When a designer presents a concept to homeowners, the clients must try to visualize a backyard that doesn’t yet exist. They’re required to make aesthetic choices as well as become familiar enough with pool and spa technologies to select the right products.
“It can be overwhelming,” says Scott Cohen, president
of The Green Scene Design & Construction in Northridge, Calif.
“So I tell the client at the very beginning that we have a
process in place for this, and I outline it.”
Here, Cohen and other designers explain how they present their
concepts so clients can absorb the information, visualize the final
project and make the best choices to meet their needs.
- Set the tone before bringing out a
Before unveiling the drawing, some professionals recommend a recap
of what was mutually decided at the initial meeting. This might
include overall architectural style, features and desired
Designers also can use this opportunity to create some excitement
before producing the drawing.
The point is, once artwork comes out, a client may only pay partial
attention. So if there’s any issues that need to be
addressed, the designer should say it first. “At my last
appointment, I could see how their eyes were all over the
plan,” says Steve Chepurny, president and director of sales
for Beechwood Landscape Architecture & Construction in
Southampton, N.J. “I’m talking and they’re not
- Show clients how a drawing works.
Most people don’t work with plot plans on a regular basis, so
it’s a good idea to provide a brief tutorial on how to read
Point out the back of the house, as well as windows looking into
the yard and doors that provide access points. If the drawings
contain symbols, explain what they mean.
“You can go through a presentation and 30 minutes later they
say, ‘Now where was the pool?’ says Michael Logsdon,
president of Land Design in Boerne, Texas. “You lost them at
hello, and you have to go back to the start.”
- Physically position the clients for
If conducting the meeting inside the house, try to position the
clients so they’re sitting at a primary viewing spot to the
backyard, Logsdon says. This way, they can look out the window and
imagine what they’ll see when the backyard is complete.
After you’ve explained the overall concept, take the
homeowners out to the backyard and have them stand in key spots to
imagine how things will look.
This exercise can also help determine if there’s anything
missing in the design. “I’ll tell them to stand on the
patio, stand where the pool will be and experience what
they’re seeing,” Logsdon says. “Are their
neighbors seeing too much? I need them to take ownership up-front
and say, ‘Make sure we’re blocking the
But don’t do this too soon. “A lot of times people want
to jump right outside and start talking about how
everything’s going to fit in the yard,” Logsdon says.
“I’ll say, ‘Let’s make sure you understand
the design first.’”
- Organize the information clearly.
The concept should be presented in a clearly organized fashion,
with information properly grouped. For example, designers should
not go from talking about the view through the outdoor dining room
to the available automatic cleaners.
Some designers like to begin by explaining the overall flow of the
project, starting at the door from the house and walking through
the yard. This quick “tour” can help orient the
customers. “To me it’s almost like building a
story,” says Joey Pecoraro, owner/designer for Las
Vegas-based Architectural Design Concepts.
It also helps to start with broad concepts and then move on to
specifics. “At first, I’m trying to explain the method
to the madness,” Logsdon says. “That’s when I
start talking about the whys — why did I put the spa there,
why did I put the waterfeature there? I’m talking about the
architectural style. I may mention a color palette, but in
generalities. I’m not telling them they’re going to
have Texas cream limestone or Oklahoma stone, unless I have it
firmly in my mind.”
When discussing the design itself, Chepurny starts with what he
considers the most important items — generally the pool and
major hardscape features. He discusses the various items in order
of prominence, with ornamental plants usually coming last.
Once the clients have gotten their sea legs, you can go back and
discuss each space in more detail, addressing materials and finer
points of the design.
- Take plenty of breaks along the way.
While providing the information, stop occasionally to ask the
clients if they have any questions. “A lot of times, if
you’re talking 20 minutes, they’re only hearing
five,” Chepurny says. “After I’ve been talking a
bit, I’ll ask, ‘Do you have any questions?’ They
may be five minutes behind you, and you have to get them back up to
In particular, ask if they can picture what’s being
described. “Sometimes they’re not being honest. They
don’t want to feel like, ‘No, I don’t get it at
all,’” Logsdon says. It’s helpful to pay
attention to how in-tuned they seem, and explain that many people
have a hard time visualizing something from scratch, so they
don’t feel embarrassed.
- Use active, descriptive language.
Discuss how it will feel to go to and from different areas of the
project. If moving from a tighter space to a more open
environment, for example, describe the sensation as they transition
from place to place. If another area is meant for entertaining
large crowds, help the homeowners picture guests interacting with
“People buy emotionally,” Cohen says. “You build
emotion by tapping into visualization. If I’m selling a spa,
I won’t say, ‘Look at this pretty spa with the nice
curves and the flagstone coping.’ I’ll say, ‘Can
you imagine yourself at the end of a hard day soaking in this spa
with a glass of wine and a hot water massage on your shoulders
soothing away the stresses of the day?’”
Describing what the clients will see and how they can use the
property also helps identify discrepancies between their wishes and
the proposed design, so that any problems can be fixed.
“You don’t want a customer, when you’re halfway
through a project, to say, ‘Oh, it looks like that. I thought
it was going to look like this,’” Cohen says.
“Those can be expensive changes.”