May 26, 2011 at 3:26 pm EDT | by Staff reports
Sprucing up for spring

Now that spring has finally arrived, many homeowners are considering outdoor improvements. Whether it’s a new walkway and some plantings to dress up the front yard or a patio and built-in grill, turning dreams into reality requires deliberation and strategy. Today’s outdoor living spaces can accommodate everyone, from the grill master to the guests.

A customized space can make a meaningful and functional addition to any home, as long as it is done right. The experts at Environmental Enhancements, a premier landscape and masonry design-build firm in Northern Virginia, share an approach for taking family life outdoors through careful planning and design. The first questions they ask are: What are your goals for the outside of your home? What is your lifestyle? How do you intend to use the space?

Information gathering leads to the master plan, including necessities and even a wish list of ideas that may not be in the current budget. The objective is to install a swimming pool, spa, outdoor fireplace or playground in its proper place the following year when the budget allows without tearing up last year’s new patio. Patrick Falvey, co-owner of Environmental Enhancements, says, “Most of the projects we encounter are designed with future phases in mind. A well thought out plan is key to the overall outcome and success of the project; piecemeal rarely works. We can install screening plantings for privacy and a patio this year, a built-in grill and seating wall next year, and a pergola, accent plantings and a fireplace or fire pit down the road. It all needs to come together in the end.”

Inspiration for design can come from an architectural detail of the house, a favored destination the residents have visited, or most commonly, magazine spreads. Designers consider field of vision; what do you want to see from where? How does the walkway flow as you approach the house?

“We urge people to think outside the box,” says Falvey. “Most homes are made up of straight lines. Nature rarely produces straight lines.”

When consulting with a designer, it’s best to keep a budget in mind. Not everyone has a “sky is the limit” budget. Falvey explains that, “The budget drives the direction of the design. When we ask the budget question, I think that people feel they are showing me their poker hand. This cannot be secret information.”

When moving from design to a completed project, a “speed bump” may be encountered – the construction phase. If a new landscape or patio needs to be ready for an important occasion such as a wedding or party, proper planning and time allotment need to be considered.

A reputable contractor understands the impact on a homeowner because construction can take a week, two weeks, a month or more. Falvey stresses that it is important to “show up when we say we are going to be there, keep clients informed with progress reports, minimize inconvenience, stick to the timeline, and maintain constant communication.”

When the work is over, the fun begins. Most people get a lot of satisfaction coming home to an updated front entry, vibrant plantings, or a private retreat in their backyard. Dreaming is easy. Budgeting is hard. The following are some useful tips to keep in mind.

Budget early: When the contractor knows up front spending parameters, the design phase produces the desired results without costly redrawing.

Budget in phases: If your dream clearly outpaces your budget, work with a designer who will create a unified plan that can be built in phases.

Find a contractor you can trust: Thoroughly check out a contractor’s approach, references and state contractors license registration.

Environmental Enhancements, Inc. is a customer-focused, full-service Northern Virginia landscaping company. It’s are located at 103 Shaw Rd., Sterling, VA 20166 and service the D.C. metropolitan area. Staff can be reached at 703-421-7400 or visit

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