What the Pros Want You to Know
Let’s face it: We all like to imagine that we can be design pros. Not only is it romantic to envision ourselves creating a dream home from the ground up, but HGTV has inspired a whole nation of cable-watching design-lovers to fancy themselves pros—or at least capable enough to transform a basic vision into a beautiful space. After all, it looks so easy on “Design Star.”
But when theory meets reality, it’s probably not a great idea to give up your day job to tackle designing an entire home. Hiring an architect and designer has enormous advantages, and can save you time, money and (perhaps most important) your sanity.
To give you an idea of what you can expect—and dispel a few myths—we asked some of Colorado’s top architects and designers to tell us what they do, how they do it and what you can expect when you hire a design pro.
Jeff Elliott, ASID, Jeffrey P. Elliott Interior Design, Denver, jeffreypelliott.com
Jennifer Hartman, AIA, Gary Hartman, AIA, Sunlit Architecture, Crested Butte, sunlitarchitecture.net
Scott Lindenau, AIA, Studio B Architects, Aspen, studiobarchitects.net
Carol Moore, ASID, Carol Moore Interior Design, Edwards, cmid.us
Jack Snow, AIA, RKD Architects, Edwards, rkdarch.com
What's one thing you wish potential clients knew about what you do?
Jeff Elliott: Whether it’s new construction or a remodel, I wish potential clients knew that the designer should be involved in the project from the very start. A successful project is one where the architect, the designer and the contractor work together to fulfill the client’s needs. The designer helps the client achieve his or her personalized vision of what the
interior space can become.
Scott Lindenau: Most people are not aware that an architect has to earn a five-year professional degree followed by a minimum three-year internship with a licensed architect prior to being qualified to sit for registration exams. This rigorous training often equates to eight to 10 years of effort before an architect can call himself an architect—that’s more training than lawyers get. That depth of experience will save time and money for clients who often try to save by not hiring an architect or design professional, or by abbreviating their services.
So how should I go about finding an architect?
Jack Snow: First, realize that the architecture of your house is going to impact you every day you live there, so take time to find the right person. Almost anyone can draw your plans, but who will take your ideas and add art and soul and spirit?Look online and in magazines; talk to your friends about their experiences. Once you’ve narrowed your list down to two or three architects—I’d say not more than that—talk to them. Ask about their work. Understand why their homes look the way they do. You’re going to have to collaborate with this person for six months or a year during the design process, and then longer once the home is under construction, so avoid anyone who doesn’t listen and who can’t laugh with you.
What about price? How do I know if it’s reasonable?
Jack Snow: An architect’s services cost a percentage of the construction cost. You're probably talking about anything between 8 and 12 percent, depending on the firm, the complexity of the site, the design and geography. (Aspen tends to be more expensive than the Front Range, for example.)
Scott Lindenau: An architect or designer can only design as well as their fee allows. In other words, if a client wants a great project that is well conceived, detailed and coordinated, it will require exploration, time, research, rigorous documentation and a fee that is proportional to that time and effort. Like anything, you get what you pay for, so don’t choose a designer or architect based on fee alone.
Okay, so design pros say they add value in the long run. Tell us how.
Jeff Elliott: The devil is in the details. A knowledgeable designer can offer creative and affordable solutions to awkward interior detailing that would otherwise lower a property’s value. A proper selection of well coordinated finishes, fixtures and millwork can create a space that is much more desirable to live with and resell. An experienced professional can also save the client from costly errors that may arise from the wrong choices or poor craftsmanship. Speaking of value, what's the biggest save you’ve ever made for a client?
Scott Lindenau: An older couple hired us [to design their home]. The wife had put an expensive property under contract in the winter, and her husband had not seen it yet. They wanted a very modern house without stairs because they wanted to avoid trekking up and down at their age. After receiving the topographical survey and beginning my conceptual designs, I realized that [because of the site’s contours], the architecture would require stairs, and the project would need multiple levels. Because the site was covered in deep snows all winter while it was under contract, its actual character was not visible. My clients were able to get out of the $5-million-dollar commitment two days prior to closing.
Carol Moore: A savvy young couple had gone shopping with an inexperienced decorator. They selected their furnishings before they had a floor plan to work with. Concerned about the flow of the plan their decorator put together with the furniture they were about to buy, they asked me to review the plan. Their first question was, “How do we walk around the room?” I replied, “You don’t.” The furniture was way out of scale with the room, so I provided the couple with a new plan, which we executed together.
What's the biggest misconception about working with a design pro?
Scott Lindenau: That you have to be wealthy to hire one.
What if a homeowner realizes, halfway though a project, that she just really doesn't like the design pro's ideas?
Jennifer and Gary Hartman: The design process has to be a partnership and collaboration. An absolute failure for a design
professional is for a client to walk through her own front door and say, “Oh, this is not what I expected.” So the design professional needs to lead the client through the process at a speed he or she can respond to [even if it means saying she doesn’t like the architect’s or designer’s ideas. And the client should speak up if there’s anything she doesn’t understand or like]. Clients should expect to be included in every decision, so they understand what they’re getting. Some clients have a hard time visualizing [the finished home]. If the client really doesn’t like what she’s seeing, it’s the design professional’s responsibility to make it right no matter how long it takes. Design and architecture are service-oriented industries, so the client is always right.
Give us the final word: What's at stake for a homeowner who doesn't bring in a professional?
Jennifer and Gary Hartman: It is simply the difference between a house and a home. It’s the difference between what you dreamed of and what you have to settle for. A house is a place to lay your head down at night and keep the rain off. It is a simple utilitarian shelter that provides for basic needs. A home goes much further—it evokes emotion, engages the senses, becomes part of the life that lives within it, speaks about who you are as a person and allows you to be that person. It’s about coordination of the big picture—overall form, space and volume—down to the tiny details and connections that a good design pro has the eye for and can implement with elegance and style. It’s the infusion of soul and spirit. into an otherwise lifeless structure.