By Mark Brock
Designing and building an Outdoor Room is just as challenging – perhaps even more challenging – than adding an interior room to a home. Both projects require expertise in construction, electrical, plumbing and permitting, along with an artistic eye toward design that meshes with the entire home. But Outdoor Rooms add another challenge to the process – designing and building a space capable of withstanding the onslaught of Mother Nature – sun, wind, rain and extremes in temperature.
“When you’re designing and building an Outdoor Room, you have an entirely different set of issues from when you are adding an interior room to a home,” said Steve Chepurny, RLA, president of Beechwood Landscape Architecture and Construction of Southampton, New Jersey. “You not only have to consider how the space looks today, but what it will look like in five, 10 or 20 years as plants and trees grow and mature.
“With an interior room, you can easily move furniture around, but with an outdoor space the construction is more or less permanent, so you have to be sure the flow is right. Zoning and permitting can be more complicated for an Outdoor Room, and you can have issues with storm water runoff and privacy with your neighbors. Of course, Mother Nature is the biggest challenge of all.”
Landscape architects have risen to the challenges created by the growing popularity and increasing complexity of Outdoor Rooms, fulfilling a central role in designing and constructing outdoor areas that are as functional as they are artistic. Landscape professionals, including landscape architects, designers, craftsmen, contractors and specialty retailers, are collaborating with homeowners to realize visions of Outdoor Rooms as special places where families and friends enjoy good times together in beautiful, comfortable and safe environments.
Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina.
Photo Courtesy: ©2018 Furman University.
Landscape Architects Fulfilling Leadership Roles for Outdoor Rooms
Landscape architects attend colleges and universities accredited by the American Society of Landscape Architects and are licensed by the states in which they provide services. Their training and experience is comprehensive, encompassing design, planning, construction and project management for outdoor spaces, addressing topics as diverse as plant materials, site preparation and environmental issues.
While landscape architects often focus on large civic and commercial projects, such as parks, corporate campuses, shopping malls and master planned residential communities, many of these professionals are also involved in residential projects, working with homeowners in creating their vision of an outdoor paradise. Professional designations for landscape architects include RLA (registered landscape architect), LEED (certificate in Green building practices), ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architects) and PLA (professional landscape architect.)
Landscape designers are also fulfilling leadership roles in the design and construction of Outdoor Rooms. With specialized training and experience in garden design with plant materials, hardscapes, accessories and structures, landscape designers create and enhance outdoor living spaces, often with a focus on large residential projects, such as Outdoor Rooms and gardens. The Association of Professional Landscape Designers promotes professionalism and continuing education for landscape designers, including certificates for advanced training and expertise.
Designing and building an Outdoor Room is definitely a team effort that requires the skills and expertise of craftsmen, contractors, outdoor product specialists, interior designers and specialty retailers. Interior designers who have established relationships with homeowners by decorating indoor spaces are often called on to recommend how to carry interior themes to the outdoors.
For specialty retailers, the Outdoor Room represents an opportunity for marketing a broad array of products, including outdoor fireplaces, fire pits, kitchen appliances, shade structures and patio furniture. A growing number of retailers are increasing their design services as well as fabrication, installation and assembly capabilities, encompassing products that range from fireplace and fire pit installations to pergolas and retractable awnings.
We reached out to landscape professionals from across the U.S. and Canada to learn more about their work, including the joys and challenges of designing Outdoor Rooms that can range in cost from $40,000 to more than $500,000. For specialty retailers in hearth and patio markets, landscape architects and landscape designers represent a target market for increased collaboration by becoming trusted resources for quality outdoor products and expertise.
Skii Landscape Architecture, Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Photo Courtesy: ©2018 BRAD GOBER PHOTOGRAPHY.
Oklahoma Landscape Architect Encouraging Collaboration with Specialty Retailers
When it comes to designing and building Outdoor Rooms, landscape architect Candace Melton, PLA, ASLA, is an advocate for collaboration with specialty retailers, from initial design through final installation. With her own firm and in leadership roles with the Oklahoma chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, Melton promotes events that bring retailers and landscape architects together in social and professional settings.
