About this time of year people who are planning to have some work carried out in time for enjoying this summer are reaching for their phones and seeking out designers and contractors, well those who do not have 5ft of snow on the ground !
So, having spent the best part of 45 years going to meet home owners, showing what is possible, listening, photographing, measuring, designing and exploring literally thousands and thousands of different ideas, it seemed like a good idea to put into a blog a few suggestions which might help make the process fun, friendly and ultimately successful for you the homeowner – for my designer friends, I will add , we always charge for our work, although if a client accepts the design and then orders the work we always reduce the cost of the design by 50% ( given as a credit on the second payment).
Let’s start with ideas – all projects start with an idea..
Before you even reach for the telephone or tablet to connect with us or a designer, contractor etc, I would suggest a visit to Houzz, a few magazines, pictures of friends gardens, etc.,
- These are best gathered over a period of time, some of my favorite methods that I’ve seen over the years were, a lady who cut out examples of what she was trying to achieve from magazines and placed them in a folder, these days you can do a similar process with sites like Houzz. You can also take pictures with your smart phone as you drive around.
- Now it’s time to create your likes and dislikes, needs and maybe’s list. This should be agreed with all the family, I would often suggest that couples curled up with a glass of wine after having walked around their garden space jotting down notes of areas to alter, improve or remove.
- Before you call in either a designer or a contractor decide on a budget and deduct 10% from the amount ( it’s better to be prepared, costs are nearly always more than you expect, meaning that the design will include items that are more than your budget.
- So now you have a likes, dislikes list, a needs ( must include) and maybe’s ( it would be nice to include) list, some pictures of the materials, styles and designs that you like.
Now you can call in an expert….to discuss your needs.
Do you create the Design yourself? or Call a Landscape Architect or Landscape Designer, or a Design & Build Company, or a Specialist Contractor?
My feeling is that each has it’s merits, with pros & cons on either side, costs are also dependent on a multitude of situations so it really depends on how much time you have to be involved, how much you want to spend, who you would prefer to make the day to day decisions, and what you would like. – Our forthcoming ebook will discuss this in more detail soon.
Both Designers & Contractors will have portfolios of their work to show you, most will have testimonials – which if your project is large or complicated, I would recommend you either call or visit, if possible, to see first hand the results and to gauge how the client found the firm.
Both should be a member of a trade association or professional body, carry liability insurance and if required be registered to conduct business in your area. Some countries have additional requirements, such as building permits or planning permissions etc, local firms you select, should be fully conversant with all these needs.
Both will need to survey your project area, taking pictures and establishing what you want. Personally unless the project is quite modest, I never ever try and complete a drawing for a client on the first visit. The reason is I need time to consider all the variables, before an idea develops and trying to do this whilst talking to a client is in my opinion extremely difficult, to give both the attention they each deserve.
So I discuss in generalities and explain our method of working, whilst asking the client to sign up to a paid design.
Why a paid design?
Well I have also learned about 35 years ago, actually. If you give something to someone you do not know,they often do not value it, but if they pay for it they do value it. Which usually means you will continue with the whole project.
We went out of our way to win awards for our work, having collected a great many over the years, there is no doubt in my mind, “Quality is remembered long after the price has been paid”. We strive to provide the best we can for clients, which means keeping on top of changes, ideas, trends, what works, things to avoid, and providing honest advice.
On average my initial paid design acceptance rate ( with the offer of 50% of the fee back) is around 42% from the initial visit, my continued construction rate is above 95%..
So what should you expect for your money?
Today’s CAD programs can automate the process of photo realistic features building plans and quotations.
The photo realistic design below is very small but fits nicely on this picture as an illustration, hopefully you get the potential it can and does look quite real.
Below is a part CAD part hand finished plan, I’ve tended to do this as it gives me a chance to check the design once more for any glaring errors or omissions, its becoming less of a an issue ( for me that is) with the new CAD programs that store the whole database of information with each design module.
So quick recap…It is always best, at the very least to call between two and three firms before deciding on who to select, have at least two provide a price, for the design work – the actual project will be dependent on way too many items at this time.
You have a number of choices at this stage:
1.An independent designer – they often have contractors they know well and work as a team. Do remember though that each is a separate business.
2.A design & build full service company – just one firm to work with, the designers will know the construction teams really well.
3.An individual specialist contractor – ideal if you have just a drive or patio for example, or just planting, or fencing, or perhaps a pond or veggie garden.
As you can see each has its advantages and disadvantages, which is why it’s always a good idea to ask for references or talk to friends and neighbors who have had work completed.
Having chosen, all the firms should complete an accurate survey, including having any buried service lines and pipes plotted, that includes existing irrigation, drainage, power, etc., as well as service lines such as cable, telephone, electricity, water sewage and gas.
You should expect a layout plan, an artist impression or photo realistic impressions, together with a full specification and quotation, which would include material details or prime cost sums for specialist items.
The production of a design is likely to take between one to two weeks, perhaps more during busy periods, with likely programming of the project some months away – which means if you start now the completed project should be ready for this seasons summer months.
Accepting the quotation
Once accepted the firm selected should furnish insurance details and a program for the works, they will also provide a request for payment, often broken down into deposit, with interim payments at specific periods until the final completion payment.
Some design and build firms will offer a discount off the design payment as long as the works are ordered through them, this is fairly standard practice.
Starting the project
Having someone work on your property can be quite disruptive even intimidating at times. We have found that after the initial ‘honeymoon’ period a state of resigned tolerance ensues, helped by having professional,affable staff, who are well aware that the torn up garden or yard they are working in was once quite tidy and needs to be returned to the client as soon as possible, in its newly beautified state.
Some of the things we do to help.
We add an extra mat so clients can clean their shoes – or better take them off before entering the house – sand and grit can be a big issue for carpets.
We try and reduce mud and debris to a minimum.. although sometimes we inherit a swamp..
Restoring some semblance of organized & clean chaos is a priority, as it improves work quality, customer satisfaction and staff moral.
Radios blaring on site are not permitted – although they are in the company vehicles.
Consuming alcohol is only permitted if provided by management or the client.
Client are always referred to as Mr. or Mrs., or their title by all staff, including management until the project is handed over.
Design variations or change orders are issued in triplicate – one for the site foreman, one for the office and one for the client.
Whilst the site foreman is in charge on a day to day basis, management staff make a client visit at least twice a week to meet the client and the foreman during the projects duration.
Toilet facilities are discussed and established with the client prior to commencing work.
Weekend working is avoided, so the client has at least some private time.
When a project is completed, we still return every two weeks or so, for the first two months to ensure that everything is operating as intended.
Automatic water topping up would be one of the items we keep an eye on to start with.
We also provided the first two months of aftercare completely free, especially for larger properties as we found that even with the best intentions the work load was often way more than expected, even with automatic irrigation, mulching etc.,
We are also starting to add a reference section on our website with some of the techniques and products we have developed, or used over the years. Like this structural green wall, that will last for at least 50 years.
Or this superb bound gravel driveway, with a triple brick gulley.