Choosing the Right Professional for Your Custom Backyard Project

Tips on selecting the perfect pro to help you transform your outdoor space

No matter what type of property and home you own, there is no shortage of choices when it comes to outdoor structures. There is something for everyone, from graceful arbors to distinctive pergolas, spacious pool houses, patios, and outdoor kitchens. With so many options, choosing what is best for your home can seem daunting. By utilizing the aid of a licensed architect, landscape architect, or other outdoor planning professional, however, you can intelligently make the right choices. “In order to be a landscape architect you must be licensed in the state in which you work,” explains Mark Scott, licensed landscape architect, Mark Scott Associates, Newport Beach, Calif. “To qualify for the state exam, one must attend an accredited landscape architecture program at a four year institution. An additional two year apprenticeship with a licensed landscape architect is also required in order to qualify to take the exam.” There are many sources to find reputable specialists in your area. Check the Better Business Bureau and websites for nonprofit organizations like the American Society of Landscape Architects and the American Institute of Architects. “There are many fields (disciplines) in landscape architecture,” says Scott. “As in any profession it is important to do your research and make sure that your landscape architect is experienced with your particular interest: residential, as opposed to commercial or institutional backgrounds.”

When interviewing a prospective outdoor specialist, take the time for a few give-and-take sessions. Discover if you are compatible and determine if you both feel the same way about your space. Discuss what you need a structure to do, where you think it should be built, and your budget. “A homeowner will have to work with their general contractor to develop a schedule. Much depends on the size of the project, the amount of detail, time of year, and work conditions, if applicable,” says Scott. “The budget is established prior to the signing of a contract with the builder—but the budget should include a contingency for unexpected or additional cost.” By holding this conversation before you retain the services of any company, you can almost guarantee that you will hire the right person or business for your job. Keep in mind, you must keep the conversation going after signing a contract. As a project progresses, things tend to evolve and change. Make sure you both are on the same page—and that you stay on the same page.

If you want to include a pool, research pool building companies to learn if they can help you put together an overall plan that might include an outdoor kitchen, patio, a pool house, or shade structures, along with the pool. “Generally the client’s desired use determines the type of architectural design direction,” says Scott. “The existing architectural finishes are translated into the new structures to give an established character. A licensed landscape architect will have the knowledge to properly lay out a space that will aesthetically, functionally, and safely service a given area.”

Photo courtesy of Mark Scott Associates, Newport Beach, Calif.

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