“We want to buy local whenever we can, and we like to touch and feel the products we’re specifying – the quality, the size, the fit and the feel,” said Melton, who formed her landscape architect firm, Skii Landscape Architecture in Tulsa, in 2000. “Catalogues can only do so much, so it’s important that we form relationships with specialty retailers who can host open houses and give us updates on what they carry. We should try to meet each other and form relationships.”
Melton studied landscape architecture at the University of Arkansas where she serves on an advisory board for studies in architecture, landscape architecture and interior design. She began her career with a large multi-disciplinary firm in Little Rock, later moving to Tulsa where she worked for a leading landscape architect and eventually formed her own firm.
“Residential landscape design is where I felt I found my niche,” she said. “I wanted to focus on the intimacy of getting to know my clients and the spaces where they will live and make memories with their friends and family.”
Melton’s firm follows a highly detailed planning process when working with its clients, including site analysis, conceptual approaches, detailed designs, construction drawings and specifications and budgets. The range of features available for outdoor spaces is extensive, including luxury pools and spas, water features and ponds, natural stone terraces, flagstone/brick patios, outdoor kitchens, outdoor fireplaces, fire pits, outdoor televisions and pergolas. There is also growing interest in the use of smartphones to control many of the room’s features, from lighting and sound to fans and water features.
“Our goal is to create a plan that fits the architecture of the client’s home, their budget, and, most importantly, their personalities,” Melton said. “There are many guiding principles to our work – place the outdoor kitchen near the interior kitchen for ease of transporting food items, and consider the view from inside the home looking out and from the Outdoor Room looking in.
“It’s important to consider how the Outdoor Room will affect natural light coming into the home, how the spaces flow, how you can screen from the neighbors, when needed, and very importantly, how you can provide some flair, something artfully unique.”
While homeowners experience the creature comforts and amenities of the Outdoor Room, it’s the responsibility of landscape architects such as Melton to handle hundreds of details behind the scene that assure everything works as it should for many years under extreme conditions.
“There is so much that goes on behind the scene – drainage pipes, cabling, gas lines and electrical conduit for lights, fans, appliances and outlets – all of the grit of the project that makes it work,” she said. “One of the most challenging aspects of the work is the never-ending need to design every detail. It seems you are never done designing – hardscape, planting, lighting, grading and drainage, even down to the details on the garden gate and drain covers.”
While the technical details of design and construction are central to the work of landscape architects such as Melton, she never loses sight of the ultimate goal.
“I try to give my clients something that will stand the test of time, so durability, well-made products and a sense of style are essential,” she said. “We’re creating places where the family gathers ’round and celebrates the little things in life: Graduation and engagement parties, baby showers, watching football games on TV, grilling out under the stars, watching the twinkling lights strung from pergolas. I’ve seen all of these special moments in the spaces we create, and I am so grateful that I chose this profession.”
For more information on Skii Landscape Architecture visit www.skiila.com.
WE Design Landscape Architecture, Brooklyn, New York; furniture by Gloster.
Photo Courtesy: ©2018 TYCOLE. www.tycole.com.
Urban Settings Present Unique Challenges for Outdoor Rooms
After several years of practice in the New York metropolitan area, the landscape professionals at WE Design in Brooklyn have come to appreciate the unique challenges of designing and building Outdoor Rooms in urban settings. Take, for example, adding an Outdoor Room to the top of a building.
“Outdoor Rooms built on rooftops can offer dramatic views of the city, but they can also be very challenging,” says Tricia Martin, RLA, LEED AP, who founded WE Design with her husband, Winston Ely, RLA, LEED AP, in 2009. “You have to begin a rooftop project with an engineering study to determine how much weight the roof will support and any structural improvements you have to make.”
The studies themselves come with a price tag, and the structural findings and recommendations for safe construction can make creating an Outdoor Room on the roof extremely expensive.
“Not only are there structural issues associated with rooftop Outdoor Rooms, but you also have the challenge of getting building and plant materials to the roof top, and there are approvals you need, such as co-op boards,” she said. “In some cases, the owners are ready to move ahead no matter the cost, but in other cases they might decide that they just need a table and a few chairs to enjoy the outdoors.”
