Satisfied clients are the best advertisement for your business—and Los Angeles-based landscape design company TKO Structure has more than 15 years of experience creating outdoor projects that clients love.
Think Wood sat down with owner Terrence O’Rourke to learn more about a recent redwood outdoor decking project and to gather some tips to help you design and build outdoor spaces that your clients won’t be able to stop talking about.
O’Rourke shared the three key lessons that help TKO Structure use the design process to maximize client satisfaction and create inspiring projects.
There are many paths to a winning design. Some clients may approach you with an architect on board and materials already selected. Others might have just visited a friend with an enviable deck, read an article about how decking can increase the value of their homes, or simply been dreaming of a place to watch the sunset.
“Outdoor spaces are at a premium post-pandemic,” O’Rourke says. “People want a well-defined space dedicated to eating, entertaining, and extending the living areas of their homes.”
Many clients are coming into the design process without having had much time to research and plan.
It’s also a good idea to bring your own photos of past projects to your first meeting. Many clients know what they like but struggle to put their ideas into words. Referencing photos can get the conversation started, show off your design and construction skills, and help your clients envision how the finished product will enhance their homes.
Every builder knows the importance of choosing the right material for a project—and residential contractors play a key role in guiding client decisions.
“Some of our clients know what they want already,” O’Rourke says, “but many aren’t very knowledgeable about different wood species. When they don’t have a material in mind, we try to coach them towards a wood that is weather-resistant, workable, cost-effective, and attractive.”
To help your clients choose a material, it’s important to inform them about the characteristics of different softwood species. TKO Structure primarily works with exterior-grade wood species including redwood. “It’s important to be prepared to talk through the benefits of different species so that your clients can make an informed decision,” O’Rourke says.
O’Rourke suggests approaching these conversations as a chance to coach and educate clients. “While the material selection is ultimately the client’s choice, providing information upfront can help make sure that they will be happy with the finished project,” he says.
A good deck should last, but all outdoor structures require some amount of maintenance. O’Rourke suggests talking to your clients upfront about maintenance expectations and any future remodeling plans to help them protect their investment.
It’s also a good idea to ask your clients if they envision any future modifications or expansions so that the design can accommodate those plans in ways that minimize alterations or rebuilding of the deck itself.
A recent contemporary redwood deck designed by TKO Structure illustrates the outcome of a successful design process. Built into a hillside and attached to an adjacent midcentury home, the project used clever transitions to make the most of a challenging site.
“One of the challenges of this project was figuring out how to make the most of the graded lot while maintaining a continuous flow between outdoor and indoor spaces,” O’Rourke says. “To accommodate the hillside lot, we created redwood steps with built-in lighting that provide access to the deck from both the upper and lower levels of the property.”
The deck features concealed top-down fasteners, a picture frame border, and powder-coated steel-and-redwood railings. The project team selected California redwood for its tonal qualities, resilience, and to complement the redwood exterior of the existing structure.
Ultimately, the client was pleased with the aesthetics and functionality of the deck, which O’Rourke attributes to a thorough and collaborative design process emphasizing appearance, use, and longevity.
TKO Structure frequently works with redwood because it meets a variety of design goals. “Redwood is really our wood of choice in the Los Angeles area,” O’Rourke says. “It’s light, strong, and locally sourced—it’s a California thing.”
Redwood also allows the TKO team to cut down on the use of steel and other reinforcing materials. “Because redwood is so light, it’s really ideal for any exterior application—and particularly for structures like gates and pergolas where the weight of the material makes a big difference,” he says.
Resiliency, workability, and price are also major selling points. “Redwood is less expensive than tropical hardwoods, and it’s easier to join,” O’Rourke says. “There’s great longevity of the color, and it can equal or outperform pressure-treated woods in resistance to insects and moisture, which is key for outdoor applications. There’s really no exterior application where I wouldn’t recommend it.”
A gorgeous new deck is a great advertisement for your business, but a satisfied client who will spread the word about your services is even better. That’s why a collaborative, transparent design and build process that can help result in a beautiful, long-lasting project can help. If you increase client satisfaction, you gain more referrals, and with those, you can continue to grow your contracting business.