Natural-looking stone transforms backyards

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Janet Davis wanted a natural-looking retaining wall and the soothing sound of a waterfall in her Aspinwall backyard. Dan Smith and Don Megahan wanted to entertain visitors to their new house in Cranberry in an outdoor area with the enduring quality of stone.

All three homeowners found what they wanted in Rosetta Hardscapes (, a new concrete wall system by Omni Precast Products and the skillful hands of Tony Sluka and his sons.

Mr. Sluka, head of OmniPro decorative paving installers, has many years of experience installing Omni-Stone pavers, Versa-Lok wall stones and other dry-cast concrete products made by Lampus Inc., a sister company of Omni Precast. But OmniPro had never built a waterfall from the larger Rosetta or an outdoor fireplace from the smaller-scale Belvedere -- until this spring and summer.

Ms. Davis discovered Rosetta before she found Mr. Sluka. She had been thinking about a water feature for her yard since seeing some at the Pittsburgh Home & Garden Show several years ago.

"I've always really loved nature and the sound of water. It's very soothing," she said.

She also thought a waterfall would be perfect for the steeply sloped backyard of her childhood home in Aspinwall, a 1950s ranch-style house her parents built. After adding a second floor and a kitchen addition, she researched materials and went looking for a contractor who could build a retaining wall and waterfall. Mr. Sluka wasn't the only professional Omni Precast recommended, but he was the one who best understood Ms. Davis' vision.

"He was able to grasp what I was looking for. We had a rapport," she said.

Todd Sluka, one of four Sluka sons or sons-in-law in the business, led the three-week project, which included about 400 square feet of concrete blocks installed without mortar. A "heel" cast into the back of each block keeps the block above it firmly in place. Ms. Davis' waterfall has a total elevation of about 12 feet; a compacted 6-inch layer of sand, two layers of felt and a rubber liner make the upper and lower pools and waterfall stable and watertight.

Tony Sluka said it would have taken much longer and been more expensive to built it from natural stone.

"There's a lot of shimmying and fishing for the right-size stones," not to mention all the wasted pieces.

With one waterfall under their belts, his crew could probably do a similar-sized water feature in about half the time. The cost would likely be around $30,000 for a waterfall and retaining wall, he said, although Ms. Davis paid less because this was a demonstration project.

Even though it won't be landscaped until the fall, it's already drawing potential clients interested in Rosetta.

"If you can get more people to see it, they'll want it," said Bob Welling, vice president of landscape products for Lampus.

It's also become a neighborhood attraction. A woman who lives across the street from Ms. Davis said she enjoys listening to the waterfall in the morning, and neighborhood children are gushing over the sight and sounds.

Ms. Davis, who falls asleep to the sound of rushing water, said she can hear it from every room in her house through its many windows. Her greatest compliment came from a 90-year-old aunt who visited and had her picture taken by the waterfall.

"She was amazed. She said 'Your parents would have loved this.' "

Mr. Smith and Mr. Megahan's entire families haven't seen their new patio in Cranberry yet, but the ones who have were impressed. The two men chose the Slukas and OmniPro because they were pleased with work they had done on their former home in the Blackridge neighborhood of Wilkins. Belvedere was perfect for the 70- by 35-foot patio with a serpentine retaining wall. The wall's blocks are joined with construction adhesive, which is also used to attach coping and caps on columns.

Belvedere sells for $18-$20 per square foot and can be installed by do-it-yourselfers. But it won't likely look as good as it does when professionals like OmniPro do it.

Tony and Todd Sluka came up with the curving wall and flowing design that takes visitors from a covered deck, down a flight of steps to a granite-topped island/bar with stainless-steel CalFlame grill, on to a lower area with seating walls and a gas- and wood-burning fireplace. Heritage pavers by Lampus tie the patio together, and discreet down lights make it perfect for evening entertaining.

"We had more than 100 people here for an open house and they fit just fine -- inside and out," Mr. Megahan said. "It's really beautiful."

Kevin Kirkland: or 412-263-1978.

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