Outdoor Living Spaces
by Danielle Vigueria
If you think that manicured flowerbeds and well-positioned trees are the extent of “landscape design,” then you are missing the big picture, according to Johnny McDonald, owner and principal designer of White Cloud Design.
“Most of the time, people think landscape design and they think plants—and that is one thing we do—but it’s the last thing,” says McDonald. “We take more of a holistic approach to the site. The majority of our efforts go into designing and planning. Just like an architect designs every aspect of a home, we bring that same intense attention to detail to the outdoor space and we strive to create functional and beautiful living spaces outside.”
“Most of the time, people think landscape design and they think plants—and that is one thing we do—but it’s the last thing, We take more of a holistic approach to the site. The majority of our efforts go into designing and planning. Just like an architect designs every aspect of a home, we bring that same intense attention to detail to the outdoor space and we strive to create functional and beautiful living spaces outside.”
–Johnny McDonald, Owner, White Cloud Design
McDonald, a Ketchum, Idaho, native, founded White Cloud Design in 1995. The son of an interior designer, McDonald says he was always interested in design and construction. He started his career working for landscape contractors and later studied landscape architecture at the University of Idaho. White Cloud Design moved to Whitefish, Montana, in 1999 and over the past two decades has established itself as a local leader in high-end residential landscape design.
“Typically, the landscape design is the last part of the home construction process,” says McDonald. “Oftentimes, budgets are limited at the end of a project and that can be a challenge. We try to educate clients so they can think about and plan ahead for their landscape design needs. We don’t want people to become so burnt out by architects and engineers that they quit on their outdoor opportunities. The reality is, good design in outdoor space requires spending resources, but it results in huge benefits.” By integrating a budget for your outdoor design and amenities into the overall project budget from the start, you can make informed decisions along the way.
And the expertise that McDonald and his team offers can be especially critical for homeowners who may have never realized how functional their outdoor spaces can truly be. “A lot of what we do is trying to think of a home’s outdoor space as less of a backyard or something that just came with the house, and more as an extension of the home’s living space,” says Keely Maricle, landscape designer at White Cloud Design. “We try to utilize the space the same way the client would use their indoor space, making it as purposeful as possible for their needs.”
Anyone who is familiar with the climate in Montana may think that outdoor living is a fleeting dream that can only happen for a handful of summer days each year—but with smart design that doesn’t have to be the case.
“Through thoughtful design we can create three-season outdoor spaces,” says McDonald. “There are things, such as radiant heat, covered decks, and fire features that we can include for the times of year when nights get longer and cooler. With the right solutions, a homeowner can really extend the use of their outdoor space—starting a month earlier in the spring and lasting six weeks later into the fall.”
This year, the mandatory isolation orders due to COVID-19 have further highlighted the importance of having developed outdoor spaces to enjoy at home. The pandemic has also brought an influx of new homeowners to Whitefish who are looking to escape life in the city. “It is a really interesting time,” says McDonald. “We are seeing a lot of people who have never lived in a mountain town before buying older homes just to move to the area. Lots of those homes do not have designed outdoor spaces or have challenges that someone less knowledgeable may not know how to address. We can provide real value in these situations.”
“A lot of what we do is trying to think of a home’s outdoor space as less of a backyard or something that just came with the house, and more as an extension of the home’s living space. We try to utilize the space the same way the client would use their indoor space, making it as purposeful as possible for their needs.”
–Keely Maricle, Landscape Designer, White Cloud Design
As COVID-19 is bringing a large number of new residents to the area, McDonald has seen the demand for landscape design and building skyrocket. Unfortunately, the pandemic has also caused a delay in material availability, which is extending project timelines. “In landscape design we are always planning 6 to 12 months out for projects,” says McDonald. “Factors like design time, budgeting, and contractor selection all contribute to the schedule, but we also have to work within the constraints of install season, which is April through November. Right now, our process is even more protracted due to the extenuating circumstances from COVID-19.”
“Many of us live in Montana because we want to be outside. So, we believe it only makes sense to put effort and resources into turning outdoor areas into exceptional outdoor living spaces.”
–Johnny McDonald, Owner, White Cloud Design
But sticking to a meticulous planning process is essential. By doing so, White Cloud Design gains an understanding of client expectations, budget, and aesthetics, and is able to ensure they are the right fit for every project they take on. The company even works with exclusive furniture lines—umbrellas, fire features, and outdoor elements—which allow for an extra level of precision in planning, ensuring that clients will have room for all of the amenities they want to include.
“When planning, we remind ourselves not to rush,” says Maricle. “It’s easy to miss important details that would make a huge difference in the outcome. And giving time and attention to the process is incredibly important to creating products that will last.”
“Many of us live in Montana because we want to be outside,” says McDonald. “So, we believe it only makes sense to put effort and resources into turning outdoor areas into exceptional outdoor living spaces.”
White Cloud Design produces creative landscapes with character that respect the surrounding environment. They have been involved in hundreds of projects throughout Montana, Idaho, and Hawaii.
For more information about the services White Cloud Design provides, please visit whiteclouddesign.com or call 406.863.2828.