All posts by Michael O'Connell

From the Drawing Board- Tiburon Back Yard

We are working design development for this back yard project in Tiburon. The clients had an existing landscape plan that needed to simplified and improved for usability for two small children.

The solution was to regrade the site to make more unified spaces, removing some of the existing walls and grading from the existing plans. The result is a clean design with finished concrete and connecting walkways and a rear lawn play space with perimeter plantings and privacy fencing and screening.

Tiburon Back Yard Design

 

Two New Holidays for 2017

In this political climate we thought it was important to add two new holidays to our work calendar in 2017. We will be giving our employees the day off to celebrate the life and legacies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez. In that spirit, here is an excerpt from Dr. King’s final speech:

2016 Project Highlights

2016 was another successful year of landscape installations with lots of interesting and varied projects. We were fortunate to have great clients to work with last year. Enjoy the gallery of project highlights below. Cheers to 2017!

O’Connell Landscape Joins the Fight for $15

As a company we have always believed in providing stable, long term employment with good benefits. This year we have employees who have been with us for over 10, 20, and 30 year time-frames, including since our start in 1987.

To that end we have made a commitment to a base wage for our workers of $15 per hour. Unfortunately, given the high cost of living in the Bay Area, even this amount is less than ideal.

We thought it was important as a company to affirm this commitment to our workers and express support for the Fight for $15 movement. This is especially true in light of the current political environment and pronouncements by organizations such as the CLCA (California Landscape Contractor’s Assocation) and Farmer’s and Ag Associations that are anti-employee. We don’t buy the anti-minimum wage arguments that these wage floors are a bad thing. Substandard wages only force an increased burden on social services.

CLCA’s Anti-Minimum Wage Lobbying Efforts

 

Completed Project- Large Petaluma Back Yard

This project in Petaluma by Helen Putnam Park was fun transformation of an existing large lot landscape. The homeowners had purchased the home new about 10 years ago, but the existing landscape was showing its age and didn’t fit their needs. We were brought in to look at the project with an existing landscape designers plans. While the plans were nicely detailed, they were too elaborate to be built to a reasonable budget. We worked with the client to develop a scaled back plan, which leveraged many of the initial design ideas, but in a way that was simpler and more elegant, while reducing cost.

The design featured several elements including large concrete patios and stepping stones, grass area, vegetable garden and shade pergola and seat well. Accents of zonable low voltage lighting, succulent garden with fountain, and firepit area filled out the design. We also regraded the property to level and better use the large lot footprint. The result was a nicely transformed and more usable space.

If we had to pick one word to describe O’Connell Landscaping, it would be EXCEPTIONAL.

We met Michael O’Connell when we were putting a design to bid from a different landscape designer. In working up the bid, Michael realized that the work as envisioned by the original designer could not possibly be completed within our budget. Rather than just submitting the bid like the other contractors, he took the extra step to tell us that he’d be happy to work with us on a new design that would better suit our needs and budgets.

Thus, began our wonderful experience with Michael and O’Connell Landscaping.

During the design phase of the project, Michael broke down every element of the original plan and quickly guided us through a decision-making process to prioritize what was important to us, what types of materials would work for us, and how those choices impacted our budget. I was amazed at how quickly Michael was able to narrow down the often-dizzying array of options and through a series of questionnaires and design reviews lead us to a final plan that included ALL of the major design elements from our original plan at a price that met our budget.

The construction phase of the project was equally efficient and enjoyable. The O’Connell construction crew was wonderful—very respectful of our property, our neighbors, and our family—and completed the project on-time and on budget. Ruben, the lead on the project and a master at the art of using a Bobcat, has been with O’Connell for more than 30 years, a further testament to the quality business Michael O’Connell operates. Both Ruben’s and Ubaldo’s experience and skill definitely showed through in our finished project—expertly framed pergolas, beautifully crafted seat walls, exceptionally constructed fences and gates. Michael’s choice of sub-contractors was equally exceptional, with three colored-concrete patios that have literally caused our guests to gasp at their quality. Michael was frequently on-site during the course of our 20-week project, reviewing progress, answering questions, and otherwise making us feel that we were his company’s top priority.

To say that the finished product exceeded our wildest hopes would be an understatement—an absolutely remarkable transformation of our backyard and an absolutely wonderful experience with O’Connell Landscaping.

We couldn’t recommend his company more strongly.

-Jim and Amy Schwappach, Petaluma

Work in Progress- Larkspur and Petaluma

We are working on a couple of interesting projects in Larkspur and Petaluma right now. The Larkspur project focuses on a new back yard to create a more usable patio and entertaining space. It features a large bluestone patio and outdoor kitchen.

The Petaluma project is a larger yard that integrates new concrete patios, a large painted pergola, seat wall and stone accents.

2016 CLCA Award Winners

We won two awards at this year’s CLCA North Coast Chapter Award Program. The first project was a completed front and back yard installation in Petaluma. The second was a rustic front and back yard in Cotati. Both projects shared some interesting elements, including new fencing, water features, and vegetable garden areas. See some current photos below of both projects.

2016 CLCA Medium Installation Award Winner- Cotati

2016 CLCA Design Build Award Winner- Petaluma

Thanks Jerk!

I was talking with a colleague today who works for another landscape construction firm in Sonoma County.  Our conversation lit on the topic of reviews and unreasonable clients.

“How’s that jerk of a client you guys had recently, the one who wrote multiple bad Yelp reviews under different user names?” I asked.

“Oh I think they have finally given up and gone on to bug someone else,” he said. “Funny thing is, we didn’t have a lot of reviews when this guy started his campaign against us, it helped us make sure our happy clients shared their experiences online.”

