By Pete Lee, Co-founder, President and CEO
I once had a client tell me, and I paraphrase, “We were looking for French Country and we kept getting spaceships. We finally had to hire XYZ architect instead.” Strange as it may seem, such mismatches are more common than one may think. I applaud any client’s big move to switch architects when the original one doesn’t work out, but I have often wondered how much time and money was wasted before the switch was made. An even bigger disappointment is when I meet a potential client and their architect and, as I get to know them, it becomes obvious that there is a poor fit between them. This typically manifests itself by the client and architect individually taking me aside and expressing frustration about the design process. Not only do I see fatigue, but poor communication and a design that no one is happy about.
In such cases, the clients did not spent enough time defining what they want from the relationship. Consequently, they missed the right architect match. To my mind, there are four key questions to answer in finding your perfect architect:
- One, is the architect’s personal design style in harmony with yours? Architects can do a range of designs but they all have “signatures.” It’s best to think in terms of buying quality art; if you like cubism, don’t commission an impressionist to produce your painting!
- Two, do you personally like the architect who’ll hand your project? Design and construction puts stress on any relationship; start with an architect whose personality you enjoy.
- Three, what is the architect’s availability to perform for you in a timely way?
- Four, can he/she work within your preferred budget?
If the client and architect aren’t “simpatico” in these four dimensions, trouble is probably just waiting to happen.
But these are easily resolved. Let’s take the first question: What is the architect’s personal style? When you start thinking about building, ask about builders and architects. Once you have a list of architects, go to their website. Evaluate the photographs of their projects. Do you see some themes within their work? Do they have a wide ranging portfolio? Do you like what you see? Could you imagine living in the spaces they are showing? If the answer is “yes,” then meet that architect.
At the interview, show the architect the specific projects you like on his/her website and state specifically what you like about them. Find out who in the office did the work and ask them about their personal tastes. If you find the architect describing what could be your personal dream home, you are in good shape. When architects design what they enjoy, they get the details right! It’s really that simple. The architect will have thought through the details and consequently the design will come together in the field.
(But be forewarned! Some architects will tell you that they can design anything. Maybe. But can they get there cost effectively and within your schedule? If you push them to do something they haven’t thought through, their heart may not be in it; they may have ignored details, and it needlessly consumes time to do the right research.)
Okay, now you’re found an architect who excels with your desired style. What’s next? Gather whether you can work well together, and there’s no better time than at that first meeting. Make sure your personalities click (the road ahead will have points of stress that can be lessened by a good personal fit). Also, make sure you are interviewing the actual architect who will be handling your project. You don’t want to be shuffled off from the head salesperson to someone you don’t enjoy. Also, check references. These folks have survived the great recession because they are effective sales people. Take the time to make sure they walk the talk. Don’t fall victim to a great first impression just to find out they don’t stack up to the hype.
With the first two questions resolved, you’re on the home stretch to a great relationship. The last two hurdles involve schedule and budget.
Whether you’re looking to build a dream home or a corporate headquarters, it is not unfair to ask architects up front how long a typical project takes to deliver and what are they charging. Listen carefully when they tell you how long it will take. I once had an architect tell me “Yeah, regardless of the client, it always takes about a year to get the house designed”. That surprised me because I usually get my projects completed in about 3 to 5 months. What I realized is that he has a methodology and creative style that results in a longer design process. I didn’t hire him because I didn’t want to be frustrated–even though he is an award winning architect. Tune into who your architect is and have realistic expectations.
And finally budget. Realistically, there’s no way to put a price on a great idea. But you and I can only afford so much. So to me it makes sense to define a fair price up front and avoid spending hours and dollars trying to discover the “perfect” idea.
There are many great architects out there. Find a couple architects that you feel comfortable with and get proposals from them. In my experience, these guys are paid very well and the ones with integrity are going to do the job well. They should be willing to commit to a fair price for a fair scope of services up front.
That’s it! Answer these four questions affirmatively and you should be well on your way to designing your dream home.