It’s a story I end up telling a lot.
“What brought you to Kingston?”
And it’s true. We came up here with some friends for a weekend in late December, fell completely in love with Kingston, got drunkenly curious about real estate listings, saw one for a house around the corner from where we were staying, and trespassed on the property the next morning on our way out of town, just because we were so curious. I remember spending the drive back to Brooklyn and the rest of the day fantasizing about buying it, imagining how easily (HAH!) it could be restored, and how fun it would be to live in this amazing little city I hadn’t even heard of the week before. I thought it would be a passing thing, that maybe the next day or the day after, I wouldn’t wake up and go to bed completely obsessed with a vacant house 2 hours away that I’d seen for all of 10 minutes. And then I did something stupid: I bookmarked the listing on my internet browser. It was kind of like having a song stuck in your head—you can either try to avoid it or just give in and listen to it on repeat. It couldn’t hurt to just check in on it every few hours or so for weeks on end, just to see if it had sold or was in contract or something. Where was the harm in that? People check Perez Hilton all day at work and don’t go out and try to purchase a celebrity.
Then the price dropped. And I did another stupid thing: I called the listing agent. Just to find out what the hell was so wrong with this place. Just so I could stop thinking about it. Surely the foundation was crumbling into the ground or carpenter ants had whittled all of the wood framing down to unstable toothpicks or something really bad that would just put the whole thing to rest.
But it all sounded fixable. And it was just a two hour drive. And we weren’t doing anything that Saturday. Would we like to come for a walk-through? Sure. I guess. Why not.
Remember that thing I said about seeing it first in late December, though? There was about 2 feet of snow on the ground. Snow has a way of masking certain flaws and making everything very charming. By the time we actually came for the walk-through, it was the end of February. The snow had melted. The house was still more or less the same, but the yard looked significantly less attractive than I’d imagined it when all you could see was a blanket of white.
Asphalt. So much asphalt. Almost the entire yard was covered in asphalt.
At that point I was way too obsessed with the house to let a little blacktop get between me and my future home, so I ignored it. We’d cross that bridge when we got to it. No biggie.
Now that we’re over a year into home ownership, though, and it’s summer, and I have outdoor projects on my mind…I really wanted the asphalt to disappear. I know lots of readers thought I should make lemonade out of these lemons and cover it with this and build that and just let it be, but I might not be accurately portraying just how much asphalt there was. Especially once I built the fence to create a separate front yard from the backyard (which I’ve been doing some work on, yay!), we were left with a relatively small area of grass and a vast majority of our backyard covered in asphalt.
What. A. Disaster. Not only was the snow covering all this asphalt, it also covered an old foundation behind the garage—part of a never-realized plan to extend the garage, apparently. The foundation was a total mess…it looks like the previous owners wanted to extend it a certain distance, then decided to extend it even further, then never quite finished and just threw a bunch of cinderblocks into the center of it and ran. I tried to get in there a couple of times to clear the weeds and see if we could use it in some way, but it was just a losing battle…so instead it just became a weed jungle. So charming.
Anyway, I guess the previous owner had several cars AND a boat at one time, so I’m sure all of this pavement seemed like a decent idea at the time. We only have one car, though, and no boat or any reason for the backyard to be paved, and there was really just way too much of it for any kind of creative solution to remedy. If we didn’t have dogs it might be another story, but even though I don’t really like grass and I don’t want any in the front of the house, I do want the dogs to have a nice big area of grass in the back that they can run around in. Dogs love grass. That’s just science.
Because the asphalt runs within a couple of feet of the property line on two sides, it really limited our landscaping options. The back of the yard faces this house, and the other side faces a rental property in the front and a commercial business in the back…all of which I’d like to get a little privacy from with some taller trees and planting, but it doesn’t really make sense to do any of that until the fence is replaced and the asphalt is removed.
Aside from all of this, the asphalt is just such a bummer. It’s totally ugly, it wasn’t in good shape, it doesn’t serve a functional purpose, and it just makes the house and garage and whole backyard look and feel really sad.
So there. That is my whole defense. I wanted it all gone. Clean slate, fresh start. I briefly considered leaving an area next to the garage for parking, but I’d so much rather do that with a couple strips of bluestone with some groundcover surrounding it or something other than a huge bed of pavement. Even parking can be charming if it’s done right, you know?
I wasn’t quite sure how this whole removal process would happen, though. In the earlier, stupider days of homeownership, I thought maybe I’d rent a dumpster and jackhammer and do it all myself.
This was an insane plan.