WE Design has created an impressive portfolio of work that spans several of New York’s signature civic and community spaces, including the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway. The firm’s services include all phases of landscape architecture, Green infrastructure design, master planning, urban design, community engagement, greenway design and planning and design guidelines. The firm also does a substantial amount of residential work for individual homeowners.
“People who live and work in urban settings appreciate the value of the time they can spend outdoors, so they are willing to invest in outdoor spaces, whether it’s a rooftop garden, a terrace setting or a pocket park; they want to duplicate features of the indoors for the outdoors where they can enjoy fresh air and the benefits of being outside,” Martin said.
“In many cases you are working in a small space and you’re dealing with a microclimate that’s created by tall buildings with strong winds tunneling through,” she continued. “We’ve developed a set of best practices for urban settings over the years based on our experience – securing umbrellas on a terrace so they don’t blow over into the street, selecting plants that can thrive in various sun exposures and making the most out of relatively small spaces.”
Martin earned her master’s degree in landscape architecture from the University of Oregon where her husband also studied. They moved to New York in 2003, attracted by the number of major landscape architecture projects underway in a major urban setting. After working for other firms, they founded WE Design, concentrating initially on residential work and subsequently branching out into civic and community projects.
“The first step in working with homeowners is to meet with them in their space and begin by asking how they will use the space,” she said. “We find it’s helpful for them to create a Pinterest page on which they post the things they like, which can help give us a sense of their taste and style.”
One of the constant challenges in an urban setting, of course, is space limitations. Many clients want an outdoor kitchen, a dining area and a sitting area, but there just isn’t enough room on a rooftop, a terrace or in a small green space on the ground. There’s also an educational process around the issue of cost.
“There is a misconception with many people that products for outdoors cost less than products used inside because it’s for the outdoors,” she said. “The fact is, outdoor products can cost as much or more than similar items inside the home. We often have to do some education on costs.”
As the cliché goes, “the devil is in the details,” and so it is in designing outdoor spaces for consumers.
“For a consumer, every detail counts – the colors, their likes and dislikes. It’s all very personal and the challenging part is fine tuning the details to meet the family’s needs.”
Despite the challenges of working with individuals, Martin finds residential work gratifying and continually changing.
“One of the trends that I’m seeing is greater interest in ecology that’s reflected in water features and the plants we use in outdoor spaces,” she said. “For a long time, it was big, fancy fire pits and fireplaces outdoors, and while fire is still very popular, I have seen a shift toward more environmental concerns including the use of native plant materials and water gardens.”
The training and experience offered by landscape architects is essential to success with creating outdoor spaces, Martin says.
“Landscape architecture is a specialized field that allows us to create Outdoor Rooms that are amazing,” she said. “From structural issues to creative designs, landscape architects can program a space in a way that takes advantage of every opportunity for enjoying the outdoors.”
For more information on WE Design, visit www.wedesign-nyc.com.
Pedersen Associates, San Rafael, California.
Northern California Ideal Settings for Outdoor Rooms
When it comes to Outdoor Rooms and opportunities for landscape architects to do their best work, it would be hard to beat northern California, which is home to Pedersen Associates, one of the region’s leading firms focused on outdoor living spaces.
“The relationship that people in northern California have with the outdoors is very strong,” said Pete Pedersen, ASLA, LEED AP, principal with Pedersen Associates, which is located in San Rafael. “We don’t have issues with mosquitoes or other night critters like other parts of the country, the spring and fall weather is wonderful, tons of different plant materials thrive here and the varied topography creates ideal settings for outdoor spaces with beautiful views. We’re fortunate to live and work here.”
Pedersen founded Pedersen Associates in 1983 after having worked in his father’s architectural firm. With a team of seven professionals, Pedersen is involved with all aspects of the firm’s projects, from design to completion. A large portion of the firm’s work is residential, with a steady stream of referrals based on the firm’s award-winning designs and Pedersen’s longevity in the market. Collaborations with clients and within the design team, along with environmental stewardship, are hallmarks of the firm’s work.
“My typical role with clients is as a conceptual designer with initial sketches and problem solving in a broad brush approach,” he said. “From there, our team develops the program and we work with our clients to come up with solutions. It’s a lot of fun, and we love what we do.”
