With summer in full bloom, the allure of the outdoors grows. Shady trees, colorful blooms and refreshing pools make the experience that much greater for those who have a scene designed by landscape architect Kurt Kraisinger.
He specializes in high-end residential design, with an emphasis on quality and longevity. Since starting Lorax Design Group six years ago, he has applied the entrepreneurial spirit to other ventures that give him better control over the finished project: Liquify, for high-end pool design through construction using his own hand-selected tradesmen, and Blue Ocean Stone, for clients to source specialized materials in Lorax’s new showroom at the downtown Overland Park office.
How do you approach the design of each project?
It’s about having a grounded concept. You want it to not just look cool but tie into a family experience.
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We design parallel to our clients’ lifestyle. We want their involvement, but they can’t drive the project. Design is fun, it’s like planning a vacation, but it takes a lot of effort too. We don’t ask for carte blanche, but we want them to embrace what we bring to the table.
People living in the Midwest have debated whether having pools in our climate is a good idea. Is there a new consensus on that?
It seems every project I’ve been doing has a water component. People are using their pools seven or eight months of the year. You can extend the season 45 days or more either direction by using heaters.
What’s trending in pools?
Everyone wants to throw in a slide or grotto; we’re stuck in that theme. But I really like a simple pool with a perimeter overflow, taking the water right to the edge. That’s the thing now.
The downside is it’s difficult to cover automatically and rules out those with young kids who want all the fun stuff. But it’s great for the grandparents who want a statement pool that they can wade around in with cocktails and socialize.
I’m also not a fan of paving all around a pool; it’s too municipal to have an expansive area with no interplay with the landscape. A portion should open up to the lawn or landscape. That presents so much nicer and flows with everything.
When is the best time to get started on a pool?
Summer is actually our slowest time because people are on vacation. I encourage clients to get the design done in the fall because there’s always a week or two in December or January with nice weather when work can be done, even in the cold. Then you’ve got a jumpstart on your pool in spring.
What are some of your favorite plants and trees?
More people are asking for maintenance-free landscaping, but there’s no such thing. Natives, like grasses, come close and can achieve a look that’s very organic or uniform and contemporary.
I love perennials, but the problem is that they flush up in one part of the season and don’t look so great the rest of the time. However, penstemon has nice foliage underneath when it’s not flowering. For annuals, I like Kong Jr. coleus. It’s vibrant, almost fluorescent, and adds color in late spring all the way through fall.
My favorite tree is a sycamore or London planetree. It’s really majestic at 70 feet wide by 80 feet tall with big leaves, and it shades well. Another tree that’s not native here but does well is the Quaking Aspen. It’s uniquely different because of its white bark.
Do you have tricks for making a big impact in a landscape?
I like to design in masses of plants. Why one plant here and one there? Why not 50 or 500 up all together at one time in one bed. People will put that on the calendar and wait for it. I design for all four seasons, but I like to have something to really get excited for.
What does your home landscape look like?
I’m like the plumber with a leaky faucet. I have a lot of types of plant material, but I don’t have time to maintain it. I’d rather spend time with my son and family.
If I pay someone to do it for me, it’s a gardener, not a landscape contractor. There’s a correct way to prune shrubs, for example, and contractors tend to use a military approach and take away all the character.
If you did have time — and money — to design for yourself, what would it be?
That’s easy. I would buy a small lot and build a house a tenth of the scale of what’s being built today, but I’d build it with the same quality that a lot of our clients do.
I would make it fit into the context of the environment, say if it was next to two bungalows, I’d design to fit with the roof lines but maybe include a glass studio off the back. I’d challenge myself to use only eight plants and keep it so simple. Sometimes the simplest things are the most impactful.
If the landscape allowed for a pool, I’d put in a “spool” or plunge pool, 300-400 square feet with heated jets, like a big hot tub, but you could still use it for activities.