Placing a Value on Design

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Design fundamentally has two elements – Form and Function. Function is the tangible aspects. What is it? What can I do with it? It’s easy to compare apples to oranges, see what is demanded across a population, and then ultimately put a price tag on what people are willing to pay for it. A deck for a deck, a shade structure for a shade structure, etc… Form, however, is much more intangible. It’s a subjective feeling about the creation. Is it beautiful? How do I feel in it?

When a Landscape Designer puts a price on their work, they are putting a valuation on their own time and projecting that out as a fixed bid estimate of their total expected time expenditure. But how much is the product created actually worth? How do we account for the value of the form, not just the function? For that, we look to secondhand sales to find out.
In 1999, a study conducted by Clemson University looked to quantify the effect of different quality landscaping improvements on the ultimate home sale price. They studied the effect that different properties in a wide variety of locations and conditions sold for using landscape quality as the variable. What they found was that with all other variables accounted for, an excellently landscaped property could fetch up to 14 to 17% more at sale then one with landscaping rated as poor. In Denver today, that’s equivalent to $70,000 more for the average home!

Turn those drive-bys into walk-throughs, get more bids, and sell for more.

There is a cost to the investment of labor and materials to make the jump from poor to excellent, but the benefits will still far outweigh the costs. Rarely do our residential landscaping projects in Denver cost even 10% of the value of the home. Numbers crunched, that’s up to a $29,000 instant profit with the sale of your average Denver home.

When looking at your outdoor spaces don’t be afraid of the price tag. The money is being invested as equity into the home with a buffer of profit to dream big and create a space you will love. The best way to maximize the value of landscape designing is to plan ahead. Moving into a new place is the perfect time to start planning your outdoor spaces. A more established landscape is worth more to the property and you get to thoroughly enjoy it while you live there.

Outdoor lighting, good yard maintenance, and well placed trees will always pay for themselves in the end. Designing for varietal leisure spaces, noise reduction, visual barriers, creating a cohesive aesthetic with the architecture, crafting a clean outdoor look that makes the house feel cared for – Those are some of the more subtle design challenges that people will subconsciously pay top dollar for.

None of this, however, accounts for the added benefit energy and water savings that a sustainably designed plan provides for the home. Not only do you create a curb appeal that makes you proud of where you live and an outdoor space that makes your home feel bigger and more versatile, but everyday utility and maintenance costs can be drastically reduced ultimately paying for the improvements themselves.

Tannenbaum Design Group for these reasons is proud to announce a new collaboration with GreenSpot Real Estate. We are now offering FREE customized designs with any Buyers or Sellers Agency Listing agreement with the purchase or sale of any home. We want to reinvent the way the home sale industry works by adding more value back into your homes than is paid in the commission. As a seller you profit! As a buyer you get to buy a house you like and turn it into a home you love, for free! What is your sister’s college roommate’s broker friend giving you for the cost of that commission? If you do the math, it makes no sense to go anywhere else.

DATE: Jul 23, 2018
AUTHOR: tbaumdesign

Houston Strong, A New Detroit, and the Future of Bayou City’s Urban Planning.

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In late 1950’s, with the decline of the American automobile giants, began the economic and population decline of Detroit. Between 2000 and 2010 alone, forty-eight percent of the manufacturing jobs in the state of Michigan were lost. For reference, in 1950, there were about 296,000 manufacturing jobs in Detroit. Today, there are less than 27,000 manufacturing jobs. In 1950, the city of Detroit was counted as a population of 1.8 million making it the 5th largest city in America. Today, almost 70 years later, there are 700,000 residents.

Detroit was the first modern major American city to experience such a massive exodus out of the city. As people left, property values fell apart and the city became broke. All over the inner city, properties were abandoned and fell into neglected decay; the dense urban areas became a wasteland of dangerous crumbling infrastructure. In its wake, as these structures were demolished, a city with vast plots of uninhabited space was left.

All this may sound tragic, but on the other side of the coin was an opportunity – an opportunity for a large major American metropolis to reinvent itself from the industrial era urban design of American cities into a new post modern evolution. An opportunity for a city to learn from all of the mistakes of the last centuries and implement all the environmental, technological, and sociological understandings we have today on a redesigned American city.

As we are beginning to see with the resurgence of the Detroit economy, the city is using the opportunity to embrace sustainability and environmentalism in its movement towards a better future. From cars to bicycles and public transportation, from imported agriculture to vast communal urban farms, from infinite planes of impermeable concrete to a network of green spaces, the infrastructure revolution continues.


