Posts from the ‘design build firm’ Category
It’s that time of year! The days are getting a longer, and it has me itching to spend more time in the garden. There is no better way to extend your time outside than with outdoor lighting (this includes my real nighttime favorite – fire!). There are many different approaches to outdoor lighting ranging from quick DIY projects to low voltage outdoor lighting fixtures or line voltage installations.
When we start thinking about outdoor lighting design – it’s always safety first. How can we design the low voltage garden lighting to efficiently and effectively illuminate areas of transition that will make your garden safely accessible? This is typically best accomplished with path lights, down lights (if you have trees or other high points from which to mount them), stair lights or wall lights where necessary. For security, are there dark areas in your garden or near your home that might benefit from outdoor lighting? In these instances, motion detection lights might be appropriate. Also, is your driveway and house number well lit? This will help visitors (or first responders) find and navigate your home on dark nights. Here at Lazar Landscape, we typically work low voltage lighting into new garden designs and installations – but it’s always possible to add lighting to existing outdoor spaces.
Once you have safe passage through your garden space it’s time to start thinking about creating ambiance and atmosphere. This is frequently done by uplighting key garden features – like specimen trees, boulders, your home’s architecture, or other sculptural elements. Some trees benefit by direct uplighting, whereas other plants are more suited to a wash or silhouette lighting. Low voltage lighting is ideal in all of these situations because it’s relatively easy install if you have a dedicated outlet for the controller. Low voltage lighting wires don’t have to be buried or put in conduit, so it makes getting the right fixture in the right place fairly simple. If you’re an adventurous DIY home hobbyist you might consider tackling a low voltage lighting project by yourself – most people opt to go with a professional installation.
Here at Lazar Landscape, we primarily use FX/Luminaire low-voltage outdoor lighting fixtures because we value the quality of the products. There are certainly other quality outdoor lighting products from which to choose. Low voltage lighting technology is changing by leaps and bounds, with many people opting for LED lights over the once omnipresent incandescent or halogen low voltage lights. The pros of LED are that they’re energy saving and the bulbs should last much longer – which means less maintenance less frequently. You can also get brighter lighting – if you need to down light or up light at greater distances. Also, the market is directing itself toward LED, so this is where we’ll see the most innovation in the future. The cons are that the light emitted from LED lights are colder and starker than halogen, and they cost more. LED lights are continually improving – filters can and should be installed to soften the light.
Solar lighting is another option for homeowners who enjoy DIY projects. I haven’t seen every solar light, but my experience with them is that they light themselves – meaning you see them in the dark, but they don’t really do much to illuminate the garden or make it safer. As with most things, the technology is coming. I’m really impressed with eco-friendly Voltaic’s new USB touchlights, which are LED lights that run through any USB port, including their solar panels.
Other technological improvements include wireless zone remote. A typical transformer installation includes a timer similar to what you might use to control a light in your house. But as technology is improving there are products that allow you to have remote control or wireless wall keypads to control your outdoor lighting. It’s far less invasive than having the transformer switched in your house. You can even utilize a key fob – so you can turn your lights on as you drive up to your house. There are higher tech options that tie into universal remote controls for you house that allow you to control your garden lighting from your computer. It’s probably the wave of the future.
If you’re on a lower budget and like taking on your own DIY projects, café lights are an easy solution to garden lighting. Like everything, you can select from a wide range of quality from restaurant grade right down to your typical Christmas string lights or even rope-style LED lights. The Voltaic USB touchlights are also a cost-effective option if you don’t require a lot of lights – or if you want to keep your lights portable. These LED lights are totally waterproof. Candles, be they traditional fire and wax or battery operated or even solar, can be used to create ambiance in a nighttime garden.
Weather working with a landscape design/build company or taking on your own DIY projects, outdoor lighting adds so much to your home – security, safety, curb appeal, beauty, and an extension of your outdoor living ability – not to mention increasing the value of your home if you’re thinking about resale. When working on outdoor lighting design the main areas to consider when designing an outdoor lighting plan are: safety and security; curb appeal and added home value; and the functionality of extending the time you can spend in your garden.Weight the pros and cons of halogen, incandescent and LED lights.
When considering design inspiration for a space or a large remodel it used to be that magazines were the go to source for inspiration. I used to take all my mom’s old magazines and cut out images of things I loved and that inspired me. I would then stick them in a notebook I appropriately would refer to as my cool things book. If you think about it there are plenty of magazines to find design inspiration for any style – Country Living, Southern Living, Coastal Living, Home Beautiful, Sunset Magazine, Garden Design etc. – there are even magazines that inspire a whole way of living, like my favorite, Martha Stewart Living.
These days design inspiration is more often coming from online resources. As designers we find ourselves clicking on the internet icon first and foremost to find inspiration for our clients’ projects and we’re noticing more and more clients are sharing their inspiration with us that they’ve gathered online from websites. It seems like even magazines are going online – with every subscription you get a virtual one as well for your device. I don’t find myself creating my cool things books that often anymore. However, I do constantly find my self pinning images to my Pinterest boards. I’ve got one for everything – garden design, for the home, DIY, recipes – you name it I’m sure I’ve pinned it.
