Choosing an Architect

The feeling is over whelming, the walls are starting to close in on you.  It’s impossible to fit anything else through the door.  And then it hits you, you’ve outgrown your existing home. It’s time for an addition or a renovation to your existing home or perhaps you are ready to build new.  But there is one big problem, you know what you want, well kinda, but how do you get what you want turned into something a contractor can build?  You need an architect.  What do you do to find one?  What questions should you ask?  Before you spend any money, here are some ideas to get you started and help you in your search.

Begin by looking around your neighborhood.  Is anyone having work done?  Is there a recently completed house that you like?  Who was the architect for those projects?  Check their web sites.  What types of projects does the architect show?  Residential or Commercial?  Are the residential projects places you would like to inhabit?  If so, contact the architect to set up an appointment.  Most architects will meet with you for an hour or two (free) to discuss your project.   Another place to find a listing of local architects is the American Institute of Architects (AIA).  There is a national site and most regions have sites for the local area.  The site will list the names and give information about member architects.   Not all architects are members of AIA, however.  Web searches can help one locate an architect but this is not very efficient since most searches for an architect will give you general information and not specific names.  You may also know someone who is an architect or designer.  That person may also help you with your design, however, designers will need a structural engineer to verify all structural elements and sign off on the drawings for you to get a permit (some areas require structural engineers for drawings signed by an architect).

During your meeting, the architect should ask you questions about your project. Most importantly, what are the goals for the new space?  This will help the architect determine what you need versus what you want.  Most important is a clear understanding of what the new space is to be used for.  Don’t forget to mention what you don’t like.  During this interview process the architect should be citing examples of what you would like. Photos that you have collected are helpful at this stage as architects are visual and images will help to get your ideas across, but the architect should also be able to “parrot” back to you your ideas and requests.  Remember, nothing is too small to talk about: the existing kitchen is too small, maybe it does not get enough light, or perhaps the layout is from the last century, you hate black and pink tile or perhaps you have always wanted a bidet.  You don’t need to go into great detail.  That meeting will come after you decide who to hire.  Now what you need to know is if the person who is going to design your project understands what you are looking for.

This is also your time to question the architect.  It’s not a question as to where they went to school.  That you can usually get on the web site, it’s more of a question of design philosophy.  Is the architect designing what you want or what they want?  Who will be working on the project after you meet with the architect?    How many times is the architect willing to meet with you?  Do you want the architect to make your project “green”.  If so, have they done that type of work before?  The AIA of Northern Virginia has developed a great list of questions for the consumer to ask the architect.  It covers design to fees.    Some of the questions do not apply to residential construction such as time frames and budgets.  The time frame will be negotiated with the contractor and the budget will depend on the finishes that you, as the owner, choose to put into the home.

Remember that you will be working with whomever you hire for several months at the least and possibly a couple years.  The architect or designer you choose needs to listen to what you want and translate that into your new spaces.  It is very important that the architect understand your design aesthetic.  If the architect only designs modern and you want French country they may not be a good fit no matter how much you like the person.   As I always tell my clients, I don’t live in your house, you do!

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