You can’t stand it any longer. You could be the typical home owner, thinking about remodeling your home for several years and you decided to pull the trigger. There is an anxiousness for some and anxiety for others. The cost? Who can I trust? Where do I go? The overwhelming insurmountable task at hand. There is an enjoyable method to creating your new home achieving not only a level of sanity but an end result that will improve the quality of your life. This is why I do this for a living. I enter a clients life for what seems like an eternity to them but really is a microscopic blip in time. Those that follow are left with a better life. Sound nice? If you don’t use what’s between your ears then look in the mirror when you feel the stress building before, during, or after your project.
A solid design WILL make or break your project. Many homeowners whom have not taken on a significant remodel project won’t realize this until it’s to late. If you are focused on doing the most work for the cheapest price then I have nothing to offer. Why, because it doesn’t take a professional to do a crappy job. Any idiot can buy the cheapest materials, hire the flakiest contractor, and install it poorly. If your desire is to build a project that achieves a balance between your design and financial goals then listen up. If you ask ten different homeowners the definition of design you will likely get up to ten different answers. Clarifying the basics of design and how it applies to the real world of remodeling will be the first step.
The Basics of Design. What you need to know. – I think it is important for you to understand my mind set and approach to explaining the basics of design. I am coming at it from perspective of what I believe, as a homeowner, you need to know when getting up to speed. I will try to refrain from using industry terminology so as not to bore you. Within the construction industry designers take on one of two types of forms.
First I think it’s safe to say that you need to know whom to start with on your project? In most industries to design, build and sell a product or service it takes many different people with specialized skills and disciplines to come together for one common goal. Additionally, it’s common to have one group designing and engineering a product and another to manufacturer it. The remodeling business fits right in with the same mold.
We are going to break a remodel project into two areas, Design and Construction. The focus of this article is on design and eventually I’ll get into the construction area. If you ever have played in a sports event such as baseball or football, coached or even just a spectator you’ll probably get this analogy. Think of Design as assembling your coaching staff, building your play book, strategizing, recruiting your players, and training them. Essentially you are preparing for the big game. Think of Construction as The Game with all time and hard work taking action always keeping in mind the most important critical factor, YOU are the owner, general manager, head coach, all wrapped up into one super remodelerer. The buck stops here and your are ultimately accountable for all aspects of your team and the final outcome of the game. Seems like a daunting task but orchestrated correctly can be a good fit for the right couple or individual.
Within the world of design for your home remodel project there are two very important people that become your key coaches for the team, Architectural and Interior Design. Intelligently investing the time and money at this first stage of planning your project is absolutely paramount to enjoying the outcome. I emphasize this very strongly because it has been too frequent that I have seen homeowners struggle with this. As they plan their journey or build their play book they are already off to a bad start. We will start with the roles and responsibilities of each and how a collaborative effort can foster a wonderful experience and a beautiful home.
Hiring a designer is the first step you can’t miss. If you don’t agree stop reading and good luck. What type of designer is the question. How the design process functions is dependant on if you have chosen a licensed architect or residential designer. Now is a good time to explain the difference between the two and what to look for and watch out for in each.
Residential Designers are, generally speaking, individuals that may or may not have formal training but likely possess the knowledge required to design and draft a plan set for your project. Many have worked under the mentorship of architects and are pursuing their credentials and some may be ex-builders or remodelers that have a very good sense of design and structure knowledge. A common result with this niche in the design community is a moderate level of engineering knowledge (which is not necessarily an issue since most retain the services of a structural engineer) and possibly a limit to the size and scope of the project. Most residential designers can handle typical residential remodel and addition projects. Within this area you will likely see companies called, for example “ABC Design” and not utilizing the word Architect or Architecture in their title or business name. In fact it is illegal to do so unless you are a state licensed architect. Since completing the necessary requirements to become a licensed architect is a very big commitment you may discover more designers than architects as you search for your design team. Inevitably you will realize a price difference between the two. A Designer really needs no credentials to draw plans but depends more on their experience and training. All things considered my experience is that there are very talented designers and it’s not an option that should automatically be discarded.
