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How and Why to Hire an Architect

The following post is from Lindsey M. Roberts, a design & décor writer:

architect blueprint
source: Will Scullin

Maybe you’re looking to build, or maybe you’re just looking to build an addition. Either way, hiring an architect is an initial investment that should save you money in the long run. A well-planned design will result in fewer questions and changes during construction, which add to the time and cost of construction. It’s the principle of doing it right the first time.

I recently spoke at a store in Alexandria, Virginia, called Red Barn Mercantile with architect Rachel DeBacker on this topic, and here’s what we put together.

This is by no means extensive, but it should give you a good start:

1. Know Thyself

Know your own style before you embark on any kind of project, whether involving minor décor changes or major structural changes. To discover your style, look at magazines and portfolios of local architects, and check our your friends’ homes. You can also scout out style in local home tours (this is also a good way to meet architects).

Know how you work: Do you want to be involved with every single aspect of the project? Or do you want to hire someone that you trust so much that you then let them make most decisions?

2. Research, Research, Research

Before you do any talking to architects, do your research. Ask your friends about cost per square foot of their projects, and get a firm budget in mind. Put together a binder of magazine clippings and notes on your style. Research code and other restrictions in your neighborhood, especially if you live on the waterfront or in a historic neighborhood. And determine what your deal-breakers are—what you are not willing to compromise on, be it the kitchen or porch design, and what you are less concerned with.

black modern house
source: seier+seier

3. Working with an Architect

Here are some things to think about when choosing and working with an architect:

  • When working with an architect, trust his or her expertise, but stick to your guns on those parts of the project that are most important to you. Don’t just accept the input of those involved without making sure that you know what you or they are talking about.
  • The architect will probably have suggestions for contractors, for people that they have worked with in the past.
  • Find out who will be managing the project—will it be the architect you met with, or another employee? Will this person attend meetings? How will this person be billed?
  • And be reasonable with your time frame. But also be specific about what you expect—you can’t expect a brand-new home in six months, unless it’s mostly designed.

4. What to Expect From the Process

Expect multiple phases of design: schematic, in which you do a big-picture brainstorming; design development, in which you get more specific with the drawings, select materials and finishes, and review code; construction documents, in which you have documents to the level that they can be built from and need to be signed by the architect and possibly submitted to the city of neighborhood for approval; bidding and negotiating, in which you select a contractor; and finally, construction administration, in which you make sure the project is built as drawn.

During this process, know that the architect is the designer, but the contractor may have valuable suggestions as the project goes from paper to lumber.

Make sure to prioritize—not everything is going to turn out exactly as you expect, but make sure that the big items get done to your liking.

What other questions do you have about hiring architects?

Lindsey M. Roberts has covered design, décor, and homes from Washington state to Washington, D.C., writing for publications such as Seattle Homes & Lifestyles, Apartment Therapy, The Washington Post, Preservation, West Virginia Living, and Architect magazine.