According to Pedersen, there are many important elements to creating a successful Outdoor Room, with location and lighting being among the most important.
“If your outdoor space is not attached to the home, make sure it’s not too far away so that you’re running a long way back and forth,” he said. “And, if it’s attached to the home, you want a smooth flow from the home to the outdoor space. With lighting, remember that a little light goes a long way outdoors. The key is lighting controls so you have just the right amount of light for the time of day or night and the people you are spending time with.”
An ideal opportunity for a landscape architect is with new home construction, according to Pedersen.
“By involving a landscape architect in the planning process for a new home, you have an opportunity to integrate the garden and the Outdoor Room with the home,” he said. “You can create a strong linkage between the two that really takes advantage of the overall home site. It’s an opportunity to create a sense of place.”
For Pedersen, the ideal Outdoor Room emphasizes comfort.
“I just want a comfortable place to put my feet up and enjoy a glass of wine,” he said. “It might be a nice chair and an ottoman beside a fire. At my own home, we have an outdoor fireplace with a beautiful stone hearth. The important thing is to create a space that’s easy to enjoy.”
For more information about Pedersen Associates, visit www.pedersenassociates.com.
Sudbury Design Group, Sudbury, Massachusetts.
New Englanders Cherish Those Warm-Weather Months in the Outdoors
While you might not think of New England as the ideal place for an Outdoor Room because of the extremely cold winters, the reality is that people in this part of the country cherish warm days, if only for a few months each year. This situation creates opportunities and challenges for landscape architects and designers involved with Outdoor Rooms.
“Being in New England, with only four or five months of warm weather, you do everything you can to extend the season for your outdoor space,” said Matt Sullivan, a project manager of Sudbury Design Group of Sudbury, Massachusetts, a leading landscape architecture and design-build company that has served the Boston metropolitan area for more than 50 years.
“Fire pits, hot tubs and radiant heated terraces are all features that are popular here to make the most out of the short warm weather season.”
Sullivan joined Sudbury Design Group in 2008 after earning his degree in landscape architecture from the University of Rhode Island. His role at the firm involves design, planning and construction management, with New England weather affecting every element of the work.
“We use only materials that can withstand the temperatures – something that can sit under a foot of snow all winter and then come out in the spring and look fine,” he said. “The materials and the products for outdoor spaces have come a long way in durability.”
The outdoor spaces created by Sudbury Design Group are heavily influenced by classic New England architecture with an emphasis on the classic look of field stone. There are, however, opportunities to integrate more contemporary elements and to apply durable materials sourced from around the world.
“Before we begin designing anything, we work with our clients to learn more about their personalities and how they will use the space,” Sullivan said. “We want the space to reflect their lifestyles and include the features that they can really use and enjoy. With all the products we design into the space, we look for quality craftsmanship and materials that will hold up over time.”
The relationships that Sullivan and other members of the Sudbury team form with clients are a crucial element to the success of every project.
“The ideal client is someone who has an idea of what they want but who is also open to suggestions,” Sullivan said. “These clients look for our input and are receptive to our opinions whether they agree with everything we suggest or not.
“I also like to work with someone who has the confidence to make decisions and take some risks. Working with a creative client is huge because it means we don’t have to stick to the expected and can do new and exciting things.”
For more information on Sudbury Design Group, visit www.sudburydesign.com.
ALaurel Design, North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Photo Courtesy: ©2018 BRETT HITCHINS.
Canadian Landscape Architect Followed in Father’s Footsteps
Adrienne Brown’s career path was set early in life when, as a preschooler, she frequently visited construction sites with her father, a landscape architect in Vancouver, Canada. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in environmental geography and a certificate in landscape technology, qualifying as a Registered Landscape Architect in British Columbia in 1994 and becoming a LEED accredited professional in 2007.
For more than 20 years she worked for a number of professional firms, focusing on commercial, residential and multi-family institutional design. In 2010, her career continued to progress with creation of her own firm, ALaurel Design in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Her work today includes a focus on residential garden design, including Outdoor Rooms.