Then my plumber, Carl, mentioned that he owned a backhoe. It makes sense, given that he has to tear up streets and sidewalks and stuff sometimes, so I half-jokingly asked if he wanted the pleasure of removing all my asphalt. And he did. So I let him. Just like that! I really love Carl—he’s done all of our plumbing work at the house, and he’s super great to work with and reasonable and just an all-around awesome dude. I’m so happy he was up for this, even though it really doesn’t have to do with plumbing at all! What a guy.
I don’t think any of us realized how intense the removal would be. It took four days, I think…first with the small-ish backhoe you see above. Mostly they broke up large portions and put them all in a pile. It was incredibly exciting.
Underneath the asphalt was a TON of gravel, which I wasn’t really anticipating. I guess that’s how it’s done? News to me. Instead of leaving me with a gravel backyard instead of an asphalt backyard, I asked that we excavate down a bit further to remove a lot of the gravel. Some gravel I can deal with, but not to the point that you can’t even see the soil. That was not the point of this whole exercise.
At the end of Day 1, Carl let me play around on the backhoe for about 45 minutes while he and the crew mocked me relentlessly for being so confused by all of the levers and buttons and stuff. Eventually I got the hang of things and I got to feel really badass and cool for a while. I didn’t want it to end! I know this action-packed shot might look like a skinny confused kid with bad posture messing around in my backyard, but it felt exactly like Sigourney Weaver in Aliens. Here is a more accurate depiction of events:
Next came this second backhoe. It was bigger and more powerful than the first. They started to tackle the pile we’d made the day before and load it into a dump truck. I wasn’t allowed to drive this one.
We thought it would take maybe 6 loads of the dump truck to clear the yard. After a while everyone lost count, but the final tally was somewhere close to 20. Insanity.
The final day of work involved THIS. It was so awesome. I definitely was not permitted to operate this thing, but it was pretty amazing to watch. It cut through the asphalt like butter and was just generally the coolest thing that’s ever happened.
This is when I told the neighbors I was building a pool.
After all the removal was more or less completed, they worked on compacting the newly-exposed soil and grading the yard out and making everything look less like the post-apocalypse.
Anndddd…DONE! It’s so weird to see the back of the garage like this! Now you can really see where the window is missing, which was relocated at some point to the laundry room. I’m tempted to say that a long (longgg) term goal might be to put a couple of french doors on this side of the garage and a fire pit/conversation zone situation in this area. Could be kind of amazing? Maybe a pergola of some kind?
There’s about 5 feet of space between the left side of the garage and the fence line, which I think I’d like to pave with salvaged bricks and use to store our garbage cans and compost. It’ll be nice to have them out of sight! That will free up the space on the other side of the garage for some plants, like maybe a simple boxwood hedge or something. As I mentioned before, to replace the old driveway I’ll probably install two strips of bluestone and some ground cover like Creeping Jenny. As you can see, the old gate is ENORMOUS (much bigger than it needs to be) and falling apart, so replacing the fencing on this side of the house is next on my fencing hit-list. Not only will it be a big functional improvement, but we’ll also have replaced all of the chain-link facing the street, which I’m really excited about. Old busted-up chain-link fencing is also a huge bummer.
As for the rest of the cleared space, it’s just so exciting to have this blank canvas now! I think replacing the rest of the chain link with wood fencing will go a longgggg way toward making the backyard feel more private, and adding some tall trees along the fence line will also help immensely. That building you see in the back is a commercial business—it’s not like it’s super busy or anything (despite their enormous parking lot…), but getting some more separation from it will still be really nice. I think most of this area will likely end up just being grass for the dogs, but I do like the idea of doing some kind of really long raised bed in the back for a vegetable/herb garden.
Anyway. Big dreams.
Before that stuff can all happen, though, we need to get some fill dirt! I didn’t even think about this beforehand (I know, I know…) but removing 20 dump trucks of material is…a lot of stuff. Unless we want to end up with a pond in the middle of the backyard when it rains or snows heavily, now we need to get fill dirt brought in and grade out the land. The last thing I ever really envisioned paying for is dirt, but I’ve been assured that I will be hugely sorry if I don’t just bite the bullet and do it before trying to do any landscaping/grass-planting, etc. It’s pretty much the most boring thing I can imagine, but that’s how it goes sometimes!
I’m not exactly rushing to do the fill dirt thing while I’m working on digging out the grass and weeds and crap in the front yard. It’s nice to be able to just fill a wheelbarrow and dump it all in the newly excavated area in the back, and might even end up saving us a little bit in the long run. If we have the dirt, we might as well use it, right? I don’t want to buy a bunch of dirt and then end up with more dirt and nowhere for it to go. That just seems unwise.
And now I’m writing a blog post about dirt. Awesome. I’m so cool and trendy.