up to the historic standards of the neighborhoods in Oak Park and River Forest. In the McAnns’ backyard, he created a brick planter box to showcase some plants and take advantage of an un-used corner.

McAdam also takes the time to get familiar with a house before offering up a plan for prospective clients.

“We come out to see what they’re looking to accomplish,” he says. “We’ll consider architectural significance and lot size. In Oak Park, there are many R-zones, which determine how much coverage of a lot you can have. Once we get through those technical questions we can get to style and make the proper choice for a home.

“While natural stones such as limestone may be appropriate for a significant home of a certain era, there is a lot to consider when choosing between natural and manufactured products.”

Natural stone such as blue stone or flagstone can be pricier than manufactured products, adds Kelty. Unlike the majority of manufactured brick products, natural stone does not come with a warranty. But many manufacturers of brick pavers offer lifetime warranties against cracks or breakage.

“The backyard is the summer home to a lot of people,” says Kelty. “Something about being in nature makes you feel good, and a patio gives you the opportunity to be a part of your backyard.”

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