Architects on the other hand are professionals that have spent 6-10 years studying the practice of architecture and have earned degrees and state licensing credentials. Generally, I need to emphasize the word “generally”, because what I describe in this section is based on my experience dealing with hundreds of different architects. What I mention may not be universally applicable to all architects but rather defines the probability factor as you search for an architect. In interviewing architects you may discover the passion each individual has for their craft which is one of the first traits that separates them from other forms of designers. Your architect will be a very important part of your team and be the person that you spend the most time with early on. It is common for your architect to orchestrate and oversee the entire design process with the exception of the Interior Design. They will have a very good sense when the time comes to deal with your city planning and building department, a good understanding of structural engineering, and current with the latest in design. On the other hand some challenges in dealing with Architects specifically related to residential remodeling can be numerous. On the outside looking in it may sound good but not unlike any other profession in the world you can get good ones and not so good ones.
Interior Design is an area that many become confused on and quickly discount as unnecessary or not worth the investment. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. In dealing with thousands of homeowners over the past twenty years I have learned that many believe that interior design is reserved for the elite, the large projects, and an expensive luxury that they can accomplish themselves. Well, hang on for the ride because this is where homeowners and projects fall right on their face. In hiring an Architect or Residential Designer it is very common that the focus on the details is lacking. This is not necessarily a competence issue but simply a time factor. Architects tend to focus on the “big picture” of your structure, the overall plan, look, and flow of the space. Areas such as very detailed kitchen and bathroom design, material selection and coordination, technical and current knowledge of appliances, fixtures, and performance of each just scratches the surface. Many architects will be the first to admit that this is not their specialty.
So this is just scratching the surface of the players in design. Here is what you need to look for when selecting a company to design your project. Keep in mind that some companies do both design and construction which is not a bad way to go.
Architectural or Residential Design
- Understand if remodeling is their specialty. You may hear an immediate yes but digging deeper is recommended. Its not uncommon for architects to place their remodeling projects lower on their priority list when balancing their projects. Most prefer to do larger projects such as new homes. Because in remodeling you are dealing with an existing structure there is an accountability and liability piece of the puzzle that you need to be aware of and manage (I talk about this a little further down the post).
- Don’t assume that because a designer or architect does large new custom homes that your smaller addition project will be a breeze for them. Designing to conform to an existing structure requires a different level of detail and interest that many prefer to avoid but will take on to stay busy. The result is incomplete and/or delayed design work, details that show up as additional costs and dissatisfaction with the end result.
- Ask to see plans of projects in the past. The key is to review projects that are: Under construction, recently completed, similar scope to your project, near your neighborhood, and within your budget. It does you no good to see a 15,000 square foot home that he or she designed 10 years ago unless this is similar to your project. In fact if they can not demonstrate recent similar projects then begin to be cautious.
Ask them to walk you through their design work and plan set on the sample projects. Specifically ask:
- “What was this persons goals and how did you achieve them? “
- “When did the design process begin and how long did it take to complete?”
- “Who actually met with the client and designed the project?”
- “What were some of the challenges you faced when dealing with the existing house?”
- “What didn’t work” & “What did”
- “Who designed the kitchen, bath, cabinetry, tile work, etc.?” If the answer is they did ask to see the drawings and details.
- “Who specified the materials and finishes?”
- “What steps did you take to conform to the clients budget?”
- “How many change orders were on the project and what were they for?”
- “How much over budget (if any) did the project come in at when completed?”
- Ask to speak with the clients of the plans you are reviewing. This is a highly recommended step because it links the designer presentation to a real life story from two perspectives, the designer and the client.
- Ask to speak with the builder of the project because again, getting another perspective of the same project will likely get you the real story.
This is just a sample of the many things that you need to know as a homeowner. These questions are important because most are the responsibility of a design professional but many try to defer or pass on the responsibility to the homeowner.
Hopefully by now you have narrowed your search down to a few candidates so the next level is drilling down into the details. Don’t expect to search the internet and learn all about the architecture business in an evening, rather format and organize your questions to what you care about. There’s a common homeowner expression “I don’t know what I don’t know”, well hopefully I can help so you know what to ask.
Coming up next: More details on architecture/design and Interior Design
Do they listen?