Summertime will soon be upon us and as the weather warms, customers will want to spend more time outside. Your goal as a professional landscaper is to create enticing, functional outdoor spaces for them, so what’s the best way to go about doing this?
For Matt Blashaw, TV host, landscaping expert and realtor, he says the key to creating a truly elevated design is getting to know your customer.
“This biggest thing as a landscaper is to listen,” he says. “That truly is important. I spend a lot of time with clients getting to know them. I even walk through the inside of their house just to get to know their style, their family, how many kids they have, what they’re going to be using it for. I think it’s really important to start there when you approach a design.”
Going beyond the basic backyard
Backyards are an easy go-to getaway for homeowners after a long day and they also have the potential to serve as another room with outdoor living areas.
One of the ways Blashaw makes the most of these backyards is by adding more living space in the form of hardscaping.
“I think people just don’t account for how much living space they’re going to need in a backyard,” he says. “I always build and design backyards like you’re going to have a party, like you’re going to have 20-30 people back there. What element can you bring in to make sure that that’s not only going to be good for the family during the everyday use, but also when they have those parties back there.”
Blashaw says one cost-saving method landscapers can use to expand their customer’s hardscaped areas is to use decomposed granite held within bender board to create pathways or patios.
“It gives you a hard surface and it really is a huge impact to expand your hardscape with a fraction of the cost to what anything else would cost,” Blashaw says. “You’re getting the hardscape without the price of pavers.”
Another design element that Blashaw makes a point to incorporate into his backyard designs is an anchor element.
“I stand at the exit of the house and I open that door and I look straight out at that yard and that’s where I’m going to put the anchor element,” he says. “Whether it’s a fire feature or a water feature or something that’s going to be that wow factor, that anchor, and that’s basically the backdrop and where the rest of my design starts.”
He says he strives to bring the elements of the inside of the house, like a fireplace, to the outside of the house.
Blashaw says he is able to avoid getting into a design rut by challenging himself to get creative with what he knows about the individual.
“I don’t start making a backyard based upon their wants,” he says. “I build a backyard based on their problems. You solve the problem. You build the solution in the backyard. That means every single job I go to is a different job.”
Fixing up the front yard
As the saying goes, “Business up front, party in the back,” the front yard serves a different purpose than the backyard. The front yard’s main goal is curb appeal. Homeowners want to create a good impression with neighbors, and it can create an overall cohesive and welcoming look.
The landscaping used should draw the eye to the front door, which is the focal point in this case, and the plants selected need to go well with the architecture of the house. At one house Blashaw installed raised planter beds in the front yard and filled them with colorful annuals.
“That just really breathed some life and color into the front of the house,” Blashaw says.
Another method Blashaw advises using to boost the appearance of the house it to invest in outdoor lighting.
“Outdoor lighting is so huge for a front yard,” he says. “It really defines the space at night. Light up the architecture as well, and that’s huge so you can get the day and night elements of the front of your house. I challenge people to make their yard as beautiful during the night as during the day.”
He suggests using Philips Hue products, thanks to an app that let the user change the color of the lighting to fit whatever mood they’re trying to create.
“You can make it stand out from the crowd by choosing up to 16 million colors so it’s fantastic,” Blashaw says.
Sprucing up the side yard
Often overlooked and forgotten, the side yard can be a no man’s land for landscapes, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
There are a number of possibilities for side yards and which one is a good fit depends on the nature of the site and your client. Including elements like a path, seating, and raised beds increase the functionality of the space as transition area, but also provides stops along the way so the space doesn’t feel like a bowling alley.
“Side yards are funny, typically they’re used for storage, but I was able to incorporate little reading nooks because side yards are great little spaces to get away from it all and when I think of getting away from it all I think of a reading nook,” Blashaw says. “So whether it’s a couple of hanging chairs or putting in a hammock, make it a spot to get away because that’s a nice, little cozy space that people don’t necessarily want to be out in the open in their backyard but a side yard is a perfect spot to hide and get away from it all.”
Design trends worth investing in
Every year there are new design trends you have to decide if you want to pursue with your customers and sometimes it can be a challenge to determine which are fads that will fade out quickly and which are worthwhile styles.
One style that Blashaw believes is fleeting is the farmhouse modern look, which has a clean, traditional appearance.
“I think all the white is starting to be a little bit played out,” he says. “People are wanting some more color, some more dark tones, greens and darker wood grains. I think the white bright is going to be a fad, and probably trend over to more of a colorful cozy space. I think that’s definitely one that’s going to be going away.”
As for the trend of whether water or fire features are more popular, Blashaw says its fire for sure.
“A water feature is great, but a water feature can only be used during the day time,” he says. “A fire feature could be used during the day as something that looks good. You can build something that look beautiful with the fire coming out of it and then you can also have that at night so it’s very functional and it’s really creating an ambiance in your backyard.”
Meanwhile, if you’re looking to create a more timeless landscape, Blashaw says you can’t go wrong with natural materials.
“If you use materials like stone and things that are basically natural finishes, I think that’s always timeless, and as a realtor I can tell you it holds more value,” he says. “Even in my paver choice I like to use bluestone pavers, natural flagstone, that is something that is going to last you for a long time. I saw a couple people try to do the tile wood planks. I’ve seen some people use that in a backyard and that’s a fad. You’re going to look at that 5-6 years later and want to do something else. Stone and natural materials are going to stand the test of time.”