Stonemason adds poetry to walkway and fire pit

Stonemason adds poetry to walkway and fire pit

When Matt Goddard was a young man searching for a career, he knew he wanted to do something artistic, but he also wanted to work outdoors.

“I decided that my work must be physical, creative, in touch with nature and be cerebral as well," he says. "My best natural talent is breaking things. So with these criteria, you have only so many career avenues. Stonemason it was.”

Goddard has been working with natural stone continually and directly since the rainy Oregon winter of 1995-1996 and has since started his own highly rated company, artistically titled Poetry in Stone. As a sole proprietor in the outskirts of Portland, he handles all facets including sales, marketing, design, labor, material acquisition and logistics.

Each project Goddard takes on is unique, such as the one he completed for a Portland family who had just constructed their new house. It was located on a virtually naked lot, and the couple was looking to spice up their outdoor spaces with some unique elements.

Goddard made a site visit and discussed outdoor hardscape and other elements they wanted to incorporate into their home. After going over logistics and budget, they planned out a path from the porch to the street and a small seating area with a sunken fire pit.

Goddard reports that the building lot wasn’t large and much of the backyard footprint was already consumed by a concrete patio, storage shed and playground structure. “I had a somewhat limited area to work with," he says.

He offers full in-house design services, which “can range from a simple brainstorming exchange of emails, photos and quick concept sketches, to fully engineered architecturally drafted builders blueprints," he says. "Many of these I do myself by hand drafting to scale.”

The stonemason often exchanges ideas with his clients via digital photos and emails to identify the project’s aesthetic and structural needs and narrow the projected cost range. His more adventurous homeowners can accompany him on quarry-sourcing field trips, prior work site visits, and trips to the local stone supplier. “I feel this is a great way for my clients to interact with the material in a very tactile and meaningful manner,” he says.” I bring stone samples to clients and also build small-scale mock-ups to demonstrate pattern, color, texture, overall mass and continuity.”

He says the couple wanted a walkway that burst with color but also employed “user-friendly material” that was customized but not garish or trendy. “Classy with style, yet not too sterile,” Goddard says. “They wanted a fully mortared walkway that would require low to no maintenance and would be easily traversable to elderly and infants alike.”

According to Goddard, they landed on a spectrum of Pennsylvania sandstone “accentuated with bands of reclaimed antique granite street cobbles,” both of which were “durable, workable and available.”


"The stone material that comprised the fire ring was a volcanic tuff hailing from the Bend (Oregon) area." (Photo courtesy of Matt L. of Portland, Ore.)
"The stone material that comprised the fire ring was a volcanic tuff hailing from the Bend (Oregon) area." (Photo courtesy of Matt L. of Portland, Ore.)

For the fire pit and seating area, the couple determined just how large to make the area to accommodate their guests. On the ground around the seating area, Goddard randomly laid out 4-inch thick limestone slabs from Utah on a sand bed over a 4-inch compacted gravel sub-grade, which he found dense and workable. He laid the slabs with large gaps between the stones to accommodate potting soil and the planting of succulents for ground cover.

For the seating, Goddard laid out vertical and horizontal columns using dense, black basalt from Moses Lake, Wash.

Finding the right fire-resistant stone material for the sunken fire ring presented Goddard with a dilemma. Many types of stone will spall, crack and even explode when exposed to high direct heat, especially if the stone has absorbed water. Goddard says that many locally basalts work fine for “cowboy camping fire rings,” but they will succumb to splitting over time. “They did not want to use fire brick because of its modern appearance,” he says. “Importing blocks of soapstone was not an option.”

So Goddard field tested some stone types that were available locally, within a 4-hour drive. “Using my acetylene torch, I simulated a prolonged hot fire and torched numerous stone samples,” Goddard explains.

Through his testing, he solved this puzzle with the right stone. “The volcanic tuff from eastern Oregon withstood the prolonged high-heat experiments in both dry and saturated conditions,” he reports. “The stone is quite light and airy, with many vesicles to allow the diffusion of heat.”

The total project cost was about $15,000. “Overall, the front walkway and backyard seating area have two fairly different feels to them,” says Goddard. “The two spaces came about rather kinetically, without many obstacles.”

Normally, his projects have ranged from $400 to $125,000 mostly based on where he can get and transport his stone. “Generally, cost is determined by the amount of direct and indirect energy needed to acquire, transport, transform, then transplant that particular item,” Goddard says. “The least expensive is the one already onsite.” His best and most convenient option is basalt from Corbett, Ore. — right where his operation is located — but he’s used stone from Montana, New England, Indiana and as far away as China and India.

For Goddard, a project can take anywhere from 40 hours to more than 1,500. “I try to not to get in over my head,” he says, “and I shun those multi-year McMansion stone wallpaper projects that seem to swallow many of my veteran colleagues.”

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