Bids for the shade structure in their architect’s rendering were coming in North of $70,000…not happening.

In 2016, John and his wife Julia wanted something very special to cover their open air living room for the home they were having built in Stafford Virginia. John was a successful local business owner and they had earned their dream home after years of hard work…but not with an unlimited budget. At first they contacted an architect, with whom they shared their vision. Once they had the renderings of the beautiful and ornate design, they reached out to local builders – but unfortunately – they were shocked to find the lowest bid was North of $70,000. Not happening.

In February of 2017, they found American Landscape Structures doing a web search; John caught me up on their situation and what they were trying to do.

They didn’t want to settle for an “off-the shelf” pavilion, and certainly did NOT want to spend $70,000, not even close. But they truly did want something special. In fact, our first pass having listened to what they said was important to them was STILL $10,000 more than they wanted to spend.

John and I persisted over the course of 3 months that Spring; it took some resourcefulness and creativity, but we came up with a solution that in the end they were absolutely thrilled with. And we did it all over the phone and email. It’s in our projects section, the 16’ x 24’ pavilion with the arched beam, and copper top cupola. It’s pretty hard to miss. And it’s like nothing you’ll see anywhere on the internet – or anywhere actually.

If you’ve owned a home for long, chances are good you’ve had an experience like this…

In 2004, my wife Cara and I bought a fixer upper in Summerville, South Carolina near Charleston. We wanted something with some character, and trees in the yard. Well…we found it.

After we fixed up the inside, we went to work on the outside. We started off just wanting to replace these landscape timbers. But we met a contractor, I’ll call him Carl, that showed us this brilliant idea to accent our backyard with old style Charleston brick. We saw an example nearby – at an Econolodge Motel of all places, and we loved it. He sketched his ideas out on a yellow notebook – it seemed simple enough, he gave us what seemed to be a very reasonable price, about $6,700 and a 30 day time line – and we commenced.

Work started – we had a trip scheduled to Pennsylvania and when we came back the work was supposed to be done. What we came back to was a mess. Carl had “reasons” of course. We were a little frustrated, but we reset our expectations, paid the next draw and kept going.

Next came misunderstanding. Somehow the amounts we were being asked to pay were going over what we originally agreed to. And of course, Carl had his “reasons.” We spent a lot of time going back and forth, (frustrating) we wanted to get it done and over with and agreed to his charges.

So we paid more than what we thought we should for a project that took much longer than what was agreed. The work was good, but the experience was very frustrating and took up way more of our time managing it. Time that took away from our family and working on our family business.

The reason I tell you this story is that we are very intentional about not just getting you a truly awesome result, but making this a great experience. Construction is challenging, but we work very hard to make it as easy as it can be.

It takes forethought, time, and care to see to all the details so you don’t have to worry. But that investment is much better than trying to recover from a botched project.

3 Important Things you may not have thought of if You’re Planning for a Pavilion

There are some considerations and steps that are somewhat obvious that are covered in our helpful information section on AmericanLandscapeStructures.com. The features and options of your pavilion are certainly important and getting the most you can for the money. There are just a few things that may not be so obvious if you’re aware of early on can save you some time.

Finish Quality
Space/Value
Getting it done

Finish Quality

Any carpenter can build a pavilion. But there’s a huge difference between framing carpentry, finish carpenter, cabinets and furniture. You might not want to invest in a furniture grade pavilion, but need to decide if you’re OK with framing level work or what’s important to you. Most pavilions are essentially “a roof on 4 legs.” Here are a few things to consider:

  • The ceiling. What are you going to be looking at in the ceiling? Will the joints be tight and neat? Will the wood be attractive and relatively free of knots and rough spots? Will it be low maintenance?
  • The posts. If you pay attention while you’re out and about, most park pavilions are built with the pressure treated lumber you see at the lumber yard. Maybe at a spot out in the woods; but most people we talk to are not OK with that being close to their home.
  • The post/beam connection. This is a critical area where it requires some craftsmanship to trim it out nicely if that’s important to you.
  • Space/Value

    With more nicely finished pavilions, a 14’ x 18’ has many of the same parts, pieces and labor as a 10’ x 12’. A good bit of labor goes into our finish pieces such as our corner cap trim. Our 14’ x 18’, 16’ x 20’ and 18’ x 18’ are our best buys. It’s also important to consider your space how much actual usable space you need. When you’re getting estimates, make sure you’re clear on what the size means; post to post, or roof. For example, our 14’ x 18’ our posts are 13’ x 17’ on center and the roof is 14’ 8” x 18’ 8”. 8” posts are a very nice upgrade. 10” round columns and arched beams are pricier.

