If you agree with everything that your architect says and/or draws, then you may be doing something wrong. I’m not claiming your architect is inevitably flawed, that she doesn’t have great ideas and that each design move isn’t intricately and brilliantly tied to the one before. What I am saying is, if you don’t have questions and comments (indicated by only saying things like, “I love it!” or, “That’s perfect!” after each meeting without follow-up questions and comments) then frankly, you may not be picking up on what they’re putting down. This may lead to surprises come construction time (and not the fun surprise birthday party kind). You may think you understand everything (or as much as you believe you need to), but there is no way that your architect can nail down all of your goals, hopes and dreams for your project perfectly without your input. You should be making inquisitive statements like, “How does this affect…?”, “Is this option more expensive than…?” or, “I don’t yet have a good understanding of how that space will feel. Can we go over it again?”
There are simply too many details that need to be just so, dimensions that must to be specific to your needs, materials and colors that need to be what you are expecting, etc., to have EVERYTHING be right all of the time. Trust me; we love to hear how much you adore what we’ve designed. What architect doesn’t love to have his or her ego stroked? However, if that’s all we hear time and time again, something is usually amiss. It usually means you aren’t processing all of the detailed information, not wholeheartedly reading the drawings, or just not hearing what we are saying. I don’t mean to sound brash, but sometimes folks need a swift kick in the pants to make a point, and this particular point is one you don’t want to miss.
Designing your home is an extremely personal and detailed process, and if given two options to choose from, you should inevitably be willing and able to assess the pros and cons to make your selection. Do you want your house designed with a modern flat roof or a traditional pitched roof? Pretty straight forward, right? However, when you’ve just begun your 300th meeting to receive an update on the alignment of the walls with the floor tile, which aligns with the cabinets which need to be ordered next week, it gets a bit more complicated. It wouldn’t be uncommon for you to enter a trance like state, hear white noise, and start wondering how much longer you have before you need to return to work or pick up your kid. When you are jolted back into the conversation by your architect questioning, “Does that make sense?”, your conscience takes over and out comes, “Sure, yes, definitely. I love it!” If this happens 2 or 3 more times, then you’ve just missed out on the antecedents of enough information to turn a ripple into a tsunami. What is the resultant tsunami you ask? Let me use the above example to expound on this a bit. Upon verbal approval of the wall and tile alignment, your architect proceeds down the long path of drawing, detailing, dimensioning and coordinating the information necessary to carry out the list of defined goals from said meetings. She produces plans for which you pay a pretty penny. The plans are distributed to contractors, sub-contractors, permit specialists and the like, each of whom proceeds down his or her required path, commencing with the instructions provided on those drawings. Each respective party reviews the drawings, crunches numbers, provides pricing and writes up estimates that are given to contractors. Contractors communicate with the architect to get clarifications and compile the massive amount of information into their estimates. Construction begins, materials are ordered, and the crew is set in motion. Again, all of which is a direct result of the decisions from the design meetings, and paid for by you. The event that takes this freight train from full speed ahead to a screeching halt occurs when you arrive on site, and are confused about something you see. Now that it’s real (and not part of a design meeting), you finally ask, “How does this affect….?”, or “Is that more expensive than….?” Only now do you process the information that should have been processed eons ago, and you want to make a change. Don’t get me wrong, it is your house. Change what you need to in order to create your perfect oasis. Just understand that with this change comes a price tag. In addition, it can be accompanied by frustration when you thumb through the drawings to find the information right there in painstaking detail, and you don’t recall having had a discussion approving whatever it is you now wish to change. No one can remember everything, which is why we have drawings in the first place. However, as an owner, you are required to sign off on the drawings prior to construction beginning. Your review is what architects count on to ensure you know what is going on.
Now, I could also go into a similar diatribe directed at architects about the importance of meeting minutes, good details and how to verify that clients understand what will eventually be built. (However, if one hears, “I love it!” or, “That’s perfect!” you can see how one might think there is a mutual understanding.) Nonetheless, that would be fruitless, because architects are not my audience. You are. As such, I’m focusing on giving you the inside scoop about common mistakes that lead to tsunamis, in hopes that you will arrive at design meetings with your thinking cap on and armed with questions. Or, at the very least, with a cup of coffee and the confidence to interrupt and ask, “How does this affect…?”or, “Is this option more expensive than…?” or, “I don’t yet have a good understanding of how that space will feel. Can we go over it again?”
You are partially responsible for the success of your project because it is a team effort. Namely, you must pay attention, verify what’s being discussed at your meetings and take the time to read and understand your drawings…which are more accurately called, “Contract Documents.” They are, in fact, your “contract” with your contractor. When was the last time you entered into a contract for anything totaling tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars and DID NOT read the contract? Not understanding the drawings is doing exactly that. By the time your architect is done with the permit drawings, you should be able to verbally describe what each space is going to look like (with the drawings as a cheat sheet because again, no one can remember everything). I don’t expect you to have a full 3D vision of the space in your head. Most people can’t do that which is why they hire an architect. However, you should have a basic understanding of the space, and a better than basic understanding of anything that is high on your list of priorities. I even recommend doing a few spot checks on things that are particularly important to you, like ensuring the soaking tub listed on the drawings is the one you are expecting if there had been a confusing number of options. Get out your measuring tape and double check that the dimensions noted in the Dining Room will accommodate your great grandmother’s heirloom table and chairs. Ensure you are aware that the double height Living Room accent wall is hot pink. Get my drift? Take an active role in creating your Contract Documents, and then read them when they are done. You will thank me later.