There are many details to consider when undertaking a project of this kind, whether it’s one room or the whole house. I’m going to tell you, step by step, how the process actually works so you won’t be too surprised or disappointed or nervous I’m here to reassure you. Here goes!
99% of my work is from referrals from people like you, who were stuck and needed help fixing a problem (or two). You’ve been avoiding that broken microwave for 8 months? The cabinet door won’t stay shut? The kids are almost gone from the house and you want to restructure things a bit? Can we pleeaase call someone??
So you call me. You’ve taken the first big step. We talk for a bit, and hopefully I put you at ease. We set up an appointment for me to come by and look at your problem. It’s ok if you tell me about the problem a few times, it’s important to you.
I ask you to set aside at least 90 minutes. Sounds like a lot, but trust me, it’s not. You’ll be wishing you had all day! You had no idea how much you wanted to change the room or the flow, and you’ve been wanting to get this off your chest for years! I come over, we take a walk through, and I listen to you. Closely. We’ve officially begun our design consultation!
I tell you what I think about the work you want done. I don’t talk about color, or finishes like chrome and oil rubbed bronze; I talk about building code, stair rise and run, permitting, structure. I want to make sure you have realistic expectations about the work that has to be done and how much it might cost. Based on years of experience, I’ll try my best to give you a realistic estimate.
My working relationships are very personal. During the walk-through of your project, I have to ask all kinds of questions to really understand how you live your life. For example, if undergoing a bathroom remodel, I might ask if you close the door when you go into the bathroom. Or whether two people need to fit into this new shower. It’s just part of the process; be honest. Softball questions are more like who does the cooking? Because if you’re on the shorter side, maybe you want a lower countertop height. Who does the grilling and where is the grill? Is there good access to the kitchen?
After our walk-through, I’ll let you know about my rates, how I work, what I can and can’t provide, and what you can expect from me.
A week or so later, I’ll send you a proposal that summarizes our meeting, what we discussed, and what you see as the priority. We will decide on a design focus (for example: let’s leave out the laundry room on this phase, but include a covered porch along with the new kitchen), which I’ll write on the proposal. I’ll also explain the phases it will take to get to that design.
I’ll estimate my design fees for the project as accurately as possible. After I’ve satisfactorily answered all your questions and we are in agreement, you can sign the proposal. Now we’re ready to get started!
THE PHASES ...
The first phase (after our initial design consultation) is to create the “as builts,” or the existing conditions before we begin. For example, let’s say you are looking to do a kitchen remodel with an addition; the “as builts” are the existing conditions of the kitchen. I’ll come over and take lots of measurements, make notes on flooring materials, windows, garbage disposal, heat or a/c sources, stove ventilation, etc. I’ll look in the basement underneath the kitchen for the plumbing runs and examine your lighting. We’ll talk some more while I’m there, making sure all relevant topics are covered. Then I’ll take all this information, come back to my office, and get to work!
Now I “draw” up the as builts using Revit architectural software, one of my favorite design tools. To me, it’s really important to get this right the first time, because everything we do after this is built (no pun intended) upon this initial drawing … so I will spend some time fussing over it! Then I’ll print it on letter or ledger paper. And then, I love this part: I get out my pencil and trace paper, and I lay the trace paper over the existing drawing and start exploring the space. Can I get in a fridge here? Will a 1/2 bath work over there? (Of course, as I do this, I am keeping in mind building codes.) After I’ve come up with two or three viable designs, we’ll set up a meeting to review them.
At this meeting, I will explain the designs and we will discuss our options. Believe it or not, I check my ego at the door, so if there is something you don’t like, just tell me. However, as much as you might want a certain “feature,” I might encourage you to forego it because of building code, proportion, design precedence, or cost. I’ve been doing this long enough to know how much emotion (yours and mine) goes into the planning, so I will help you as best I can with your other ideas (and wants), using my intuition, experience and architectural expertise. I work hard to gain your trust. We will both be taking lots of notes, and I will answer all of your questions. I firmly believe in the collaborative process!
Things start to get exciting at this point, because we’re closing in on a design. We may not have everything quite right yet, but we’re close! The footprint is made, and now we move on to some other details. We’ll meet to discuss potential changes, builders (you might already have one, and if you don’t I can refer you), and schedules, lots of schedules! Window schedules, door schedules, appliance installations, flooring, backsplash, etc. etc. Which leads me to ...
Part of my work for you includes helping you figure out which materials you want to use. My fees don’t include shopping with you, but I can tell you where to shop for these items and I can give you recommendations on materials and finishes. For example, did you know that chrome finishes for your kitchen and bath faucets are the least expensive? And that a gas range costs less than a duel fuel? I’ll do my best to give you money-saving tips and honest suggestions.
Identifying materials in this phase of the design process is extremely important, and here’s why:
1 - It helps you control costs. Materials vary wildly in price, so if we can select them now we can get a realistic estimate of how much the project is going to cost. Your material choices impact the installation, the labor and the other required materials required. For instance, tile requires an underlayment, carpet requires a pad. All of these selections impact the final estimate for your project.
2 - It helps you control the project schedule. For instance, that cool looking tile or new kitchen sink might have an 8-12 week lead time! Knowing this (and ordering) early on will avoid impacts to the building schedule, which could eventually end up costing you more.
ELECTRICAL AND MECHANICAL NEEDS
During our work on your project, I’m also taking into account your lighting and mechanical needs. Electrical is a critical part of the process, and I work hard to provide an accurate electrical plan. When you walk into the room, where is the switch? Do you want to control the lights with your phone Do you want the lights to dim? This is one of the hardest parts of my job, and it’s critical because lighting controls usually have to be decided before sheetrock is installed, which is pretty early on in construction.
Mechanical considerations, such as plumbing and HVAC, are also very important. I dutifully note your mechanical needs on the plans, but rely on the HVAC experts for sizing new boilers, AC, and any other heating and cooling needs. I work closely with industry professionals to make sure all your electrical and mechanical needs are satisfactorily met.
THE FINAL PHASE ...
We will meet one final time here to wrap up this design. During this review, I’ll present to you the following design deliverables:
Existing conditions or As Builts
Construction notes - this contains all the notes about the materials, finishes, paints, appliances, stairs treads, flooring, tile … this is an important document.
NOW WHAT DO I DO??
Now your job is to call the builder and present these drawings! Since most of my work for you is done, you will need to meet with your builder to get an estimate of construction costs. And once you enter into a construction agreement with a builder, I may or may not continue to be involved. Many builders I work with look at my plans and make suggestions to the owners on how part of the project could be simplified or enhanced. Very often, additional details will need to be created. For example, if you and the builder decide on some new built-in bookcases, I might come back into the picture and create elevations and dimensions showing exactly how these bookcases should look. It’s better to have a plan for these kinds of decisions, and since it’s your house, you get to make them. But I will be available for you if you need me, and I’ll help you work through these kinds of decisions if you want me to. I would love to see this project through with you, and can be part of it every step of the way. This doesn’t need to be decided at this point, but the option is always there for you!