Secrets of Great Design
Tips from the pros for making the most of your new home or remodeling project
Whether you’re building a new home or incorporating an addition onto your existing home, you’ll likely be working with an architect. To ensure your project goes smoothly and that you are happy with the finished result, here is some professional advice from several local architects.
FINDING A MATCH
Working with an architect can help you get the most bang for your buck and avoid mistakes, maintains Dan Fogerty of Daniel Fogerty Architecture in Wheaton. “A professional can guide you through the building process and take a hard look at your needs, the ideas you have in mind and your budget and come up with the best solution.”
When selecting an architect, check references, visit completed projects and consider things like the quality of the construction documents. “Bad construction documents lack information and are difficult to bid, build and get permitted,” says Jim Prisby, of the Hinsdale firm Caprio Prisby Architectural Design, noting that less detailed documents can lead to mistakes, back-ups and cost overruns when the project is underway.
Also consider your rapport with the architect — you are spending a lot of time and money with this person and you need to have a good relationship so the project will be successful and enjoyable. “An architect must wear many hats. I may be an artist, space planner, engineer, accountant and even marriage counselor all in one day,” says Daniel Bryan of Bryan Associates Inc. Architects in Burr Ridge.
When comparing prices between architects, make sure you are comparing the services. Each architect puts their pricing together differently. Some include interiors, some don’t, some price per square foot, some bill an hourly rate, and some charge a percentage of overall construction cost.
ALLOW ENOUGH TIME
Homeowners new to the process tend to vastly underestimate the time frame between initiating contact with an architect and breaking ground on their new home
“Most people think we just draw quick pictures,” says Prisby. “They will call in February and want to break ground in two months, but a new home takes at least six months to design and document — and then there’s the permitting process.” While it varies from municipality to municipality, in Hinsdale, for example, the process takes 12 weeks.
“People never allow enough time,” agrees Mike Abraham of Culligan Abraham Architecture in Clarendon Hills, who estimates the typical project will take five to nine months in the architectural design and permitting phase — and that’s before you even break ground. “You can find someone who will do it faster, but you won’t get a good result.”
Before you meet with an architect, gather as much information as you can. Create dream boards on websites such as Houzz or Pinterest, clip images from magazines or take photos of houses or details that you like. You can bring these to your architect to provide a visual profile of your interests.
“I always ask homeowners to collect examples in the form of images of qualities or details they both like and dislike, as a means of communicating what their needs, wants and wishes are,” says Shawn Gordon of Gordon Architecture, Inc. in Wheaton. “They say an image is worth a thousand words, and I’ve had clients collect more than 200 images on Houzz.com for a new house project. As a visual thinker, this is an immeasurable aid for me in getting everybody on the same page.”
Likewise, make sure your architect gives you a detailed picture of the design. Christopher Derrick, of Derrick Architecture in Wheaton, says architects should provide clients with a clear understanding of the design. “Samples, sketches and renderings ensure that more questions are answered on the front end.”
DETERMINE YOUR NEEDS
Take time to analyze how you live, both on a day-to-day basis and needs for entertaining throughout the year so you can create a home tailored to your lifestyle and interests, whether you’re an avid cook or need at-home workspace.
Don’t focus too much on square footage when building. “Someone might think, ‘my current house is 3,200 so I need 4,500.’ But that smaller house is not efficient and doesn’t flow well,” says Derrick. “The main driving factor should be how to create a home or design that fits the way the family lives. Everybody lives their life a little differently. It’s like clothing — it’s not about the size, but how well it fits.”
Today’s lifestyles often eliminate the need for the typical rooms and configurations of the past, and many homeowners find some features are under utilized and unnecessary. Abraham challenges people to look past traditional dictates and focus on their personalized needs. “If you don’t use it, don’t do it,” he says of elements like a formal living room or a soaking tub in the master bath. “Your ultimate goal is not vanilla (design). Sure, everyone likes vanilla just fine, but it’s not their favorite flavor.”
However, do have an eye on the future. As Gordon points out, “Avoid building the ‘white elephant’ in the neighborhood, both in terms of design and project cost. Resale pricing often hinges on what’s comparable in your neighborhood — embrace this limitation as a part of the design process.”
BE OPEN MINDED
There are many different zoning and building code restrictions, and these may differ from suburb to suburb. This can have an impact on your project, as can the limitations of the site or existing structure.
Recognize that you may not be able to build exactly what you want, but if you work with a good architect, he or she will give you several options to choose from that meet most of your wants and needs.
“Let the architect take you places you haven’t been in terms of style and design,” says Abraham. “That will give you something that is not only nice today, but something you will appreciate five to 10 years from now or longer.”
“Design is made up of a lot of decision-making along the way, and there will be some kind of compromising,” says Bruce George, of Charles Vincent George Architects in Naperville.
When you can’t get what you want, there is usually a very defined reason why.
A good architect will provide several options that are as close to what you’re asking for as possible. If you can’t get anything you really want, consider not doing the project.
CREATE A BUDGET
Come up with a budget and share that information with your architect. It will determine how to proceed. Ask whether your budget should include allowances for some changes during the construction phase and also for things like landscape and interior design as well as lighting design.
Your architect should be able to make the best use of your money if you disclose your budget from the outset. “Bring me your dreams and priorities, and we will get as much as possible in the square footage allowed and the budget at hand,” says Prisby.
Some homeowners think they should withhold their actual budget and offer a figure much less than they are willing to spend. Then later, as the project gets underway, they might add things, and modify the plans. But this can cause the project to lose cohesion. Gordon advocates setting aside a contingency fund for the construction phase of the project that can cover things ranging from simple changes in finishes, to design changes required due to existing conditions uncovered during the demolition phase.
But also recognize that changing your mind is usually not without consequences. “Everything is changeable but will cost time and money,” says Fogerty.
Before you purchase a property, consider hiring an architect to do a site review. This will allow you to see whether that property is suitable for building what you want. You can talk about issues like where the house would be best situated on the site, zoning, water problems and other issues that will impact the project.
And don’t have plans drawn up before finding property. The architect will design your home to fit that particular property and the challenges and advantages it provides.
“Take advantage of the ability to custom design your home to fit the environment around it,” advises George.
When it comes to an addition, meet with the architect at your residence and walk the site together so you can make decisions in context.
Beyond the design phase, your architect can help select a contractor, bid the project and observe work during construction. “Every project will change to some extent during construction — insist that your architect remain a part of the team during this phase to help coordinate the changes and maintain the integrity of the design you’ve all worked so hard to produce,” says Gordon.
While it might seem like a way to save, it can be more costly to not hire your architect to follow the project through construction. “An architect on site can enforce quality standards and let homeowners know if modifications are being made,” says George.
An experienced architect can make sure that the project is getting built the way it was specified, that the proper trades are doing the work and that they are getting properly paid for it, and they can also help resolve problems.
“As a third party,” says Brian, “an architect can mediate a mutually agreeable solution to a problem that an owner and builder may be in conflict with.”Edit Module