2015 CLCA Award Winner- Sonoma Design-Build Project

Our design-build installation in Sonoma won first place at this year’s CLCA North Coast Chapter Awards. The design-build categories are always filled with tough competition, so a first place award is always satisfying. Thanks to the Farmers in Sonoma for the recent photos below. You can see post install photos of the project here.

Congratulations to you for the great design and for Ruben and the crew executing it so flawlessly.  We could not be happier with how the yard (front and back) turned out especially now with all the plants filling out. We are thoroughly enjoying the backyard!! – Lorelei and Larry Farmer, Sonoma

 

From the Drawing Board: Petaluma Victorian

We are working on design development for this corner home in West Petaluma. It is prominently situated on a corner lot, meaning the design incorporates a lot of new fencing. At one side we have detailed large shrubs that would create a green fence and expand the size of the back yard. In the back yard a new patio, lawn and connecting walkways have been detailed for new living spaces.

Site plan for large corner lot in Petaluma
Site plan for large corner lot in Petaluma

From the Drawing Board- 4 Spring Projects

The spring seems to be coming early this year with all of the warm weather this winter. Here are some images from four different design projects in different stages of conceptual development.

-Novato Concept- Back yard patio and synthetic turf installation
-San Anselmo Concept- Back yard patios, walkways and garden area
-Cotati Concept- Back yard terracing, vegetable garden, steps, and paths
-Tiburon Project- Hardscape layout and retaining wall plan

 

 

Breaking down our estimates- project cost and line items

Creating a good estimate is a time consuming process. We consult on scores of projects every year, issue a lot of free estimates, and try to create a proposal that is complete and also responsive to client and project.

Our estimates are line item based, we think of them as similar to a menu at a restaurant. We outline the scope in terms of a wide array of options and detailing, and then refine the estimate depending on budget and client needs. We find line item estimates work better than lump sum estimates, especially at an initial phase.  They take into account elements like a patio that may have a range of potential sizes depending on design, say 400-750 sq.ft., and a range of potential materials- like concrete, pavers, or flagstone. Line item estimates also allow for prioritization and the division of work into phases as needed.

Here is an example of an a recent estimate in San Anselmo that shows the type of granular detail involved:

Estimate_totals

An estimate like this one takes a lot of time to put together with such fine level detail. There are 5 work divisons and 26 individual elements.  However, when we are starting out without any design documents, it serves as a great project roadmap to further develop the project.

 

Work in Progress- Cotati Concrete

For this ranch house in Cotati we are working on new concrete patios and walkways in the front and back yards. These new walkways create a new sense of entry to the front of the house and modernize the landscape.

Turned Earth Turns 500!

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When I started this blog in 2005 little did I think I would still be writing it 10 years later. But here we are. The rate of posts may have slowed down since the beginning, but we just logged our 500th post to the blog. I find blogging is a great way to share our work in a more informal forum with more frequent updates than our main website. That and you can read my occasionally coherent thoughts and musings. If you want to read every post since 2005 you can visit the live archive listing page. Enjoy and thanks for reading.

-Michael O’Connell

Reviewing Our Reviews

Our Reviews Online
Positive Reviews- 15/17 unique reviews
We have reviews spread across several different sites, with good experiences that reflect our way of doing business. Below you’ll find a survey of those reviews, with links to the appropriate sites. Our composite score would translate to 4.5+ stars out of 5. In fact, of our 17 unique reviews as of this writing, we have only two negative reviews. I have included unique reviews, as some customers have left reviews on multiple sites. You can read past customer testimonials of our work on our blog. This is also helpful as it gives the context of each customer’s project.

Yelp (4 stars) – 7/9 positive unique reviews
Unfiltered Reviews: 4 positive, 2 negative
Filtered Reviews: 3 positive reviews

The Yelp filter is strangely at work on our review page, as reviews will move back and forth between filtered and unfiltered depending on the whims of Yelp’s computer. These are all real former customers. The two negative reviews show you can’t please everyone. The first was one of the most unpleasant customers we’ve worked with over the past decade. The second was a customer that we did a minor amount (~$1,500) of design work and no construction work. We responded in detail to that reviewer’s vitriol on the Yelp response.

Houzz  (4.5 stars) 4/4 positive unique reviews
We have one negative review on Houzz as our upset Yelp customer, in his parting shots, vowed to make a stink on both Houzz and Yelp.

Google (5 stars) 2/2 positive unique reviews
Angie’s List 1/1 positive unique reviews
Facebook 1/1 positive past client review

So that’s the survey of all the sites where we have customer reviews. Online reviews are a funny business. They are important to a businesses image, yet it can be hard to get a good feel of customer consensus when reviews are spread across multiple sites. Then there are questions like- when you look at a businesses star rating on Yelp, Google, or Houzz, does it accurately reflect the company’s performance? Does one particular review site show the full spectrum of client reviews? Is that negative review a real sign of shortcomings or an angry hothead?

