Words: Chris Rodermond
Photos: Wollaston Development
With our current limited access to public social venues, the ability to gather with friends and family in a safe way has put a new value on the outdoor spaces around homes. As the weather turns cooler and the days get shorter, with fall transitioning into winter, there are challenges that must be addressed to continue to be able to enjoy the fresh air while maintaining comfort. With these challenges come opportunities to make changes to an existing backyard or garden setup that will continue to provide benefits long after our immediate concerns for safety and social distancing.
Industry experts like Mike Pallone at Wollaston Development have seen a huge increase in patio projects. While noting that in places like New England people want to prolong the outdoor experience as long as possible by incorporating heaters, fire features, and lighting to help with the colder temperatures. He has found in addition to your standard patio set up, what he is really doing is providing people a space that connects grandparents to their grandchildren, friends, and family. This is a basic human need which needs to be done in a safe space
Because of the way COVID-19 has changed our priorities, a luxury has now become a necessity.
Some exciting features that can be considered are:
- Adding radiant heating into the floor of a masonry application
- Installing an awning
- Adding an outdoor kitchen
- Making space for a jacuzzi.
Pallone notes that the planning process for a project is exciting and therapeutic because customers know there is a light at the end of the tunnel and they will get to have that outdoor birthday party or host Thanksgiving outside this year and get to see their loved ones. There are hundreds of great resources online for improving your backyard space regardless of budget and Pallone realizes that not everyone has an unlimited budget so his philosophy has a several-step approach.
He likes to meet with the client first and hear them out to learn about their needs and concerns. Then he presents an idea of what is possible for their space. Starting with a patio seating area and materials that can be incorporated depending on their budget. Then the discussion can move to additional features that can be offered, like a fire feature, anything from a standard fire pit, or installing utilities whenever possible.
It is important to note that even if people do not have it in their budget initially, they can plan ahead and prepare for a multi-phased approach over years. For example, they can run conduit lines and offer to trench for gap lines and electrical. Since it is unknown how long the pandemic will go on, the outdoor space that we prepare may be the best part of the house, so it is important to keep a long view in mind.
Once a plan is in place and the clients are on board, Pallone passes the project off to managers who will guide and communicate with the client for the duration of the project. He notes that it is important to stay in tandem with the client, and after all, it is an organic process and keeping the client involved as much as possible whenever possible provides for the best outcome. He thinks that when clients are involved that is how ideas are cultivated and things start to improve. For example, a lot of times people have difficulties seeing anything other than what they are used to seeing when looking into their yard. But once the site prep and demolition begins, the yard and they had been looking at becomes a blank slate. This can be a time where the wheels will start to turn and the ideas will flow and working with a hardscape manager will generate better ideas of customers’ wants and needs and style for their backyard.
Keeping in mind the end goal is important, and every family is different. Some families are huge and want to be able to bring a bunch of people over. Some clients might need or want a little bit more of an intimate setup for smaller gatherings. But the goal is to try to build our installations based on the client.
Once the hardscape has been completed, the stonework is done, the patio space installed and the utilities are on, Pallone then brings in the Landscaping Director, which a lot of masonry companies do not have, so consider this when planning an installation. The landscaping should be able to accentuate the work that has been done.
One huge consideration is the need for shade, especially in the hot summer months. Pallone recommends and offers retractable awnings, pergolas, among other things, as well as selecting different types of plants and trees to address these concerns. For example, installing pergolas with climbing vines that provide shade, privacy, and beauty.
Other features to incorporate in e patio space can be a seating space, a sitting wall stone space, and fireplaces. If space and budget permit, Pallone and his company try to create an outdoor kitchen with a gas line that runs out to the grill.
PLAN AHEAD AND EXPECT POSSIBLE LONG LEAD TIMES
One big consideration right now is the sheer volume of requests for outdoor kitchens and outdoor fire pits. Everyone is busy on these sorts of projects right now, especially because so many people are stuck at home. If you do not like the idea of missing an entire season, start now and plan ahead! Pallone explains that one difficulty for a lot of companies is being able to obtain the materials for the install. Consider and question your contractors to make sure they have a large network of vendors so they have the resources to get the materials in a timely manner.
Another point that is really crucial is that the planning process itself takes some time. Pallone would hope your masonry firm will provide constant communication throughout the process.
For Pallone, it’s important to address the concerns people are having as the world is constantly changing while achieving their goals. So by the time a client starts to break ground the planning is set and they have gotten to know the clients enough that they can anticipate the ebb and flow of the process. For him, it’s all about the experience of the build, not just the build itself. Pallone thinks that, in a weird way, these projects have been kind of therapeutic for people during the pandemic because if they have signed up for an install in May but the work won’t start until August, they have a good amount of time to thoughtfully consider the way they can shape the future of their property. He wants customers to have a great experience from start to finish so they can look back and reflect on the process and how fun it was.