Outdoor living spaces turn landscape design inside out
BY PAUL NATINSKY
During the short but sweet warm season in Michigan, days and evenings spent outdoors are like a dream, and local landscaping companies are working hard to enhance those fantasies.
“People are trending toward ‘staycations,’ where they stay at home,” said Mark Garmo of Outdoor Accents, Inc., in Novi. “People are spending money on their backyards. Because the time we do have outside is so precious, people want a little piece of paradise in their backyard.”
“What’s getting popular lately is these outdoor kitchens and the fire pits and the fireplaces,” said Tony Konja of Artistic Outdoor Services in Farmington Hills. “People are trying to create an outdoor living space during the few months that we have in Michigan that it’s really nice and warm. They want to really bring it outside. So, we’ve been creating gazebos, outdoor kitchens, outdoor spaces.” Konja said porcelain tiles, such as those from Ciot Tile in Troy, are becoming popular accents in outdoor designs.
Other touches include lighting, which has undergone a revolution. Smaller, less expensive and more energy efficient LED lights have replaced the old hot, expensive and bulky halogen lighting of yesteryear. Both Konja and Garmo offer landscape lighting or, as Garmo calls it, “night-scaping.”
“We install a lot of outdoor LED lighting, and now what is getting really popular is from a remote control you can change the colors of your LED lighting. So if you want red and blue for Christmastime, you can just switch the switch and your lighting will change colors,” said Konja.
Garmo said some elaborate backyard set-ups are full outdoor pavilions featuring televisions and refrigerators, in addition to gazebos, furniture and barbeques. He said such projects can cost $60,000 to $70,000.
Form And Function
Regardless of the price tag, good landscape design requires form to follow function. “What do you want to use your backyard for?” asks Garmo. “Do you want to look out your window and just see something pretty? Do you want to go outside and sit down and hear music and have a fire and smoke a cigar with a glass of scotch?”
Planning is also key, said Konja. “People really do need to have a plan in place. Just like when you build a home, you always have a plan. Don’t just assume that you can come out and install some plants here and there. There has to be a plan and you have to meet with a certified landscape designer.” He said 3D imaging that’s now available, affords customers a very clear picture of how their yard will look at the project’s end. The new process incorporates images of design elements and plants into an actual photo of the yard.
The personal nature of landscape design makes it difficult to determine a set of standard elements for a good plan. Sometimes the oddity of the job precludes such generalizations. Garmo and his team built 10 –foot retaining walls around a house on a steep hill in Ann Arbor, on Hill Street, as a matter of fact. The retaining walls were placed at a distance from the house and the space between the walls and the house was filled in to create a yard level with the house, featuring patios and grass.
“We basically built a fortress and filled it in,” said Garmo.
Allowing for the variances of customer tastes and unusual geographies, some general elements apply to all landscape designs.
“Simplicity is really what’s important. Clean lines, trimmed hedges, defined bed lines; very crisp and clean design,” said Konja. “When you overplant or have too many plantings in one area, it really creates a messy look. It’s going to overgrow itself.”
“Hardscape is a very important thing and hardscape is something that needs to come first,” said Garmo. “Hardscape is retaining walls, brick paving, balancing your land, things that require large equipment and large quantities of materials.”
Despite all of the planning and marrying of form to function, customers sometimes have misconceptions and unrealistic expectations about what is possible and about how much things cost.
“They say, I’d love to have my landscaping maintenance free,” said Konja. “That’s like saying I would like to have my house maintenance free. Nothing in life is maintenance free.” So Konja offers a maintenance program to maintain landscapes for customers.
“Most of the time it’s plants,” said Garmo. “People come in and show me palm trees and these tropical plants they see on vacation.” He has to tell them these only grow in Florida, California and other warm places.
In some cases, customers simply don’t understand what things cost, or how much labor is involved. For example, said Garmo, removing existing features and bringing in multiple design elements requires several shipments by truck in and out, along with loading and unloading time. The same is true of various pieces of equipment. Garmo also employs skilled laborers who earn more than many customers assume. “Knock it down, put in some dirt and grass, and you’re finished. They make it sound like you can do it in three hours, when it’s like two weeks of work.”
Garmo said landscape designers must be clear with their customers about cost, but urges customers to be forthcoming about their budget. He said, too often customers are cagey about how much they intend to spend and that makes it difficult for landscape design companies to help them reach their goals.
“A lot of consumers feel it’s you against me to try to get a better price,” said Garmo. “They are scared to lay their cards on the table and say we budgeted $50,000 for this, because they think you’re going to give them two trees and a bush and charge them $50,000.”
“Customers need to be honest with contractors. Don’t be afraid to spend a little bit of extra money for a good plan. A good plan allows you to get the right price for the right job. Beware of the high cost of paying too little,” cautioned Garmo.
Garmo said his proposals are very thorough to ensure customers have an accurate idea of everything that is involved. Once he establishes a price for what a customer wants done, he can work with them on tailoring design elements and materials to help them meet their budget goals.
“It’s important to hire the right company. Make sure they are qualified, make sure they are insured and get references from people from the area,” advised Konja.