Contrary to what might be going through your head, “Landscape Architect” doesn’t involve a truck and lawnmower. Instead, Brett Kuzoian of Castle Bay Design + Studio has designed public parks, streetscapes, and even several residential communities all over North and Central Florida. So he sat down with Hugh Ward to discuss local challenges, favorite outdoor recreation spots, curating an effective team, and the unique projects he dreams of designing in St. Augustine.
Passion & Life Goals
I’m a true believer in “quality of life.” Big on experiences and less on money and things. My wife and I are really passionate about travel (we recently returned from 2 weeks in Iceland), staying active, and staying focused on living positive lives.
Connection to St. Augustine
I was born and raised in nearby Deland and went to school at UF in Gainesville so I was always fairly adjacent to St. Augustine. After college, I moved to Ormond Beach to work for an engineering firm. It was after a few years in Ormond that my wife and I really started to plan a future for ourselves where we would live, work, and have fun on our own terms. St. Augustine became the desired destination for a variety of reasons, from business considerations to the unique access to outdoor activities which were both intrinsic to the area but also a great hub for exploring outward. So in February of 2016, we made that happen…In short, the perfect place to embrace the “work hard, play hard” lifestyle.
Hugh Ward: What exactly does a land planner do?
Brett Kuzoian: By way of our professional licenses, we are “Registered Landscape Architects” – which is sometimes confused with being a guy with a truck and lawn mower (some hilarious stories for a future article!). But, in reality, we have obtained a 5-year professional degree (Castle Bay is a 100% owned UF alum business!), met a lengthy work experience requirement and the successful completion of a very demanding 5-part professional exam which often takes several years to complete. In terms of professional services offer, we cast a pretty wide net and that often has very little to do with “landscaping.” We are currently designing some very cool public parks and streetscapes for cities across central/north FL and are also master planning and permitting several residential communities (ranging in size from 40 acres to almost 4000 acres). We also maintain schedule availability to assist homeowners with their own projects. Regardless of the project size or client, our work typically involves extensive meetings and client coordination followed by the actual design work which ultimately yields a very detailed set of what the industry calls “construction documents.” These final documents are prepared in AutoCAD and feature very intricate construction details specifying manufacturers, materials, dimensions, and installation standards. In short, I have always felt we are essentially professional problem solvers and creatives when it comes to land design, whether it be for a future 4000-acre community or someone’s backyard makeover.
Favorite part of the job?
Quite honestly, the easy answer would be our clients. We have some incredible clients, many of whom have become personal friends. In my view, there is nothing more professionally fulfilling than helping a friend who walks in your door with a tough project or a specific issue and helping them realize their vision and walking out the door with a smile on their face.
What would be your dream project in St. Augustine?
I have several, but if I had to pick THE dream job I would have to say I enjoying planning and designing unique outdoor experiences the most. So having the reigns, with an ample budget, to create a truly special outdoor recreation destination has always been an opportunity that I hope presents itself one day. I have some ideas that if paired with the right client/investor, could be true landmarks.
How big is your team?
That’s actually an interesting question and something we discuss in the office quite often. In the design consulting industry, many of your “me too” brands (those that operate by following everyone else) are incredibly inefficient, disorganized, and mismanaged. These firms find themselves incredibly busy and hire frequently to cover these internal issues while externally calling the additions “growth.” I’ve personally experienced it for over a decade and have had countless deep conversations with some truly distinguished professionals late in their careers echoing similar observations. So don’t be fooled by “size!” We have purposely kept our team very tight, just me and a partner, and challenge ourselves to increase our efficiency through investment in better technology and workflow parallel or even exceeding our annual financial growth rate. Don’t get me wrong, we would hire the right person in a heartbeat, but hiring for the sake of hiring to appear “bigger” will never be a cornerstone of Castle Bay.
Not a big “foodie,” so I’ll go another route and mention one of our favorite outdoor escapes. The hiking trails at Guana are fantastic. My wife and I have been hiking, kayaking, paddleboarding, and fly fishing out there quite a bit these past two years and have found it to be quite peaceful and one of the few spots that isn’t hopping with people.
What would you like to see happen in St. Augustine?
Generally speaking, I think city leadership has done a pretty good job of maintaining progress on the many fronts that running a city entails. Being said, if I had to be picky and mention something I believe the city could really benefit from, it would be the lack of options when it comes to outdoor recreation opportunities which should be more than boat ramps and amenity-deficient “parks.” For starters, a series of true kayak/paddleboard launches along the San Sebastian from SR16 to SR312 would be an amazing way for locals to gain alternative access to this beautiful and underutilized waterway on the west side of downtown.
What are the challenges to your business in St. Augustine?
Personally, I’m a strong believer in accountability, so I would love to see the city utilize the continuing contract we have with them to reach out to us every now and then and leverage our skill set to assisting in making our beautiful city even greater. But we will continue on our path and be ready if/when the opportunities eventually come.