All Hands on Deck (or why your spouse needs to be at the first meeting)


When I talk to a client for the first time about meeting to tour their property and discuss their landscaping, most clients start off by saying,“we were thinking…” indicating, obviously that there is more than one person making the design decisions.

Sometimes, however it is clear that only one person will be at the meeting and they invariably say,”It’s ok. We’ve talked about it and I know what she/he wants. It will be fine.” But it never is.

Other times Merle and I will arrive and without prior notice, only half of the couple is there.

We get it. People are busy and we can’t do it all.

But it goes wrong in so many ways!

When we meet with a new client, not only are we being interviewed and expected to prove ourselves experienced and trustworthy and creative, but we are secretly interviewing you to see what working together might be like.

Landscape design is such a personal expression of the clients tastes, aesthetics and values, that in order to get it right, we need to invest in a creative relationship with our clients. We listen, we tell stories, ask questions about their family and social lives. We talk about our experience and design ideas and influences and explain how our creative process works and what our clients can expect from us during the design and installation.

When one half of the couple isn’t there, everyone loses. Inevitably the spouse who was there is stuck in the middle, explaining their spouse’s ideas and opinions to us and then trying to describe what we are like back to them. Things get lost in translation and the missing spouse is shortchanged on making that personal connection that is paramount to collaboration. Not only that, but we all miss out on new ideas or considerations. So often in our meetings, an idea is suggested that is a game changer for the entire project and when someone’s missing, they are left out of the excitement and fun.

Sometimes we will have a great meeting with the husband or wife, discuss options and strategy and come up with an action plan, only to have it vetoed by the absent partner!

Other times we have to have the meeting all over again.

People think they know what their spouse thinks because they know their spouse’s answers to their questions. But we ask different questions! We ask way more questions! (Check out the 14 questions we ask about decks alone here!) And suddenly there are new design options and ideas they hadn’t considered and we are left guessing.

Sometimes we don’t have a choice and have to produce a design without meeting one of the clients, and then when they are present for the design presentation, they will make changes (that could have been accommodated if they were at the first meeting) and it ends up costing us time and them more money in design revisions.

So, now, when I’m making new client appointments, I say, “Let’s set up a time when we can meet with both of you.”