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His landscape designs take an artist’s (quirky) vision

If there were a competition for tackling out-of-the-ordinary landscaping projects, Mitch Kalamian, a landscape designer, would be on auto entry.

Pour pink-colored concrete onto a patio for a Newport Beach resident? He’s done it.

Seemingly float an infinity spa in the shape of a diamond for a family of baseball fans? He’s designed it.

Take a line from a rapper client’s song and etch it on steps leading into a pool? He’s conceptualized it.

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“People hire me for ideas because I make projects unique,” said Kalamian, a Huntington Beach resident. “Gardens are living, breathing works of art, and it makes it so much more interesting to add intrigue and spice to a yard.”

Gardens are living, breathing works of art, and it makes it so much more interesting to add intrigue and spice to a yard.
Mitch Kalamian

For nearly 30 years, since Kalamian founded Solena Landscape, he has installed hundreds of custom landscapes in cities from Malibu down to San Clemente. He has designed and built for a Los Angeles Kings hockey player, former NBA basketball players, actors, singers and radio personalities.

Kalamian, who is currently booked out six months, has projects that cost anywhere from $20,000 to $500,000. His latest work was in a neighborhood where musician Rod Stewart and retired football player and television host Michael Strahan lived.

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But back before the glitz, Kalamian was fresh out of college when he got his start in the industry. After studying landscape architecture at Cal Poly Pomona, Kalamian could name more than 2,500 plants, but he wanted to learn more about masonry, building materials and fixtures.

While working with a landscape architect learning how to draw up plans, Kalamian felt he needed to get out in the field and get his hands dirty. So he would volunteer to pour concrete and lay tile before going into the office. He repaired golf greens to learn irrigation, studied more plants and maintained gardens in front of markets, banks and other commercial plazas.

His mission was to open a high-end custom residential boutique where he could dispel the stigma of contractors failing to deliver quality workmanship or finish in a timely manner.

After putting together a consumers guide that advised homeowners to check a contractor’s state license number and references, Kalamian set rules for himself and his company.

A pool should be finished in about two to three months. The team’s 15 field employees would wear uniforms and never use a homeowner’s bathroom; portable toilets would be provided. And even if a project was weeks away, he’d buy the materials in advance to avoid any delay.

This sort of attention has won Kalamain the California Landscape Contractors Assn. Landscape Beautification Award for Outstanding Landscape Projects for the past five consecutive years.

Over the years, Kalamian has noticed significant changes in landscape design as homeowners are tending to use their backyards for a “stay-cation,” he said.

They are investing in barbecues, fire pits, bars, pools and drought-tolerant gardens.

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To get a feel for what a backyard theme should be, Kalamian takes cues from the home’s interior decorations as well as the exterior architecture and decides whether the backyard needs more privacy, shade or a more welcoming look from doors and windows.

For a contemporary-style home just miles from Huntington State Beach, Kalamian wanted to provide its owners with low-maintenance and naturally beautiful plants, so he added agave succulents, rosemary and a lemon tree in a backyard covered with travertine pavers.

He grew grape vines on the wrought iron fencing to hide the visible wetlands and instead of adding granite or tile to a built-in bar’s counters he installed an acid-stained concrete surface.

Design and construction aside, Kalamian said he noticed that homeowners didn’t want to solve backyard maintenance issues. So for $100 an hour he or his crew will trim hedges, prune trees, change out seasonal flowers, clean barbecues or pick up dog droppings.

The idea, he said, is to make a backyard instantly ready for use.

“It’s a fun business,” Kalamian said. “I like to take care of it all and I’ve seen it all.”

Like repairing an air conditioner for a homeowner’s dog kennel.

For more information, visit solenalandscape.com.

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Kathleen Luppi, kathleen.luppi@latimes.com

Twitter: @KathleenLuppi

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