Other than choosing a spouse, this may be one of the most important relationship decisions you make in your lifetime. Considering that the home you will be building is a legacy that will impact many users and generations to come (statistics show we live in a home for an average of about 7 years,) it is not a decision to be made lightly. And like a marriage, you will develop a relationship with your architect or architectural designer that can make the building process even more enjoyable or, well, one can only imagine.
As you begin your adventure in home building I recommend three very important aspects to consider when choosing your architect.
- Do your research.
- Be prepared.
- Communicate your needs and goals clearly.
Do Your Research
The Value of Good Blueprints: I cannot overestimate the value of a good architect and properly prepared plans. Today with the do-it-yourself CAD programs, it seems anyone can design a home. As builders, we have built homes that have been designed by many different architects. It doesn’t take long to know which architects are favourites. And it often doesn’t have anything to do with how much the architect charges. It’s funny how some architects designs are difficult to build. Or the blueprints of other architects have space or traffic flow that just doesn’t make sense. When you are working with an inexperienced designer, the mistakes can be disastrous. One architect whose plans we built regularly was known for not leaving enough headroom for the stair opening, and bathrooms that were too small. Once a builder knows that about an Architect, he can watch out for those details. But how can you? Check with your builder.
Get References, Referrals and Recommendations: First, if you have already selected a builder, talk to him about it. Chances are he will have some pretty good advice for you. You can also talk to friends who are happy with their homes, but many of them might not realize the problems that the builder encountered while building their home. Another good research tool is the Parade of Homes. There’s nothing like walking in a home and experiencing it to understand how a designer works.
Set Realistic Goals: Let’s face it. We all want more in a home than our budget or the square footage allows for. You know in your head that there is only so much that can fit in your desired size of home, but your heart wants to convince you otherwise. Also, size doesn’t always determine price. Many other factors like quality of finishing materials, structural and design elements, site preparation and accommodation will affect the final price. If you are realistic and specific up front with your architect, it will save you heartache later.
Check the Portfolio: Has the architect actually designed homes similar to what you have in mind? There is a big difference in designing a Lakefront home or a house on an infill lot than for a home on acreage or in a neighbourhood.
Trust Your Instincts: When you are finally interviewing your potential architect and everything else seems to be right, trust your instincts. Do you think you are going to enjoy working with the person, the firm? If not, keep looking. There’s too much at stake.
Understand What you Want. I know this sounds obvious, but it is important. Collect magazine pictures, lots of them. And maybe features from other plans that are particularly appealing. This may most easily communicate to your architect the look and feel that you are after. You can tell your architect that you want a home that looks French Country, but what if his idea of that is different than your expectations?
Understand your budget. Your architect is not going to pay the bills from your builder. If you have a specific amount that you are able to invest, you need to know before you get to the cash register that you are over budget. Many architects are unaware of how much it will cost to build their blueprints. Aside from variables like your choice of finishing materials, how they structure a house can affect the cost to build it dramatically.
Check the architect’s portfolio to make sure that he designs homes for your budget. I have a favourite architect that I like to work with when there is a limited budget. When I say something like, “What do you think about putting a Cathedral ceiling in here?” and he responds with something like, ‘Well, did you want a 2 car garage instead of 3?’ I know where I stand. A good architect is going to have an understanding of how much things will cost.
Understand Your Lifestyle. Your architect is not going to live in your home. You are. Another obvious statement I know. But you may know that you usually have more than one person working in the kitchen, so the typical ‘work triangle’ may not be the best approach for you. Or that organizing your stuff is a top priority, so planning for the appropriate storage spaces, whether inside or outside your home, had better be too. Also, consider furniture layouts. A great big large room may look good on paper, but where has your architect put the room entrances for traffic flow? Will you be able to layout your furniture in a pleasing way? Make sure he is able to understand how you live, and then when he makes recommendations, take into consideration his professional expertise.
Make Sure You Tell All: Now that you know what you are looking for, and how much you want to invest, you need to tell your architect. There is no substitute for clearly conveying this to your architect. Don’t assume that he knows, because it seems obvious to you that something should be done a certain way. Remember, you are working with someone who is part Engineer, and part Artist. Enough said!
Get it in Writing: I have always had good experiences with the architects I have worked with but it is always a good idea to get it in writing. How much will the plans cost? How long will they take? How much will it cost to make changes? What if he does not have them completed when expected?
Questions to Answer: How willing is the architect to work with you? If you have a unique lot, would he be willing to walk the site with you? Does he prefer to do a typical ‘stock’ type home with front and back views, or can he think outside the box? How long does the design process typically take? How does the architect price his work? Has the architect done a broad range of designs? Does he have stock plans that you could modify to suit you? Is the architect familiar with the building codes in the area you are building your home?
Some architects will take a lot of information from you and then begin the process of the preliminary drawings. Others will sketch things out right in front of you to make sure that they are on the right track.
Review your preliminary plans with your builder. Does he think the house will come in on budget?
Remember, there is NO such thing as the perfect house. But by doing your homework, understanding your needs, goals and budget, and finding the right architect for your job you will have a rewarding home to be enjoyed for many years and hopefully have fun building it too.
Some additional thoughts:
While choosing an architect is a very important detail, do not overlook the value of a good builder or design. See ‘How to Choose a Builder ’ and ‘Tips on How to Design your Dream Home’ for more information.