Let’s face it, we all need a little help every once in a while. One of the biggest mistakes that homeowners make when trying to improve their landscapes is not having a cohesive plan for their yard that includes all of the things that they want and ties all of those things together. Without a master plan, homeowners can become frustrated with the feel, lack of use and theme, but more importantly, can actually spend more money than initially investing in a master plan! So, think that you might be interested in hiring a Landscape Architect or Landscape Designer to help you with your home landscape? Here are 5 things to look for when hiring a Landscape Architect or Designer:
Whether you talk with a landscape architect or landscape designer to work on your plan, the designer should be able to express to you where their inspiration for design originates. Whether they like to use different types of styles; cottage, New American, sustainable, formal, informal, etc. depending upon the client’s tastes, a designer should be able to share with you their inspirations. For example, we have two Adirondack chairs in the back corner of the house that, if possible, would provide a perfect vantage point from a shaded area to overlook the conservation area behind the house while being able to sit next to one another. This small inspiration has evolved into the design of a raised concrete paver patio with an overhead pergola. More on this later, but inspiration doesn’t need to be some huge “aha” moment, but can come from a simple desire to want to do something or incorporate something into your landscape. As well, you should be able to share your inspirations with the designer. If this is difficult for you to specifically figure out, tear out pages of things that you like in magazines or I am sure that most of you have Pinterest boards that are full of inspiration. While you may not be able have the exact thing from Pinterest (and quite frankly, who can?) there might be variations on a theme that can be included!
AN UNDERSTANDING OF “MATERIALITY”
While materiality may mean different things to different people, basically I describe materiality as a concept of understanding that material choices in the landscape are one of the biggest cost considerations in the construction of a landscape. While we all may want a beautiful brick masonry wall surrounding a patio space, the reality is that the budget may only allow for a concrete block wall or a hedge of shrub material to provide the needed privacy. The designer should have significant material understanding to present options without sacrificing design because material choices are breaking the budget. This is also a balancing act determined by the priorities of the design. You might not be able to have the masonry wall, but if you go with the hedge of shrubs, you might be able to afford an upgraded patio material like slate or stone! An expanded definition of materiality also includes a designer’s understanding of how things go together in landscape construction. For the DIYers, this understanding will become evident when the designer is able to present to you detail drawings or sketches of how true craftsmanship can make your project different from anything in your neighbor’s yard. A good place to start discussion is to ask questions about things that are generically labeled on a master plan like patio, pergola, retaining wall, etc. What materials are/can these things be constructed from and how will they go together?
It sounds really simplistic and we should have mentioned it sooner, but a designer should engage in a conversation with you and be a good listener as to what YOU want in your landscape! If a designer is trying to impose their style upon you or is telling you what he wants to do, then it might be time to find someone else. Designing should be a discussion between the client and the designer, not a dictatorship! That being said, you should look to develop a relationship with the designer that can lasts years in some cases. I have been fortunate to work with some great clients over the years and some call me back after 10 years or so to design landscapes for their new houses or upgrade older areas that have new needs. Kid playground areas after the kids go off to college is a great example! Oh, about the picture of the Burghers of Calais at the Hirshhorm Museum Sculpture Garden? We couldn’t find an attractive picture of human ears and this is one of Dean’s favorite places and sculptures by Rodin!
Not all Landscape Architects are the same! Some LAs work on master planning for cities, corporate campuses and educational institutions. Some LAs work on parks, while some landscape designers focus specifically on plant plans with no construction. Try to find a residential designer that has specific knowledge and a willingness to work on YOUR project within what you want to accomplish and how much you want to spend. It may sound like common sense, but make sure to get referrals from friends and neighbors that have had an enjoyable experience with their designers. If you looking for a good place to start, check out the Firm Finder listing on the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) website. ASLA also has some great information on Residential Design that you may want to check out!
All Landscape Architects and Landscape Designers should go through some type of process to get to your final design. This is one of the things that you will be paying a designer to do for you and the designer should be able to communicate their process to you. The master plan is the communication tool that designers have been taught to use in expressing their process. For example, back to the inspiration of wanting to have a shaded seating area in our backyard where we can sit together. The area where the seating area will be placed is on a slope and I knew that we were either going to have to build a deck or a raised patio area. We originally wanted to build a deck using composite decking with a high recycled content (Drawing on the left in photo above). In going through the permitting process for the deck, it became evident that building a deck would require certain construction requirements that were necessary for the permit. In trying to simplify the process, Dean started thinking about a design for a raised concrete paver patio with an overhead pergola and a lower deck around the base of the patio (Drawing on the right in photo above). Ok, problem solved, right? Well not yet, Dean has built a number of pergolas and was looking for some inspiration on how to make this one different and unique. We then moved our youngest son into a university in Florida that features the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and if you are familiar with Wright’s work he has some amazing cantilevers that Dean wanted to mimic. Then Dean had the opportunity to attend an architecture symposium in Miami and came across Paul Rudolph’s work in Florida that also featured cantilevers as a shading device. Okay, now I am intrigued! On the last morning of the symposium, he took an early morning walk up to the Perez Art Museum in downtown Miami. Lo and behold, more cantilevers without fancy end detailing!
Now, we have a clear idea of what we are going to have that started with the simple inspiration of two Adirondack chairs! This is what the design process should be and while I cannot vouch for every other designer out there, this is the process that I use to make every project unique! No secret sauce, just simply drawing inspiration from everywhere and taking the bits and pieces of places, experiences and details that are necessary to come up with design solutions!
So, there you have a couple of ideas on what to look for in a designer and if you would like to know more on what the designer is going to present to you as far as drawings are concerned, please check out these great blog posts:
Oh, want to know what the seating area is going to look like? Here’s a before and an in process preview, but check back soon for the finished product! As always, let us know if you have any questions and enjoy!