A lot of my inspiration has come from an online resource gallery called Houzz. It’s a really amazing resource for all types of projects – landscapes, living rooms, kitchens, bathrooms etc. Houzz allows you to create idea boards for whatever projects you are gathering your inspiration for. It even allows you to ask questions about the image for guidance, directly from the designer. You see, professionals create profiles and upload images of their work onto the online resource. This also allows you to find professionals in your area to design and/or build the work if needed.
As a company we created a profile on Houzz awhile ago and have added a multitude of images that people have in turn added to their idea books. We have even had a few articles published with our work in them for their online newsletter – also a great resource. We’ve had a fun time answering questions asked about plants and materials in our photos. For our clients who have not yet discovered the online resource, we’ve turned them on to it and encouraged them to gather their own design inspirations for our meetings. Even some of our clients have offered their reviews of working with us and allowed us to showcase photos of their projects on our Houzz profile. And because we love what we do and we have awesome clients we were just awarded a Best of Houzz 2013 award in customer satisfaction. Check out our Houzz profile here and get started creating your own Houzz account and idea boards of design inspiration. The clutter of the magazines and cool things books are a thing of the past, when looking for design inspiration – online inspiration is plenty, easily accessible and easily organized.
I had the pleasure of working on a job in Oakland where my client’s goal was to salvage as much of the existing landscape as possible. At the same time they really wanted an area for raised beds, a small play area for their little one, and more useable spaces in their sloped garden. It was challenging because the existing landscape had layers of different materials built up over the years with a slick and rickety creosote railroad tie staircase. Each retaining wall was made from pieces of stacked broken concrete, stone, and wood, creating levels that were not useable. One thing was for certain, the railroad tie staircase had to go.
Rebuilding the staircase allowed us to reroute it to maximize existing spaces and to safely access the sloped garden. The old staircase was unnecessarily wide in some parts, eating into valuable useable flat space. The new staircase starts out wide and welcoming near the house, but then narrows into a utilitarian staircase as it winds up the slope to the various garden ‘rooms’.
The first room houses the raised vegetable garden. We kept the existing drystack stone retaining wall because it was in good condition but built out another retaining wall on the downslope to create a flat area for the raised beds. This was the sunniest area in this Oakland garden which was mostly covered in shade from huge Coast Live Oaks and eucalyptus. We used metal ‘L’ brackets called M Brace from Art of the Garden for the raised beds. 2×8 pieces of redwood slip into the metal brackets. The raised beds can be configured into different sizes depending on the space, simply by trimming the wood to the desired length. The frame is then filled with soil and ready to be planted. There’s lots of wildlife in this Oakland backyard so we installed a wire mesh of gopher barrier at the bottom of each of the raised beds before filling with soil. This will prevent any underground gophers and moles from coming up through the bottom of the raised beds and harvesting the veggies for themselves.
The second room was the one-person reading perch. It is nestled under the dappled shade of the Coast Live Oaks and made of two small drystack stone retaining walls. We kept the patio small so as not to disturb the sensitive root systems of the oaks. We were also able to keep all the existing soil on site by not overcutting into slopes and using all the soil fill to create level ‘rooms’.
Walking further up the stairs, the third level room is dedicated to play. There is a small patch of shade loving lawn next to a play area. This level was already established in the existing landscape by the blue rock retaining wall. We were able to enlarge the level area by consolidating two failing shorter stacked concrete retaining walls into one three foot high retaining wall. Above this wall we dedicated to edible plants. We planted a blueberry patch with a mix of different varieties to provide a longer season of harvest with edible thyme to trail over the wall.
Finally, at the very top of the sloped garden, you reach the fire pit. This room existed in a dilapidated unusable state before because the huge eucalyptus tree roots had busted open the stone retaining wall. The stone was mortared together, leaving a huge crack right in the middle of the retaining wall. The existing patio underfoot was uneven and hard to access by a small offshoot of a staircase, only 18 inches wide. We reused the existing stacked concrete debris and created a new drystack concrete retaining wall further away from the eucalyptus root. The drystack nature of the retaining wall will move and shift as the roots grow, hopefully, not for a long time since we gave it more room to expand. The floor of the fire pit patio is decomposed granite which will also be forgiving and easy to repair if the roots decide to make an appearance.
All throughout this Oakland landscape we inserted fruit trees and edible plants. Rosemary and sage are used in planting beds amongst ornamental perennials. Fragrant lemon verbena and lavender attract hummingbirds. A strawberry patch grows just above the raised vegetable garden area. Kiwi vines grow on the fences. Persimmon, fig, pear, apple, plum, lemon and kumquat trees dot the sloped garden and fight to win the battle against the dense layer of eucalyptus leaves that can easily smother plants.
Limited sunlight, eucalyptus droppings and a mishmash of materials were all challenges in this Oakland backyard. Thanks to my clients, who were open to trying new things and appreciative of the whimsy and beauty of reusing materials, we were able to create a functional, beautiful and purposeful landscape. The overwhelming slope is safely accessible and provides a daily journey through shadow and light. This sloped garden, full of wildlife continues to evolve as the plants and trees grow and the raised vegetable garden gets changed through the seasons.
