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Landscape Design Concepts – Principles of Landscape Architecture

Outdoor Fireplace_Allentown PA
Formal Garden Outdoor Fireplace and Pergola

 

The first lesson of landscape architecture 101 is that successful design requires a well-defined concept. The concept serves as a guide to create a unifying and cohesive character to the final design product. When design struggles present themselves or the designer finds themselves with designers block, a good concept will guide the way to a successful resolution. A concept is critical whether you are designing a simple paver walkway for the front of the house or a grand outdoor living space with flagstone patios, an outdoor kitchen, a swimming pool, pool house and outdoor fireplace.

A concept is the unifying paradigm of a design project. Often it is thought of as a theme, though it is not limited as such. Regional themes are a popular approach that affords a rather clear and simple template for the landscape design project.  Historical garden themes can range from the informal English Cottage Garden to the formal renaissance French Garden. Regional styles may include Mediterranean gardens, Prairie Gardens, Japanese gardens and Urban Gardens. Though poorly defined and understood, designers often speak of contemporary garden designs, modern gardens or postmodern gardens. Those are topics for another blog.

The concept will help guide the design decisions in a project. A clearly defined concept can dictate design gestures, forms, delineation of uses, and how movement through the spaces is choreographed. A cottage garden concept will dictate informal, organic design movements resulting in a series of unique and intimate rooms. Such a garden is designed to be intimately experienced in hands on manner. On the other hand, a landscape designed in the concept framework of modernism will define large design gestures and movements, sweeping open spaces with singular powerful statements. Landscapes designed within a modernism concept an experienced in a view more than in any hands on manner.

Well defined and articulated design concepts are the key to quality design. When questions come up, or struggles arise in the design process, the concept will provide a framework for design resolutions. If the designer holds true to the concept, the final project will be cohesive and unified. An unlimited range of factors can influence the definition of a concept. Consider the existing landscape, the built architecture, the future inhabitants, the meanings that may be portrayed, the availability of materials and the budgets for the project. Developing a concept requires the same process as developing the design. It starts with a kernel of a thought, it is explored in sketches and in written journal entries, and it is revised and revisited until that moment of clarity arrives when the designer knows the concept is right.

Outdoor Fireplaces, Fire Pits & Fire Features – Options, Elements & Costs

Outdoor Fireplace_Lehigh Valley_Landscape Company

When colder weather settles in, adding a fire element to the landscape can extend your outside enjoyment throughout all four seasons. And an outdoor fire offers more than just heat to gather friends and family around. Fire is an experience of multiple senses. The deep warmth, the romantic smells, and the beautiful flames, create intriguing and memorable times. In our area of Allentown and the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania, outdoor fireplaces and fire pits can be enjoyed for several months in both the fall and the spring. The experience of lighting and managing the fire fascinates children or all ages, including those young of heart if not as young in years. Creating a wood burning fire feature in your home landscape involves some key choices relating to scale, type of fire, budget and the overall program of uses for the space.

Fire features can be created in a wide range of scales from the small fire pit to the large fireplace. When deciding what scale will work best, homeowners need to consider the scale of the existing spaces and determine how significant a role the fire will play in the family’s outdoor living. Homeowners with plenty of space and a strong history of gathering around fires could thoroughly enjoy a custom stone fireplace, so long as it is in the budget. A more cost conscious and flexible option for fire in a smaller landscape would be a portable fire pit. There are a number of other ways to incorporate fire features in the landscape, but this article will stick to wood burning fireplaces and fire pits.

A full custom outdoor fireplace is a significant architectural feature at a home. Careful design and planning is required to make sure it fits with the style of the other architectural elements including the home. If done right, it will be a gorgeous addition. The fireplace and chimney need to be grounded into the landscape with additional architectural features such as walls to define an entire space and/or plantings to nestle the fireplace into the landscape. Custom outdoor fireplaces are also a significant investment so a family needs to evaluate the cost compared to the amount of use and value the fireplace will provide. Wood burning fireplaces require very specific engineering of the firebox and chimney size to ensure proper draw and prevent smoke from constantly billowing out the front. It is a time consuming construction process for the masons. A full custom outdoor fireplace can cost between $25,000.00 and $40,000.00 or even much more depending on the homeowners desires. But, if the budget and the program work with a custom fireplace, it can be a beautiful and functional area that builds memories for years.

A pre-fabricated outdoor fireplace is usually a smaller and less expensive option for the homeowner who wants a wood burning fireplace without the size and price of a custom version. A number of companies make such units. Some of the segmented concrete block companies make versions that can match their pavers and seating walls for a unified design palette. Unilock is one such company and their fireplaces start at around $12,000.00 fully installed. There are also companies that make modular fireplace shells that can be quickly installed. These shells can then be adapted to a specific design style with a little extra masonry, and the exterior can be finished in a variety of materials from stucco to stone. Depending on the finishes and amount of style customizing, these fireplaces can cost between $16,000.00 and $24,000.00.

Fire pits are a good option when the space, the program of use, or the budget prohibits a full outdoor fireplace. Fire pits can be made or bought in many forms from the campout style with a basic stone ring to the portable type sold by various retailers. The portable fire pit has become popular enough that certain boutique retailers are producing some very unique and higher end models (see ORE containers for example). A portable fire pit is a great option when flexibility is important. It can be moved around to various areas in the landscape as preferences and moods evolve, and it can be put away if more space is needed for a special event.

If you are attracted to adding a wood burning fire feature in your landscape, the options discussed fit a full range of budgets and lifestyles. If you live in the Allentown, Bethlehem or Lehigh Valley regions of Pennsylvania, call Garden Design Inc. and speak with Frederick Learey about your project. He has designed and built many outdoor fireplaces and fire pits in all the styles and budgets discussed above.

Outdoor Kitchens – Overview of Elements & Costs

An outdoor kitchen is a well used addition to any outdoor living spaces. After all, families spend most of their time in the kitchen, so why not get that gathering outside. The outdoor kitchen design can range from a simple grill station to a complex design with all the elements of an indoor kitchen. The biggest factor in the design is the budget so let’s look at the basic elements and costs.

The first element of an outdoor kitchen is the base which will hold the appliances and countertop. The most economical kitchen bases are built on concrete slabs with steel or wood frames and exterior grade sheathing. A higher quality base is built with concrete block on a concrete frost footer. The exterior of either structure can be covered with wood, stucco, tile or stone with natural stone being the most expensive. Expect to spend anywhere from five thousand to fifteen thousand or more on your outdoor kitchen base.

 

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Outdoor Kitchen with grill, sink, side burner, trash drawer and refrigerator.

The range of potential outdoor kitchen appliances is vast, so we will stick to the basics. The outdoor kitchen starts with the grill. If you are going through the expense of building a kitchen, you are going to want a professional quality grill, built with high quality stainless steel, very high cooking heat potential and excellent long term durability.  A medium size high quality grill will cost around three to four thousand dollars. The next requirements are stainless steel cabinetry for utility drawers, trash drawers, and storage space which will add another thousand or so to the project. Beyond those basics, you can add refrigerators, sinks, beverage centers, side burners, griddles, smokers and more spending upwards of fifteen thousand or more on outdoor kitchen appliances.

The last elements of the outdoor kitchen are the countertop and the utilities. Granite countertops are by far the most popular and will cost anywhere from twenty five hundred to sixty five hundred or more depending on the kitchen size. When you add the costs for a licensed electrician and plumber, an outdoor kitchen will cost anywhere from fifteen to forty thousand or more depending on the size and the elements included.