The following article was published in Issue 2.08 of Brandon Magazine:

It’s a hot, humid afternoon when I meet David Hetrick at one of Exterior Concepts’ latest job sites, an outdoor living space in the backyard of a home in Pasco County. As I step out of my air-conditioned car, the wall of heat is stifling, and I prepare to endure one of the hottest days of the year.

As I walk through the gate into the backyard, however, the temperature drops noticeably. Two grandfather oak trees spread their canopies over the space, blocking the full strength of the sun, and a pleasant breeze picks up, rustling the leaves high above my head and stirring wind chimes hanging from a branch, cooling the whole yard.

I’m greeted by Luke, Hetrick’s golden retriever, who tags along on many of his trips to job sites, and Hetrick and I sit in rocking chairs on the nearly finished deck to talk about his latest design. Monarch butterflies flutter through the air, passing right by my face as we talk. It’s a serene setting, and it’s only half finished.

A large wood deck is adjacent to the house, and it leads to a screened wooden pavilion complete with a ceiling fan. The foundation has been framed for large stone steps, which will lead into the upwardly sloped backyard. Under the large oak trees, an area has been prepped for a blue stone patio and fire pit, and already the stacked stones are taking shape in an area the family will enjoy when the nights grow cooler. A water feature starts at the top of the yard and works its way down through four tiers of stacked stone, where it drains into river rocks in front of the deck. Each stone has been carefully placed to shape the water as it falls, and the sound is melodious as the water dances from stone to stone. Soon the water feature will have yet another tier and landscaping will fill in the empty spaces, blending each of the mediums and spaces together. There is something special about the environment Exterior Concepts has created here, and when it’s finished, it will be magical.

“Our goal is to create positive living spaces,” says David Hetrick, owner of Exterior Concepts, a company specializing in mixed-medium outdoor living spaces. “When designing a project, my goal is to create three-dimensional art that is not only beautiful, but functional,” he says. “We constantly search for new and creative ways to bring harmonic balance and integrity to a home, while keeping in mind that function is also very important in our work. We encourage our customers to interact with their new outdoor spaces and truly use them as extensions of their homes.”

Exterior Concepts is so much more than your average hardscape company. Sure, they install pavers and build decks, but in addition to technical skill, they also bring a level of creativity and artistic talent to every project they undertake. The results are spectacular outdoor living spaces for their customers.

Hetrick brings both a bachelor’s degree and post-graduate work in fine arts to Exterior Concepts, which he founded 17 years ago. The artistic training he received in composition, balance and flow was easily transitioned from pencil, ink and paints to the wood, stone and water that he now uses to create his outdoor masterpieces.

Exterior Concepts designs elaborate outdoor living spaces for their customers, with elements including custom decks, patios, gazebos, pavilions, arbors, pergolas, ponds, waterfalls, spas, fire pits and outdoor kitchens. They also incorporate elements like interlocking pavers, stonework, misting systems, lighting, customized landscaping and retaining walls into their designs. “Our team is well-versed with a wide variety of building materials and project types,” says Hetrick. “While many companies specialize in one type of project, like decks or ponds, we can design and construct the entire project from start to finish.”

Hetrick is in the field on each project, lending his expertise and keen eye for design to each project the company touches. “Because I’m there for each job, the design process can evolve as the project proceeds,” he says. “Instead of sketching out a deck, handing it over to the crew and walking away, I’m able to see opportunities to expand the design as the project evolves. For example, this project started with only the deck and pavilion,” he says as he gestures around the yard. “But soon we noticed additional ways to increase the beauty of the site. We worked with the owners to create an elaborate backyard oasis.”

While each project the company creates is completely custom, water features are often incorporated as a central highlight of Exterior Concepts’ outdoor designs. “I like to appeal to as many of the senses as possible with our designs,” says Hetrick. “Water is not only a pleasing visual element, but it also brings a soothing sound into the space.”

Water also helps direct the flow of energy. “When I design a space with water features, I direct water toward each of the living spaces we’ve created,” he says. “There is a flow and balance to any area people spend time in, and every element we add to our designs is there to ultimately increase the energy and enjoyment of the space.”

Many of Exterior Concepts’ projects and the mediums he chooses to work with are influenced by Hetrick’s childhood in the Pocono Mountains. “We use a lot of stone imported from Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Tennessee,” he says. “However, we also incorporate some of Florida’s more traditional materials, including indigenous landscaping and interlocking pavers.”

