There were a few biggies on our outdoor list, and we knew we'd need to get going on those quickly to enjoy the results before fall rolls around. So, as with any project I do, or party, or redesign, I sketched out a little plan. I don't know what it is, but I must do this every time. I don't care what kind of software is available, or if I have 20 mood boards assembled, I MUST take a sheet of paper and sketch out the plan by hand. It's the only way I can really get it in my head enough to visualize every piece while I'm working through the project.
We knew we needed a patio STAT, so as soon as the last bit of snow melted, we grabbed some marker paint and some flags from Lowe's and drew out the shape we wanted and placed the flags. This would be necessary to get an accurate quote from any contractor. There was quite a bit of leveling to do to add a patio, which would require digging out a large section near the house, so we thought this was a project best left to the professionals. It would be terrible to spend lots of time and energy on this big diy only to end up with a not-so-nice finished result, or to have it crack after.
After placing the flags, we lived with it for about a week, tweaking the shape here and there-- and comparing it to my handy dandy sketch-- before finally calling it done and having the contractor come with his team to do their thing.
The contractor was done before we knew it, but the project was far from finished.
I first poured in some drainage rock into the bottom of the pit, then arranged my first row of stone around the hole. I had to be careful to keep the gaps between each stone consistent while tweaking the shape. As I added layers, I staggered the joints, but also made sure to keep the spacing between each stone consistent while keeping the whole thing level at all times. Once all of the stone was stacked, I slid the insert into place, making sure the lip of the insert was centered up correctly to grab the stone. And then done! If you wanted, you could use masonry adhesive to secure each new layer of stone to the previous layer, but we were fine with doing a dry stack.
You'll also see that we replaced the evergreen that was up against the house with something a little smaller. We wanted something that would still be green through the winter, but something less bulky or leggy than the cypress. The holly we chose will work nicely and will provide some shade to the area (which gets full sun in the afternoon) as it matures.
Here's this space before we went to work: