Custom Home – how to get started (part 2)

To catch up on this series “Custom Home – how to get started,”, part one is posted here.

So now you have decided to hire an architect. How do you find the right architect for your custom home? 


Harrisonburg Green ArchitectArchitects all have areas of specialization. First you need to find a firm that focuses on residential design. Second find a firm that does a diversity of residential styles or at least has done projects you find aesthetically pleasing. Third interview the architect and find out if they will be working on your project directly, what values they incorporate into their designs, and how they prefer to communicate. If the architects has a blog many of these questions will probably be answered by reading their thoughts prior to the face to face interview. Personal confidence in the architect is the most important factor when entering a design relationship. The other important criteria are trust and ability to communicate (hear you well). Of course cost for the design is an important element and should be discussed before signing a contract to make sure everyone is on the same page with budget.

528870_313011045434932_1558746476_nFinally, ask for references from the architect. They will provide you, if you ask, with past clients that are willing to talk to you about their process with the architect. Many of these past clients probably have gone through the same experiences as you are figuring out so these conversations can be of huge value not only in selecting an architect, but learning about the process and strategies for making your experience even better.

“Design is the first sign of human intention”

One of my favorite quotes in the architectural world, “design is the first sign of human intention” ~ William McDonough, sets the stage for how architecture should be approached.  Architects should focus on delivering design that will save money, save energy, reduce environmental impacts, and serve the intended use to the best of their ability. It all starts with design:  setting the right priorities and understanding the process.

Charlottesville Energy Star House

Let’s examine this notion of design. Take a step back and look at the process of creating a family calendar, a list for the grocery store, a vacation itinerary; these are all your designs for these activities. So how does making a grocery list apply to designing a building? It is essentially the same process of designing a solution. You can scatter shoot and simply make a list of things needed, without any thought to how the items will best fit together. This process will waste your valuable time in the store. Or you design the most efficient solution to the problem keeping items on the same aisle grouped together on the list. In other words, you have to understand the process, materials, and members of the team to best design a solution that is most efficient. If you understand the store layout, know how the products are arranged, and know which cashier is most efficient, then you can maximize your investment, time, used to accomplish the task.

custom stairs

In designing a building, an architect is trained to maximize your investment through design. The architect understands the pieces of the puzzle, the materials, the efficiencies of systems, and the members of the project. While anyone can purchase a floor plan design software at a big box store and put rooms together, they don’t understand all the complex pieces of the puzzle. Builder can deliver a house provides shelter, but can they make sure that the spaces function to optimal performance for daily living. I contend that only an architect can bring all the pieces together, understanding how to design the most efficient solution, how to best use the materials, how the integration of systems impact spaces, and how the roles of the team members impact the end product. Yes, hiring an architect will cost more on the front end, but you then can achieve the most efficient design that meets your goals. Hiring an architect will save you money through energy-efficiency, by using materials to the best of their means, by creating space that meets your daily lifestyle goals. Hiring an architect is your first sign of intention that sets the standard for your project.