When your Client Wants Everything

The interview with a client is a very understated part of the design process. Here is our chance to really get into the mind of the client a chance to find out not only what they need, and what they really want in their landscape. How is this part of the design process is so understated?

In 18+ years if going to conferences and workshops I have never been to a talk specifically about the interview process. Never. I’ve heard a few speakers touch on it e.g. “when you go in a client’s home make sure you ask to use the restroom so you can get a look at the house and determine their style” . . . no kidding this is the piece of advice I’ve heard the most . . . “Look in the bathroom“. Sitting here typing this out, and now re-reading this I don’t know whether to laugh or cry-I chos laughter.

2nd most heard on the circuit trail; and a good piece of advice it is, “get inside and look out the windows“. Sounds obvious, but some designers don’t. Never an entire seminar: seems amazing actually(now that I think about it), on a so crucial part of the design process. I also understand in is not part of the typical college curriculum.


[The backyard, where everything will be.]

So in talking to Mr. X here is what we found out he wanted, some he volunteered some information right away and more juicy tidbits were determined through further questioning:

  • Swimming Pool, and with the swimming pool the following
  • Swim up bar-Tiki style if possible
  • Changing room
  • Bathroom
  • Shallow end for small children, he has no small children and apparently is anticipating some from somewhere. No, no grand kids yet . . . the man is an optimist.
  • Swim behind a waterfall into grotto/cave area. Said area to have hydro-jets, or the like.
  • Dive off boulders into the swimming pool, somewhere near falls.
  • Slide through the boulder hillside down into the pool.
  • Separate spa that sits higher than pool and spills water into pool.

We’re not done yet. On top of the swim up Tiki-bar he wants an enclosed seating area. We think we can get some sort of material to roof this in “authentic” Tiki style. This will have to have steps up and be part of the “pool function” structure. Tiki-bar, changing room, bath, utilities(?), and on top the enclosed seating. Also;

  • Another gazebo-like screened-in, structure, away from pool. If possible the one already there attached to deck
  • Cooking area: grill, food prep, electrical, fridge(?), gas line.
  • Hot tub; if not the existing one in the deck . . . it needs to be designed in somewhere in this space.
  • Fireplace, not firepit. The firepit is a trend whose time has already passed in the high-end landscape. The move is to some sort of vertical fireplace. This is either gas, or gas-start with room to store wood.
  • Ability to project onto a large flat surface, i.e., an outdoor theater. this is not necessary but was thrown in the list.

I also have to design in a fence, and keep in mind that there are two dogs, including one very active Lab. This Lab has been let out the kitchen door and does a lot of business . . . need to remember that. A lot of money is going to be spent here so the last thing I want to do is design this fence(any fence) right up against the new designed space.

Fences right up close to pool are drive me crazy, I know for some it’s a budget constraint. In high-end the fence shouldn’t be close, it’s not the Motel pool we’re designing here.

About this deck. In almost every case on a project this size (99 times out of a 100) that deck is gone, kaput, outta-here! This may be the 100th time. The homeowner seems rather determined.

Keep in mind the deck is 22/23 years old, it is nearing it’s life-span. While all the new material around it, is brand new. The wood deck will start to fall apart before the rest, and then replacing, working around will be difficult. Add to this it will never match up if at that point the homeowner decides to scrap the deck and go to a hard surface.


[looking to the hillside where cave, waterfall, and slide will be]

There is a construction issue also. There is going to be a lot of underground work that is going to need to be done, a lot. I am glad I won’t have to deal with that work-around.

My 1st solution . . . large landing type steps coming out of kitchen and study to get everyone down to one or two levels, for ease of movement and harmony in surfaces and steps. Much easier to maintain and live in/with.

I cannot see which way the design will go, leave existing deck or entirely new surface(s). To that end I’ve been asked to do 2 concept drawings. One with existing deck, and one without the man needs to see visuals.

An aside for you gardeners and plant lovers. This meeting was just over an hour and a half,, and in those 95-105 minutes less than 5 minutes, more like 2-3 were spent on plant material, shrubs, etc. most of the talk was about annuals and pots. Slight disclaimer, another 5 minutes or so was spent on spading up the 4″ and 5″ caliper trees where the pool will be and moving them.

I’m involved in this more and more, these folks are busy, and when they go into down-time in their backyard retreat they want down-time. This means no gardening. For them gardening is work, not a hobby. This is just the way it is, and I don’t see it changing.

Anyway, back to the drawing board. I’ll keep you posted on this one.

By Rick Anderson

The Whispering Crane Institute was originally formed to act as the umbrella organization for the Philosophy of Design Symposium, and other seminars and workshops given by Rick Anderson and Richard L. Dube’. In the year 2000 WCI became a sole proprietorship owned by Rick Anderson. Today the WCI provides design and consultation services for Landscape Contractors, acts as a Green Industry think tank, and provides training for others in the form of workshops, seminars, and individual consulting. The WCI also provides written material, opinions, case-studies and how-to articles for industry trade magazines.


  1. Rick,
    Sound as if your new client’s backyard wishlist is wierdly similar to a rather large project I have been involved with over the years – I will e-mail you some pics

    This is over in your neck of the woods about a mile or so above 18 out in Montrose area. Do you want me to delete that other comment?

  2. Rick,

    This sounds a lot like the pool I want to build. I live in Las Vegas – your project looks like it is in the midwest or East. do you work with client’s across the country or just those in your area?

    I am interested in getting some plans drawn so that I can sub out or do much of the work myself.

    Check your e-mail



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