Outside the Box

The topography of this property, with its distinctive stepped lawn, is highlighted by bluestone walls, multilevel terraces, and stairways. The site, designed by landscape architect John Lindsay Mayer (Farmington), offers three separate levels of living space connected by staircases and pathways. Mayer’s design received several first-place honors in the 2009 Detroit Home Design Awards. Photograph by George Dzahristos



Even tiny plots can benefit from the services of a landscape architect or designer, whose extensive knowledge of plants and their proper placement can help you avoid costly mistakes and keep your investment growing for years to come. It’s important to consider the big picture when thinking about landscaping, area experts say. “We offer a holistic approach instead of doing things piecemeal,” says designer Patrick Zaremba, of Zaremba & Co. in Davisburg. Adds Farmington-based landscape architect John Lindsay Mayer: “What you don’t know can definitely hurt you and your garden.” Like a good kitchen or bath, when done well, landscaping can enhance the value of a home and help it sell more quickly. “In the end, good landscape design is both a science and an art,” says Birmingham-based landscape architect Michael J. Dul. “What we really sell are our ideas and our experience.”


This outdoor “room” by Mark Avripas of Avripas Construction Management Co. (Rochester) is covered to extend its use into colder months. The space was designed to blend with the interior of the home. Photograph by Beth Singer



The right patio is the foundation of al fresco living. Bob Porter, designer and co-owner of Ortonville’s Landscape Artisan, offers the following suggestions for planning an open-air oasis. (For more inspiration, check the company’s blog: landscapeartisan.wordpress.com.)

1. Style matters: The days of simple concrete slabs are gone. “Your patio can be as individual as you are,” Porter says. Trends include using a variety of shapes and materials that range from vintage-look tumbled pavers to surfaces that are stain-resistant and modeled after European cobblestone.

2. Take inspiration from nature: “Natural stone is timeless,” Porter says. Options to consider include: bluestone, flagstone, slate, and granite pavers.

3. Look up: Vertical elements such as fireplaces and columns add visual interest.

4. Consider maintenance: Materials and upkeep go hand in hand, Porter says. Though gravel patios have a Provençal cachet, they’re less popular than other options because they require more upkeep. For durability, Porter recommends pavers, which are the most popular patio base. “They last forever and, if installed correctly, have minimal maintenance,” he says.


Rockworks (Lake Orion) took third-place honors in the 2009 Detroit Home Design Awards for this pool that features diving stones positioned at varying heights and an overall design that appears almost natural in its wooded context. Photograph courtesy of Rockworks


From infinity edges to built-in stereo systems, there are more options for pools than ever before. But jumping in without thinking it through can leave you all wet, area experts say.

“Too many people end up [getting rid of] their pools because they don’t consider them carefully enough first,” says Bloomfield Hills-based landscape architect James C. Scott. Following are four tips — just in time for bikini season.

1. Homework: Know your needs, ground conditions, and local zoning requirements before getting started, says Tom Jaworski of Brighton’s Forest Ridge Construction. “A concrete-shell pool on unstable ground can crack and become a maintenance nightmare.”

2. Privacy: Think twice if you like to sunbathe or if you’re not looking to host the weekly neighborhood pool party. “People discover friends they never knew they had when they put in a pool,” Scott says.

3. Fencing: Remember that safety features such as gates, automatic covers, and sensors are musts for families with small children.

4. Commitment: “Unless you have a pool service,” Scott says, “you’ll need both time and money to maintain it properly.”


Zaremba & Co. (Davisburg) designed this landscape for a Bloomfield Hills homeowner who requested a neat, orderly, and unique property. The site includes a parking court with grass panels for visual relief and water absorption. A leaping gazelle is the focal point of a more intimate space. Photograph courtesy of Zaremba & Co



1. Design fee: “Be leery of people who don’t charge for their designs,” Patrick Zaremba says. “You usually get what you pay for.”

2. Qualifications: “Like a CPA, landscape architects are registered with the state and go through extensive training,” says Birmingham landscape architect Michael J. Dul.

3. Objectivity: “A nursery contractor may have shrubs in his yard. That enters into his design and may not be the best choice for your project,” Dul says.

4. Budget: The economy has made designers more willing to take on smaller jobs. Many are also willing to do the job in stages or provide a design-only service, if the budget is tight. Cut costs further by doing the pre-planting and cleanup yourself, Mayer says.

5. Practicality: “Gravel patios may look great, but gravel walkways are less work,” says Dul. And be patient, he says. “Don’t expect instant results.”