Richard J Angell, ASLA, CGIP
Retired Senior Landscape Architectural Designer/Consultant,
Outside Landscape Sales at Great Lakes Landscape Supply,
In 46 years of designing landscape projects, I had heard just about everything from prospective clients. But what about a client who says she doesn’t like straight lines? A college math professor, she said to me, “I don’t like straight lines – I like arcs.” Thus the story of how this project came to be with arcs – lots of arcs – including a curved deck and mirroring paver patio, as well as a circular staircase to a lower curved patio area. In return, the project was recognized and awarded by both the Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association and the Association of Grand Rapids Landscape Professionals for its design and installation.
The Design Process
The client had received my name from one of their friends for whom we had previously worked, and called wanting to discuss some thoughts and ideas that they had for a project in their backyard. For the first meeting, they came in armed with a photo they’d taken from a website and asked if I could build it. I replied that we could, and that we could do an even better job than the one in the photo. I have always welcomed client's input – people have a lot of ideas when they come in and I have no problem trying to build their dreams. I believe that the more information they come to me with, the faster we can get locked into exactly what they want as an end result. Other than the arcs, their main desire was to have an outdoor space in which to entertain up to as many as 150 people, and they were willing to have most of the existing landscape removed in order to make it happen. Among the main features that I designed was a 1450 SF curved composite lumber upper deck with curved railing. Beneath that, at the garden level, was a 1500 SF Unilock Umbriano patio that mirrored the arc of the upper deck. On the upper deck we designed an outdoor bar and grilling area with a pass-thru window to the indoor kitchen for easy food access. The project also included a pergola over the outdoor kitchen, a second pergola over a paver patio on the West end of the home, and a gas fire pit to enhance and warm the patio seating area. Even lower, at the edge of the lake, we added yet another patio/seating area with a fire pit. We designed a curved staircase leading down to a dock area, and all the retaining walls on the site were curved into exact tangents and built using brick and block with cast stone caps that matched the existing brick on the home. At the East end of the lower patio area, a water feature was included, which cascaded down and under the cantilevered lower patio in order to make it feel like the water ran all the way to the lake. It took three prototypes before the clients were happy with the design, and then it was time for the construction to begin.
Coordination of the construction of this project was extensive and extremely difficult due to the tight site and the many elements involved in the overall phasing of the site. The project is divided into a series of outdoor rooms, offering the clients the freedom to choose the character of the spaces they wish to visit. The five-and-a-half month project was started in September and was completed in the spring of the following year. A crew of 5 people worked on the site daily, starting with the demolition of the existing landscape and hardscape, including the moving of existing plants, such as an 8” Bloodgood Japanese Maple, which were re-installed alongside the new landscape plantings. Excavation, drainage, sub-grading, patio base installation, curved wood construction, steel support columns, brick work, FX lighting, irrigation, and landscape construction were all handled by our professional and knowledgeable team that worked tirelessly to bring in this award-winning circular-themed design project. As a final step, we also re-landscaped the front of the home, installing a (you guessed it!) circular brick in-laid driveway, fountain and new plantings.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the curved deck is one of the features of which I am most proud. It took an incredible amount of artistry to accomplish its construction – we had to build a laminated beam ourselves, as well as a laminated outside edge and matching curved railing, every aspect of which is unique. We are really proud of the entire scope of the job, which is a work of art further enhanced by the attention to detail. When I complete a project, I want it to look like it has always been there – in this case, we used the exact same brick they had on the house for our extended walls. We measured existing mortar joints and got the exact color of the mortar to match. The detail on the job is impeccable, and it flows.
As for what we learned from the job, the owner was particularly tough at times, but this ultimately pushed our top-notch people to do simply fabulous work. When people see the finished project, they ask ”Can you build that?” and I tell them, “We did.” We really met the expectations of the client – they were tough, and we still delivered. That’s truly the exciting part of this job.
Lastly, remember two things:
1. “Landscape design is a process of combining the science of horticulture with artistic principles that create a landscape that is both aesthetically pleasing and functional…”
2. “Along with the creative design must come performance, the details become important, the communication essential, and the professionalism absolute…”