When it comes to outdoor spaces, it’s easy to be awed by huge tiered patios and elegant pools. Bigger isn’t always better, and humble spaces can contain multitudes when it comes to a hardscaper’s imagination. Sometimes smaller projects just need the right inspired elements, an eye for design and creative use of the space to make people pay attention. James Aguilera and the team at Apex Masonry certainly caught our eye with the project that won them February’s HARDSCAPE HERO Award. 

James’ path to hardscaping was anything but conventional. Originally pursuing a career in retail, his journey eventually led to federal law enforcement. “I loved the work I was doing,” says James, “but I wanted to carve out a path of my own, one where I could fulfill my passion for customer service.” That’s when James got together with his step father who had years of masonry experience and created Apex Masonry. That was five years ago and since then James has gone all in on hardscaping. 

For this winning project James wanted to incorporate elements from his West Coast roots to make the outdoor space stand out. The homeowner had an existing driveway that needed a makeover, one that would tie it seamlessly into their backyard space. “I wanted to get creative and incorporate some inspiration from my origins,” remembers James, “so we decided to go with Weston Stone block columns and horizontal run fencing. In the end I think it made that project really unique, it’s nothing like the other yards in that area and the homeowner was really happy to have something special.” The columns served to tie the whole space together, meshing the driveway with the walkways and patio where the homeowner could enjoy morning coffee or host a gathering with friends.

“I love the Belgard product,” says James smiling, “and Jim Steve was a godsend. He came in and assisted with ideas and materials. He’s been a guiding voice for me, and his previous relationship with the homeowner opened up a whole new level of confidence within the design process.” So what started as a project to revamp their driveway and connect it to the backyard space became a beautiful outdoor oasis through mutual trust and sharing of ideas. James keeps a daily communication log between himself and his clients, which helps paint a larger picture of the homeowner’s evolving ideas about their own space and what they’re looking for. “Communication is key,” says James, “which is where my customer service experience comes into play. Understanding what the client is looking for and being a good listener makes all the difference.”

James sees challenges as opportunities to learn and become a better hardscaper. “I’m a pretty even keel guy,” says James, calm confidence in his tone, “first thing I do when we hit any snag is try to find the safest solution, for my team and the integrity of the project. Every challenge is an opportunity to improve your craft and take away new skills that will apply to other jobs.” The biggest challenge with this project ended up being the root systems and large stumps that had to be removed. “If nothing else, I’m an expert at removing big tree stumps,” James says laughing, “every job is an opportunity to keep you sharp.”

On top of learning a lot about stump and root removal, James had some more conceptual revelations while working on this project. “This job was such a powerful reminder of the contractor’s imagination,” James relays, pride swelling in his voice, “homeowners can get inspired by looking at other work, but as contractors it’s our job to take that inspiration and create something brand new. Working on this project reminded me how huge that role is, how important having a vision is when it comes to making a client’s dream into a reality.”

James sees the hardscaping industry as a community of colleagues rather than competing businesses. “My advice to anyone getting into the work is to believe in yourself. Don’t worry about how many other people are doing the work because each one of us has something unique to offer.” And with this standout project from James and Apex Masonry LLC, we can’t wait to see what inspiration hits them next. 


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The Crew:


The following Belgard products were used in this project:

Origins 6 – Mountain Mist
Origins 12 – Mountain Mist
Coping – Mountain Mist
Weston Wall – Fossil Beige