Craig was recently interviewed about his work, his hobbies, his philosophy on the outdoors and how he approaches landscape design. The following is the story of how he brings outdoor living and countless smiles to his client.
Craig Termotto is the owner of CST Design Group, a company that specializes in award-winning residential landscape design. He is also the master landscape architect for GROUNDS KEEPER and has been for over a decade.
If you’ve visited GROUNDS KEEPER’s Matawan, New Jersey showroom or explored the photo galleries on this site you can begin to appreciate the fruits of Craig’s labors.
But what he does isn’t always immediately obvious. In fact, he admits that his own kids don’t always quite understand what he does. And yet his skills are such an integral and essential part of each landscape project. So what does he do that’s so special? How does he work with clients to achieve those smiles? And why is GROUNDS KEEPER infinitely more successful because of his contribution?
Today Craig shares some insights into how he thinks plus a few unique personal details that make him truly one of a kind!
“It’s Like Building A House. You Wouldn’t Build Without A Plan.”
Craig has certainly fielded his share of misconceptions about what he does, and he’s definitely practiced explaining it!
Most people don’t realize what a landscape architect is. They ask me what chemicals to put on their lawn to make it green or they ask me to mow the lawn. But I don’t mow lawns or plant plants or install patios. My job is to think it out and plan it.”
Sometimes the best way to understand something is with an analogy, and Craig has a brilliant one. It also just so happens to fit perfectly with GROUNDS KEEPER’s mission, which is to create outdoor living spaces that can be part of your family’s lifestyle and not merely “a back yard.”
You wouldn’t build a house without a plan,” he explains. “You can’t just put up a house. The same is true for outdoor spaces. It’s like building a house. We take measurements of the site, show where existing plant material is, measure windows and doors, measure the grade of the property and take into consideration drainage, sun and any client priorities like privacy screening from neighbors.”
That sounds like quite a lot to consider. But it’s all in a day’s work for Craig, who explains how he works with a quiet confidence that shows he’s done this a few times before…
An outdoor plan is more flexible,” he continues. “In a house every wall needs to meet and the roof has to fit. It’s very precise. When we’re outside landscaping it’s more organic. If we want a different curve or a bigger space to adjust for a plant, we can make modifications. We follow the plans for the most part but we can take things into consideration as we go, depending on what’s best for the project.”
But how does Craig know what’s best for the project? Is it a matter of applying his architectural genius, or is there more to the process?
“We Talk To Clients And Listen To Them.”
Craig may work with measurements and plant materials, drainage and patio blocks, but the most important part of the project for him is always the customer.
First we get a list of requirements from the client, their short term and long term objectives. Then we get their wish list. Most people know what they want to do, whether it’s landscaping or a pool or patio. But there are usually other things we can suggest that they may not have thought of, different plantings, lighting, a pond or water feature. The only way we can understand what would make them happy is by talking with them and listening to them.”
But it doesn’t stop there. Talking and listening, it turns out, are only part of the equation. There’s more to really getting to the bottom of a client’s desires.
We work with people to pick out materials, too. For example, if we’re building a patio we’ll bring samples to the client’s house, or meet them at the brickyard. We select plants to have color, berries and four-season appeal. That’s why our projects are unique. Jay finds plants from places that are not typical.”
The result is a plan that is as unique as the homeowner it represents, part of the award-winning recipe that leaves customers with the happy smiles that so inspire Craig.
“People Want Something That Looks Nice All Year Round.”
The collaboration that happens before a project sounds sublime. After all, the homeowners gets to explore their outdoor dreams and both Craig and Jay get to do what they love best, which is fulfilling those dreams.
But the process isn’t without its challenges.
People always want something that looks nice all year around. But that’s interpreted differently from person to person. Some people think that means plants that are green all year. But you can also appreciate the seasonal change that New Jersey has to offer.”
To talk about “seasons” in New Jersey often means the greenery of spring and summer, the colors of fall – and not much else. In fact, winter is often viewed as a dead time. Not so, says Craig!
When you see a plant, it may have buds at first. Then flowers, then leaves. Then it takes on fall colors and eventually loses its leaves. Then you get to see the bark and its unique colors and textures. So you appreciate things differently. You come back every season and it’s a different look.”
Put it that way and winter begins to sound a lot more interesting than we typically view it. But it still seems like a tough sell – why not just plant some evergreens?
People may not understand what naturalistic landscaping is or what you can appreciate from season to season. A big part of my job is educating people. We show them photos, and sometimes we take them to other homes that have been done to show them what things look like.”
Craig explains this all quite confidently, so it’s clear that the process works. But does it result in happy clients, or do they still wish they had a yard full of evergreens?
The best part of my job,” he says with a grin, “Is when a client says, ‘We weren’t even thinking this is what we were going to get. I can’t believe you came up with these ideas.'”
Happy clients, indeed.
“In The Real World Dollars Get In The Way Of Things Getting Done.”
Even for clients who dream big, budget is still part of their reality. And judging by some of the exciting projects Craig has worked on, it seems like big dreams can come with big price tags. But that’s no problem for Craig. He’s all about finding that intersection of what his clients want and what they can afford.
People always want to know what it costs. Ultimately finances drive things but there are options and choices that can move the project forward. When I create a plan I section out different areas so the client can choose which parts they want to implement based on how much each costs. We can also do things in phases. We collaborate with clients to create a good result within their budget.”
The answer may be self-evident by now, but how successful is he with this approach?
I love it when we’re given a budget with a challenging space and a wish list that might have some unique things. The best part is coming up with a solution and seeing that the client is really happy.”
But sometimes money is no obstacle, and that can be fun, too.
“I Thought It Was Crazy.”
Craig enjoys challenges, enjoys finding solutions to tough problems but one of his favorite projects was one that had no constraints.
We did a lazy river and a swimming pool once. I remember meeting the client and them telling me they wanted a swimming pool and lazy river so they could sit on a tube and float around an island. I joked and said, ‘I don’t understand why you want to put this in. Great Adventure is only 20 minutes away and you can have a lifetime membership for the cost of this project.’ But he really wanted this so we designed it.”
A design is one thing, but did the project take off or did it end up… well, up the river without a paddle?
I never thought it would get off the ground,” Craig admits. “But it did. We built a 2,200 square foot pool with a lazy river. The pool was vinyl, which was even more crazy because you don’t normally build a vinyl pool of that magnitude. Then we built waterfalls and spitting water features into it and the client was ecstatic.”
To listen to Craig tell the story, you’d think he was the one who got to float around on that lazy river. His excitement is apparent.
Every time I go on vacation and they have a lazy river, every time I float around it I think about this house,” he says with a big grin. “It was one of the most unique projects we’ve done that was a challenge, was a tough space, and with a client who had the funds to do it.” Craig pauses to bask in the memory. “It turned out really cool,” he concludes.
“I Enjoy Gardening.”
Given the nature of his job, you might think Craig would have enough of landscaping after a long day’s work. But the outdoors are in his blood.
I enjoy gardening at home,” he says. “We have a vegetable garden. And we have chickens. We get fresh eggs every day.”
But that’s not all. Craig is a family man, too.
I enjoy hanging out with friends and family. My son plays soccer and my daughter dances so I enjoy watching them. I also enjoy cooking. A lot of grilling, barbecue, Italian food.” Craig laughs. “Too much Italian food.”
With a name like Termotto, plus his garden and chickens, that makes perfect sense!
Want to know what kind of plans Craig can design for your outdoor living space? Contact GROUNDS KEEPER for a consultation and Craig and Jay will visit your home to listen to your dreams – and help make them a reality.