1. Hire An Architect, Not A Name
The biggest mistake you can make when hiring an architect is to make your choice based on the architect’s name instead of their work. Every architect has a particular style. Though we have great diversity in our homes at Al Jones Architect, there are common elements – elements that make up my personal sense of design, proportion and style. When I first left A. Hays Town’s firm to start my own, I didn’t have much name recognition – but I did have good work and thankfully clients responded to that. Make your decision based on the architect’s work and whether it fits the style, quality and design you’re looking for.
2. Can You Trust Your Architect?
At some point in the design process you are going to have to simply put your faith and trust in your architect and let go. This is harder for some than others – but it’s part of the process of building a home. Your architect is a professional and it’s vital that you trust them in order to get their best on your behalf. Ultimately, an architect’s job is to interpret your wants with his skill. So not only must you trust your architect, it’s equally important to know that your architect is listening, really listening, to you.
3. Do Contractors & Subs Trust Your Architect?
Long ago, I made sure my sons worked with some of our sub contractors for summer jobs. I wanted them to understand that these folks are good people, highly intelligent, highly skilled and worthy of respect. It’s why, to this day, I make sure to try and learn everyone’s name on a job site. It’s not an exercise in humility for me, it’s because I respect and admire what each of them do – our carpenters, painters and roofers are essential to every job and they are all skilled at their jobs (otherwise our contractors would not use them). In the end, they return that respect and decency and we have a positive and mutually beneficial relationship that ultimately benefits you, the client.
The most valuable referrals you can get are from contractors. They know the real quality and value of architects in the area. Ask around, you’ll get some interesting information that nobody else could ever give you.
4. See The Work First Hand
I can’t stress this enough – a picture may say a thousand words, but a million wouldn’t be enough to accurately portray the true feel of a home. It’s important to review an architect’s portfolio, and photographs can be a great resource for inspiration and ideas. But, there is no replacement for seeing and touching the real thing.
A photograph cannot accurately demonstrate scale and proportion. And these are the most important elements of design! The feel of a home is equally important – the warmth of a bedroom, the way light passes through a pane of glass or the feeling you get when you’re walking across centuries old heart pine floors. A photograph won’t give you that insight. So, before you hire, insist on seeing their work in person.
What to Look for on a Site Visit
It’s what separates good design from great. If an architect emphasizes the beauty and functionality of a door’s hinge, you can be sure they take pride in the bigger picture too. If hinges, hardware and finishes are an after-thought, you should take note.
Quality of construction
Even if you’re not familiar with construction techniques, you can feel the quality of a home. Do the doors close firmly, are there small gaps in the molding, does the floor feel steady? These are all things you can feel that are indicators of the quality of construction. Trust your instinct and ask questions (i.e. – Do you use 2x4s or 2x6s in your wall framing?).
A home is never finished until it is, well, finished. Check the stain on the floors – is it consistent and cohesive throughout the home? Are the crown moldings flush top and bottom? Are the paint and stain colors well thought out for the home and the surrounding environment?
Beyond whether or not the design is attractive to you, is the design proportional? For instance, when you walk into a room, do the doors feel too tall or the windows to short? Does the fireplace get lost in the corner, or is it so big that it dominates the room? When you view the home from the outside, does the scale make sense or does one portion of the home seem out of whack with another? These are indicators that the design is out of proportion and the designer’s sense of scale is off.