Homeowner vs Landscape Architect: How to Find Compromise in the Process

 In Garden Tips, Thoughts from the Soapbox

When it comes to landscape design, whether it’s residential or commercial, the communication process with your landscape architect should be a two-way street. 

However, whether it’s a fight for the art in the design, keeping the natural integrity of the landscape, or just plain logistics, creative differences can create conflict. This, in itself, can create a delay in completing the landscape project.

Or worse: clients can stay quiet, wanting to leave the design to the expert they hired. 

However, this can be a landscape architect’s worst nightmare: completing a project that isn’t what the client desired.

When it comes to working with a landscape architect, how do you create a dialogue between the designer and the client? How do you diplomatically say “no”? Or how do you object without creating delays and conflict? 

As a landscape architect with over 35 years of experience, here are a few ways I’ve found to ensure the landscape design process can be as smooth and conflict-free as possible. 

Landscape Design: Finding the Right Words with a Picture

When you approach a landscape architect to complete a project, you might face a conundrum. Knowing what you want in your head versus being able to bring that vision to life. 

Perhaps you saw a particular inspiration on HGTV and didn’t hit record. Perhaps its a concept from a dream. No matter the source, finding a way to display or explain your vision is a common problem.

However, the right landscape architect can work around this by designing a conceptual preliminary plan to present to their client before any soil or ground is broken. 

This is done for a few reasons. A plan helps keep the project under control. Plus, a concept design creates the groundwork for the client to better articulate exactly what they were thinking.  

However, if after several revisions and the design is still not what it should be, what you have some sort of disconnect. Don’t be shy. Offer details to your designer that will help him / her understand your concerns.

Tackling the disconnect head-on brings to the surface better clarity. Or perhaps you may just realize that you should both go your separate ways. Sometimes this is just fine. Better to know early on before you end up with a product that you didn’t wish for. Or, one that doesn’t give you complete satisfaction.

The Ideal Balance Between Control & Compromise 

Things are off to a good start. The architect conveys that he / she knows what you’re looking for. The only issue is that “X” or “Y” will make it difficult for you to safely or efficiently incorporate that particular feature. Or it might take twice as long to execute this vision at a cost that is significantly more than your budget allows. 

The right landscape architect will display any known problems or concerns directly and perhaps before the project even starts. 

That being said, complications can happen. Even so, your architect should be able to provide some clear, comparable opportunities on what to do, instead of what was initially envisioned. You can choose to agree or disagree with the suggestions. However, disagreeing is never a bad thing.

While the above is only an example of a conversation you might have with your architect, this dialogue is something that may happen through the landscape project. 

As a client, being able to identify the moment where a decision needs to be made is part of ensuring your control. You should also be able to recognize when things initially promised aren’t possible. This is so you can understand the need to move forward with an alternative solution.

Keeping the Project on Track with Your Landscape Architect

In my opinion and experience, the best way to keep control is to discuss the project expectations and create a “checklist” of sorts. Like a masterplan, this can be created before even excavating any terrain and planting any new trees.

When you put these objectives down in writing, you, the client can always circle back to them with your architect. 

It’s much easier to keep and honor an agreement when it’s written down. This ensures a promise that can match an expectation. 

With that said, here’s how you can keep focused objectives balanced on both sides. 

  • As mentioned above, create a blueprint and commit to it
  • Set a clear outline of expectations (and solutions to potential problems or complications)
  • Be honest as to what can or can’t be done within the expected budget (especially important for landscape architects to do)
  • Be willing to accept alternative solutions especially if they will save time, effort or money (important for both parties) 

When clients and architects follow these four tips together, there are usually few, if any issues to stop a project from going exactly as planned.

No One Should Feel Left in the Dark 

Something that happens all too often is when clients tell a landscape architect what they want and then vanish until major progress has been made. Conversely, the architect might tell a client that they’ll “take things from here” after hearing their requests. 

The problem here is clear. Misunderstandings can easily happen because the feedback and dialogue that should stay consistent throughout the project disappear. A lack of communication during a landscape design project is one of the biggest reasons why things can go south, and why clients and architects leave each other perhaps feeling misunderstood.

Yet it’s so easy to prevent. 

Going back to the issue of control and compromise, either side might feel there is not enough of either. Perhaps, the client said they wanted a particular stone pattern, which the landscape architect heard but misunderstood. 

My suggestion for EVERY client-architect relationship is regular and effective communication. It’s not about pestering anyone. It’s about keeping the project on track so that everyone involved is happy and feels confident about what’s taking place. 

Maintaining Strong Lines of Communication During the Project

The basics of good communication are all that’s needed to keep the project moving forward and moving smoothly. In my practice, there are a couple of things I like to emphasize especially: 

  • Ask lots of questions and make NO assumptions about requests or suggestions (crucial for both parties)
  • Voice your concerns, suggestions and ideas freely
  • Regularly revisit your design or masterplan (checklists and expectations) so that progress is happening the way you expect it
  • If something wasn’t done as expected, respectfully address it 
  • If a problem arises, quickly bring it to attention 

These principles make the process more interactive. This in turn makes things more transparent meaning that neither side will feel an excess need to feel in control or make compromises. 

As the construction unfolds each side simply has to make minor inquiries or adjustments to keep things on track. It’s like driving a car on a straight road: you’ll only have to adjust the wheel slightly to prevent veering off track.

Homeowner & Landscape Architect – No Versus

The homeowner and landscape architect should be partners guiding each other until a project is complete and as perfect as it possibly can be. In my experience, the most beautiful home renovation and landscaping projects unfold in the presence of such relationships. A collaboration based on a common goal to make an outdoor space more beautiful than when it first began.

Looking for an experienced landscaping architect who takes the time to understand your vision and who will work side by side with you? Get in touch with me so that we can make your landscaping vision a reality.

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