I mention all this today, because in the wake of the most catastrophic flooding in American history, Houston now has an opportunity. Anyone can see that a city that floods every single year from non tropical storms was not going to make it through a Category 4 hurricane unscathed. For decades in the field, we have known and discussed the recklessness of building in the flood plains, in any city, and the macro effects of covering a virtually pancake flat city, that covers a whopping 627 square miles, in 40%  impervious surface. Houston was once prairie lands and large plots of land which slowed and absorbed storm water runoffs. That is the city for which the city’s bayou drainage infrastructure was planned for.

The choices of the past are what they were. Now is the time to reevaluate what needs to be done or this will happen again.  We have vast plots of urban land that have been simultaneously destroyed and will likely be rebuilt, but the answer is majorities of them should not be. That is not to say Harvey, a one in 500 years storm should be the indicator, but rather use the last 5 years of flooding to indicate the unsustainable developments. Areas that have been flooding every other year should not be rebuilt and should become public green space – an environmentally healing, psychologically beneficial, and economically stimulating public good. There needs to be an understanding that this will get worse before it gets better because it will take years to update the drainage infrastructure needed to get Houston through the next storms.

Houston, throughout the storm, brought pride to people across the world as they watched acts of heroism and humanity. Today, Houston can make the choice to be the pride of the nation with a city that uses a disaster to reinvent itself into a new sustainable city. The opportunity to learn from our fellow Michiganders is there, it’s our choice to take it.

DATE: Sep 4, 2017
AUTHOR: tbaumdesign
Comments: 2

Iberia Study – Xeriscaping and Permaculture

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The term “xeriscaping” defines the process of designing landscapes for water-efficiency. The term was first coined in Colorado in 1981, but has existed throughout cultures for many centuries. Xeriscaping is achieved through the practice of designing with 6 basic principles:

  • Minimization of high water demanding ground covers, i.e. lawn areas (using turf only when it provides function)
  • Efficient irrigation techniques
  • Protection and improvement of planting soils
  • Suitable plant species selection for the specific environment (natives and naturalized species)
  • Continual maintenance to reduce water requirements over time

Although the term was first used here, the concept has been implemented throughout the world. Historically Iberians, (i.e. modern day Spain and Portugal) before modern irrigation techniques were very innovative in this field, cultivated fame for their agricultural innovations in dry climates. (As a nifty side fact, this agricultural skill set is the reason the small nation of Bermuda has such vibrant Portuguese subculture today, as they immigrated thousands of Portuguese farmers during the American revolution because they feared an American embargo and needed help becoming agricultural self sufficient.)

Upon arriving in these countries it is clear that there is an embracement of the demands of the environment. There is an acceptance of the existing climate and an adaptation to the natural environment is made rather than fighting the elements at high expense. From this acceptance arises a unique aesthetic that we here can learn from as we move towards sustainable design as a country. A way of rethinking not just our landscape choices but our use of art, hardscape and architecture to match the existing environment rather than battling the natural setting.




Permaculture, as it applies to the landscape, is an attempt to mimic symbiotic relationships found in nature in the practice of agriculture, in order to create self-sufficiency and sustainability. America remains one of the highest consumers of energy, largest producers of waste, and most excessive consumers of artificial fertilizers.

In Iberia, as the colonial empires fell apart, the Spanish, and more extremely the Portuguese, became very poor. Much as many countries that have gone through financial hardships, land became abandoned throughout the major cities, currencies fell apart, and families began to need a means to lower expenses. Through this combination of events, these cultures reverted to the historic practice of self sufficiency in micro farms. All throughout these cities today you will find brilliant little farms using found materials to grow crops in abandoned lots. Because these are personal farms, unlike American mega farms, they lack major irrigation, industrial fertilizers, and monoculture production. Instead, they mix crops and use the symbiotic relationships of the plants to sustain each other, have crop productions all season long, and keep water requirements lower.

In the United States, this has already become a major planning innovation in Detroit as it begins to recover from economic hardship. Entire city blocks have begun to transform into functioning urban farms. Even in areas that may not have the economic hardships, we can still see the value in the environmental sustainability these practices hold.

By reducing the need to transport crops over great distances we can reduce the environmental destruction of the energy usage, but it is more than that. When designed with aesthetic intention, we can turn what would be a landscape that just consumes time, money and water into beautiful, consumable resources that actually save you the owner money at the grocery store.

DATE: Aug 25, 2017
AUTHOR: tbaumdesign

Best of Houzz 2017!

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“We’re so pleased to award Best of Houzz 2017 to this incredible group of talented and customer-focused professionals,” said Liza Hausman, vice president of Industry Marketing for Houzz. “Each of these businesses was singled out for recognition by our community of homeowners and design enthusiasts for helping to turn their home improvement dreams into reality.”

Thanks for being a part of it!