Hetrick takes inspiration from Mother Nature when creating his designs. “Nature blends everything together,” he says. “When I’m whitewater kayaking, I pay attention to the way water moves and the energy it carries. I see how wind and water have shaped boulders, and I have an immense appreciation for the beauty of stone that has been around for thousands and thousands of years.”

Hetrick also enjoys life’s simpler pleasures, and he runs his company with a strong focus on good old-fashioned customer service. “It’s almost like I should have lived a hundred years ago,” he says. “I enjoy working with my hands instead of relying on technology and talking to people instead of relying on email. I enjoy going back to the roots and sculpting the environment in a way that is non-obtrusive to the earth while still making things accessible, functional and enjoyable for my customers.”

It’s the challenging projects that make Hetrick love his job so much, and whether it’s finding a way to integrate a waterfall into a deck, incorporating stained glass windows into an open-air pavilion or transforming an ordinary fountain into a giant, functional sundial, some of Exterior Concepts’ most memorable projects have allowed Hetrick to explore new ways of doing things.

“We created the sundial fountain for a couple with a large, circular driveway in front of their home,” he says. “I incorporated her love of water with his love of timepieces to create a creative, artistic piece for their home. We designed a 40-foot fountain with a large arm set at a specific angle to cast shadows on stones around the edge of the fountain representing each hour of the day. The result was functional artwork suited perfectly to the homeowners.”

Hetrick enjoys working with customers who are looking for something unique and different, and who want to use his creative talents. “People often have pre-conceived notions about outdoor spaces, like a deck has to be rectangular in shape, or a pond should go in the back corner of their yard,” he says. “I encourage my customers to think ‘outside of the rectangle’ to explore all of the new possibilities that exist when you approach a project with an open mind.”

The Exterior Concepts team is a tight-knit group of craftsmen who each bring unique talents to the company and take pride in the quality work they do for their customers. Lead carpenter and foreman Jonathan Deluca formerly owned Terhaar Construction and built homes in the Poconos. “I bring seven years of production experience to my job at Exterior Concepts,” he says. “As a project manager, I keep the jobs organized and running smoothly, making sure there are no mistakes and that everyone is working safely and to their full potential.” Another member of the crew, Andrew Musty, brings a degree in studio art and post-graduate work in furniture making to the table. The team constantly shares experiences, and Hetrick enjoys educating his crew members and passing along his trades to others. “We all have a sense of pride in what we do, and I am lucky to have such a strong team working for me,” he says.

Hetrick, who comes from a long line of master carpenters, has grown up with an appreciation of water and the outdoors, and his fine arts background and technical skill have matured through his experiences. As he looks back at some of the memories that have shaped his life, it’s not at all surprising that Hetrick does what he does today. “At age two and a half, I was already fishing on the Bushkill River with my father,” he says. “At four I learned to snow ski, and at six I learned to water ski. My first canoe was purchased for me at age 12, and by 14, I was camping and canoeing through the more remote and beautiful regions of the Pine Barrens and Pocono Mountains.” It’s no surprise that Hetrick’s first job at 15 was working outdoors for a landscaping company.

While his father instilled in him a love for the outdoors, his mother instilled her artistic talent, and Hetrick credits his mother’s genetic code with his own artistic calling. As he completed his art degree in college, he also worked in various fields of construction, building decks one summer and roofing another. “All of these elements combined led me to start Exterior Concepts in 1991, and I’ve been self-employed ever since,” he says. “We are the sum of our experiences, and I’m right where I should be, doing what I love to do.”

In addition to his work with Exterior Concepts, Hetrick also uses his fine arts training to create more traditional artwork. One of his pencil drawings is currently on display until September 29 in the TECO Gallery in downtown Tampa. Hetrick lives in South Tampa with his 13-year-old daughter, Brooklyn, who also shares a love for water with her father. “As a single father, I’m extremely proud of my daughter,” he says. “She truly grounds me, and she is one of the best parts of my life.”

Exterior Concepts has showrooms and displays in Wesley Chapel and Brandon. To learn more, call 813-877-2792 or visit their website, www.exteriorconceptsonline.com.

Article written by Jenni McKay