Anyone who follows our HARDSCAPE HERO program will be familiar with Micah Miller and Easton Outdoors’ success story: Micah started mowing lawns in high school, which led to a full-blown landscaping business. His business grew quickly, so he had to diversify, leading him to specialize in water features and eventually hardscapes. For his second HARDSCAPE HERO win, Micah recalled his earliest fascination with water features. “I just always loved doing stuff with water,” Micah says as he remembers his childhood growing up in Williamsburg, VA. “We had a creek at the edge of our property and water would actually bubble up in the yard. When I was eight years old I would build mounds of dirt to redirect the water to play in.” This childhood fascination with water movement stayed with Micah and continues inspiring his designs to this day.
Growing the small enhancements section of his company into a business line made Micah and Easton Outdoors the go-to water feature specialists. Not having originally focused on the hardscaping industry, Micah sees himself as a bit of an outsider, a designation he believes works to his advantage. “I approach projects from a different angle than someone who was trained in hardscaping,” Micah muses, “sometimes it costs a lot of time, sometimes a lot of money, but when I arrive at the solution, it’s completely unique. Nothing I do is run-of-the-mill because I have to cut my own path.” And there is nothing commonplace about the project that won Micah October’s HARDSCAPE HERO.
Pointing out an overhead picture of the project, Micah notes that none of the elements are square to the house. “And this is intentional,” he continues, “I wanted to differentiate the patio from the house and put anyone moving into that outdoor space into a mindset of discovery.” The element that first catches your eye is what Micah and his team came to call a “spool.” This spa/pool hybrid from Soake Pools is made of concrete with a drop-in liner, tiling, jets and a heater all topped with a granite finish. “The fit and finish on this thing isn’t Mercedes, it’s Lamborghini,” Micah says chuckling to himself, “it has the ease of maintenance of a spa with the useability of a pool, and it really elevates the whole space.” Once Micah showed the homeowner a Soake Pool it ignited his enthusiasm about the whole project.
Micah made sure the client was part of that conversation throughout the entire design process. “We didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but the collaboration ended up creating some really awesome elements in the space.” For instance, the step up to the pavilion wasn’t in the original design, but the client wanted it there. Micah took this idea and expanded on it by installing lighting beneath the step, creating the feeling of the pavilion as its own distinct space. The patio is divided into separate “rooms” that each have their own distinct feeling while also being part of a cohesive whole. Micah wanted the flow of the space to encourage someone in one room to interact with people in another room, while still feeling like the spaces had their own unique identity.
The U-shaped section of aggregate with a water feature near the house is an echo of the pre-renovation space. “There used to be a brick wall there that the client built with his own hands years ago when his family had no money. He wanted to keep it as a reminder of where he came from, but as the space around it came together, he decided to make a fresh start and replace it with a water feature. We left the old aggregate there, which was all he needed to remind him of the past.”
You would never know it from the final result, but there was a time when it looked like the project wasn’t going to get finished. Halfway through the job, the crew Micah had on site wasn’t living up to Easton Outdoors’ sterling reputation. To maintain the highest level of craftsmanship associated with his company’s name, Micah had to make some quick decisions and replace some of the members working on the project. Micah takes a top-down approach to all aspects of the work, including challenges. “When a job hits a snag, or someone messes up, the first thing I do as a leader is look at myself. What did I do or not do? How did I fall short and how did that lead to this issue? If you always blame someone else instead of looking at yourself, what kind of leader are you?” This philosophy has carried Micah through his many years in the industry and into his second HARDSCAPE HERO win.
Easton Outdoors’ primary value proposition is communication. Anyone who reaches out gets scheduled for a phone consultation within 72 hours, and from there, the homeowner is informed about every step of the process while all of their concerns are heard. Micah has cultivated a culture at Easton where people are happy. If he’s learned anything from his time in the industry, it’s that you don’t have to work your fingers to the bone to turn a profit, and at Easton Outdoors it’s all about making sure his team is happy and the client is happy. Everything else flows out of that, and it’s not hard to see that the model is working.