By Jennifer Foden
So, you’re an experienced landscape professional — or maybe you’re just starting out. What trends, challenges and opportunities are there for outdoor room projects? I interviewed three experts to get their thoughts on the best ideas for your company:
Preston Montague, client relations manager, Greenscape Inc.
Kevin Wengernuk, president and founder, KW Landscaping Inc.
Bill Ripley, owner, Architectural Landscape Design, Inc.
Q: What are some trends for outdoor rooms in 2016 and beyond?
Preston: We enjoy a mild climate in North Carolina; and there are opportunities to enjoy time outdoors during each month. Increasingly, we meet with clients who are seeking opportunities to spend their leisure time outside, and who want to bring their traditionally indoor comforts with them. In order to maximize outdoor time, we build spaces that gently transition from indoors out. From screened porch to trellis-covered patio to sunny lawn, each stage of the year has a space specifically designed to provide comfort at that time. Additionally, continued product developments for outdoor rooms provide us with opportunities to bring our clients’ specific taste in accents and accessories from indoors out, using innovative materials that are weather resistant and easy to clean. This allows for a seamless transition of comfort and personal style from inside to outside.
Kevin: One trend that I have been seeing with clients is flexibility in allowing the design to be more “outside the box.” Whether it is the use of unique materials, such as fabrics or metals, or the use of bright colors on fixtures in the landscape (like bright-orange containers against a pale-grey house or a cedar gate stained a vivid aqua). I am also seeing the use of classic materials such as clay brick and underused stones, especially travertine, to create a look that extends the architecture of the home into the landscape. Years ago, I saw [ital>The Outdoor Room<ital] with Jamie Durie. I was instantly hooked on his themed outdoor rooms and I wanted to build them. Nothing is better than truly creating the feel of Japan in a client’s backyard, or how about Italy, or maybe even Arizona?
Bill: In general, I think there are some solid trends that have taken hold in the past, and will continue for many years. One of the most obvious trends in design is the shift to more simplistic lines and form. I believe that there has been a strong shift from more traditional design to more contemporary and modern design. Other trends that are dominant in the design landscape are the use of edibles and vegetable gardens. With an ever-growing number of people becoming increasingly more health conscious, trends like “garden to table” are very popular. Who doesn’t like to harvest from their own space?
Q: What challenges are associated with designing and constructing outdoor rooms?
Preston: The flip side of having so many new products on the market for outdoor rooms is that there are so many more choices to make! Competing in the market for outdoor rooms means that designers have to be increasingly knowledgeable about the products that are out there, and continually developing their network to include new suppliers. Of course, there are the perennial challenges of balancing client need with budget, designing unique spaces using modular materials, and for siting outdoor rooms in the landscape appropriately so that they are comfortable in a range of weather conditions.
Kevin: The biggest challenge that I face when designing is meeting the client’s budget and delivering everything that they want at the budget. Often after the initial consult, I will give my rough budget to see if the client is a client that I can work with. I hate to tease a potential client with a design that they want but could never afford.
Bill: The biggest challenges associated with designing outdoor rooms usually are related to the inherent limitations of the space. Consumers today want it all. On many occasions I have struggled with attempting to incorporate more features than the space will allow. If the client has a large space, the second challenge is usually related to resources.
Q: Have you worked on any unique outdoor room projects lately?
Preston: We recently installed an outdoor room designed as a four-season destination into an already established garden that we are very proud of. This particular design features a rustic approach to the space composed of massive boulder stairs and natural flagstone pathways. The destination is a flagstone patio and fireplace in a heavy timber pergola, which reinforced architectural details of the house. Positioned on the edge of the space is a large pond and waterfall that catches the summer breeze and provides natural air conditioning. The pond, a focal point, washes away noise and delights with playful fish.
Kevin: I had a potential client that described their project as a challenge. I love hearing that word. They had a bunch of aged rectangular floating decks and some minor elevation changes. I saw a curved sitting wall around a circular patio. I saw a ramped path that curved up behind the sitting wall toward an existing paver path. Off that ramped path, I saw a smaller raised sitting area patio so the client could have two separate areas to entertain. The one thing that made this project unique is the wall pattern for the brick. The client suggested mimicking an MC Escher pattern with a light brick at one end, dark brick at the other end and then the two mixing in the middle. I loved the idea and it turned out making the wall an awesome feature in this space. When a client is involved in some of the details of the design, it often makes it more personal for them and easier to buy in.
Bill: Yes, but I look at every exterior project or space as an outdoor room. For a space to be comfortable, it is natural to have something under, next to and above you. The under part is easy. We all need something to stand, sit or lay on. Whether it is a patio, a swimming pool or a big open field, gravity dictates that we have something under our feet. As for surfaces or the space above our heads, as humans we crave defined areas. It might be a fence or a mountain range in the distance, a pergola or the canopy of a tree.
Q: What opportunities do you see for landscape pros for outdoor room projects?
Preston: Forecasts seem to predict an increasing preference for yards defined by hardscape, rather than traditional garden/lawn models. As a culture we still insist on spending time outdoors, but are choosing to spend that time relaxing, rather than maintaining a landscape. Additionally, we are seeing a pattern of bigger houses and smaller yards here in North Carolina. We have met these trends by focusing not on the lawn and flowering plants, but on outdoor rooms that connect to open lawns.
Kevin: My clients are mostly all residential, and I prefer that because of the relationships I can build with them over time. My clients find me through referrals and my website. The referrals come from prior clients and from a referral group that meets weekly. I have been a member of that referral group since September of 2008, right after the recession. As for my online marketing, I spend about $22K per year for my website and the SEO management. To some it may seem like a lot of money, but it keeps the leads rolling in. I get way more than I can handle, so I can pick and choose which leads to pursue.
Bill: The opportunities are endless. I believe that the only limitations we have as professionals are our imaginations and our client’s pocket book. In my opinion, every project, big or small, residential or commercial can be great if, as professionals, we focus on the details and provide our clients the most creative solutions for their needs. As green industry professionals, it is our duty and obligation to present the consumer with the best products, craftsmanship and services combined with innovative design. If the focus is on quality and detail, we will not need to find the clients — they will find us.
Jennifer Foden is a writer and editor based in Vancouver (www.jdfoden.wordpress.com).