As a user of Yelp and a business owner, the site is particularly vexing. First it suffers from a love it or hate it atmosphere where many reviews seem to boil down to one star or five star reviews, and many companies (restaurants, etc.) seem to average the 4 star mark. This makes it hard to separate good companies from great ones. In addition, many of the poor reviews are customers with one particular grudge or another. Yelp could benefit to a change to a thumbs up/thumbs down review system and an approval percentage that some other review sites use. Then there is the Yelp filter, a computerized algorithm supposed to filter outlier, one off, and fake reviews. This may work very well for restaurants that service scores of people a day. But for a landscape contractor that has the same number of customers in a year that a restaurant has in an hour, it is an ill suited mess. Most of our custom residential landscape clients aren’t Yelp users. Yelp serves as a due diligence check for many potential clients, not a source of preliminary information. We aren’t the same type of buying decision as a plumber or restaurant.

Still, we are fortunate, the great majority of our clients are a delight to work with. As you can see they enjoying working with us as well. There will always be some difficult customers, but that’s true of any industry.

 

Petaluma Interior Pool House Design

We are working on an interesting project with Bradanini Associates, developing an interior pool house planting scheme. The planting seeks to make the area a tropical oasis, as half the interior is devoted to the pool and the other half to a patio with palms and other tropical plantings. The plant selection provides an added chanllenge of selecting plantings that will give the desired look while doing well in a lower light environment.

 

Petaluma Pool House
Petaluma Pool House

 

Two Small Stone Projects

Winter’s slower pace provides more schedule flexibility to fit in smaller projects. These two projects, one in Mill Valley and the other in Corte Madera had two things in common- small spaces and new Indian Sandstone. In Corte Madera we installed a new Navajo Brown Indian Sandstone patio. This created a more elegant and usable space, with screening achieved with Bamboo in concrete pots. In Mill Valley, we installed new Navajo Dusk Indian Sandstone over an existing concrete path, making an attractive new entry.

“Our project was a rather small one involving our front entry, so initially I was concerned it was too small for O’Connell to be interested. But when I explained our budget constraints to Michael, he was very responsive in designing a project that met our needs within our budget. He incorporated existing elements so that the work was focused on the things that needed changing. The old and new were blended very nicely.

The project itself was on time and on budget and we are very pleased with the results, both Michael’s design work, selection of materials, and the quality of the work done by the crews. Throughout the project Michael and the crew were very response to our questions and suggestions. Crews showed up on time, worked diligently, showed an amazing variety of skills, paid attention to detail, and did a good job of cleaning up at the end of each day.

Needless to say, we are pleased with the result and enjoyed working with O’Connell.”

-J.W. Mill Valley

 

 

2014 Project Highlights

While we previously highlighted work in progress construction photos on our last best of 2014 post, here are some finished project photos from our landscapes completed in 2014.

 

 

2014- The Year in Construction

This past year brought some interesting commercial and residential projects to O’Connell Landscape. We worked on a variety of jobs large and small in Marin and Sonoma Counties. See the gallery below for examples of our construction work in progress from 2014.

 

 

 

The Drought’s Over in Marin

With all this wonderful rain in the month of December, MMWD’s reservoirs are spilling. While the media is quick to point out that the drought is not over, one thing is clear, for this year at least there will be no water restrictions or drought in Marin, which gets 75% of its water from reservoir storage at Mt. Tam and Nicasio. In Sonoma County things are also looking good with Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma at about 80%.

Links:
MMWD Water Watch
Sonoma County Water Agency Reservoir Levels

Completed Project- Sonoma

This project in Sonoma was a complete make over of a front and back yard for a residence a few blocks from the Sonoma Square. The design focused on the back yard, with a new patio, seat wall and shade arbor framing paver garden paths. In the front yard a new matching bluestone walkway, concrete driveway, and privacy fence changed the look of the home from the street.

O’Connell Landscape just completed a landscape project for our front and back yards.  The design, quality of workmanship, plant selection and his crew exceeded our expectations.  His attention to detail is reflected in how his crew approached each phase of our landscape project.

Michael provided us with a detailed design, options for different materials and the cost.  When we made a few changes/additions to the original design, he provided us with a signed Change Order before any additional work was started so there were no “surprises” at the end. He was available to answer all our questions and concerns and provided us with knowledgeable guidance from the day he gave us our complimentary consultation to the day of completion.

We are extremely pleased with the outcome and enjoy sitting out in our new backyard.   It was a pleasure working with Michael and his crew.

