Getting a Head Start

In our neck of the woods, the snow is starting to melt. If you’re like “some” people I know, this also means that outdoor Christmas lights are finally getting taken down (ahem), and the topics that are on the forefront of most people’s minds at this time of year are typically something like this:

“Hmmmm….I wonder if there’s a gym in the area that I haven’t joined before, cause I’m certainly not going to face the people at the 5 gyms where I only lasted 3 weeks . . . that’s just embarrassing!”

Or, “Gee….I wonder if it’s too late to return that reindeer sweater I got from Aunt Martha . . . or maybe I should just indulge in the joy of burning it?”

Or perhaps the more common thoughts, like, “How on Earth am I going to make it through the doldrums of possibly another month of Canadian winter weather?”

Now, I’m sure there are people out there that just LOVE winter, and scrape the ice off their cars in the morning while skipping and singing a happy tune. I’m glad for them, I really am . . . but I have them in the same category as say . . . morning people. I personally just don’t get it.  Warm air vs. frostbite? That’s a pretty easy decision for me.

So why, you may ask, am I talking about my passion and philosophy behind creating outdoor retreats, when going into your backyard might be the last thing you’re thinking about right now? Oddly enough, this time of year is a very busy one for me and I’ll tell you why.  I’ve been speaking for years about the average Joe and Wendy homeowner who gather together the family, all the neighbours, and their pets . . . and anyone else in earshot or in passing cars . . . to make this famous declaration: “Next year, we are finally going to get our backyard makeover done!”  

Wanna know what typically happens? They get swept up in the busyness that is life until the weather warms up, and they suddenly remember their plans. Unfortunately, by the time they call a contractor, go through the design concepts, figure out their budget, and sign an agreement, they are shocked to discover that their project may not be completed until August, September, or even next year! I can’t tell you how many of those stunned faces I’ve seen over the years. Interior renovations are year-round—but the backyard transformation business is crammed into 8 months, people . . . .if you’re lucky! Remember, this is Canada we’re talking about. The good companies are booked early.

For me, the beginning of the year is a design smorgasbord! The savvy know to get the design process started early, so they can actually be enjoying their long sought-after backyard oasis come summer . . . as opposed to watering their dandelions with tears of procrastination regret. Okay, that might be a tad dramatic . . . but you get the point!

If you’re one of the many North Americans who find yourself nodding in agreement while you read this post, the best advice I can give you is this: Take the time now to start planning, if you haven’t already, and make sure you start with design. As always, if this is something you need a hand with, contact us to set up an introductory consultation!

Enjoy the melt, everyone!

The Purpose of Design

There’s a bit of a cultural stereotype that comes with the term “artist” or “designer”. The words generally conjure up the image of an individual whose nose is continually elevated in the air . . . a scarf of some sort is always involved, even in the dead of summer, very important things are constantly being discussed (over lattes, of course) that 99% of the earth’s population couldn’t possibly understand . . . and, sometimes, there is a small dog . . . for no apparent reason.

This, of course, is all true.

Okay, the part about the dog is true . . . and maybe the scarf.

While this may be a dramatic stereotype, I think what DOES give people a negative vibe when it comes to artistic designers is the sense that what is being done is art, just for the sake of art. This impression, if true, would make the world of design seem irrelevant to the majority of people who don’t want to waste their hard earned money on something intangible. But is it true?

In some cases, I think it is. A painting by Picasso will sell for oodles of money, all for an image of a guy with two eyes on the same side of his face. While I can appreciate the revolutionary artistic genius of the man, I don’t see that painting hanging in my house improving the life of my family in any way . . . particularly since buying it would mean they wouldn’t be eating for quite some time. In the same light, there is a particular museum that had an addition put on it recently that is a wonderfully artistic structure—but the vast majority of people looking at it resemble a dog tilting its head to the side with a look of confusion.

So . . . where is artistic design relevant? What is its purpose?

Well…I will offer my opinion.

Design, to me, is only relevant WHEN its true purpose is implemented—to invoke a positive personal emotional response in the person or people for whom the design is created. If this does not take place, design is not relevant.

Over the years, I’ve had countless conversations about the idea of a “backyard revolution.” (I even created a digital video series entitled exactly that!) The reality is, I think it’s catching on and I doubt I was the first one to notice! There’s a lot more to it than just cool-looking decks, but these concepts do all tie in seamlessly with artistic design. I’ll explain by asking a few questions.

How do you know a good song when you hear one? How can you even say that one song is good and another is bad? Did you go to Julliard to study musical composition?

The most common answer to that question is, “I like the way a good song makes me feel.” There it is! A positive personal emotional response.

What about buying a house? What made you buy the house you live in over all the others you saw? Did you study architecture? 

Again . . . NO! The common answer is, “I liked the way it FELT when I walked in.”

Positive Personal Emotional Response.

The purpose of design when it comes to transforming the backyard is to create an outdoor living space that makes you FEEL good just to be there. Is art being used to create those good feelings? Yes. Is it relevant art? Well . . . I’ll let you decide!

As for me . . . I’m off to buy a scarf.

The Builder vs. the Designer

I admit it. Being a designer AND a builder makes me a pretty odd cat. The builder in me loves smelling nail gun oil and getting down in the dirt with beasty power tools as much as the next guy, but is it so wrong that the designer in me wants to look like a rock star while I do it? Is there, like, a construction-dude rule book that says I’ve gotta wear overalls and a wife-beater or I won’t be taken seriously? I don’t think so. Ripped jeans, bling, and awesome hair product is the new look boys. Don’t get left behind like my wife who is still waiting for the 80’s style to come back.  But I digress . . .

The war between the builder and the designer is as old as time itself . . . and that’s reeeally old.  Ok, I might be using a bit of dramatic licence there, but stay with me. The builders have historically been the technician types that can construct whatever plans are put in front of them, but they aren’t typically the creative sort. Designers, on the other hand, are full of all kinds of creativity, but less likely to have picked up a hammer in their lives. These two sides normally get along about as well as Maple Leaf Fans and Team Upper Management. 

But how does this relationship affect you, the homeowner? I thought you’d never ask. When you call a contractor . . . any contractor . . . most homeowners are quite familiar with an interaction that goes something like this:

Homeowner: Thank you for coming by, okay . . . this is where I am wanting “such and such” work done.

Contractor: Okay . . . well, what do you want? 

Homeowner: Oh . . . uhhhh . . . well I’m not sure . . . I was hoping you could tell me? I need ideas. This isn’t my forte.

Contractor: Well . . . (and at this point this very gifted builder will recall projects he has built before, and see if he can use them here) Why don’t you just do this and that?

Homeowner: Okay. Do you think that will look good?

Contractor: Of course! 

Now, if the contractor gets the job, good for them. He or she is a talented builder who knows what they’re doing, has great references, and knows that when they say it’ll look good, that it will. The only question remaining is this . . .

Does what worked well for somebody else’s house make it the best choice for THIS house?  Being that the design segment of the project lasted about 2 minutes . . . I HIGHLY DOUBT IT!!!

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many builders out there who are also creative design types, but they are the exception to the rule.

I cannot begin to tell you how many people have told me their stories of regret in not having their project professionally designed, even though the job that was done for them was well done. What makes it worse is the realization that, for the same amount of money or moderately more, they could have had something that was truly mind-blowing.  

Like I said, I’m an odd cat. As a designer, I have a great relationship with all the talented builders who construct my designs, as I am also a builder. We understand each other. Perhaps the age old war is ending 😛

Now . . . if I can just remember to pick my ripped jeans off the floor so my wife doesn’t kill me, all will be right in the world.