We have all been in outdoor spaces where we have felt cramped and uncomfortable or in a very large open space where we have felt vulnerable and could not relax. Both of these situations may have been due to the lack of proper proportion and scale of the space. We all dream about having the perfect outdoor space that is both comfortable and visually exciting. Harmonious, outdoor areas where we can entertain a group of close friends or spend time alone reading a book. Part of getting this dream space to work is making sure that the proportion and scale is correct.
Proportion and scale are two important principles to consider when designing an outdoor space. Proportion is the size of an object in relation to other objects in the garden. Scale, on the other hand, is the relationship of an object to a fixed object, usually the human body. Getting the ideal proportion and scale can be the most challenging concept to pull off correctly in the garden.
One of the first things to remember is that each feature or element in the garden is part of the whole. Each element needs to match in relation to the surrounding pieces. In addition, for the sake of comfort, the garden elements must relate to the human body. This is true when selecting plants, furniture, structures and hardscape elements.
Garden elements such as benches, tables and arbors are most functional when they fit the human body. Physical comfort in the garden can not be overstated. A person will feel more comfortable, function better and feel more secure in a garden when size is compatible to the human scale. Sitting back in a comfortable garden chair or dining outdoors under an ideally proportioned arbor are experiences we all appreciate. It is always a designer’s goal to create a space that is both visually exciting and physically comfortable.
A designer will consider proportion when selecting plant material. In the ideal situation, the plants are relative to people, existing plants and the house. A small café table next to a 60 foot Italian Cypress is not a recipe for a cozy corner. Even the balance between the space planted and open unplanted space is worth considering. When people, plants and the house are in proportion the compositions feels balanced and harmonious.
When it comes to hardscape, such as patios and walkways, they should not only be proportional to people but also to the house. A deck or patio should be large enough for entertaining but not so large that it is out of scale to the house. You want to be able to maneuver around a table of seated guest, yet the table should not feel like it is floating in a sea of hardscape. Just the same, an entry pathway should be wide enough for two people to walk side by side but not so wide that it loses the intimacy a home garden should have.
Proportion and scale are also important when selecting garden artwork, sculpture and fountains. The piece should be substantial enough so that it does not get lost in the garden yet it should relate to the garden around it. For example, you don’t want to place a large fountain in the middle of a small garden. This would cause the fountain to become a distraction instead of a focal point. On the opposite end, a small boulder placed in a large lawn would probably go unnoticed.
These are only a few examples of how to use proportion and scale when designing a garden. Proportion and scale are just one of several garden principles worth considering. When you are in a garden where the proportion and scale are correct the space will not only be exciting but also give a feeling of balance and harmony.
In the San Francisco Bay Area a garden is an extension of our home. Our unique weather allows us to spend a lot of time outside during the day and into the night. This is a key element of the social fabric that defines who we are. A landscape designer will assist you in creating a garden that reflects and enhances your unique lifestyle. As one often realizes when attempting to design their garden, this is easier said than done.
What many homeowners lack is a landscape designer’s ability to clearly understand the structure of a garden. Principles such as unity, balance, color, proportion, transition and repetition come into play when designing a garden. Further, designs may include specific features or complicated construction elements that require design experience. Some examples of common issues:
* Choosing the right plants for your growing condition (including soil quality, microclimate, sun pattern, deer resistance, seasonal interest and water needs)
* Decreasing maintenance for you and incorporating sustainability for the environment
* Creating privacy and blocking unwanted views while following local specifications for fire and traffic safety
* Ideally locating design elements including water features, pools, entertaining spaces, lighting and circulation
* Creating gathering spaces or outdoor rooms that reflect the architecture of your home and your personal aesthetic and lifestyle requirements
*A creative flair is also an important factor. The landscape designer must unify the physical opportunities and constraints and create a garden that looks good and works well.
For over 30 years, Lazar Landscape designers have developed gardens that reflect our clients’ lifestyle and are sensitive to the restrictions of our environment. In addition, as part of a Design – Build team, our landscape designers have a strong knowledge of construction techniques and are involved throughout your entire construction project. A very beneficial element to your project when going with a design – build firm.
Our clients include families, couples and individuals with varied needs, wants and budgets. Some are seeking privacy, others want to include their neighbors and increase their connection to the community. Some are avid gardeners, while others would rather not spend time on garden maintenance. It’s our job to come up with solutions to challenging problems in your outdoor space, and make the most of your property so you can take advantage of your unique San Francisco Bay Area lifestyle.
Think Ahead! Considering your next garden project? Construction may slow down in winter, but that’s why this is the best time to get designing! Start planning your project now – so it will be shovel ready in spring – and ready for you to enjoy all summer long. Call Lazar Landscape today to speak with a designer and find out how to move forward. Contact a landscape designer at (510) 444 -5195 to discuss your individual landscape design and construction needs.