Crafting a Custom Landscape

When landscape architects are involved in a project from the beginning and a landscape design is thought-out and well-planned, the result can be a beautiful, functional outdoor environment that excites your customers while adding value to their homes.

May 01, 2006

Custom builders make a serious mistake when they don't consider landscape design until near the end of construction. When landscape architects are involved in a project from the beginning and a landscape design is thought-out and well-planned, the result can be a beautiful, functional outdoor environment that excites your customers while adding value to their homes.

The American Society of Landscape Architects cites a joint study by Clemson University and the University of Maryland that found potential home buyers will pay up to 11.3 percent above the asking price for homes with thoughtfully designed landscapes.

"If you only have a certain amount of money," says Douglas Hoerr, founder and principle of Douglas Hoerr Landscape Architecture in Chicago, "let us help you put it where people are really going to appreciate it."

 
Pavers, walkways and benches are hardscape elements the landscape architect can use to reate interest outside the home.
Photo courtesy of Bob Ikeler

Landscaping isn't just about the horticultural elements outside the home. It deals with artistic elements such as waterfalls, streams, and fountains and lighting, used to enhance night vision and security while possibly creating ambience.

If the landscape architect gets involved too late, an opportunity to make a uniform statement with the interior and exterior design of the home is lost, sometimes resulting in an unsightly mismatch of styles.

"The main [consideration] is the design style that the owner is looking for ... and [making] sure that the landscape architectural elements work with that," says Andrew Witkin, president of Witkin Design Group in North Miami Beach, Fla. "To design a modern swimming pool with rural Tuscan architecture makes no sense."

When the builder and landscape architect — even the interior designer — all meet at the beginning and coordinate their expertise, "there can be a cohesion of all the styles so that it has one powerful voice," says Hoerr.

Lack of coordination can result in an operational problem that can only be fixed through an expensive retrofit.

Hoerr says he's seen many examples of this over the years. Sometimes the house is set at such a grade that "by the time you do any hardscaping and planting ... you can't accommodate good positive drainage from the house, and you now have a very functional problem."

 
Waterfalls, streams and fountains creatively solve a need for water.
Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Totaro

A landscape to suit a lifestyle

"You don't design the patio," says Perry M. Morgan, RLA and principal at Barton & Associates in Norristown, Pa. "You design the party. What I'm saying is, understand how a place and a space are being used."

"We need to interact a lot with the homeowner," says Witkin. "How are they going to use their outdoor spaces? Are they the type who likes to entertain a lot, or are they private people? We have some clients who are very big in charitable and philanthropic events, and they need to have outdoor areas that can easily hold 100 people on a somewhat regular basis. So that begins dictating how large some of the hardscape areas are going to be versus softscape areas.

"We have some who love to work in their gardens," Witkin continues, "and they don't mind more labor and maintenance-intensive plants that give some very different looks. And then you have some busy professionals that, even though they might have someone who comes in once a week or whatever the timing is, just don't want to replace annuals and prune on a real regular basis."

The view from the inside out

Custom builders rightly focus attention on curb appeal. Landscape architects are trained to also consider the homeowners' perspective from inside their home.

"A good landscape architect will put themselves in the home as ... the consumer," says Hoerr, "and will be looking out of the windows at the views created."

Hoerr sites an example of a custom home with window sills set so high that when someone was seated in the breakfast nook, the line of vision didn't include a small back-yard garden.

"It only allowed you to see back to the garage," says Hoerr. "To see the back garden, you had to stand up to look down.

"The landscape design," Morgan adds," is to extend the architecture outward and to bring the landscape inward."

Build a good working relationship with a landscape architect. Tell them what you're trying to accomplish and have them offer suggestions for good value-based design.

"It's about becoming a really valuable team member who helps look out after the bottom line and also helps them manage client expectations," says Hoerr, "A good landscaper will help them [do that]. And that is huge value, because that's where recommendations and referrals come from."

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