Working with an Architect Part I

Not a lot of progress to report on at the house so I thought I’d share the first blog in a series on my experiences working with an architect.

Why an Architect?

We knew this would be a big remodel, we wanted to remove a wall and open up the kitchen to the living room.  We also knew we wanted to lay the ground work for a future second floor.  Our floor plan felt challenging to us, we knew there was a specific wall we wanted to take out, but we couldn’t see how we could fix the layout given the other constraints the house shape pushed on us.

Finding an Architect.

There are a lot of architects in Seattle (Google says 2500), in my case finding the architect was easy.  I work at a company with an active homeowners list and I asked for recommendations.  I also visited the PNA Home Design & Remodel Fair.  The fair had several architects manning booths and gave a great opportunity to spend a few minutes chatting with individual architects.  It sort of felt like speed dating for architects.   Based on the recommendations from my work place and the trip to the PNA Home Fair, I narrowed it down to two: Stefan at CAST Architecture and Cristoph at Kruger Architecture.  Both architects are members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), they both had compelling portfolios and were both dog owners that understood the priority dog ownership had in our thoughts.  I still think both would have done well for us but we ended up choosing Stefan for a couple of reasons: 
  1. We sat and interviewed a client of his that works at the company I do, and it made us confident in his process.
  2. We thought that CAST would be more “aggressive” in his design.  What I mean by that was, we thought Stefan would do a better job of pushing our design past our concerns over budget.  Specifically, we didn’t want our budget concerns delivering “good” when for a bit more, we could get “great”.  I suppose this is the polite way to say we thought Stefan would blow past our budget but that we thought we could control costs ourselves.
  3. Stefan lives nearby, while we hadn’t spoken too much before this started, he’d always been friendly and we liked the idea that he’d have to look at his work for a while.  It turns out we also save some money because we don’t have to pay for travel time when it comes to site visits.

The first meeting.

The first meeting is where you get the dog and pony show from the architect, in each of these, we got a look at the work of each architect as well as hold their perspective on their process and how they operate.  One of the things we liked about Stefan was the very honest and up front discussion about costs and how billing worked.  Architects work by the hour and pass on all expenses, like a lawyer or other professional.  It was good to hear up front about how costs work, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask about this either.

Ok, we picked one, now what?

After the selection process,  we went back and forth a few e-mails to clarify scope.  Once we were satisfied, we signed a contract.  Thankfully, the contracts are all standard and provided by AIA.  They’re clearly worded and spell out every cost you’ll incur with your new best friend.  Once we signed the contract and paid a retainer fee we then scheduled a program meeting.  This was one of the most fun meetings we had with our architect.  It’s a two hour session where he asked us guiding questions to get a feel for what we liked, what we didn’t, and get a general idea of our aesthetic.  
We also scheduled a time for Stefan and an associate to come to the house and take detailed measurements.  This was expensive ($1700 or so) but critical, it’s also nice because we now have very clear “as-built” blueprints to the house.
After the program meeting, and armed with the detailed measurements, Stefan presented us with a collection of sketches:
New stairwell location, same front door location.

This one moved the stairs but kept the front door in the original location.

Scheme 3 was the only one that didn’t move the stairs, but did change the orientation. 
This was our favorite!
Right off the bat, Stefan didn’t constrain himself like we did, it never occurred to us that we could move our stair case.  He also figured out how to give us all of the things we wanted, a nice size island, a garage, a real entryway.  We didn’t actually end up doing the garage in this round, but we’ll get to it eventually.
Once we settled on a sketch, Stefan got more specific about dimensions and we started refining the  plans.  Over a couple of months and many revisions, we eventually ended up with our final layout:
Not bad eh?

What else happened?

In a future post, I’ll talk about other things Stefan has helped us with so far, picking fixtures, selecting a contractor, managing the project, etc… (that’s why this is Part 1).  I’ll also give a cost break down when this is all done.

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