Interview with David Verespy, ASLA.
Principal Rock Spring Design Group, LLC
What is a Landscape Architect and why should I hire one?
Landscape Architects have unique training and education that spans the professions of architecture, engineering and horticulture. This training allows us to approach each project with an eye towards integrating the various structural and design elements of a project while honoring the land and enhancing the human experience. Landscape Architects are highly educated, trained professionals who work for you, the client, and have your best interests in mind. There is no set agenda and no push for one product or solution to a problem ensuring you get sound advice and great designs, based on your needs and objectives. Landscape Architects can design anything between the doorsill and the property line, including garden structures, terraces, patios, walls, gardens, pools and anything else we can dream up to enhance the landscape.
How is a Landscape Architect different from a landscape designer or landscaper?
Landscape Architects are a licensed profession in all 50 states. Each Landscape Architect is required to have many years of training and education before they can become licensed. Every Landscape Architect has met a stringent standard of professional knowledge and experience prior to being licensed and therefore able to be called a Landscape Architect. Landscape Architects, as a licensed profession, can stamp drawings required for submittal for public approvals. Whereas, Landscape Designers are unlicensed, unregulated and there is no standard by which to measure their knowledge or experiences. Even the good designers cannot touch the breadth of knowledge or experience a Landscape Architect brings to each project. In short, anyone with an interest in plants and design can call themselves a landscape designer or landscaper.
How do I know I need a Landscape Architect for my project?
If your project involves more than just installing a few plants and requires the design and integration of various structural elements of project, then you would benefit from the skills and expertise of a Landscape Architect. Most projects have unique considerations, such as grade changes, wetlands, buildings or desired program elements, that need to be integrated into the design and would be well served to have the input of a Landscape Architect. If your project requires any review and approval by a public agency, then you probably need a Landscape Architect.
How is Rock Spring Design Group different from other Landscape Architecture firms?
Rock Spring Design Group, LLC is different from other Landscape Architecture firms in that we believe each and every design, while solving the client’s programmatic needs, should honor the land and enhance the human experience. We do this through a client centric collaborative design process that seeks to engage the client and determine how each client wants to utilize and live in their landscape and enjoy the outdoors. By determining this, we can create unique outdoor spaces, which speak to our client’s lifestyle and aspirations. Each design considers and integrates outdoor furnishings, garden structures, hardscapes and plant materials to create an ideal environment for living. We believe that each design should work in conjunction with and support the architecture, so they create a unified whole, becoming more than the sum of their parts. We utilize this approach on residential as well as commercial and institutional projects to create unique outdoor spaces and landscape which support the buildings primary function.
How long have you been doing what you do and how did you get to be an expert landscape architect?
As the principal of the firm, and having grown up in Connecticut, I have always had a deep respect for and connection to the land and its relationship to how we live. I also have always had an appreciation for art and design. Early on, I knew that this profession would allow me to combine my love of nature and the outdoors, with my love of art and design. I received my bachelor’s degree in Landscape Architecture with a minor in art from the University of Rhode Island in 1993. Upon graduation, I began working for a firm in Westport, CT that subsequently moved to New Canaan. In 1995, I passed the Unified National Landscape Architecture licensing exam and passed on my first attempt. I worked for the same firm from 1993 through 2007, attaining the positions of Associate and Senior Landscape Architect. While there, I worked on various projects from high-end residential, institutional, commercial to environmental projects. With each project I gained varied and valuable experiences along the way. This broad range of projects and experiences has provided me a well-rounded background and expert insight that I bring into each and every potential project. In 2007, I founded Rock Spring Design Group, LLC to provide my clients with innovative and unique designs while providing unsurpassed service.
Who are your clients exactly?
We work with commercial, residential and institutional clients who value outstanding design and are interested in investing in their property. Many of our clients, have unique design challenges that need innovative design solutions. Our residential clients are very special to us and many have very similar interests and qualities. They love beauty. They invest in surrounding themselves with beautiful art, architecture and furnishings. They travel as a means of enriching their lives’ and gaining new experiences. They pamper themselves with fine food and personal services. They are givers and want others to experience a richer life. They value their time at home and see landscape as an oasis in their lives. Our residential clients hire us because we “get” them and the end results speak to their lifestyle and how they want to live in the landscape. Rather than just another design which has all the requisite elements and dresses up the building.
Our commercial and institutional clients, like our residential clients, appreciate high quality design. They understand that the landscape is not just some plantings to dress up a building but rather a living environment that is an investment in the property. They see the value in utilizing the landscape to create unique opportunities for their tenants and users. This increases the desirability of the buildings or spaces and increases potential revenue.
What type of projects do you work on?
We work on many different types of projects from small residential landscape transformations to campus planning projects for golf courses, schools and churches. The unifying factor in each of these project’s, is the client’s desire to get people outside experiencing and living in the landscape, in superbly designed spaces. This unifying theme is what determines whether a project is a good fit for us.
Have you worked on my type of project?
We have worked on a broad range of projects and have over 30 years of cumulative experience. No two projects are ever exactly the same. With each project we gain new experiences and knowledge, which we carry to the next project. Our professional experiences and unique approach to planning and design allows us to work on nearly any type of project with confidence.
How do you work?
