APLDWA Featured Designer:
Kevin Monohan

Avalon NW Landscape LLC
Member since 2013

This quarter we meet Kevin Monohan, president of APLDWA. Kevin brings hands-on construction experience to our organization, installing the designs of several members. We put these questions in front of Kevin…let’s find out about him and his company, Avalon NW.

Why / how did you become interested in Landscape Design?

This has been my thing for quite a while. In high school, I learned Oregon State had a program called Ornamental Horticulture. I liked to be outside in the forest and I liked to draw, so designing landscapes seemed like a good idea. I was 17 and looking for a path out of our small logging town. I joined the program. Turns out, I really liked it.

When did your career as a designer start? Describe your path from then to now.

After nearly eight years at three universities studying landscape design and landscape architecture (including eight summers of design, installation, maintenance and nursery work), I moved to Seattle and started Avalon NW. For seven years my business partner and I built residential landscapes with local designers. In 2003, I felt confident enough to sell myself as a designer and take on design-build projects. I enjoyed working with clients and discovering my personal aesthetic for a solid decade. In 2013, I became sole owner of Avalon. I was newly active in APLD at the time. Acquaintances developed into working relationships (and friendships) and I returned to building the projects of other Seattle designers.

What obstacles along the way have you found most challenging?

I encountered two obstacles early on: fear of failure and an aversion to poor performance. These, among other things I’m sure, kept me from designing long after I was likely ready.

Now 30 years into my career, I continue facing the challenges of how to say no, how to value myself, my time and my experience more.

What experiences have you found most rewarding?

I’ve had my share of opportunities to hone what I do, which I totally dig. In college, I got pretty good at designing and presenting my ideas. When I first came to Seattle, I became proficient at building and running a project. When I started design-build projects, I developed successful skills working with clients. Then I put energy into building a business that would thrive. More recently, I find working as part of a team to deliver a great experience for a client has allowed me to do better work than I otherwise might do. (Thanks, APLD!)

And everyone who does craftsmanship work, myself included, gets a big kick out of looking at something awesome that we just built. When the client tells us they love it, well, that’s the reason we do it.

Were there breakthrough moments along the way that gave you hope?

Joining APLD was a huge milestone/move for me. Until then, I was operating in my own little world; generating ideas, setting my own standards, measuring myself against my potential self. That was okay, but I really appreciate the broader perspective and ideas, the connection to like-minded people who do what I do, and the understanding and validation of where I fit in the industry. It offers just the right amount of inspiration and motivation to keep me inspired.

Describe your style and how it has evolved.

My style has definitely changed over the past 20 years, though I don’t know if it is because I’ve changed or the overall trends have changed. I preferred a very organic feel in the past, with a garden like a meadow or in a forest. Now I find myself appreciating a tidy garden, with some straight lines and plenty of symmetry; less eclectic and more swaths and bands. Is it because I moved from the mountains to the city or because of the contemporary movement in landscape design? Or because as we get older we want more order and certainty in our lives? Perhaps because I tend to experience more gardens in passing rather than sitting in reflection? I don’t know.

There are a few things that seem to stay true: I prefer a lot of involvement from clients on how we design their spaces. I love lush shade gardens. Form follows function. If it looks even a little bit fake or contrived, I struggle to get past it. And a good vibe goes a long way.

Do you only do design? Or do you also oversee, manage, build, maintain gardens?

Mostly, we build larger projects for APLD designers. These projects tend to do better when a team of professionals work together to do it right. We can manage every aspect of the installation, and we let the designers and the gardeners do what they do best.

Describe a typical project and process.

Most often, I am introduced to a client and their project through a landscape designer during the concept phase. I will meet with the designer on site and review the concept plan. Then I put together a comprehensive scope of work and a ballpark estimate, and arrange to present it to the client. At that point, the client can decide whether Avalon is the right fit for them. From there, the designer works through the concept and budget to develop a master plan from which a firm bid develops. Then it’s just a matter of making the clients new friends.

What would your perfect client and project look like?

Our perfect client is someone who treats us with respect, wants to be involved in the process, can’t wait to get to know us, wants to enjoy their yard, is reasonable, and freely expresses their happiness. Our top metric of success is the client’s happiness. We just need the potential to make it happen.

Our perfect project is a full-yard renovation for an engaged client; one that offers interesting tasks requiring our craftsmanship; located in Seattle so our commutes are short and we can provide long-lasting service; and with enough work that allows us to stay long enough to get to know the clients.

Landscape Design: Barbara Lycett Landscape Design

Kevin Monohan

Avalon NW Landscape LLC
Phone: 206-933-1277