Saturday, May 2, 2009

Choosing an Architect

Once you have a set of functional requirements you can move to the next important part of building a house -- choosing an architect. If you are having a hard time visualizing how all of your requirements will come together, it may be useful to study a few plan books. There are a lot of predesigned houses available. Studying these plan books may highlight some things you hadn't thought about in your layout. Do you need an entry area? Does it matter how close the garage is to the kitchen? Does it matter how close together the bedrooms are? Once you start becoming familiar with the language of architectural drawings, how they draw doors, windows, or lighting, you are ready to talk to architects.

You can find architects via friends, realtors, contractors or even Google. First look at their web pages. Have they done structures that you like? Have they done houses in the price range you are looking for? Well known architects are used to design for demanding clients with wishes for large houses and expensive details. But that does not mean that all architects are expensive or only design large houses. There are many small firms that may be able to provide you the unique design you want at a price you can afford. In looking at architects in Clark County, Nevada, we rejected some of the more famous ones. They tend to design the same house over and over. Their houses were grand, but not the functional private spaces that we were looking for.

The first architect we talked to had a small office where she designed both residental structures and commercial structures. We liked her. I can't stress enough that you should like your architect. Unless there is a mutual respect you will not have a successful project. But after talking to her and looking at her portfolio we realized that she was missing an essential ingredient that we were looking for -- vision. We have worked with some passionate architects. It's not always easy, but you will get a better project if you both bring some new ideas into the design. Her designs were boxy and traditional. She could do our project, but it would have the rote details of a tract house.

We were quite excited by the next architect. He had designed several houses that we really liked with a modern sensibility and exquisite details. But he was blinded by the hot economy we have had in Clark County for several years. He was not used to selling his services, but instead was used to having more work than he could easily accomplish. He had a dismissive attitude and was not prepared to show us his projects in detail or even listen to our list of requirements. My husband took an immediate dislike to him. We interviewed several young architects. Some of them had worked at larger firms, but none of them had actually designed and finished an entire house. They had passion and vision, but we were not willing to trust our project to someone not familiar with the process from start to finish.

A lot of the homes in Clark County are Tuscan or Mediterranean. We were running out of local architects that actually designed modern houses. We decided to ask an architect we had worked with before from San Francisco if he was interested in a project in Nevada. He had designed an award winning loft for us in San Francisco. If he had worked on other long distance projects and was interested in our concept, he would be a good choice to work with again. When we initially interviewed him about our project we learned that he had done designs in Hawaii and Seattle, though never in a desert environment. We decided to fly him to Las Vegas and let him meet some contractors that we were considering. Unfortunately it became clear as he talked to the contractors that his way of building was not suitable to extreme climate in Clark County. He was not familiar with the construction codes or the materials used in a desert climate. Although we were disappointed that we could not use him, we had one more architect to interview that had been recommended by a builder.

We met this architect in his home office. He has been working in the field for decades. He had designed both commercial and residential structures, both here and overseas. His office was filled with colored sketches of his projects and he brought out some of his most modern designs to show us. He immediately understood the ideas behind our requirements. He was excited by the project and couldn't wait to see the actual land. Although he was not as inexpensive as the annoying architect or as expensive as our San Francisco architect, we knew we would get a first class project for him. We promptly hired Bob Sherman and we couldn't be more happy with him.