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Depict Your Goals To Your Architect. Don’t Worry, You Won’t Cramp Their Style

Updated on December 29, 2015
Take my advice
Take my advice

I am going to talk to you about two of the most recent couples that called me after buying land to design custom homes, and what they each did that impressed me. In the spirit of confidentiality, I’m going to call one couple Water and the other Forest (as you probably can guess, each evokes the description of their site). And because my mother was an English teacher, I am going to forewarn you (her) that I am going to refer to both Water and Forest as singular (easier) when in fact, they each are plural (being couples).

The first thing they both did was interview more than one architect, which I highly recommend. You MUST make sure that your architect is the right FIT for you. Your architect must be someone to whom you can divulge your deep dark secrets, and one who you feel will actually listen. Water came to me well in advance of beginning her project… a few years in advance actually. This was to be her retirement home. Why did she do this? She wanted to ensure that her budget was on par with her goals (awesome), because she has plenty of time to adjust and make changes if necessary. She spent loads and loads of time with graph paper and a newfangled drafting program she found online. Focusing on the things that she could understand and make sense of, she got every detail she could out on paper. She had no idea what it might look like from the outside, but I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t matter. That’s my job. At first she was a bit sheepish, not wanting to cramp my style by having drawn up her ideas and priorities. However, she made it very clear that she was open to suggestions, and I made it clear that once we considered what the outside might look like, adjusted things to conform to site topography, and interacted with elements like the sun, shade, wind, etc., things most likely would move around a bit…. and that there was no way she could possibly cramp my style, because it is my job to offer ideas. It is her job to help inform the direction of those ideas, so every minute spent on sketches of any kind is helpful and will save her money in the long run. WHY? An alternate scenario I see quite a bit looks like this:

  1. You call in the architect and tell her you want a second story addition.
  2. You don’t tell the architect about your “Laundry Folding Tuesdays” habit in fear of cramping her style (and sounding nuts), or that you really prefer to include the Laundry Room on the second floor as a result.
  3. You don’t have any idea what your budget is, so instead of narrowing things down, you have her draw up her recommendation of a second story addition to see where pricing comes in.
  4. You have her draw up your wish list, interview contractors, get it priced out, and THEN realize you can’t afford it.
  5. You are dumbfounded at the cost, and your Laundry is drawn in a Hall closet on the Main Floor.
  6. You have long meetings with your architect to discuss six ways from Sunday about how to get “Laundry Folding Tuesdays” to work properly, along with developing a realistic budget.
  7. You have her redraw the design, only to include your top priorities with an actual budget in mind.
  8. You very graciously ask the contractors to re-price your new plans (thank you contractors!).
  9. Ahhhh we have liftoff!

What I most admired about Water’s efforts is that she didn’t get stuck on the things that she didn’t know…. Or maybe she did, I have no idea how long it took her to do those drawings… but ultimately she let go of the exterior and focused on nailing down the priorities around which she was able to wrap her brain. See what she did? She skipped right to number 7 (brilliant!)! That is a big difference in architectural fees, which means more money for her to spend on the fun stuff!

Forest came to me with a mixture of drawings, design ideas and site information. He didn’t spend time on detailed drawings but looked at many iterations of plans he found online (yuck), so he could not only determine what he liked, but what he DIDN’T like as well, which is equally as important in describing your priorities to your architect. He had a few broad ideas for the exterior instead of just focusing on the interior, because that is what HE could wrap his brain around. In addition, he took the time to research the septic requirements, some of the codes easily found online in his jurisdiction and had me meet him onsite, so he could walk me through the site elements of which he wanted to take advantage. He mentioned things like the sound of the creek, the view, the shaded areas and the bear droppings that I almost stepped in (thank you). This was definitely not a retirement home, so the Guest House/shop needed to be designed such that in a couple of years, if he decided to go travel for a few months or move to New York, he could rent out the main house and comfortably stay in the Guest House at his convenience.

