What We Do and Our Design Process
What We Do
We are not landscape contractors or installers or builders. We are garden and landscape designers who offer a range of design consultations for residential gardens and landscapes.
We seek to create gardens and landscapes that answer three fundamental questions: ⎯ What do the clients long for? ⎯ What opportunities does the site afford? ⎯ Where can beauty be called forth?
The first fundamental question is ‘what does the client long for?’ That longing is usually twofold. First, what are the practical and functional needs that must be met by any design solution? But equally important as these practical and functional needs are the aspirational desires of the client. These longings tend to be more meaningful than practical. What do they find beautiful and seek to surround themselves with?
The second fundamental question – ‘what opportunities does the site afford?’ is answered by a rigorous inventory of what currently exists on the site as well as an analysis of what can be.
The third fundamental question is where can beauty be called forth? Beauty in a landscape environment is often ephemeral, transient, and seasonal. It can’t be guaranteed or even sought directly, but rather pursued obliquely and arises when both certain criteria and opportunity are provided in order for it to appear.
The process we follow is typical for an architectural or landscape architectural design process. Some clients will only need a project to be carried through one or two stages. Others may choose to avail themselves of services through three or four stages. Others may opt for the ‘full-meal-deal’ and select services through all six stages.
• Stage One: Pre-Design (PD), which involves client interviews, programming (i.e. what the clients want in a successful design), developing a site base map, and performing both site inventory and site analysis.
• Stage Two: Schematic Design (SD): Schematic Design involves the creation of conceptual diagrams and several alternative schematic designs, one of which is chosen as the preferred alternative schematic design. (A ‘schematic design’ converts loose bubble diagrams and conceptual diagrams into preliminary designs that while necessarily a little vague are still illustrative of the spatial composition of a designed solution.)
• Stage Three: Design Development (DD): Design Development takes the somewhat vague but preferred alternative design from SD and develops it in far more specific detail and documents the answers to all questions regarding both the design’s measurements and materials.
• Stage Four: Construction Documents (CDs): Construction documents are the formal, legal documents (drawings and specifications) that form the basis of contractual agreements with a contractor. Construction documents tell a contractor exactly what to build to implement the design.
• Stage Five: Construction Administration (CA): Construction Administration involves the designer being the owner’s representative for the construction of the project. This can involve a wide range of services from bidding assistance, reviewing and approving material submissions, site visitations and construction observation.
• Stage Six: Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE): A Post Occupancy Evaluation is a service that is sometimes provided by designers and it occurs anywhere from six months to five years after a project is complete. In a POE, the designer evaluates how the design is functioning, how materials (whether hardscape or plant materials) are performing after several seasons. While some clients will ask for and pay for a POE, I don’t charge for this service although I do perform them. I go back intermittently and visit all of my projects to see what I can learn from the design decisions I made as well as what I might learn from any modifications the clients might have made. There is always room for improvement and I’ve found these visits invaluable in reviewing my work and process.
Fees and Charges
Here’s a breakdown of the fees I charge for my services and how what products are developed at each stage.
Initial Consultation and Site Visit: $0
I have found over the years that some clients either can’t afford or don’t need an entire design package to be completed. Sometimes they have ideas already, but they just want another opinion. In these kinds of situations, I’m happy to come to your site, listen to your ideas, wave my hands around, point at things and talk. For this service there is no charge. If however, in the course of our consultation, you need me to uncap my pen and draw something or write down the name of a plant or a product, then I charge $85 dollars/hour with a minimum one-hour charge.
The Pre-Design Stage: $450 – $700 A Lump Sum Charge that depends on the size and complexity of the site.
The Pre-Design Stage of a project starts with a questionnaire and further involves meeting with the client to determine project goals, needs, problem definition, and other programming data. An essential and vital step at this stage is the creation of a measured base map upon which the rest of the design work rests. Pre-Design also entails several trips to the site to conduct Inventory and Analysis. Inventory and Analysis tell us what’s on the site now and what possibilities the site provides. For instance, what existing plant materials are on the site? Where are views from/to the site located? Where are utility infrastructure elements located? What are the solar angles on the site? Wind directions? Soil conditions? Drainage and storm water issues; etc. The range of costs in the lump sum charge is based on how much information the client already has available, e.g. if the client already has a surveyed site plan that was part of the architectural drawings for the residence, then the lump sum is much lower. The absence of a base map or site plan means that I have to create one from scratch which involves a great deal of time and multiple site visits to document existing conditions.
The Schematic Design Stage: $600 to $800 – A Lump Sum Charge that depends on the size and complexity of the site and designs.
In the Schematic Design stage we create several conceptual drawings such as diagrams that address natural site features, site circulation, and site logic diagrams. Using these diagrams as a basis, alternative designs or options are developed, each one aimed at meeting the client’s goals, needs, and programmatic desires. I will create a minimum of two different designs, but sometimes as many as four or five. They become a menu of sorts: you may like the backyard on one alternative, the deck on another, and the front yard of yet another alternative. After you’ve had time to review the plans, at your direction, we will assemble the menu of parts and create one preferred schematic design. This plan will indicate hardscape and plant materials by type and function, but not by specific detail. For instance, the plan may indicate a tree as “small deciduous flowering tree as focal point” but it does not go so far as to define that tree as a Balled & Burlap 2” caliper DBH Prunus serrulata ‘Kwanzan’. Or as another example, the plan may specify a wood fence, but provide no detail as to whether that’s a three-foot tall white picket fence or a six-foot tall shadow box fence. Those details are usually fleshed out in the next stage. This is often as far as a project needs to go. I’ve found over the years that often clients don’t want or need the level of detail and accuracy in a design that a contractor might want or need to build the design. Some clients only need me to help them decide on the location and function but they want to select the plant material on their own. They don’t need me to prepare construction drawings for their fence because they have the necessary experience and expertise to build a fence on their own without my assistance or, they have a competent contractor they trust lined up to build the fence and they don’t need more design and construction detail. If that’s the case, we are happy to only carry the project this far. The cost range is based on the size of the site and the degree of complexity in the design. Smaller sites and simpler designs are at the low end of the scale. Larger sites and complex designs are at the upper end of the scale. The
Design Development Stage: $900 - $1500 – A Lump Sum Charge that depends on the size and complexity of the design.
The Design Development Stage takes the preferred concept from the Schematic Design Stage and develops it further. All questions and decisions about the design are answered in this stage. Plant material is specified right down to quantity, size, variety, and purchase condition. Hardscape materials (walls, paving, wood structures) are specified by material, color, texture, type, and installation method. The products of this stage are usually a detailed planting plan and detailed hardscape/layout plan. Again, all the detail necessary for a competent homeowner to install the project is provided.
The Construction Documents Stage: $800 to $1400 Lump Sum or $85/hour
In this stage, construction documents are prepared. These are formal, legal drawings that the client can use as the base for a contractual arrangement with a contractor. These documents define what the end product will look like and specify exactly what and how the designed elements are to be built. Some residential clients want the specificity and assurance that these kinds of documents provide. The fee for these documents is a lump sum range depending on the size and complexity of the project. Sometimes a client only wants details provided for a specific portion of the design and for that we charge an hourly rate.
Construction Administration: $100/hour
A range of construction administration services are agreed upon in advance and scheduled. These can include functioning as the clients’ representative throughout the duration of construction to observe (daily, weekly, biweekly, monthly, or on demand) assist in reviewing material submittals, and coordinate services as needed to help maintain the integrity of the design and realize the owner’s investment. (The hourly charge for CA is higher than other stages because CA usually involves travel to and from the site.)
Post Occupancy Evaluation: No Charge