We had a similar experience with a bad reviewer, who vowed to ruin our reputation with the power of his online scorn.  The current online review score card for O’Connell Landscape?
Happy Clients 18, Jerk Clients 1
h-reviews y-reviews

Completed Project San Rafael

This front yard design and installation in San Rafael  focused on creating a new low maintenance, low water use garden to replace an existing front lawn. Because of the layout of the front entry for this project, a new paver patio was installed to create a courtyard space off the front entry path. We used McNear pavers for the hardscape, accented with a Bluestone landing over an exisiting concrete stoop.

Plantings focused on creating color, texture and interest while being easy to care for. New LED lights highlight the path and new patio space.

We highly recommend O’Connell Landscape. We are delighted with our new front yard which eliminated the dreaded lawn and replaced it with an easy care, drought tolerant, very attractive landscape. Michael provided a design that incorporated all the elements my husband and I wanted, and expert advice and infinite patience on all fronts: Hardscape, plants, lighting, irrigation and more. O’Connell Landscape has a very efficient and yet flexible mode of operation; deadlines and the budget were meet. The crew is extremely hard working and highly skilled in all areas: Foundation work, paver fitting, soil preparation, woodwork and lighting installation. There was excellent communication between the crew and/or Michael and the client. In our case, approval of the plan was required by a homeowner’s association. Michael provided the requisite documentation for this process; compliments were expressed by the HOA for the complete and professional plans. The overall care and attention that our project received from O’Connell Landscape was of the highest quality. It was a lot of fun to work with this company.
-Carol Mirenda, San Rafael

Completed Project- West Petaluma

We just wrapped up this front and back yard installation in West Petaluma (see progress photos here). The project featured a lot of interesting custom woodwork- new pergolas, all new fencing,  and custom Cedar accent gates. These complimented all new paving- a new colored concrete driveway, paver seating area, and rear paver patio. Accent lighting and a polished granite water feature served as accents, while a backyard BBQ included a new grill, fridge and Big Green Egg smoker.

California real estate is expensive…that’s why expanding our living space outdoors was so critical to my husband and me. We hired O’Connell Landscape to basically overhaul every square foot of our yard. This included hardscape, plantings, outdoor kitchen, water feature, drainage, lighting, fencing, gates and more. The end result exceeded our expectations and is a true example of craftsmanship you just don’t see that often. Michael was meticulous with the details and was a real pleasure to work with. Backing him up is the most respectful and hard working team we’ve experienced. At the end of every day, we walk out into our yard and pinch ourselves! Bottom line, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend O’Connell Landscape.
-Cindy Jepsen, Petaluma

Current Project- West Petaluma Makeover

We are in construction on an extensive landscape project incorporating all new front and back yard work in West Petaluma. The design incorporates new fencing and paving throughout, with the back yard featuring a new pergola, patio and outdoor kitchen.

 

 

2015 Construction Highlights

Last year brought more interesting and beautiful projects in both Marin and Sonoma Counties. Below you’ll find a gallery of some of our 2015 highlights.

Completed Project Cotati

This front and back yard project in Cotati focused on new spaces around a recently constructed home. The front yard had some previous landscaping that was not cohesive and didn’t create a sense of entry or curb appeal. The back yard was a gentle slope with little existing landscape that needed a plan to best utilize the space. Our solution for the front yard was a split rail fence and new focus on an existing majestic Valley Oak. In the back yard a new series of spaces with seating areas, large garden area, and firepit with swing were highlights. See before and after images and design drawings below.

We are extremely pleased of what Michael O’Connell helped us achieve in our front, side and backyard.

He listened to our ideas and with his, designed a wonderfully enclosed vegetable garden, which includes a greenhouse and water feature, planned out seating areas for our family and his placement of lighting is absolutely beautiful in the evenings.
This was truly a team effort. And we very much appreciate his staff of workers who were friendly and knowledgeable of all tasks asked of them. They stayed on track and cleaned up each day.

Great selection of drought tolerant plants were chosen with just the right blend and size that will produce color for year round enjoyment.

Thank you Michael for all your advice and making yourself available to answer our questions evenings and weekends.

-Gary and Tina Ibello

Completed Project Petaluma

This project in Petaluma reinvented an older front yard that had been overgrown, junipers taking over the front yard. A new interior courtyard was installed with dividing fence connected with colored stamped concrete throughout.  LED low voltage lighting and a front water feature complimented new plantings and accents of natural stone.

It was an absolute delight to work with Michael and his team. He was always available and very knowledgeable about all aspects of landscaping our front yard. Deadlines were always met and the workers were always on time and left everything neat when they left for the day.

The price was always broken down so I knew what each item cost. I would highly recommend O’Connell Landscape and Michael to anyone. Michael made the job seem so easy and effortless and he followed up after the job was completed to make sure everything was working correctly. I only wish all contractors were as friendly and as easy to get along with as Michael.

Carol Sikora, Petaluma

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

 

Completed Project- West Petaluma

The landscape design and installation for this distinctive Victorian in West Petaluma was focused on improving the usability of a large 1/4 acre corner lot.

The project featured:
– New exterior picket fencing to reclaim the front yard spaces, while fitting in with the neighborhood.
– At the side yard a large hedge of mature 24″ box Pittosporum shrubs was used as screening to expand the back yard space.
-New redwood fencing was installed at the neighbors to provide for greater privacy.
-The landscape was integrated with a new irrigation system with laundry to landscape greywater system.

We absolutely loved working with Michael and his team on landscaping for our new home in Petaluma. Everyone of the team was very professional. Michael paid attention to all the details of design, budgets, contracts, schedules and overall customer service. All budgeted items and schedules were met. He was responsive to our questions nights and weekends and followed up on everything. We highly recommend them.

-Courtney and Peter Phleger

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

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.