Any form of landscape renovation comes with a series of decisions to make, both large and small, and one that can require your expertise is helping clients select the right hardscaping materials.
Because hardscaping can become a pricey project, it is important to create a patio space that your customers will enjoy looking at both now and years later. The good news is there is certainly no lack of options when it comes to materials, but you will need to get them to narrow it down to two or three types, as using more than this can make things look overdone.
Just like how you need to be mindful of your color palette when installing plants, the color of your customer’s hardscaping can set the tone of the space. Cool colored hardscaping designs feature shades of blue, purple and green and have a soothing effect. These work well in retreat areas and can make a space feel larger.
Meanwhile, warm color schemes have orange, red or yellow hues that can energize an area and beckon people into a cozy space. Whether your customer decides to go with cool, warm or neutral colors like beige and grey, it’s crucial that they blend it with the current color scheme of their home.
“Try to pick up on colors being used in the home already, especially in the roof if it’s visible,” said Joe Raboine, national design and training specialist on the Belgard Design Studio team. “Often, we see contractors try to match the existing stone or brick. Doing so can create an effect that the house is bleeding into the landscape.”
If it comes down to the nitty-gritty of choosing between similar shades for the material, Raboine says the best method is to bring samples out to the site to review them.
“It’s better to contrast the home and complement it, not match it exactly,” he said. “If there’s a busy brick pattern or stone, then perhaps a two or even single-color paver may be the best option. Or, even adding a solid color border will help to define the new space and create better separation.”
Another aspect you want your customers to consider when selecting their hardscape material is texture. Choosing a different texture can help distinguish the space from other materials and they can also create a rustic or polished feel depending on the finish selected.
“Concrete can easily be stamped, colored and stenciled to create the appearance of natural stone for customers,” said Cory Olson, senior vice president of Sakrete North America. “Stamped concrete allows for a mix of depth, allowing versatile design to shine with a mix of pattern and natural color.”
Natural textures can be found using materials such as fieldstone and have uneven contours and create a more organic look. Meanwhile, for houses that have a more modern look, a smooth surface can be created with slick porcelain pavers.
“In recent years, we’ve seen an explosion in the use of porcelain pavers,” Raboine said. “These pavers essentially mimic the look of natural stone and wood but will last for decades with no degradation. They are extremely dense, have incredible color and texture, and due to their consistent sizes are usually less costly to install. For someone seeking a natural stone look, but wants something with no maintenance, porcelain pavers are a great option.”
Tumbled pavers or brick can give an antique finish to structures that are traditional and need a timeworn look to complement them.
“There are tons of pavers available that showcase natural stone textures in multi-stone sizes,” Raboine said. “Some are even tumbled to further accent the natural appearance. The sizes range from smaller cobblestones, all the way up to larger flagstones in ashlar patterns.”
The use of the space should also be considered when determining the right texture. For those who plan to be using the outdoor dining area for hosting upscale parties, choosing uneven surfaces such as fieldstone or gravel aren’t recommended.
An equally important consideration is the longevity of the materials. After investing in the project, homeowners want to have a patio that will last for years with minimal maintenance.
Porcelain pavers are one of the options that Raboine says is a good choice that has plenty of possibilities for design flexibility and will last for generations.
While natural stone is appealing for its rustic, timeless look, there are many types that tend not to hold up well to freeze-thaw cycles. Clay pavers are another material that consumers should be careful about as certain ones do not stand the test of time.
“When considering clay, be sure to research it and look for actual installations that have been in the ground for some time,” Raboine said. “With concrete pavers, most manufacturers, like Belgard, include a lifetime warranty. Plus, with improvements in technology, the difference between concrete and clay pavers has become almost unnoticeable.”
Most hardscaping materials have a long life expectancy but the more exposed they are, the faster you can expect them to weather. While concrete starts out as a durable material, there’s the claim that there are two types of concrete: ‘Concrete that’s cracked and concrete that will crack.’ There are many reasons why it cracks, but if some of the common mistakes are avoided, it can still last for a considerable amount of time.
Obviously, the most important factor to consider when helping a client select their hardscaping materials is their budget. A material may look beautiful with the house in the planning stage but if the client can’t afford it, you’ve wasted their time and you will have to go back to the drawing board to find a cheaper alternative.
According to Raboine, most hardscape materials will work well in a patio setting and all of them look great. He says cost difference between materials is pretty insignificant as compared to the overall cost of the project.
Natural stone is obviously the most expensive option as the material has to be quarried, but if a client cannot afford this option there is always concrete pavers.
“When factoring in the cost difference, plus the labor savings compared to natural stone, concrete pavers with stone textures are generally much more cost-effective – while at the same time not compromising the overall look,” Raboine said.
Even when the customer wants to spare no expense, Raboine says it is important to select the material the best compliments the home and is cost effective to install.
As for the least expensive option that still allows for creativity, concrete has come a long way from being a large grey slab.
“Poured concrete is the most versatile and inexpensive option, as a poured concrete patio can be formed into any shape and thickness, so it can meet a variety of functions,” Olson said. “In addition, concrete can be stamped or colored to inexpensively create the look of bricks or designed elements for an added touch.”