-Lorelei and Larry Farmer, Sonoma

 

Completed Project- Kentfield

We started from scratch on this Kentfield back yard, with a complete removal of the unusable existing yard. The client wanted a back yard that would be a kid friendly play space, while at the same time good for entertaining. In its place we installed a new patio area, kid friendly synthetic turf and a new seating area. These elements were tied together with integrated perimeter plantings. See below for the before picture and after photos following installation.

 

 

Completed Project- Small Petaluma Back Yard

This home in Adobe Creek next to the golf course had a small back yard with lawn that was unusable. We designed a new plan to better use the space with custom vegetable boxes and secondary brick patio. A bluestone pathway and low maintenance colorful plantings fill out the landscape.

Commercial Project- 555 Northgate, San Rafael

This commercial office building was our second installation for the Marin Community Foundation (MCF), after our first project for their building near the Civic Center in San Rafael. This project was a more extensive removal and redevelopment of the landscape in the front and rear of the building. We focused our design on a reduced lawn area in front (the project is on reclaimed water and not subject to water restrictions). In the rear of the building we installed new screening trees and plantings.

“As I’ve said, you’ve done an exceptional job on this project, Michael. Thank you for your thorough investment in our nonprofit center and helping to make our tenants who serve the community feel valued.” -Mike Cosby, MCF Property Holdings

 

 

From the Drawing Board- Sonoma Concept Plan

This project near the main square in Sonoma focuses on transitioning a back yard from a lawn and small deck to a larger more open layout with no lawn. A deck/porch with wrap around steps, central patio, garden paths and vegetable boxes highlight the design in the back yard. In the front yard a new driveway and entry walkway feature new materials and bluestone accents.

Conceptual Front and Back Yard Plan
Conceptual Front and Back Yard Plan

San Rafael Back Yard Transformation

As is common with many older landscapings, this project had been completely landscaped years ago, but had declined with age and lack of maintenance. For this back yard in San Rafael, the client was looking for something that would feature more usable space, entertaining areas, and updated plantings.

Great experience working with O’Connell Landscape! They did a great job from beginning to end in dramatically changing our backyard.

Michael was great through all phases of our major backyard project – planning, budgeting, execution and follow up. It was really helpful working with the same company through all phases – no opportunity for surprises or blame games between design and build.

Michael gave us good guidance on budgeting, showing us how to get the best bang for the buck in materials, and executed well on that plan.

We are very happy with the results and would recommend them highly…

-Bridget & Scott Ryan, San Rafael

Kentfield Project Landscape Architect Collaboration

We received a nice note from Jim at Bradanini and Associates Landscape Architecture. We worked with Jim installing a large custom residential landscape in Kentfield.

O’Connell Landscape is an excellent landscape contractor who did a fabulous job installing a large and challenging landscape project for my Clients in Marin County. The project was multi-faceted and required considerable coordination with the General Contractor, Sub-Contractors, Owners and Architects over a 7- month period. Michael is very knowledgeable in all aspects of landscape construction, and very experienced in suggesting ways to economize but not cut quality. I would highly recommend O’Connell Landscape and look forward to many more collaborations.   

-Jim Bradanini, Bradanini & Associates

Project photos on Houzz from  Bradanini & Associates

 

From the Drawing Board- West Petaluma Landscape

Here are some conceptual drawings from a project we are working on in Petaluma. The design focuses on an overhaul of the front and rear yard, creating new usable rear patio and synthetic lawn spaces. In the front a new picket fence provides definition, while a revised entry path and porch will change the whole look of the front yard.

West Petaluma Front and Rear Yard Design
West Petaluma Front and Rear Yard Design

Houzz ideabook for the project:

 

Completed Project- Penngrove Landscaping

This project in Penngrove suffered from overgrown and outdated plantings combined a drip irrigation system in need of work. We installed new plantings for planting areas throughout the large lot in the front and back yards, improving the entry and impact of the landscaped spaces.

The services were professional, on time and delivered as planned.  The project was always kept clean and well managed.  The value was excellent.  Michael O’Connell knew exactly how to meet our needs and always had sage advice as to what plants were best suited for our weather and soil conditions.  As a landscaper he is an artist.
-Cece & Monte Bible, Penngrove
Planting details for relandscaping
Planting details for re-landscaping

San Rafael- Site Demo & Fence Installation

This project in San Rafael started with a yard that hadn’t been worked on in years. Working with the owners we installed phase 1 of the project- building a new fence to enclose the back yard, installing landings at a couple of sets of doors and clean up, grading and drainage for the whole site.