So in comparing Forest to Water you can see that Forest took a broad brush stroke approach to his planning, making sure to touch on many things, but the greater level of detail that Water dove into (pun intended) wasn’t something in which he was interested. Both are equally commendable. They both, however, thought many years ahead about what their needs, challenges and possible physical barriers might be in order to include those ideas in the conversation. They both came to me with their version of what priorities looked like for them and had a unique way of depicting those ideas in a way that made sense to them.

There is no wrong way to gather your thoughts on what your hopes and dreams might be for your new home. Utilize any resources that make sense for you, and don’t be afraid to share them if that is the most concise way of illustrating your goals. If you want to show me photos of other homes you love, great. If you want to sketch to your heart’s content, don’t worry about your drawing skills. If you want to fly me to exotic locations to look at pretty property, the more the better! I even had one client build a scaled cardboard model of his dream home! Do it! Trust me, you aren’t cramping my style. There are millions and millions of design decisions to be made, and the faster we can get you to Old Number 7, the more fun we can have on the project.


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    • StephanieWascha profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Wascha 

      2 years ago from Seattle

      What an exciting time! Good for you for creating a new home that fits your needs for the next part of your life!

      I typically recommend starting with recommendations from trusted sources, but it sounds like that isn't an available option for you. There are many online resources you could try. For example, I have reviews from previous clients on both Houzz and Angie's list. I personally prefer Houzz because there are more images (and who doesn't like eye candy!?!) which enable you to get a feel for various architect's and contractor's work. I would STILL ask for references, and take the time to call them! We have so many resources at our fingertips with the web! Definitely take advantage of them. I also recommend nailing down your priorities (if you haven't already) and communication with your husband is KEY. Try using Pinterest as starting point to begin gathering images. Don't necessarily get hooked on the overall pretty picture, but really start to take note of the things IN each picture that you like and don't like. If you see a Kitchen that you like, for example, you can make notes right there below the image of the thing you ACTUALLY liked (the sink/cabinets/hardware) because in 2 months when you go back to look at it you will have NO idea why the heck you saved the image. "Um, yeah, I am not sure why I saved this one" will become a very familiar phrase. And don't forget, even if the shiny sparkly photos look great, reconsider them with your favorite coffee pot, mixer and grandchildren sitting in the middle them. Real life THINGS are never in the pretty pictures. Good luck!

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Whew! I didn't realize that there was so much involved. My husband and I are planning on building a retirement home in a couple of years, and you sound like someone we'd like to work with. Your article was very informative. Unfortunately we live in Michigan, and the only people we know who have built a home were not happy with their architect. Do you have any suggestions for me?

    • StephanieWascha profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Wascha 

      2 years ago from Seattle

      YES! Exactly. Great suggestion. The key is to make sure your architect is right for you, and you should do that in any way that makes sense for you. I wrote an entire blog about this selection process, but the gist is to make sure your architect is a 5'-2" female based in Seattle! You can't go wrong. No, seriously... here are a few other things to consider when selecting an architect:

      1. Determine if you are looking for a signature style and how that might influence who you pick

      2. What type of services do you need, and do the architects you are considering provide those services?

      3. If doing a project of any significant size, you should seriously consider use a licensed architect.

      4. Call people's references and go look at their work (as noted by mactavers above (thank you!))

      5. What is their schedule? Do you want them to start right away and if so, can they?

      6. Some architects charge for an initial interview and some don’t. If you are serious about finding the right person, I wouldn’t let this initial fee influence your decision in any way.

      7. Before your initial meeting, ask if you will be working with them or a project manager and if you are... meet THEM as well.

    • mactavers profile image


      2 years ago

      We have built two custom homes and done a number of re-modeling projects over the years, your suggestions are good but I think a prospective client should view the architect's previous projects too. We drove around the area where we had purchased our lot and asked other homeowners in the area questions. This was also helpful.


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