Keys to a Successful Outdoor Living Project
A Customer’s Experience with JM Mento Landscape Design
The “Outdoor Living Space” has quickly become a priority on the wish lists of many families and homeowners. HGTV has entire episodes dedicated to patios, decks, gardens, pools, fire pits, and outdoor kitchens; the show inspires us to dream about our own outdoor spaces and shows us how smart the investment is with a nearly guaranteed increase property value…when you invest in outdoor living space, the money isn’t really gone, it’s just no longer liquid.
Our family was fortunate enough to find and work with JM Mento to redesign our backyard, transforming it from a severely sloped, rough parcel to a stunning outdoor landscape featuring a granite top kitchen, a hand-cut stone fire pit, customized stone wall seating, a patio with inlaid mosaic accents, and an in-ground pool that every suburban family dreams of. The project was a massive undertaking with plenty of expense, planning, scheduling, and of course worry. In this article, I am hoping to walk you through our experience to give you the playbook and behind the scenes on how we ended up as a happy customer, Joe ended us as a happy contractor, and a truly beautiful outdoor oasis was created.
Why JM Mento Was the Right Contractor for Us
We were wary of contractors, knowing that a difficult or dishonest contractor would add a lot of stress to our lives. Joe had been our son’s Little League coach where we saw first hand that he was a kind and honest person. For decades, his family owned a reputable landscaping and construction business and Joe’s portfolio of work was impeccable. Bottom line, he was an honest, family guy that did amazing work and he and his business were financially sound… and that’s a really difficult but important evaluation to make because if your contractor is struggling financially, it may not matter how good or well intentioned he is, he may make decision based on dire financial needs rather than delivering, as promised, on your project.
Choosing the Contractor, Project Keys:
· Honest and upstanding person
· Reputable with impressive portfolio
· Financially sound, decision making not compromised
Planning and Permitting with JM Mento Landscape Design
The project started with Joe listening to our basic ideas and then advising us on things to consider with the land’s steep grade, awkward and sometimes tight shape, and proximity to conservation land. Joe presented us with multiple, professionally drafted design plans to offer an abundance of solutions.
Once we agreed on plans and pricing, the project moved to the permitting phase. With the conservation land near our yard, the project was certain to be scrutinized by town officials. Joe guided us seamlessly through the process; he was on top of all the submittal requirements and meeting dates for both the building and conservation departments. Although it did take a few months to get through the process, the project was approved. If was our first sense of shared victory with Joe, a lot had gone into planning and approvals, a denial would have wasted a lot of time and money.
Planning and Permitting, Project Keys:
· Contractor Listens and Advises
· Professional Design Plans, with Vision and Creativity
· Experienced with Permitting Process and Town Protocols
The Project Begins with Unforeseen Challenges
The project began in the spring of 2020, in the midst of the pandemic. On Joe’s recommendation, the pool contractor (Jay Jay’s Pool) began the excavation. Cutting and grading the land and eventually digging the in-ground pool would be the first phase of construction. The initial dig introduced plenty of unforeseen challenges with rocks, clay, and water issues… none of which can be planned for beforehand. And then the pandemic introduced even more difficulties. At the start, pretty much everything was going in the wrong direction and it was not anyone’s fault, but it made things difficult. Joe remained present, responsive, and communicated frequently.
Despite the challenges, we never felt like the project was in jeopardy or that we were not being informed of exactly what the options were. In fact, the more complex and difficult situations became, the more attentive Joe was. A project of this magnitude is stressful to begin with without adding excavation problems and a pandemic, but Joe was able to remain focused and stay level-headed through it all. And really, this is exactly what you hire a contractor for… projects are difficult and complex, and you need someone in charge that can maintain focus and professionalism regardless of how difficult it gets.
By the first week of July, the land was graded, and the pool was installed. Phase 1 took two and a half months, which really was quite reasonable considering the circumstances. Phase 2 was next.
Unforeseen Challenges, Project Keys:
· Understanding the goal of each Phase, focus on the immediate issues
· Contractor and Client are calm and rational, do not let emotions boil over
· Contractor remains present and communicates
Phase 2, The Landscaping Design Work – JM Mento’s Artistry
We now had a functional and beautiful pool installed, but our yard looked like a war zone. Phase 2 would include the stone patio, grill bar, granite counter, fire pit, and stone seating walls. It was an estimated 4-6 weeks to completion. Joe’s team of masons, carpenters, and laborers worked tirelessly. The crew was extremely hard working, polite and kind. Each day, workers of high character and exceptional work ethic showed up at our home. The JM Mento crew was an outstanding group of craftsmen, they arrived early and often stayed late with Joe on-site for portions of each day. And despite all the carefully laid plans, there were variables to consider as the crew encountered unique challenges that would need creativity from Joe and flexibility on our part to resolve. Joe was clearly keeping the job on schedule, and solving the quirks and challenges of the project, knowing that the summer months were prime time for a backyard like this and once we hit July, every day counted.
Landscaping Design Work, Project Keys:
· Hard work can’t be faked, a hard working crew is critical
· A crew of reliable, high character people
· Every detail can’t be planned, client flexibility and contractor creativity are crucial
JM Mento Delivers an HGTV “Wow” Moment
Our family was out of town for a period in early July. Joe kept in touch and we could tell he had an excitement in his voice over the project’s progress. His completion date would coincide with our return home, setting us up perfectly for an HGTV style “reveal’.
When we walked into the back yard, we were stunned! It was everything we had hoped for and more; it was everything Joe laid out in his plans, but now it was a reality. JM Mento had delivered on-time and on-budget.
There were no unexpected costs or surprise bills. Yes, there were variables throughout the project, and plenty of ‘upgrades’ to consider, but Joe had discussed all of this up front and prepared us to be aware of areas where costs could inflate. With Joe, we not only got an honest, competent contractor, but we also got an artistic visionary that was able to see our yard as a canvas and paint a magnificent landscape on it. The ‘Outdoor Living Space’ JM Mento created will change our family’s lives for the better, it has given us our own vacation sanctuary right in our back yard. We can’t say, “thank you” or recommend JM Mento Landscape Design enough.
In hindsight, the real key to the project may have been the first thing I said to Joe, “Build something you’re proud of with the materials and techniques you are most comfortable using”. The reality is, that flexibility and understanding from the client may be the most important thing – let the contractor you hired work his magic. Allowing Joe to create something he is proud of using the tools, experience, materials, and techniques he was most comfortable with was critical. And it’s hard to do… to sit back and trust… but that’s why you chose an honest, reputable contractor at the start.
Delivering a “Wow” Moment, Project Keys:
· Give the designer space, let him create
· Allow the contractor to do the things he’s good at
· Communicate and problem solve together, within the contractor’s expertise and capabilities
If you’ve made it to the end of the article, thanks for reading. I wish you and JM Mento Landscape Design the best of luck in all your projects. In 30 years, when my grandchildren are swimming in the pool and toasting marshmallows at the fire pit, I’ll still be thanking Joe and his crew for all their vision, creativity, craftsmanship, and hard work.
Photos of the Finished Project