“For landscape architects who focus on residential design, one of the challenges is in addressing all of a homeowner’s questions,” she said. “There is a great deal of back and forth because consumers aren’t always familiar with the design process and technical issues.
“I find that an engaged client who understands the financial and logistical challenges often contributes a great deal to the process of creating a successful Outdoor Room. A successful design fits seamlessly with the home and garden, while responding to the client’s imagination and how they will use the space.”
Brown begins each residential project by exploring the client’s vision for the project and moving relatively quickly to a conversation concerning the cost of materials and labor to set a budget that’s realistic. The goal is to avoid wasting time on unrealistic expectations while giving clients the greatest value for their money. With a detailed plan in place, the complex work of creating an outdoor venue begins.
“I enjoy the multifaceted aspect of the work,” she said. “You have to reconcile cultural, aesthetic, biophysical and structural factors as you work through the budgeting and construction process. Invariably a project will involve a number of trades, and everything must be designed and installed to stand up to the weather.”
During her career, Brown has witnessed substantial changes in the design, number of amenities, and complexities of Outdoor Rooms. Working in Canada, these challenges are even greater given the short summer season and the extremes of weather.
“My father was designing Outdoor Rooms in the mid-1950s, when the primary elements were concrete patios, trellises and fire pits,” she said. “Over the past decade so many more elements have been brought into the Outdoor Room, especially kitchen islands, and the many amenities that go far beyond the stand-alone barbecue. A whole new range of products has emerged for Outdoor Rooms, and there are more people wealthy enough today to afford them.”
According to Brown, the popularity of Outdoor Rooms represents an opportunity for specialty retailers in hearth, patio and barbecue segments to collaborate with landscape architects.
“I select products for the Outdoor Rooms I design based on style and quality as they relate to the design, and then based on availability and cost,” she said. “Because of shipping costs and exchange rates in Canada, the specialty retailers that I work with are often from the local area, and they need to be accessible via telephone to answer questions about inventory and lead times.
“Most importantly, they should be aware of the challenges we face in successfully keeping products in a design through the budgeting and tender phases,” she continued. “This doesn’t necessarily mean the product prices have to be reduced; logistics of delivery, effective communications, the quality of an item, and its durability in an outdoor setting can make all the difference.”
For more information on ALaurel Design visit www.alaureldesign.ca.
Derviss Design, Novato, California.
Design Process Essential Step to Successful Outdoor Rooms
If you were to ask Steve Chepurny to name the single most important element in working with Outdoor Rooms, he would quickly name the design process. As he puts it simply: “Without a successful design process you cannot have a successful project.”
Because of the value that Chepurny places on a well thought-out design process, his firm in Southampton, New Jersey, Beechwood Landscape Architecture and Construction, begins each client engagement with a detailed assessment of the site. It then carries through with a review of goals and objectives for the project and an evaluation of the challenges and opportunities for how various elements of an Outdoor Room can be brought together. The firm often uses 3D technology to help clients better understand the design approach.
“Our design process helps our clients visualize the space we want for them – how we are creating a comfortable flow, how we are meeting the needs of both kids and adults, and how they can continue to add new features each year that fit in with the overall design,” he said. “Some of the most gratifying aspects of the work is when our clients have ‘ah ha’ moments – when they begin to visualize how everything is coming together.”
It was Chepurny’s early fascination with plantings and trees and the changing seasons in his native southern New Jersey that led to a lifelong connection to nature and a career in landscape architecture. He earned his bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from West Virginia University and in 2006 formed Beechwood with partner Tim Worrell.
The latest trends in Outdoor Rooms, Chepurny says, include homeowners wanting to extend the season, including hot tub use 12 months of the year. There are also increased options in audio-video, including outdoor television and sound systems.
“If we’re successful in the design process, the outdoor space will feel comfortable to our clients, easy for them to move about and enjoy the space,” he said. “Many of our projects are quite large, and once we develop a fluid and functional plan, the homeowner can phase in additional elements over a period of years.”
The Beechwood firm is comprised of staff professionals with varied experience in the landscape construction industry, including landscape architects, nurserymen, horticulturist and landscape construction specialists. Beechwood also works with a select group of sub-contractors, including collaborations with specialty retailers for furniture and accessories for its Outdoor Room designs. Beechwood team members are expected to gain a clear understanding of the goals and objectives for each project so that designs are faith-fully executed down to the smallest details.
