Choosing A Designer

Choosing a Designer

At least once a month, we get a call from a homeowner who is planning a renovation or a house addition project, and are already working with a designer or an architect.  They are dissatisfied, and they want us take over the design work for their project.

How can homeowners avoid coming to the point where they want to fire their architect? And what should a homeowner look for when hiring a designer?

In this article, we use the terms designer and architect interchangeably.  In reality, designers come from various backgrounds: interior design and  architectural design programs at colleges, and sometimes self taught.  Architects complete an intensive university program and licensing requirements.

Designer’s Style

Understand the style that the designer or architect prefers.  For example, some architects will only do modern design, while others are both comfortable and happy working with many different styles.  Have an idea of what you want the project to look like, and find out if this fits with the type of work the designer likes to do.  You can determine this by asking to see an example of the work that is similar to what you are looking to do.

Know Your Budget

Choose a designer that will respect your budget.   Recently, a homeowner was showing us plans for her renovation project which were significantly more costly than the initial budget.  The designer had told her “the budget should not interfere with the creative process”.  A beautifully designed project may serve the ego of the designer, but is of no value to a homeowner if they cannot afford to build it.  Over the years, we’ve been given plans for many projects that were ultimately not built because the cost was more than the homeowner could afford or was prepared to spend.

And don’t take the designer’s word that the project will fit your budget.  Talk to a few builders beforehand, and have them look at the plans when the concepts have been completed to find out what the project will cost.


“We’ve been working with the architect for the past eight months, and all we have is some concept drawings.”   The length of time it takes to complete design work is by far the most frequent complaint we hear from homeowners.

The design process starts with concept drawings, moves to concept refinement, and finally structural details which are required for building permit.  Find out how long the process will take, and try and get some commitment in writing on the timeframes.  Timely feedback and approval of drawings by the homeowner is important to keep a project on track.

Incorporating Your Ideas

Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous American architect, had strong ideas on how a home should look, including furniture details.  He was known to visit clients’ homes after they were built, and rearrange the furniture. 

How much input do you want to have in your project?  Do you want the designer to create the floor plan, choose the materials, and suggest furniture arrangements?  Do you want to be given options, which you can then choose?

The second most frequent complaint we hear from homeowners is that their architect will not listen to their ideas.  Find out beforehand how much input the architect wants and expects.  The best way to do this is to speak with past clients, and find out how their suggestions were received, and if they were incorporated into the plans.

Service Levels

Many designers make residential design their full-time career.  Others do it on evenings and weekends, while working  full-time for a large architectural firm or construction company.  We’ve seen delays in completion of design work from the “part-time” designers, since your project is not #1 on their to do list.  The cost of design work will generally be lower.  Decide beforehand if this is a tradeoff you’re willing to make.

What Services Do They Provide?

The basic service you’ll receive from a designer for a house addition project is a floor plan layout and the exterior elevations (the view of the four sides of the house).   Additionally, you’ll need mechanical drawings for the heating system, and you may need engineered drawings for roof trusses and engineered floor joists.  These plans will have to be submitted to the city for a building permit application, and if there are zoning issues, committee of adjustment application and representation will be required.  Additionally, you may also want an electrical plan showing locations of lights and switches, as well as a kitchen design. 

Not all designers provide all these services.  And not all these services will be included in the design fee.   Don’t assume all these services are included.  We regularly get involved in projects where only the floor plans and elevations have been created, and are given the task of assisting the homeowner with engineered and mechanical drawings, building permit application, and committee of adjustment representation.

Construction Help

Find out if the architect will be available during construction should issues arise.  It is not usual for drawings to contain errors, or design elements that are not buildable.  Some of these issues can be resolved between the builder and the homeowner.  Others will require the involvement of the architect.  Having an architect who will make themselves available during the construction process should be an important consideration.

Hire Carefully

Just as you would with a contractor, interview a few designers, check references and past work to find out if the architect will be a good fit for you.  The design stage of a renovation or house addition project often takes two to three times as long as the construction process, so you’ll be spending a lot of time with the designer.

The Design Build Option

Most homeowners that contact us are looking for one company to undertake the entire project – creating the design, obtaining building permits, and completing all construction.  These type of companies are referred to as “design build”.  You can read more about design build here.

Have questions about the design and construction process?  Regardless of what stage you’re at with your project, we’re always happy to discuss it with you.