Mistakes to Avoid When Hiring a Residential Architect

Charlestown, RI Shingle Style Residence

A potential client recently asked us, “Where do clients go wrong?” The question prompted us to recall an individual who contacted us seeking advice on how to make her newly constructed home more comfortable. She described her living room as “unlivable” due to its soaring ceiling height and lack of human scale. When we asked how this happened, she explained that she had an architect who did everything she asked, but now that she is living in the house, she realizes she didn’t know what she was doing!

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When interviewing architecture firms, look for an architect you can trust to transform your ideas and wish list into a home that is both highly functional and architecturally attractive. One of the most unsettling homeowner comments is “I know exactly what I want and just need someone to draw it up.” Rarely do clients really know how to translate their ideas into built form or to specify the best materials for the job. Clients who approach their project with this attitude can also restrain the process of discovery that leads to exceptional architecture.

“Cocktail party chatter” can also lead a homeowner astray.  Relying on friends or neighbors to divulge accurate construction pricing and construction timeframes can be disastrous.  Of course they got a bargain price and finished well ahead of schedule. Have another martini! If two prospective architects tell you that your home will take an estimated 15 months to construct and one responds with 12 months, do your homework. Make sure you aren’t hiring the firm that simply tells you what you want to hear and not the best architect for your project.

How much does an architect cost? We refer to the car analogy, it depends on the car. It can also be summed up with the adage, “you get what you pay for.” When interviewing architects compare both the list of services provided and the fee. You may find an architect with a low fee but later discover that design of the kitchen, bathroom, lighting and built-ins are not included. In this case a homeowner will incur cost overruns by having to hire other design professionals. Hiring a firm that includes the interior architecture services has the added benefit of providing a continuity in the design and a single point of responsibility.

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It may be advisable to ask a prospective architect to show you a set of construction drawings so you can see how much detail is included. Beware of firms that provide only a handful of drawings because this can lead to construction cost overruns if the builder doesn’t have enough information to accurately price the project. You’ll also want to know who will work on the design of your home and who you’ll be interacting with. Residential design is process that explores a family’s lifelong desires. Make sure you select an architect you are comfortable with as a companion on this momentous journey!