How to Work with a Residential Architect - Top 5 Tips

Northeast Bungalow.  See more.

Northeast Bungalow. See more.

Hiring an architect is an unusual experience. You’re hiring a guide, a facilitator, a coach, an artist, and a magician if you’re really lucky. An architect is one of the few professionals you’ll ever pay to create more work for yourself, and to (probably) make your life a little harder for a while, but together you’ll achieve results you’d never get to otherwise. Most people I’ve worked with have not only found it well worth the trouble, but it’s resulted in one of the more exhilarating experiences of their lives. Here are my best tips for how to make the most of it:

5. Banish preconceptions.

Come to the design process with as few preconceptions as possible. Start with a clean slate with your architect. You should spend some serious time talking about everything except architecture - thoughts, feelings, experiences, dreams. What keeps you up at night? What puts you to sleep? What do you think about in the shower? What you say when you talk to yourself? What do you do when you think no one is looking?

While collecting images of things you like can certainly be helpful in the process, you should use such images more as a way to describe how they make you feel rather than as specific features you’d like to see incorporated into the design. That way you develop a shared vocabulary and frame of reference with your architect. As such you're using them to help generate a design that uniquely correlates and integrates the qualities you want in your home, rather than as a collage of features cobbled together from other houses.

4. Prepare for the process.

Don’t expect an architect to come to your project with ready answers, but with a wealth of provocative and constructive questions. You need to come prepared for a journey rather than a product. Working with an architect should be understood as not only more of a commitment of time and money than working directly with a builder, but also more of an emotional commitment. You want an architect to work with you rather than for you, and you need to be prepared to be part of a collaborative team.

Island View Condo.  See more.

Island View Condo. See more.

3. Work smarter not harder.

The first thing we do with a new project is to determine how little we can do. We're far from lazy, but we find that many clients begin a project believing they need more space when what they really need is to better utilize the space they’ve got. We help them fully understand what they already have, along with its potential, before adding anything. It’s important to understand  that any additional space will shift the center of gravity of an entire house - for good or for ill. Often we’ll end up with a much smaller addition than anticipated, but one that provides just enough to effectively re-organize what’s already there, providing not just a wonderful new space, but a house that finally works.

2. Get back to basics.

Rather than blindly following trends, we start by learning the details of our clients’ lifestyle, then we shape their space around how they really live. Pandering to the latest thing all too often degenerates into a shopping expedition, distracting from the design process, which for us is as much (or more) about subtraction and reduction as it is about addition. We want to create a house for you that first does no harm; that doesn’t get in your way. We’re all surrounded with so much noise and chatter these days, a home should be a refuge from all that.

1. Be true to yourself!

“Curb appeal” is not an architectural term. A project customized to the needs of a specific client will always have more character and integrity than something created to satisfy the generic needs of the marketplace. Unless you’re extremely peculiar, that specificity will never be so far outside of the mainstream as to not be useful and delightful to another owner. And then again, if you really are that peculiar, you should by all means be living in a weird house!

Juliet Avenue.  See more.

Juliet Avenue. See more.

Ultimately the best way to bring value to your house and home is to fully own the process--be true to yourself and your needs and desires.  Don’t waste time worrying about what some phantom future buyer may want. The journey of creating a house around your unique way of life is a great adventure and privilege, and often a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Don’t blow it!