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4 useful traits in a residential architect

Posted August 4

We want to help homeowners discover the value of good design and the benefits of using an architect for a residential remodeling project. Our goal is to bring light to the industry as a whole; we are happy to see a homeowner using the professional services of any architect.

We have covered in previous columns how to decide if you project requires an architect. Briefly, if you are looking to add on; move walls, windows or doors; or generally reconfigure or repurpose existing space and structure, then you should consider using an architect. When choosing an architect, here are some qualities and traits that will be an asset to you and your remodeling project.

1. An architect who is personable and has good communication skills

Our approach is that we are creating a team that will work together to take on the challenge of your remodeling project, whatever that may be. Therefore, you need people who value teamwork and have the personality and skills needed to function successfully in such a situation.

This team will include you as homeowners, the architect and the contractor at a bare minimum. Others who may be involved include the structural engineer, an interior designer, and a landscape designer or architect, among others as needed.

You and your architect will be spending quite a bit of time together over the coming months, so you need to be able to communicate well. (This also means that your architect needs to listen well.) While remodeling is definitely hard work, it is important that you enjoy the journey and have some fun along the way.

2. An architect who is well-trained, talented and experienced in residential remodeling

One of the advantages of using an architect as opposed to a drafter is the extensive education and training required to become a licensed architect. However, being a good architect also takes talent. A keen sense of space and instinct for design are hard to teach.

The best way to recognize talent is to look through a portfolio of an architect’s past projects to see his or her work and to talk to past clients about their experiences. Look for architects who focus on residential work, and for projects that resemble either what you have in mind or which began with a house similar to yours.

3. An architect who knows the codes and zoning ordinances

Part of the architect’s job is to make sure your project adheres to the codes and any covenants that apply to your home. This will avoid any nasty surprises when your project is submitted for review by the building department or homeowners’ association.

As most projects require obtaining a building permit, the municipality’s building department will review the plans in detail. Having an architect who knows and follows applicable codes and restrictions will make the permitting process smoother.

4. An architect who is a problem solver

Most architects are problem solvers by nature, to some degree. However, problem-solving attitudes vary from person to person. As in any profession, some architects have a “my way or the highway” attitude, while others embrace a team approach to work together with your team (in this case the contractor and the homeowner) to develop a solution to problems or challenges that arise during the design and construction process. The best architects prepare to avoid problems, but if the unforeseen arises, they help to find the solution.

Design is like putting together a puzzle, especially when you begin with an existing structure. Trying to create an environment that will support a family’s lifestyle adds another element to consider. A creative mind may offer more than one solution to the puzzle, using both experience and imagination to address a situation in a variety of ways.

During construction, unforeseen problems may be unveiled. When the construction crew opens up the walls, the reality of the situation comes to light and adjustments may need to be made to the documents or design. From design through construction, your architect needs to be a problem solver, working together with the other members of the team to find solutions that best meet the homeowner’s needs and budget.

Overall, we suggest meeting with an architect for an initial consultation, interviewing him or her to determine if you are a good match for your situation and your project. Use the guidelines above to evaluate how well the architect will function on your team and what value he or she will bring to make your remodeling dream come true.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs. To learn more, visit RenovationDesignGroup.com or contact ask@RenovationDesignGroup.com.

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