In 46 years of designing landscape projects, Richard Angell has heard just about everything from prospective clients. But, what about a client who says she doesn’t like straight lines?
“She’s a college math professor, and the thing she said to me was, ‘I don’t like straight lines; I like arcs,’” Angell relates.
So, the designer for Harder & Warner Landscape and Garden Center of Caledonia, Michigan, gave her arcs – lots of arcs — including a curved deck and mirroring paver patio, and a circular staircase to a still lower patio area.
In return, the project was recognized by both the Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association and the Association of Grand Rapids Landscape Professionals for design and installation in 2015.
Harder & Warner is now in its seventh decade of operation, and Angell says a large number of clients come his way through referrals or repeat business. Others just know what the company can do and the caliber of its work.
“They came in on a Saturday and talked with one of our managers,” Angell says. “They had a picture and he said, ‘Can you build this?’ The manager said, ‘I believe we can. I’ll have Richard call you Monday morning.’ That’s how the job came to us.”
In this case, the clients had lived in the house for more than 25 years and wanted to redo their outdoor space. And, they came armed with that photo they’d taken from a website. Although it’s a far cry from the clients he started working with years ago, Angell says he welcomes their input.
“People have a lot of ideas when they come in and I have no problem with trying to build their dreams,” he says. “The more information they come to me with, the faster we can get locked into exactly what they want.”
Besides the arcs, Angell says their main desires were for an outdoor space in which to entertain up to as many as 150 people, and some storage. And, they were willing to have Harder & Warner remove much of their existing landscape, except for a few mature trees, to make it happen.
“We started with a clean canvas,” Angell says. “Among the main features are a 1,450-square-foot curved deck built out of composite lumber. And, under that, at the garden level, we built a 1,500 square-foot patio from pavers.”
The patio also features an enclosed storage area that the designer says he would have preferred become an indoor bar, “but they said they needed more storage.”
The project also encompasses an outdoor kitchen on the deck, covered with a pergola. A second pergola covers deck seating on the west side of the home. A gas fire pit enhances and warms the patio seating area.
Still lower, at the edge of Spring Lake, the company installed yet another patio/seating area with another fire pit.
“What we did was we built a curved stairway that goes down to a dock area,” says Angell. “All the walls are curved, they’re brick and block and have cast stone caps on them.”
Helping to tie the backyard area together is a recycling water feature. Angell says he was initially inspired to add a water feature when he saw an old timber retaining wall that had been holding back part of the hill at the rear of the house.
“There was about a five-and-a-half-foot drop from the top down to the bottom,” he says. “That’s when I said that we needed to do the water feature in this area. I wanted to have it so that as you sit down below it feels like the water is running all the way to the lake.”
Even then, it took three prototypes before Angell and the clients were happy with the design, which features the patio cantilevering over the pond. The feature also offers two separate falls with a small stream in between. He says it carries about three-quarters of an inch of water coming over the rocks to make it look more natural.
“It makes a beautiful sound,” the designer says. “We used a ledgestone called Lake Superior limestone to build our walls, with natural fieldstone boulders to help protect the sides. And, we have a circular staircase built out of ledgestone that picks up the same arc as we came around the pond.”
As a final step, Harder & Warner also re-landscaped the front of the home, installing a circular brick in-laid driveway, fountain and new plantings.
Angell says work began on the approximately four-month project in mid-September and continued until the end of November of 2014, then resumed in the spring with the driveway and the plantings wrapping up the job which was done by Harder & Warner’s masons, and its irrigation, planting and construction crews.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the curved deck is one of the features of which Angell is most proud — or rather the amount of artistry it took to accomplish its construction. It’s not just the paver patio mirroring it, either.
“We had to build a laminated beam ourselves, and a laminated outside edge and railing,” he says. “Every aspect of it is unique.”
However, Angell adds that really he’s proud of the entire scope of the job, which he calls a “work of art,” enhanced in this case by the company’s attention to detail.
“When I get through with a project, I want to make it look like it’s always been there,” he says. “In this case, it’s a brick house, and we used the exact same brick they had on the house. We measured and got the exact color of the mortar. The detail on this job is impeccable, and it flows very well.”
He adds that reaching that level of detail can be a challenge to the crews. In this job, Angell says the clients’ demands also kept them on his toes.
“She, particularly, was very tough at times,” he admits. “She made our topnotch people do just fabulous work. She helped take us to the next level in the whole process of communication, as well as what she was looking for. There were things she saw that most people wouldn’t see.”
As for what he learned from the job, Angell says the carpenters’ ability to create the curved deck has become a real conversation piece with new clients who visit what has become a showcase project for Harder & Warner, as well as an on-going one, since the company continues to maintain the outdoor kitchen and the water features.
“When people see it, they say, ‘Can you build that?’” he says. “I tell that we did. Since then we’ve built a couple other curved decks. They aren’t as big as this one, but it’s the same philosophy.”
Ultimately, Angell says this is a project where he and the rest of the company’s crew truly hit a home run.
“The coordination between the owners and me and my crew was superb,” he concludes. “We really met the expectations of the clients. They were tough clients, and we still delivered. That’s truly the exciting part of this job.”