Interview with Trent Grantham: Landscape Architect

Tell me about where you live and work

I live in the South Sound area of Western Washington, in the capital of Olympia. I have a degree in landscape architecture, I am licensed in 5 states, and I work for a small landscape architecture firm here in Olympia. I started out in architecture, then switched majors after a couple of years of that, and I’ve been doing landscape design since I graduated, working on residential, commercial, and large multi-family residential projects.

What spurred your transition from architecture into landscape architecture?

Landscape architecture really spoke to me. I was drawn to the aspect of working with nature, being outside, and improving the environment – all the natural aspects of the field, as opposed to designing buildings and houses. I felt that that was the direction that I wanted to go.

What was required of you to become a certified landscape architect?

The program was a two year program to get my Bachelor’s in landscape architecture. Then, to become a licensed landscape architect, it’s typically a 3 year process of an internship plus college; ultimately I ended up doing 5 years, then taking the exam. I then applied for a license in my home state of Washington.

As our business ended up expanding to other states, I ended up becoming licensed in other states so that I could work in those regions.  Those other states are Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, Oregon, and my boss in licensed in California.

That’s an interesting mix of states, why such different regions?

Most of that was driven by the fact that landscape architects usually work as a sub to architects or civil engineers, and a civil engineer that we were working with was doing a large chain of grocery stores which spanned many states, so we expanded with that project and other commercial projects. Also, my parents live in Arizona, so there was some familiarity there.

Do you find unique challenges with each region?

Every municipality has unique codes and ordinances that you need to follow. We do a lot of irrigation design, and there are definitely more stringent irrigation applications in California, Arizona, and Nevada than we have here in Washington.

In addition to irrigation, you list cost-estimation as one of your specialties. Take me through that process.

Our cost estimates vary based on how intensive the landscape is. Typically, as a ballpark, residential landscaping runs about $7 per square foot whereas commercial projects – which might contain larger areas which are less dense – might run about $3 per square foot.  Typically in our process we’ll go through and calculate the landscape areas, how much soil or other amendments need to be added (which we have prices for), and we also price out all of the plants which will be added. We also estimate based on what it will cost to be installed, not just what the contractor would pay for all that stuff, but what it would cost to hire them and have it implemented.

You have also do a few interior design and renovation projects on How do you like those types of projects?

It seems like there a lot more landscape projects than there were when I first started on the site, so I have been doing more and more landscaping projects. The first project I ever did on Arcbazar was a façade renovation in Florida which I actually won first prize on. I do a lot of work with architects so I have a good amount of familiarity on building design, and I also appreciate the challenge and the change of pace from my typical routine.

Do you do any interior or traditional architecture in your daily routine?

Sometimes I will be asked for my input on those areas, but our business model is set up to focus mainly on landscaping, irrigation, and some hardscape design. We do some parks and such as well. That’s one of the things I appreciate about Arcbazar is that it lets you branch out and be a little creative.

Describe your typical design process for a landscape project.

When I start a project I always strive to create a landscape that doesn’t look like it was just dropped in there. I take a look at the site, the constraints, budget (one of the main concerns), and I keep all of those factors in mind as I come up with a scheme that fits all the stipulations of the project.

This is the same for Arcbazar where I can look at all of the requirements and constraints that the client posts on the site and work within those to create something that works with their requests as well as with the existing structure.

Are there any of your projects of which you are particularly proud?

Well I try to be proud of everything I do! I am very proud of the work I’ve done on Arcbazar because I feel that they’ve all turned out pretty well, and I’m doing all of those on my own, for fun and to keep my skills sharp.

Though, it seems like every project has its own individual challenges. I’ve been doing this for 15-20 years so I have a lot of favorite projects I’ve done. I don’t know if I could say that there’s one in particular that stands out but I’ve done some parks that I’m very proud of.

What is it that makes those favorites?

Many factors including the team that I work with and our ability to overcome the challenges and constraints set forth; yet, ultimately it’s the end result which is the defining moment. Some projects can be frustrating when we are dealing with hindering budget constraints, or differences in vision, but we are working the whole time to make everything look as nice as possible while working with those constraints, and the end result makes it worth it.

If you had one piece of advice for a homeowner looking to renovate their landscape, what would it be?

One big thing to remember with any project, remodel or landscaping, is that it is always going to cost more than you think. Phasing things out can definitely be more immediately affordable if you cannot do everything at once; yet, it can be more expensive in the long run.

The most important thing is to think about how, as the owner, you are going to use that particular space. If the homeowner doesn’t know that answer to that question, even the most beautiful design in the world can be impractical. My advice is to really think about the specifics of how that space will be used in order to redesign the space to fit its intended purpose. This also means taking into account all of the other factors such as one’s children and pets.

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