We have been very satisfied with O’Connell Landscape, and are planning to contract with them again for future phases of our landscaping project. Michael O’Connell was responsive, detail-oriented, and flexible throughout the proposal and construction phases. We asked for multiple changes and additions throughout the process, and he responded quickly and documented changes thoroughly. When minor hiccups occurred, he responded quickly and made it right. We needed mostly the “infrastructure” completed (demo, grading, drainage, gravel walkways, redwood fencing and landings, irrigation, small lawn), and plan to do much of the planting later ourselves. Despite this not being in their scope, Michael has been very helpful in recommending plantings based on our style and level of watering desired. He definitely understands customer service, and their crews are highly skilled.

-Amy & Tim Gilleran, San Rafael

 

Completed Project- Commercial Landscape Rennovation, San Rafael

This project near the Civic Center in San Rafael was typical of many commercial landscapes. Old and overgrown plantings (out of control ivy and old Junipers) needed a complete refresh to improve the look and feel surrounding this commercial office building. We developed a planting and irrigation scheme focused on low maintenance, low water use plantings, retrofitting the existing overhead irrigation to efficient reclaimed water drip irrigation.

It is a rare pleasure to work with a new vendor on a property improvement and have the process and end result surpass every expectation. Our recent landscaping project with O’Connell Landscape provided us with exactly this experience.

From first contact to final payment, O’Connell Landscape was outstanding. Every call was returned and question answered promptly and thoroughly. Numerous requests for changes were patiently accommodated, while still completing the project on time. All documents and drawings were user-friendly, which allowed us to better visualize recommendations and understand the process. They consistently kept us apprised of the project’s progress, giving us a sense of control. And their professionalism dealing with tenants and water district officials made us look good as the property owner.

It is without hesitation that we highly recommend O’Connell Landscape.

Mike Cosby, Marin Community Foundation
MCF Property Holdings, Inc.

 

Bocce Court Installation- Penngrove

This phased implementation of a back yard master plan started with the removal of an existing fiberglass swimming pool, replaced with a new Bocce Court and gravel pathway. The new space focuses on different entertaining areas, with the Bocce court as the focal point.

Thank you for your work on the Bocce Court, my girlfriends love it!

 

 

From the Drawing Board- Terraced Tiburon Back Yard

This design for a project in Tiburon took an small existing patio an underutilized hillside and transforms it into a large usable patio space with numerous amenities. There is a sequence of spaces from dining, cooking and entertainment space at the main patio, to a bocce court and seating deck at the upper hillside to take advantage of views of San Pablo Bay.

Conceptual Layout and Planting Massing Plan for a Project in Tiburon, CA
Conceptual Layout and Planting Massing Plan for a Project in Tiburon, CA

The Beautiful Natives of Salt Point SP

Nestled into the Northern end of the Sonoma Coast, Salt Point State Park is showcase of unique geology and stunning native plants. On a winding trail above bluffs of Franciscan melange and wind and salt pocked rock outcrops, are beautiful showcases of Buckwheats, native Plantains, and icy colored silver-blue California Poppies. Each bend in the trail reveals a new treat, from plains of false Dandelion to Dudleyas clinging to the jutting boulders in host of vertical gardens. While the coastal walk is the main draw this time of year, there a multiple areas to be explored, with the Pigmy Forrest, open grassland and Rhododendron  Preserve offering nice hikes on the other side of highway.

Pick an early weekend morning to head-up the coast and beat the traffic on Hwy 1 and you won’t be disappointed. See more photos in our Facebook gallery of our recent trip.

 

 

Completed Project Petaluma

This large corner lot in Petaluma needed a complete makeover in the front and back. Colorful low maintenance plantings, accent boulders and gravel mulch were installed to give a new character to the front yard. While in the back yard a new shade arbor, paver patio, flagstone pathway and matching plantings, and gravel mulch were installed to complete the landscape.

Our Portfolios on Houzz

For those not familiar with Houzz, it’s a home design website with lots of good images of high end projects both inside and out. We have loaded our full portfolio on Houzz, and use its Ideabook feature to show clients precedent images and examples of our work. It’s a great collaborative tool and free to join.


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From the Drawing Board- Petaluma Planting Plan

This project in Petaluma situated on a large corner lot was more or less a clean slate after the initial clean-up. The front yard layout focused on a low maintenance installation featuring grasses and flowering perennials, accented with Sonoma Fieldstone boulders and Trinity Gravel Mulch. The back yard, which is still in design development, has a series of linked spaces and patios, with a more formal planting layout.

Front and Back Yard Planting Plan Layout for Large Corner Lot
Front and Back Yard Planting Plan Layout for Large Corner Lot
New Plantings, Boulders and Gravel Mulch
New Plantings, Boulders and Gravel Mulch