    Getting it done

    There are literally a dozen outfits near you in many cases that can give you an estimate for an outdoor structure or home improvement job. In home improvement especially, getting the job done is another matter. Everyone giving you a proposal knows how important price, warranty and lead time are to you in getting you to give them your down payment and sign on the dotted line. Anytime you’re entering into any type of agreement, particularly in construction, the contract and warranty are only as good as the people signing it. What every consumer needs to ask themselves is “What’s going to happen if there is a problem?” Everyone has problems. What separates one provider from another is how they respond.

    References are one way to get assurance, and we can provide those. The problem with references is “what company that’s been in business for any length of time can’t provide 3 good references?” Reviews are good. The question about reviews is are they from actual customers? The Better Business Bureau is a good reference. It’s easy to complain to the BBB if you don’t think you’re getting treated right, so the company has to be accountable to make sure there aren’t complaints.

    14' x 16' Artisan Cedar Pergola 10in Round Columns EZ Shade Canopy

    Shade Structures for Outdoor Living

    I’ve specialized exclusively in shade structures for 8 continuous years and have spoken to literally thousands of homeowners about their outdoor living areas. When we have the opportunity, we try to engage in a conversation about what the client is going to use the space for, what problems they’re experiencing, and what’s most important to them.

    Here’s a short list:

  • Aesthetics/beauty. Finishes, material type, roof style, contemporary/traditional, post/column type, lighting, cupola/weathervane.
  • Shade. Avoid getting too much sun. Cooler in the heat of the summer.
  • Rain protection. Continuing activities through afternoon showers. Protecting valuable furniture and fixtures.
  • Coordinating with existing structures. Light fixtures, doors, windows, effect on view from home, effect on natural lighting.
  • Bugs.
  • Keeping an eye of the kids while they play in the pool.
  • Outdoor living.
  • Living room.
  • Dining area.
  • Kitchen.
  • Lounging.
  • Entertaining.
  • Last but not least, budget. You can spend $100,000+ on your outdoor living area. Make sure you budget enough for shade/rain protection as you’re making your decisions on the other components so you can actually use the space you invested in.
  • Hardscape. Patios, walls, water features, sidewalks.
  • Landscape. Plant material, grass, mulch/pine straw.
  • Swimming pool/hot tub.
  • Structure types
    Which type structure is most suitable depends mostly on what you’re going to use the space for and what your biggest problems are. If bugs are your biggest problem, a screen porch or screen room is your most obvious solution. But screen rooms don’t work so well as outdoor kitchens. And depending on the side of your home it’s being attached to can be budget busters.

  • Attached vs detached.
  • Screen Rooms.
  • Pergolas.
  • Pavilions.
  • Gazebos.
  • Continue reading “Shade Structures for Outdoor Living”

    Crumpin Fox Golf Club

    Hiring a Home Improvement Contractor – Common pitfalls and tips

    If you’re hiring someone to do any type of home improvement, you can avoid some of the common pitfalls. Anyone can make promises, but not everyone delivers.

    • Lack of detailed and documented scope of work.
    • Time expectations.
    • Focus on lowest bidder.
    • Checking references vs reputation.

    Before you provide a down payment and agree to start work, it’s very important to know about who you’re going to be working with. No one wants to over-pay, have cost over-runs, or workmanship that doesn’t measure up. Yet it happens all the time. Contracts are promises of results for a given price, not the results themselves. Getting the result you envisioned for that contract price is another matter. Take your time and plan ahead to make sure you have the right people.

    Detailed scope of work and terms
    The goal is to get to the finish line and end up with the result you envisioned without cost overruns or surprises. There’s a very wide spectrum of finish quality in the construction industry causing a lot of projects to go sideways at the end. Before you give anyone a down payment, think through what’s going to happen if somewhere along the way you’re not both on the same page. Memories fade over time. Make sure to have documentation on what you’re expecting as well as what’s communicated along the way.

    Continue reading “Hiring a Home Improvement Contractor – Common pitfalls and tips”

    Planning Your Pavilion

    Three Important Things – Planning Your Pavilion

    There are some considerations and steps that are somewhat obvious that are covered in our helpful information section on AmericanLandscapeStructures.com. The features and options of your pavilion are certainly important and getting the most you can for the money. There are just a few things that may not be so obvious if you’re aware of early on can save you some time.

    Finish Quality
    Space/Value
    Getting it done

    Finish Quality

    Any carpenter can build a pavilion. But there’s a huge difference between framing carpentry, finish carpenter, cabinets and furniture. You might not want to invest in a furniture grade pavilion, but need to decide if you’re OK with framing level work or what’s important to you. Most pavilions are essentially “a roof on 4 legs.” Here are a few things to consider:

    • The ceiling. What are you going to be looking at in the ceiling? Will the joints be tight and neat? Will the wood be attractive and relatively free of knots and rough spots? Will it be low maintenance?
    • The posts. If you pay attention while you’re out and about, most park pavilions are built with the pressure treated lumber you see at the lumber yard. Maybe at a spot out in the woods; but most people we talk to are not OK with that being close to their home.
    • Continue reading “Planning Your Pavilion”