A career in landscape design may have seemed an obvious path for Phil Steinhauer.
It may very well be in his blood. Steinhauer’s grandfather – the namesake of Steinhauer Fieldhouse at Colorado School of Mines – was the Superintendent of Parks for the City of Denver, designing many of the city’s parks along with the state’s mountain roads.
Since 1992, Steinhauer and his company Designscapes Colorado, have created everything from spectacular floral displays to urban rooftop gardens to parks that help define communities.
But like a well-crafted hedge maze, Steinhauer’s path to the industry, and to Colorado State University, took a few twists and turns.
“When I finished high school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” he said. “I had some artistic ability, but I just didn’t know how to make a career out of art at that time.”
Finding the right path
Initially, Steinhauer studied art at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, but the idea of being an artist working alone at an easel in a cramped studio didn’t fit, as he often found inspiration in the outdoors. Spurred by a lawn mowing business he’d had in high school, Steinhauer tried a landscape design class. It felt a little more natural to him, but the strict agricultural focus wasn’t quite right, either.
“It was more about putting up tree rows to block the wind and orienting the feedlot so it was downwind from the house,” Steinhauer said. “It was less about aesthetics and more about functionality.”
But it did spark the idea that he could be both creative and work outside with others. When Steinhauer started looking at schools, his long family ties to Colorado pulled him back to the state, but it was the College of Agricultural Sciences’ renowned Landscape Design and Contracting program that brought him to CSU, where he studied from 1980 to 1983.
Returning to Colorado and CSU
Steinhauer then moved to Connecticut, doing high-end design work and residential construction for several years to build up his portfolio, but he says he always knew Colorado was where he wanted to be. When he moved back he quickly began making a name for himself, working on several notable projects – including at the home of former Broncos quarterback John Elway – before starting his own company. Designscapes Colorado is now a nationally recognized industry leader, known as a premiere design, construction and maintenance firm serving both residential and commercial properties.
The company has continued to grow over the years, winning regional and national accolades. But during it all, Steinhauer has made it a point to stay connected to CSU.
“I have a lot of great memories there, and I loved the program and my professors,” he said. “So, when we started Designscapes Colorado, really from the very beginning we started recruiting out of CSU’s program. Our very first designer we hired was a graduate of the Landscape Design and Contracting program, and I’ve continued to do that.”
Over the course of the past 30 years, Seinhauer has hired more than 25 CSU graduates.
“A lot of my success has come through the program at CSU – the employees, the relationships,” Steinhauer said.
The time to give back
Steinhauer also credits the program, along with Emeritus Horticulture and Landscape Architecture Professor Grant Reid, for inspiring him on the right way to run a business – honoring employees and clients, as well as the community.
“I think my whole philosophy on giving back to the community that has supported Designscapes Colorado and has enabled me to be is the success that I am, really comes from the people that I’ve surrounded myself with.”
Over the years, Steinhauer has donated to multiple philanthropic endeavors, including a long-term project at the Denver preschool Clayton Early Learning, which focuses on teaching children and their families how to grow nutritious food.
Now, he said, felt like the right time to give back to CSU. Steinhauer is supporting his former program with a financial gift to the Landscape Design and Contracting program, including the naming of the Steinhauer Landscape Design and Contracting Studio in the College of Agricultural Sciences’ new Nutrien Agricultural Sciences Building.
A transformative gift
Steinhauer’s gift will fund the hiring of a program coordinator who can help with recruitment as well as in the classroom, placing students in internships and preparing them for graduation. It will also create the Landscape Design and Contracting Program Excellence Endowment, in part, to provide scholarships for students entering the program, as well as supporting program needs and student success, such travel costs to the National Collegiate Landscape Competition. The event is a chance for students to demonstrate their skills in real-world, competitive events and network with top companies at the nation’s largest career fair for the industry.
“This really is a transformative gift,” said Zach Johnson, a professor in the Landscape Design and Contracting program. “It will allow us to do so many things, but right off the bat his gift shows a commitment to these spaces that we work in.”
It’s not the first time Steinhauer has supported the program, Johnson said. Steinhauer is also a longtime participant in the Professional Practices class, which brings in leading industry officials to speak to students on topics ranging from risk management to negotiation skills to the latest advances in technology.
“Phil has been an amazing model for our students,” Johnson said. “Not just in the fact that he runs such a successful business but in his kindness, his generosity and his willingness to share his knowledge and support others looking to enter the industry.”
Karen Dunbar, interim vice president for University Advancement at CSU, echoed that feeling of excitement and gratitude.
“Mr. Steinhauer’s support for our Landscape Design and Contracting students and commitment to strengthening their future career opportunities is remarkable,” Dunbar said. “His gift will leave a legacy for years to come by supporting countless student endeavors in the landscape design field.”
To learn more about the impact donors have on the entire CSU community, visit: http://www.giving.colostate.edu/