Architects are a funny bunch. They’re not exactly artists and they’re not exactly engineers but fall somewhere between. The famous ones are often known for their irascibility and ego while the lesser known struggle with a reputation that oscillates between dreaminess and fanatical attachment to big themes. Both these examples are, of course, incorrect. Architects are humans too and therefore cover the gamut of personality types depending on when they last had coffee, just like the rest of us. However, it’s important to have a rapport with your architect and feel comfortable with them – after all, it’s a relationship that could span years, if not a lifetime, so choose well. For those stepping into their very first architectural liaison, there are some things to know that will help make the process less daunting and lead to a match made in heaven.
Obviously, the first thing to do is to stalk your architect online. Find out about their work, look at their social media and study images of their designs. You’re looking for cues about not only their style of architecture but also a little of who they are as a person and what their design firm stands for. Compare different firms until you find the one you affiliate with the most. And then, shop around. Have a couple of first meetings with a few different studios. The more you interact with architects, the better luck you’ll have in finding your design soul mate.
A quick Google search will reveal the number one piece of advice is to arrive at your architect with a firm idea of what you want and not to let yourself be overly influenced. But that’s a little bit like telling a pilot how you like your plane rides. The first job of a good architect is to tease out your needs and desires, even the ones you didn’t know you had, and turn them into a solid structure. No client can know exactly what they want because the variables are so, well, varied. Reaching a final design is a process that requires a connection between designer and client and connection requires time. Of course, having some idea of how you like to live will help but going into the first, second and even third meetings with an open mind will uncover a million little things you never thought of because, quite simply, you are not an architect.
This does not mean you should come unprepared. A great place to start is with architectural and design magazines. Within these glossy tomes are loads of details, small and large, that will help you define your personal style. Get the scissors out and pick the images that sing to you. The internet is the next obvious place for inspiration and the architectural and design wormholes within this vast network of ideas are infinite. If you’re not already familiar with Pinterest, now would be a good time to take a moment to download it. You can create ‘boards’ to cover all aspects of your dream design from staircases and shades of paint you love to indoor plants and even toilet paper holders.
Several site visits during the pre-design process are essential. Don’t be shy to request the number of visits that will provide you with the most peace of mind. Architects have the unique ability to envision spaces and see what is possible. They can also look at a 2D drawing and see it in 3D in their minds. Don’t expect to have the same skill and do lean heavily on your architect to express exactly what they are seeing until you can see it too. There really are no stupid questions and better to feel silly for a minute now rather than later when you are sitting in your living room unhappy with the result because you didn’t speak up. This is not a cheap endeavour so make sure you feel comfortable along the way which sometimes will mean admitting your ignorance. A good architect will not expect you to know what fenestration is or where the muntin goes (side note: the Blakstad team can explain this in layman’s terms – come and meet us and find out for yourself).
Building a house is a collective project requiring the skills of several professionals. After the architect, the most important role is the contractor. The process of choosing a contractor depends on where you are in the world. Your architect will already have a list of trusted people but don’t feel bound by their selections and if the circumstances permit, get three quotes from different companies. Sharing the quotes with your architect will help in your final choice as they will be able to point out any discrepancies. Even if you go with your architect’s recommendation, some key issues to investigate are the level of the contractor’s insurance and warranty, how they deal with mid-build design changes, preferred form of communication, payment schedule, how will the project be supervised, what is the projected timeline and can they provide references. The relationship you and your architect have with the contractor will become the most important one in your life during the build so again, choose wisely and make sure you call the references.
Ultimately, the best advice is to go with your gut feeling. You will instinctually know if you are going to get on well with someone within the first few meetings. Stay alert to red flags and don’t let them slide. Be bold in your moments of indecision and take the time you need to process the myriad pieces of information involved in building your dream home, it will make the end result a true home-sweet-home.