Taking Backyards from Blah to Blissful

Designscapes Colorado
Written by Karen Hawthorne

Wouldn’t you like to step outside to cool off in your pool and lounge by the relaxing greenery? Maybe cook up something fabulous in the outdoor kitchen and have friends over for a meal and a Manhattan cocktail by the fire pit?

These days, doing all that you can to make your home life peaceful and enjoyable is a necessity. The global pandemic has put a hold on vacation plans and date nights on the town, so the home front has to be your own personal oasis. (Amazon deliveries only go so far to keeping spirits high.)

The pandemic has shifted these nice-to-haves into must-haves.

Phil Steinhauer, landscape architect and owner of Designscapes Colorado, says that landscaping has changed in the last 10 years to create a more seamless transition from indoors to outdoors so that people can expand their living space and experience the therapeutic benefits of nature. “COVID has reinforced and validated this trend,” he says of the shift.

“People that maybe thought about doing it aren’t second-guessing,” he shares. “They’re saying they need an outdoor kitchen because that’s the only way they can entertain. If people want to come over and feel safe, they don’t want to come into the house. What was just a dream has become a need.”

Which is right up Steinhauer’s alley. Based just outside of Denver, he and his hardworking team transform spaces that fulfill their clients’ dreams – in spectacular ways. Think of your favorite resort or restaurant patio – stonework, lighting and imaginative outdoor rooms that capitalize on the jaw-dropping scenery of the Rocky Mountains.

One of his favorite projects? A residential property in Evergreen, Colorado that spans upper Bear Creek. One side of the creek is forest while the other has a meadow, and he used large boulders and a large stone fireplace to help bring the sides together, with the two-story log home presiding in the middle.

“It is just magical – mostly the setting,” Steinhauer says. “I had a lot of creative license to incorporate perennials, native plants and stonework to make this home one of a kind. Our property care team maintains and fills the gardens with seasonal color throughout the year.

“The project was probably done 12 or 15 years ago and we’re still up there every year, improving it, adding to it all. And that goes back to the focus we have on long-term relationships with our clients,” he says. “We have a great culture for customer service. I’m still working with clients that I worked with 28 years ago.”

Steinhauer launched Designscapes Colorado in 1992. It started as a residential construction company with a small maintenance team and a couple of pickup trucks. The idea was seeded early on when he mowed neighborhood lawns as a teen in California and Minnesota and was hired by the developer on the block to work with his property maintenance crews.

He gained a lot of hands-on experience and also had a talent for drawing and painting. College was a mix of art and horticulture classes, where he created a landscape design for a farm that sparked an interest in landscape architecture. He transferred from the University of Wisconsin to the landscape design program at Colorado State University – and happily stayed.

“I always knew I wanted to own my own company. And part of it was just that entrepreneurial side of me – less about drawing and painting, but just being creative in how you run a business.”

Now he has 250 employees and operates out of a large facility that incorporates residential, commercial and property care operations under one roof. The property also incorporates a shop for mechanics as well as storage for all the company’s equipment and plant material.

“The satisfaction comes in the diversity and the artistry of the work,” Steinhauer says, “along with having a talented team of long-time employees and a dedicated seasonal crew. One of the company’s core values is Echale Ganas, loosely translated from Spanish as “give it your all.”

The company portfolio is impressive, showcasing scroll-worthy photos of English perennial gardens, sculpture fountains, grand estates with their own vineyards, and Colorado ranch houses with panoramic views. Such projects have garnered numerous awards for the firm, including the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado, American Society of Landscape Architects, National Association of Landscape Professionals and Institute of Classical Architecture and Art.

On the commercial side, the company has worked on municipal parks and school playgrounds that incorporate learning spaces with vegetable gardens, outdoor education centers and nature trails. The team also provides streetscaping to improve roads and sidewalks for both safety and curb appeal.

What sets Designscapes Colorado apart from competitors is its full suite of offerings, from landscape design to construction and maintenance, including snow removal services. “There are very few companies that specialize in residential design and construction, commercial landscape construction – parks, playgrounds, and athletic fields – as well as maintenance in both residential and commercial. Basically we touch all areas of the landscape industry, so that’s an advantage,” Steinhauer says.

And doing it all in Colorado takes an experienced hand when it comes to high-altitude gardening and a deep appreciation for the land. Those mountain views come with a challenging climate known for unpredictable weather, a fleeting growing season, heavy clay soils and fast-evaporating water. Plants, like hardy flowering shrubs and perennials, have to be tolerant of scorching sun and fluctuating temperatures.

“We have more sunny days than Florida and snow does not typically stick around too long here in the city. So it’s a great environment where you can utilize a lot of these outdoor living spaces throughout the year.”

For business owners, the climate can play havoc with schedules. Winter could see several feet of snow that stays on the ground for a month or a long snowless period where it’s above freezing temperatures and crews are able to work outside. And anyone in Colorado landscaping would say that environment-friendly practices are a necessity. Rain or droughts are always looming, so you won’t find plans with acres of lawn that rely on frequent watering. Designscapes Colorado uses water-efficient irrigation systems and sustainable materials that are in sync with the natural landscape, like native plants and grasses and local quarried rock.

“Just as important is giving back to the industry and the community that’s been a big part of the business’ growth,” says Steinhauer. Designscapes Colorado sponsors local sports clubs and events, and is spearheading a fresh food movement for healthy families. Company volunteers have planted 18 community vegetable gardens for kids and parents to help maintain, and much of the harvest goes to the school’s food program. Steinhauer is also the new president of the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado.

So, how do you keep all the momentum going in 2021?

“Technology changes on a yearly basis, landscaping changes with outdoor living spaces, so we’re looking at how we treat those spaces and how we build those spaces,” Steinhauer shares. “There are different materials coming out every year… We have to keep evolving instead of just staying in one place.”



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