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Landscape Architecture

Steps of the Landscape & Site Design Process

So, you want to update the exterior of your home. Maybe the plants are all wrong or you want an outdoor kitchen. Or maybe you’re hoping for an even bigger impact. Whatever your goals, the site design process at Board & Vellum is designed to support you every step of the way.

March 2, 2023

What are the steps of the landscape & site design process? Planning to redesign the exterior of your property and landscape involves moving parts you may never have considered. From a quick planting refresh to a comprehensive design for your entire property, achieving a great, fully functional site design is a massive undertaking.

At Board & Vellum, our landscape architecture team is passionate about creating truly beautiful spaces, and we strive to make every part of your landscape and exterior areas something you’ll love for years to come. And we love teaming up with folks who are excited to engage in our collaborative site design process.

What can I expect from teaming with Board & Vellum on my project?

Our landscape & site design process is structured to be a straightforward pathway to take your project from start to finish while meeting your budget. Across the phases, we work openly, collaboratively, and transparently with you.

In our experience, the path we follow is an efficient and effective way to help you achieve a design you love and that fits your budget. However, we can (and do) modify our scope of services to meet your specific needs. If your project requires a customized approach, we can customize our process. But this is where we usually start.

First, we gather As-Built Measurements.

We start the landscape & site design process by documenting the existing conditions of your site and verifying any assumptions you or we have.

What We Do

Using a drone with specialized software, we capture extensive documentation of your site, including photography, measurements, and topography. Then, we turn that information into a digital 3D model, base plan, and aerial view of your site.

Why We Do This

This in-depth look at your site gives us a look into the reality of your site and can sometimes replace the need for a survey on a site that doesn’t require one for permitting.

An accurate base plan is critical for developing a design that will work for your site and within your targeted budget. It also helps us more accurately estimate labor and material needs, which we share with your contractor for more accurate pricing when it comes time for them to bid on your project.

Next, we move into Pre-Design.

The pre-design phase is typically broken into two tasks that serve different, but equally important functions. The information gathered during this phase helps us narrow down an optimal scope of work for your budget before we dive into design.

What We Do

During the first part of Pre-Design, we review local code requirements and other parameters that may impact the scope of your project. These can include lot coverage limits, setbacks, limits to work on steep slopes, tree protection regulations, and requirements for work in shoreline areas.

After that look into code parameters is complete, we take all the information we’ve gathered and develop a rough-order-of-magnitude budget we think you’ll need to achieve your goals given the constraints of your site.

We use our knowledge of your project, previous experience with similar projects, and information about current construction costs to estimate these numbers, but they don’t replace contractor pricing!

Why We Do This

It’s imperative we gather as much information on your site as possible before we start to design so we can identify any issues before they turn into unwelcome surprises. The review and planning we do during Pre-Design allows us to explore the “invisible” elements of your site — the things we can’t see with our eyes or in the 3D model. When paired with what we can see in the As-Built information, the big picture starts to develop.

Then, we begin Schematic Design.

The next step in the landscape & site design process is Schematic Design. Using your project goals and the information gathered during Pre-Design, we work with you to develop a design you love. This process is iterative and includes collaborative meetings with you.

What We Do

For most projects, we’ll develop two loosely sketched options to explore different ways to achieve your goals, including the ideas you’ve brought to the table.

In one option, we seek to optimize your budget by considering elements of your existing exterior spaces you might keep, simplifying other areas to streamline upgrades, and focusing on high-priority goals you don’t want to compromise on.

In the other option, we dig deep to explore the potential of your space to meet and, perhaps, go beyond your project goals.

When we meet with you to review design options, we’ll gather your feedback and refine the design. Sometimes one of the options will be the clear winner but, most often, the final design has a mix of elements from both options.

Why We Do This

Our goal is to provide you with thoughtful solutions for your site so you can determine the elements most important to you. We love this process for its ability to help us quickly identify a direction to take your final project, but we know every project is different. We’ll gladly customize our design process to fit your needs and budget.

Next, we start the Bidding & Pricing phase.

As we home in on a preferred design direction, we will develop a final rendered plan of your preferred design with enough dimensions, notes, general details, and other additional material needed for your contractor to have a good grasp on the scope of work.

What We Do

If you have a contractor you like, we’ll provide this package of materials to them to review for initial pricing. That means they’ll take this information into consideration and provide you with some real figures about what you might expect to pay to construct the project.

If you don’t have a contractor, we’ll recommend some options from our network of collaborators that we think would be a good fit. You get to review those options and either select one to receive pricing from or have one or more of them provide construction pricing for you to compare.

Why We Do This

Pricing is an important part of the design process. Though we’re able to provide you with rough numbers based on our previous experience, a contractor’s pricing is an invaluable tool for understanding what the real costs of your project may be.

The contractor is a-go. Now what?

Once we get the pricing back from your selected contractor, we meet with you to review and use it to set the final scope of work. With the scope set and the contractor selected, we’ll collaborate with you and the contractor on any additional details or other information that may be needed to build the project.

At this point, for the less complex projects, usually little more is needed from us for the project to move forward and get built!

So, is that the end of the site design process?

We know – we have it down to an efficient science! Every project is a little different, so some will be good to go on at this point. But others will need more support. Or maybe you need something more to get exactly what you’re looking for. Either way, we’re here to help with any ongoing needs you may have.

The Occasional Permit

Although many landscape and site design projects do not require a permit there are some elements and site conditions that can trigger their requirement. These can include adding new structures or modifying existing ones, ECA slope rules, tree requirements to protect exceptional trees, or projects located along shorelines. We’re always happy to help navigate the permitting process.

Construction Documents

For larger or more complex projects or projects that include structures, we can produce Construction Documents. These additional plans include life safety requirements and code compliances required by the jurisdiction you’re in and provide the contractor with the information they need to confidently build the project so the outcome will meet the design intent.

Because we are an integrated design firm, our landscape & site design team can tap into the knowledge and expertise of our architecture team, as needed, to help during this phase.

Construction Contract Administration

Construction Contract Administration is a catch-all for all the things we can help with during construction.

If not previously confirmed, material and product selections are finalized during this phase. Site visits by the design team give us eyes on the project as it’s being built so we can ensure it’s meeting the design intent and quickly resolve any questions from you or the contractor. It’s also common for there to be phone calls and other communication with the contractor and consultants as questions arise.

While construction means, methods, techniques, sequences, procedures, or safety precautions are the sole rights and responsibilities of the contractor, we are happy and excited to be on hand for any clarification or coordination that arises on the job site.

Additional & Ongoing Services

Because Board & Vellum is an integrated firm, we offer a multitude of services you can either add to the existing scope of your project or include after the fact to help you make the most of your new spaces. Some of these services include maintenance manuals, planting evaluations, materials sourcing, and exterior furniture, fixtures, and equipment specification and procurement. Let us know what you’re hoping to achieve and we can tailor our services to meet your needs.


Whew! Thanks for sticking with us! We warned you – there's a lot more to the landscape & site design process than most people realize. Don't worry though! That’s why we’re here: to break down processes and help you achieve your dream design. We love collaborating with our clients to bring their visions to life, and we think our integrated design services make that easier!

If you’re ready to jump into a refresh or full redesign of your exterior spaces, reach out! We’d love to chat about your dream project.

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Considering a project? Or, just curious about something?

Send us your questions about design, architecture, interiors, landscape, LEGO rooms… Anything, really. We’re always eager to meet new people, and we’d love to get to know you, your project, and your goals.

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