As UK members of the Garden Designers Round Table…
we volunteered to take part in a group garden design exercise….
for real clients based in the North East US.
Our American colleagues diligently surveyed and photographed the site, described the client profile and sent us the data.
We looked at the data….
and concluded that our approach to garden design wouldn’t really work with this project.
‘That’s a copout!’ you may be thinking.
Well, maybe in a sense it is, but in such a communications-led business, our approach to garden design focuses heavily on building strong interpersonal relationships with clients right from the word ‘go’ so that they often end up becoming our friends.
Hopefully it is not (no it never is!) the tense and difficult process below…
…where, in the 1962 film The Miracle Worker, teacher Annie Sullivan tries to get through to the deafblind and initially semi-feral Helen Keller! We are actually wanting those ‘light bulb’ moments, such as here where Annie turns ‘the water feature’ on Helen and gets across the word w.a.t.e.r:
In our business we want not one, but heaps of those light bulb moments. A whole chandelier-full in fact!
For us the light bulb process begins before we meet. We have phone chats to answer immediate questions and discuss arrangements to visit of course.
We begin to perceive each other.
But as we approach the client’s property, their location ( its flora, rock, soil, microclimate and housing stock ) is already speaking to us.
In an initial ice breaking walk round the garden we get to see the site for the first time and we get to see how they see their garden.
Once inside their house we further perceive their visual tastes.
We show our laptop presentation or full scale portfolio of past work. They begin to see what we can do and we see what they like of what we have done.
We also explain the design process in greater detail than on the phone. We may go on to take instructions directly or may return to do so. Either way, by now we have established rapport and trust.
The taking of the brief enables some further interplay of thoughts, qualifications of thoughts, discussions of merits and demerits, possibilities and impossibilities. Not too many of the last we hope!
As often in communication it is the subtleties and the not saids, the smiles and frowns which also begin to assemble the future of the project. If it is a couple the extent to which there is any difference of opinion can be guaged and absorbed.
The brief taken, the survey of the garden follows. A minimum of half a day, more usually a day, taking the measurements, the levels, testing the soil and formally assessing the site also enables us to live, however temporarily, in the space and feel it as the clients do. Of course we drench it with photos and make copious notes, but the site talks to us. Perhaps it is like looking at a famous painting rather than photos of it. We are seeking that eureka moment when we have a concept in our minds as a result of all the foregoing. It may be a distant view, something the client said, the shape of the space – all of these and more which turns on the light.
Frequently while we do all this the client looks at a pile of glossy design books we have brought with us and maybe a wallet of random images that further pinpoint their tastes. They mark likes and as importantly dislikes. We may well discuss these before leaving. The clients’ willingness to expand on likes and dislikes contributres hugely to this stage.
Once back in the studio there is some gritty hammering out of the facts, the ideas, a weighing up of the various requirements. As a partnership we mostly achieve this jointly or occasionally singly, but then we always comment on each other’s work and adjust as we agree. This modification of each other’s thoughts is a key facet of our business.
Sheets of trace paper litter the floor as we accept, reject and modify various ways of achieving the client their objective: their own bespoke garden which fulfils a vision that they did or didn’t have. Although we have CAD expertise and do use it for some aspects of our work, we certainly feel that pencil work makes you design with more feeling and design more space – consciously. So rather luddite – like that is our preference.
What emerges from this process is certainly one ‘grand design’, and more usually more than one option. We once offered six but only where we knew we had a very decisive client!
We revisit the client with a tidy pencil version of the projected design/design options. We may use books to illustrate the design. Sometimes even a very rough axonometric drawing.
This is again an ‘interplay meeting’, a modification opportunity for the client. But our nirvana is of course the client choosing our preferred option unchanged. They usually do. This is a sign that we have correctly assessed site, client and brief. And added the indefinable spark which is US!
Only then does the fully inked and rendered design follow – almost as a comforting known – for a final approval meeting with the client.
Other designers will of course have different and equally valid ways of working.
But the personal and professional dialogue we have missed out on with both customer and site is why we offer here:
‘how we achieve a design’
rather than a design itself!
L and R
Now tap into the design thoughts of our fellow knights of the Garden Design Round Table:
Category: Design Bites