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The Green Scene in Watershapes, August 2010

Clients and Color Consistency
By Scott Cohen

For many of us in the custom watershape and landscape business these days, working with decorative concrete is an almost daily activity. In my business, for example, we custom-cast fountains, make poured-in-place coping, fabricate countertops, create pilaster caps - you name it. And we can make whatever the component happens to be in just about any color: It's a flexibility we take advantage of to wonderful effect. In addition to this remarkable aesthetic potential, the material is also affordable, which is certainly a factor in why decorative concrete has become so popular - not only with designers and contractors, but with consumers as well. For all of its advantages, however, the material offers a color-related challenge that you have to consider ahead of time if you don't want to run into trouble.

Harris concrete sample

Scenario: The problem usually starts if the client has selected a very specific color based on a sample (or an image in a catalog) and expects an exact match in the field. For reasons to be discussed below, the color that develops in the field is seldom an exact match for any sample - a fact that can lead to unpleasantness ranging from grumpy clients who aren't thrilled but accept the results to those who file lawsuits that lead to months or even years of miserable, costly, energy-sapping litigation.

One issue here is that all humans view things subjectively - and that, when they pay for them, they also tend to look at things critically. To be sure, some clients are more flexible and realistic when it comes to their expectations, but others are almost impossible to please.

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Scott Cohen is president and supervising designer of The Green Scene, an outdoor design and construction firm based in Northridge, CA. He provides consultation for clients nationwide and gives seminars on designing landscapes, swimming pools and outdoor kitchens.