A good home designer or architect can guide you through the “sea of factors and options” regarding the design of a new home, addition or the re-modeling of an existing one. They will help you to uncover the hidden potential that every home has, whether it is apparent or not. Often people use their existing homes based on how they think they should use them instead of using their home in a way that is true to their own identity and lifestyle. A thoughtful remodel or addition in this situation can make all the difference in the enjoyment of your home, long term.
The technology available to architects and designers today, enables them to create plans that are more accurate than ever before, with more design options than you could possibly imagine. Through practice (not theory) an architect or residential designer will be able to see you through the design and home building maize. Modern technology can allow you to view your new home or addition in 3-D precision.
It is in your best interest to be an informed buyer. This goes for selecting the right person to design your home or addition as well. You will be partners, working hand in hand for the best possible outcome. It has often been said that “partnerships are the hardest ships to sail.” This need not be so if everyone is getting their needs in the relationship fulfilled. All relationships, whether personal or professional require mutual respect, a willingness to work through differences and to have common goals. The following is offered as information only and was compiled with the assistance of the American Institute of Architects and by speaking with architects and home designers. It will help guide you as you work through the design process.
The Design Process — Deciding on a Designer or Architect
In the design process if using an architect, the owner should always have a meeting with the builder and architect together so there are no surprises throughout the project since the architect is not onsite throughout the construction process.
Another consideration in choosing your path is the design builder. This is a builder that is a qualified designer as well as a home builder. With this application you can go from A to Z in one place. This is a convient choice since everything is done under one roof.
Meet with several home designers or architects to establish a rapport and see if the goals of the designer/architect are consistent with your own. This initial “session” will either feel good or it won’t.
Ask to see examples of their work to determine if their style or “voice” will fit with yours goals.
Solicit recommendations from friends, associates and acquaintances regarding architects or home designers that they have used.
Questions To Ask a Potential Architect or Home Designer So That You Can Be Sure They Are a “Good Fit” For You and You For Them
- What is their design philosophy? You will need to know this in order to determine whether or not this is the right architect or designer for your project.
- What do they see as the necessary steps in the design process?
- How interested are they in your project?
- How busy are they and will they be able to give your project the attention to detail it deserves?
- Will they provide a list of references for you to contact?
- What do they think sets them apart from the other architects/designers in the area and why should you choose them for your project?
- Will they allow you to choose who you wish to build your home or do they have a particular contractor that they work with? You should be able to choose your own contractor.
- How thorough and detailed will their plans be and will you be getting what you pay for?
- What will be the fee schedule for the project? How do they establish their fees?
- How does the architect or designer see their roll in your home design? Are they designing the home for themselves or for you, the client?
- Are they willing to be flexible with regards to your wishes?
- What is the architect or designers’ reputation with good builders and with past clients?
- Will you be dealing throughout the project with the designer/architect or will you be dealing with someone other than the one who designs your home?
- What is their experience and track record with regard to cost estimating?
- Have their past projects had excessive change orders due to poor contract documents?
- What is their management style?
- What will the architect show you along the way to explain the project? Will you see renderings, drawings, sketches, or all of the above?
- If the scope of the project changes later in the project, what will the additional fees be and how will these fees be justified?
- What services will they be willing to provide, if needed, during construction?
The Design Process — What You Need To Bring To The Table
In order for an architect or designer to identify your needs it is helpful if you make a “wish list” of everything that you wish to have or utilize in your new home or addition. Items can be prioritized later regarding their overall importance to you and their impact on the overall budget. In the beginning, everything should be “on the table” for consideration.
Jot down mental notes that you can share with your chosen architect or designer. Their knowledge will help sort through these mental notes.
Good design can and should be built around what inspires and interests you, the homeowner. If you or a family member has any mobility issues, your architect or home designer will need to know this as well.
Identify personal style. Often people know what they like but do not know what their overall personal style is. A good designer or architect can help you uncover what that is. They are also experts at helping you to meld styles in a way that can solve a lot of conflicts between spouses.
The Owner-Designer Agreement
Owner-designer agreements spell out what you and your designer bring to the relationship and what you can expect from each other. This legally binding agreement ensures that you both envision the same project, requirements and expectations. A good contract eliminates misunderstandings and preserves relationships, from the outset. You should ALWAYS consult your attorney prior to signing any contract. A good contract will protect your interests. This contract should:
- Determine project requirements. This involves determining what you will be building and how it will be sited. Review schedule and budget requirements and all anticipated team members.
- Describe project tasks and assigned responsibilities. It should identify the administrative, design, construction and facility operation tasks involved, and who will be responsible for each.
- Identify construction schedule requirements and develop a timeline for the completion of tasks.
- Establish the compensation to be paid to the designer. Based on the results of the previous four steps, ask your designer for a compensation proposal (AIA Document B 141 is a Standard Form of Agreement between Owners and Architects). It guides up-front discussion to set your project’s parameters, and helps improve communication and prevent misunderstandings.
Building a new home or considering a home addition/renovation, can often be overwhelming and intimidating. Your architect or home designer is your partner. Through careful, thoughtful design they are able to maximize every square foot of livable space. Having a good design on the front end is the most inexpensive way to build. Making it work, on paper, before it is built can highlight potential design issues that need to be addressed before even breaking ground. A good design is an investment in your long-term enjoyment and the lifespan of your home.
By Karin Andrews, Contributing Writer