“Just as in our design work, it’s important for specialty retailers to help consumers visualize how their products will look in outdoor spaces,” he said. “They can do that through good merchandising in their showrooms and through their websites. We work with retailers in creating sets where clients can experience the look and feel of products.”
For more information about Beechwood Landscape Architecture and Construction, visit www.beechwoodlandscape.com.
Walter Gropius’ home.
Photo Courtesy: ©2018 HISTORIC NEW ENGLAND.
Bauhaus Founder Inspired California Landscape Designer
The Bauhaus School of Design, founded by the German architect Walter Adolph Georg Gropius and others in the early 1900s, inspired an entire generation of modernist architects and designers. One of many professionals inspired by the work of Gropius and others of the Bauhaus school is Michelle Derviss, a landscape designer and environmental artist in Novato, California.
“I was a teenager riding a bicycle in Lincoln, Massachusetts, when I saw Walter Gropius’ home,” Derviss said. “I was awe struck with its simplicity and beauty as it fit so perfectly into the surrounding landscape.” At that moment, a 30-year career in landscape design in northern California began to take shape.
Derviss took an unconventional, circuitous route to her education. At the age of 17 she attended Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design summer program in Landscape Architecture and later studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts with an emphasis on sculpture. In 1986 she took a year off from work and attended two horticultural internship programs, one on the East Coast with Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum and the other on the West Coast at the Filoli Estate. She is certified as a Bay Friendly Sustainable Designer.
“My goal was to combine sculpture, landscape architecture and horticulture into a lifelong career,” she said. “I recently returned to the States after attending a short program with the Research Center for Japanese Garden Art and Historical Heritage. Call me a perennial student.”
For the past 30 years, Derviss has owned and managed her own firm, Derviss Design; her work has been featured in numerous national publications and has garnered an impressive array of design awards. Creation of artistically conceived outdoor spaces, ranging from elegantgardens to multi-faceted Outdoor Rooms, is a hallmark of her firm’s portfolio.
“In California, the Outdoor Room really has never been a trend. It has always been a part of the lifestyle due mostly to our temperate weather and the ability to spend so much time outdoors,” Derviss said.
With the Outdoor Room firmly entrenched in the California lifestyle and with her professional reputation well established, Outdoor Rooms and elegant gardens are a source of continued inspiration and professional achievement for Derviss.
“People who put value on good, functional design tend to hire those who have the skill and talent to assist them in their vision and process,” she said. “We designers have the experience in the permitting process, design, technical construction and project management to help make a project functionally successful, aesthetically appealing and enjoyable for years to come.”
Despite zoning and permitting red tape associated with Outdoor Room construction, Derviss continues to find the work inspiring as she brings the visions of her clients to life.
“Designing a garden or an Outdoor Room is a multi-prong approach that includes budgeting, lifestyle understanding and site specific analysis. A great deal goes into the mix as we solve complex problems with innovative design techniques and materials. I love building stuff.”
With the depth and diversity of her studies and work experience, Derviss continually incorporates the latest in materials and design.
“The outdoor fire pit is asked for more often than most other features, which really spans the economic divide,” she said. “We tend to handcraft our own fireplaces and hardscape from raw materials. Furniture is selected based on the style of the project and surrounding architecture. Over the years I have come to know vendors who offer the products that we’re attracted to – high quality and great design at a good value.”
Derviss sees sales and marketing opportunities for knowledgeable and service-oriented specialty retailers in hearth, patio and barbecue segments.
“Many retailers do a good job of communicating, and I always appreciate hearing about innovative materials through marketing materials via the web and in print,” she said.“I rely on certain publications, such as Hearth & Home, to see new introductions into the market.”
In terms of marketing, Derviss values websites that provide detailed information and technical specifications. Marketing to her firm should focus on information and images.
“It’s just my personal pet peeve, but I don’t like cold calls,” she said. “Send me good graphics, specs and marketing material via the web or publications, and then we can start a conversation and build a relationship.”
For more information on Derviss Design, visit www.dervissdesign.com.