An architect friend of mine says “Good design doesn’t just happen”. It is very true. Good design doesn’t just happen. It is planned for and thoroughly thought out. We believe that each and every successful project begins with a fundamentally solid basis in exceptional planning. In the end, a comprehensively, well thought-out plan will always yield a more successful outcome. We start each project with the Master Planning process, which looks at the area under consideration, as a whole that encompasses all of the design considerations, programmatic elements, design tastes, client lifestyle and aspirations. This process will yield an overall design direction which can then be further refined, phased, budgeted and then ultimately implemented.
What if I don’t want a Master Plan?
The master plan is intended to be a planning tool which helps to guide a project and phase the implementation in a logical and orderly fashion to conserve resources and make the most out of the project budget. The master plan can be for an entire property or a portion of a property. The area under consideration needs to have logical boundaries where the planning effort can start and stop, without adversely affecting other areas of the property. So the Master Plan may only be for the portion of the property you are considering, but it will need to address the connections to other areas of the property. If a potential client is really adamant about not doing any planning up front, then their expectations and priorities may be out of alignment with ours and they are probably not our ideal client.
What type of client do you work best with and what is expected of me?
We work best with clients who value design as service and appreciate exceptional innovative design. Our clients are typically very open with us about their needs and expectations. Open communication is essential to achieving outstanding results. Our clients trust our design skills, professional judgment and professional experiences to deliver a design which exceeds their expectations. Our clients are interested in and willing to make an investment in their property.
For what type of client do your services not work best for?
We do not work best with clients who are looking for someone to just dress up a building, or throw in a few plants to make things look better, or someone who is not interested in investing in their property. This is considered commodity based design and is generally driven by the lowest common denominator and the cheapest all around solution which, most of the time, does not represent good design or good planning. These are not our ideal clients and these are clients that our services are generally not ideally suited for.
How does my project get built?
Once we have settled on a design direction there are several things that will happen: First, we will establish your level of investment for the work to be undertaken, aka the budget. This is a very important step, because any design can be implemented to meet various investment levels and the budget will dictate finish levels, material choices and final scope of the project. Secondly, we will refine the design taking into account any additional comments from the Master Plan phase and insights gained from the budgeting process. Thirdly, we will prepare construction documents which quantify the design and provide the contractors with enough information that is suitable for bidding and construction. Fourth, we will solicit pricing from qualified contractors to actually perform the work. And lastly, the work will get done and the project will be installed. We will meet periodically with you throughout this process to review the design and budget to make sure the project is going as planned and we are meeting your expectations.
How long will it take?
The master plan phase of the project can usually be completed in 3-4 weeks, once we get the go ahead to proceed. After that, it really depends on several things, the scope of the work, the complexity of the work, the clients’ willingness to keep things moving and the weather. It can be as little as a few weeks to several years.
Will I get results?
We strongly believe that through our collaborative design and master planning process we can ultimately arrive at a design which reflects our client’s interests and design tastes, allowing them to more thoroughly enjoy their property and outdoor living lifestyle.
Can I contact some of your past clients to check your references?
Yes, we can provide a list of references upon request. However, due to the nature of much of our clientele and their desire to maintain a high degree of privacy we only release reference lists to highly qualified potential clients.
How much will all this cost?
The Master Plan is typically a lump sum fee that represents a small investment in the project. Usually master plan fees range anywhere from $1,500 for a small project to $7,500 or higher depending on the size of the property and the complexity of the project. After the master plan phase of the project, subsequent phases, such as municipal approvals and construction drawings are typically billed on an hourly basis. Bidding and construction management services are billed as a percentage of the overall project cost.
Do you accept Credit Cards?
We do accept Visa, Master Card and American Express as a method of payment for professional services. There is a 3% surcharge for all credit card payments to cover processing fees.
I’m not sure if I am ready to get started can I call you?
You can certainly call our office and speak to us at any point before or during the design or implementation process. However, before we work with any clients we have an approximately 1 hour long initial get acquainted meeting, at no charge. The intent of this meeting is to focus on your project. At this meeting we will discuss your project, your design tastes, how you would like to live in the landscape and what your most important goals and objectives are for the project. We will walk the property to review its opportunities and constraints. We will discuss your expectations, answer any questions you might have and set the next steps.
How do we get started?
You have already taken the first step in getting started by visiting our website and reading through this interview. The next step is to schedule our get acquainted visit. At the get acquainted visit we may request a retainer to get things moving. This would then be applied to the Master Plan Phase. We are required to obtain a signed contract for every project. We will provide you with a contract for providing Landscape Architectural services after the initial meeting that you will need to sign before we can start any work.
What should I have ready for our get acquainted meeting?
The get acquainted meeting is all about you, your project, your objectives and your design tastes. We also will be sending you a copy of our Client Questionnaire before the meeting. This is to help you identify how you would like to live in the landscape, things about your property that leave you unfulfilled or a wish list of things you would love to have. These answers will help guide us through the design process to make sure we are addressing your needs. We will also bring up new design opportunities and possibilities while meeting with you and walking the property. We each have our own design tastes and style. Your landscape should be an expression of your tastes and style. With this in mind we would ask that you go to Houzz.com and put together a folder of your favorite garden, architecture and design images. These could be as simple as a single plant or a much more involved landscapes. You should have an idea of what you find appealing in each image. These will help us identify and understand your design tastes.
We can’t wait to get started on working with you to create an outstanding landscape for your property!