Landscape design features: Reminding clients of the possibilities

Updated Jun 1, 2018
Photo: BelgardPhoto: Belgard

Last month the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) released its annual trends survey, which polled landscape architects on the expected popularity of various outdoor design elements.

The report was similar to 2017 with fire pits and fireplaces, lighting, and seating and dining areas all ranking fairly high. But what is the takeaway landscapers should be gaining from these stats?

Joe Raboine, national design and training specialist with the Belgard Design Studio team, says these predictions are showing up in the design studio around the same percentage and that landscapers should make a point to suggest these features to their clients.

“That’s probably one of the most common things that we hear from homeowners and from contractors is that they’ll just go out and give them whatever they’ve asked for, which usually starts with a request for a patio estimate,” Raboine said.

Photo: BelgardPhoto: Belgard

Instead of simply giving customers the basics, Raboine encourages landscapers to suggest features like fire pits and lighting, as well as the concept of breaking up the areas.

“I think once they start to break it out that way it opens people’s eyes to what’s possible,” he said.

While people are more active on design sites such as Houzz and Pinterest, the majority of the public is still generally unaware of what all is possible in a landscape.

As for trends that landscapers can take advantage of, Raboine says that even though landscape lighting was number two in popular outdoor design elements it’s an area that a lot of companies tend to overlook.

“They’ll say I don’t want to get involved with lighting, and I can totally understand that,” Raboine said. “It’s a totally different skill set than hardscape, but when they’re building out these spaces it’s critical to offer things like that because people do use these spaces mainly in the evening.”

One thing that is crucial when discussing these features with clients is how not all of these elements are just for the wealthy. While landscaping companies naturally want to promote their biggest projects, Raboine says it’s important to let customers know that as an average American they too can have an outdoor living space without breaking the bank.

Photo: BelgardPhoto: Belgard

“Contractors kind of aspire to get all of those large projects, because obviously they’re nice to have but there’s just an absolute ton of business in that middle (class),” he said.

One of the up and coming features, Raboine has noticed is the requests for an outdoor theater space but says that a lot of outdoor living elements only start gaining traction after landscapers start recommending different ways to utilize their outdoor space.

As for why fire pits and fireplaces remain the most popular design element followed closely by outdoor seating/dining areas, Raboine says it’s because people often associate fire with being outside.

“It fosters the idea of conversation and community and connections,” he said. “Fire pits are really cost effective, so unless there’s some type of space restriction, you can almost always have a fire pit.”

Raboine says the same can be said for eating outside in the sense that it just feels natural.

Around 60 percent of the outdoor spaces that Belgard tracks have a fire feature, and of that percentage about three-quarters are fire pits while the rest are fireplaces.

“I think the thing with fireplaces is that it’s just a very large visual anchor for the space and really sets the style and the look for the space,” he said.

Because of the large nature of fireplaces, these tend to be placed in the back of the space to draw people outside and tends to have a more intimate setting. While fireplaces are appreciated, their price keeps them relegated to jobs running around $25,000 or higher.

“Most people would absolutely love to have a fireplace because it’s such a beautiful piece, but it really does come down to the budget,” Raboine said. “It’s generally going to be between $5,000-$20,000. It’s a pretty big range but a fire pit could be $500 to $5,000.”

For those concerned about having their project standout from the many other fire feature installation, there really is almost endless ways to create custom versions with a little bit of creativity.

“The easiest way is to define the overall area where the fire pit is and then play around with the shape of the fire pit itself,” Raboine said. “Generally, people see squares and circles, but maybe do something that’s more geometric. Try to get experimental with it or turn the fire pit on a 45 and then mixing materials around that is another way to differentiate it.”

Adding built-in seating is another option that can be included to define the space differently.

“I think they associate it more with permanence,” Raboine said. “In a lot of areas too if you have an open backyard where you don’t necessarily have a lot of privacy, that built-in short seating wall kind of gives people the impression that that’s their space. It also allows for overflow seating and it creates visible interest.”

Photo: BelgardPhoto: Belgard

According to Houzz, 67 percent of homeowners spend more time outside after completing a landscaping project, and Raboine says this is in line with what they’re hearing from their customers, especially if they have unique features.

“A lot of times these people had nothing before other than a slab or maybe a small deck, so they add all these features that add functionality to it and you can see why they’re utilizing these spaces much more often,” he said.

The key to making sure that customers end up with a space that they use and enjoy is not about adding a fire feature to every project but is more about putting more consideration into how the space will be used.

“(Landscape contractors) need to figure out why people are buying these spaces and why they want them and try to connect with them at that level,” Raboine said. “If they’re able to do that, I think they can end up designing better spaces for them and ones that will impact their lives and make a difference.”

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