DATE: Jan 20, 2017
AUTHOR: tbaumdesign

Publishing in the Houston Chronicle!

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Updated historic home in Southampton sold in first week on the market! The project was published in the Houston Chronicle.

“Updated hone in Southhampton Place

Studio with full bath added above garage.

This four bedroom traditional home on a professionally landscaped lot in Houston’s Southhampton Place Subdivision was built in 1930 and has been extensively remodeled through the years…

Lush landscaping, stone walkways and outdoor seating areas give the lot a park-like feel.

Agent: Sotheby’s International Realty

– Megan Mattingly-Arthur

DATE: Oct 28, 2016
AUTHOR: tbaumdesign

Scandinavia Study – Cold Hardy Vegetation and Contemporary Minimalism

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Invasives and Natives

We as landscape designers look to enhance the local outdoor setting through the use of natural materials. Often times there are many native species and materials that can accomplish the aesthetic we are searching for. When designing for the quintessential Colorado architectural styles of American Bungalow or Mountain Rustic, the use of natives to match can be ideal. Local stones and local species can round off the great Colorado archetypes that we are chasing. Many times in the era we live in though, architectural styles are imported. In these circumstances, the landscape pallet of locals might not be the complete pallet desired. In such circumstances it is important to consider import choices carefully.

Historically, very little attention was paid to invasive species. To date, across the western world, we are battling the mistakes of the past. Because of the lack of attention when importing horticulture, we now have pests such as the nightmarish fire ants, the emerald ash borer that devastates out forests, and the Asian tiger mosquito that many of us know well. Many times however, it is the plants themselves and the weeds hitchhiking in the soil that can be the most destructive to the ecosystem. One of the best examples of this is the Kudzu vine. A vine introduced in the late 1800s, Kudzu was hailed as a great planting solution for erosion control. Now having made its way into the wild, the vine can grow up to a foot a day, completely overtaking even entire trees and shading them to death. Now kudzu, like many other species, are a constant battle wreaking havoc across the continent.

With that said, there is nothing inherently evil about the use of foreign vegetation in the landscape. It is only when the species used have the capacity to spread into the wild, and out-compete the native vegetation, that it becomes an issue. So, how do we as landscape architects in a challenging horticulture climate like Colorado, with limited off season color in the native pallet, responsibly preserve the ecosystem while creating beautiful outdoor spaces? For that, we have a number of considerations.

  • One option is to simply use foreign species that will not survive our winters as highlights within the landscape for seasonal “pop”. In this circumstance we preserve the ecosystem by using annuals that don’t have the capacity to become invasive.
  • A second option is the use of sterile cultivated hybrids and single gendered plants so that the species do not have the capacity to reproduce and spread into the wild. In this way we can scour foreign locations for incredible plant species and use them without ill effects.
  • Another consideration is the use of regional plants from close climates cultivated locally. Over time these species from nearby can acclimate and begin to withstand our winters. In this way we are simply expanding the range of semi native species and pushing the envelope of their domain slightly. An acceleration of a natural evolution if you will.
  • Lastly, we can consider the use of species that can survive in the urban environment, where we enhance the native soils and irrigate, but would be unable to survive outside of that micro-ecosystem. With the use of sustainable systems such as rain water collection and home composting, there can be no real environmentally damaging effects.

With all this in mind, in the end, it is important to remember our role as environmental stewards. When the opportunity to propagate endangered local species back into the environment presents itself, we should take it. Natives aren’t to be forgotten or ignored as they often have become in recent years, but that doesn’t mean that a landscape that that uses foreign species as highlights is necessarily failing in our role in creating a sustainable future.




In design, we don’t always have to reinvent the wheel. There is a big world of ideas out there to learn and develop off of. Colorado may not have a great history of landscape architecture but there are areas of the world with similar environments that do, and we can learn from them. One of those, for us here, is Scandinavia. (i.e. Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.) Humanity has been practicing landscape design for many centuries in these countries. The way they design for the harshness of winter, to avoid bare bleak landscapes is inspiring. They design for it, instead of suffering through it.

As contemporary architecture progressively takes its foothold here too, we can again look to our Scandinavian friends for inspiration. As major arbiters of this post modern era of architecture, they push the envelope of landscape design as well. How do you extend the contemporary aesthetic from the structures themselves into the spaces between? There are few cultures more progressive than the Scandinavians in this regard.

At the end of the day though, the best teacher of landscape design is nature itself. To go into the natural environment and recreate the juxtapositions and symbiosis there, produces some of the best results. Few places on earth will take your breath away like the fjords and archipelagos of sparsely inhabited and untainted far northern Europe. A reminder of how nature looked before people and what we can do to bring it back.

DATE: Aug 12, 2016
AUTHOR: tbaumdesign