Let's save time and get it right, right from the start!

Here are some things to consider prior to calling Outdoor Artisan or any other contractor for a project consultation. By answering these questions you will be prepared to get things moving in the right direction, right from the start. We've even included some valuable insider tips.

First, think about function; not simply what you need or want, but why? That's an easy question if you are installing a simple path or border, but it gets more complicated when it comes to patios and living spaces. How are you going to use this space most of the time? Entertaining? If so, how many people do you usually expect to have over at a given time? You'll want to be sure to create the right amount of space and seating areas. Also, would you like a separate dining and lounging area or do you want to accomplish both in the same space? It is helpful to even consider the furniture you already have or plan to buy. Round or rectangular table? Large sofas or cushioned chairs? Knowing beforehand can really help in determining the best size and shape of your space.

Next consider your budget for the project. How much are you realistically willing to spend? It is important for you to have this established with potential contractors. Understandably, some customers feel uncomfortable talking about their budget for fear they may get taken advantage of. A great way to deal with this is to interview at least three reputable contractors. This also allows you to compare the different designs, quotes and business styles and make a more informed final decision. Be sure to ask direct questions regarding cost if you are unsure what is an appropriate range to set for your project. It helps everyone involved if you are upfront about your budget so contractors can come back to you with a design and quote that is within your comfort zone financially. Contractor Tip: When you get a quote, inquire as to whether the quote is fixed or an estimate. You don't want to end up at the end of a project with a bill that is much higher than your original quote (even though there were no changes in the scope of work) only to find out that what you signed was an estimate.

Privacy and sun exposure are other factors to consider. If you are looking for a backyard sanctuary, where in your yard would be the most suitable? Close to your home or in a far corner? Do you want this space hidden from your neighbors line of sight or away from loud pets/play areas? You may even want to consider creating a barrier from noisy ac/heating units that are often located in the backyard. As you know, it gets hot down here in the south, so you will want to think about reducing the amount of direct sun that hits your special space so you can enjoy it year round. There are a lot of affordable ways to create privacy and shade. Be thinking about this, since hardscapes absorb heat in the sun and then release it back well into the evening.

Consider the topography and grading of your yard. Do you have areas where water tends to flow or even pool when there is heavy rain? Be sure to convey this information to the professionals you are interviewing. Fortunately, your hardscape or additional landscaping could be part of the solution for many water issues. Also, keep in mind that your design ideas may need to be adjusted depending on whether you have a relatively flat or sloped yard. Money Saving Tip: When possible, customizing the design to suit the topography of your yard can be a great way to save money! Rather than spending your budget on tons of backfill or large retaining walls, a good design will work with your grade. This frees you to use that money on items that will create a more visual impact; such as stone step treads, outdoor lighting and beautiful landscaping. Work with your land not against it!

Now let's talk style. Do you want a formal or natural look? Tuscan, English, modern or rustic? Brick, pavers, stone or a combination? Mark pages, take photos or print pictures of projects you like the look of. Even if it isn't exactly what you want - show potential contractors examples of elements that appeal to you. This will further assist them in designing the perfect space, using materials that best suit your taste. Be sure to take a look around. What materials were used in the construction of your home? Continuity is very important to the feel of your new space. It is often possible to "tie-in" existing materials in some form or another. For example, if your home is brick, but you love stone, continuity could be accomplished through a brick accent in a predominantly stone feature or space. Design Tip: It is a good idea to limit the palette of material choices to help prevent your yard from looking hodgepodge.

Lastly, try to keep an open mind. Professional contractors make their living working with project designs and materials. Put that experience to work for you! Ask potential contractors for their opinion on your ideas, materials and layouts. They can give you valuable insight - often for free. Also, if the cost for your dream space is more than you want to spend, ask for suggestions to help you cut costs or accomplish your project in stages. At times, it is necessary to take a step back and prioritize or even make tough decisions, like dropping the fireplace, and substituting it with a fire pit so you can add lighting and landscaping. 

All this may seem like a lot of work, but this planning stage is too important to skip. Just do it! Take the time to work through these steps and get a good plan together. Once you get started, you'll see that the "planning your dream" stage can be fun, inspiring and invaluable.