The Gaines Group

Design Matters – why it matters to me and I want it to matter to you.

CAPS HarrisonburgI blog a lot about building science, the importance of holistic design, and occasionally local business leaders. I have told stories about a typical day in the life of an architect, the value of memberships in industry organizations, and my daughter’s view of the world – “you just have to stop being lazy and fix things.” It takes about two hours to put together a meaningful blog post (1 hour if I keep it short). I have posted 379 entries to my blog and responded to 256 comments over a span of three years. This is the equivalent of almost 19 full weeks of work. So why do I spend my time writing stories, posting ideas, and celebrating local business? Why do I repeat stories about design and spend energy pushing for better solutions?DSC00269

My blog is an outlet for me to help the community understand the value of design. Most people, myself included at times, are willing to accept something that is convenient even if it is not exactly right. Design often not the first criteria as we often don’t know how to evaluate good design vs bad design. A loaf of bread could look terrible and taste incredible, it is not just about aesthetics. A car could be beat up on the outside and still get good gas mileage, it is not just performance. A store could be an energy hog and still carry the brands we love, it is not just function.When design is done right, a loaf of bread look as good as it tastes and is nutrient filled using local healthy ingredients. Design matters because it makes the world, our community, our lives better. Holistic questions are required to understand the full impact of design on the buildings, tools, cars, and clothes we encounter everyday. A comfortable shirt that did not use toxic chemicals in the manufacturing will not be more comfortable (well maybe it will you should test that theory) – however, the community will be better off for you selecting that shirt. Design is holistic, it should not be limited to one aspect of the solution but should cover all aspects.

Home ShowBuildings are huge energy, resource, and water hogs. Your home, your business, your shopping destinations have a huge impact on your health, comfort, and vitality. Living and working in a healthy building will contribute to you living a more full healthy life. Knowing that you have minimized your impact on your neighborhood, community, and world resources will give you peace of mind. Holistic design that focuses on aesthetics, building science, function, durability, and resources is the only way to achieve this peace of mind. These are things I understand and want to share with readers.

Design that Matters is my goal for every project. My blog is simply a place where I can share ideas. I hope you enjoy my rantings, benefit from my experience. If nothing else, the next time you are making a decision for a building (home or office) I hope my posts have given you enough information to look beyond aesthetics.

Designing your dream home – Steps to Success in Design

So you want to build your dream home. So how do you start, what is the process, and who do you need to help? These are common questions for those getting ready to build. Here is a list of the steps that get you started with a good plan, the key to achieving a smooth construction process.

Step One: Program

IMG_5468This first step is often done prior to hiring a professional and then continues through the first meetings with an architect. Programming includes deciding things like budget, size, location, aesthetic, performance, rooms, and functionality. Finding pictures of homes you like allows for an architect to better understand your goals. A clear understanding of the goals for your project, how you live, and what you think might happen in the coming years are critical to a home for a lifetime. Don’t purchase generic home plans online, they never save you money over the whole project, hire a professional that is focused on designing the exact home you need.

Step two: Schematics

IMG_5472This phase is best done with you and your architect involved through multiple conversations, meetings, and sketches. Schematic design starts with diagrams of how the parts and pieces fit together and slowly evolves into hard lines and defined spaces. Schematic design creates the basis for all the later stages of design and construction. This phase takes your program and puts it together into something the looks like a floorplan and refines goals and budgets. Skipping this step is a disaster for the overall project – you just may not realize it until you move into the home and things are not right, opportunities are missed, or layouts are not efficient.

Step Three: Design Development

0611Model4Design Development is the phase where the architect starts the heavy lifting. Ideas and goals are finalized, spaces take their shape, and details are added. This is the phase of design where concepts become concrete, elevations are fully developed, and the design is fine tuned. Design development usually goes very fast if schematic design is done just right and new ideas are not introduced. This phase is where most of the benefit of efficiency in construction are realized on paper – it saves you money every time to have a well thought out plan in advance of cutting any wood.

Step Four: Construction Documents (CDs)

cds_Page_6Construction Documents phase is where dimensions are added to the drawings, electrical layouts are finalized, structural elements are finalized and verified, and wall sections are detailed. CDs provide the instructions to build your dream home – this is the information often left for the builder to figure out for you by online plans, leaving you open to lack of coordination and holistic vision. The CD phase is very important to have someone involved that understands what information should be included on the drawings and in the specifications. A complete set of documents makes confusion unlikely later in the construction process. Again, a good plan saves you money every time.

Step Five:  Contract Administration

Crossroads Farm FramingThis is the most important part of the process to have the architect involved. The architect is able to see problems in the process before they are big issues, protect your interests, and help keep the project focused on the key elements of the design that have been developed in prior stages. Having an architect walk hand in hand with you through the entire design and construction process gives you years of day-to-day experience which benefits you in cost, schedule, and quality. Good design, good planning, and a trusted team is the key to a successful dream home.

Thinking of remodeling your home this Spring? Here are some things to consider before you start.

DSC08034Spring is a great time to get started on your home remodeling project. So where is the best place to get started? Who should you call? What will it cost? How long will it take? What is the best solution? Here are some things that I have learned over the years doing many residential renovation projects:

  1. Have a complete plan before starting construction (or even before getting a contractor to give you a price). There are many variables in renovation projects and you will be making thousands of decisions. Get them out-of-the-way early, know the color paint, counter top  faucet, and flooring before getting started.DSC08826
  2. Don’t make changes (at least minimize them). Having a good plan in advance of construction will go a long way towards this goal. This is the place where budgets get out of hand, schedules get lost, and projects go bad – avoid making changes during construction if at all possible.
  3. Allow your contractor to purchase materials. The last thing you want is to order the studs for the addition and not have enough the day the framers are standing there waiting on the materials or even for the cabinets to be delivered a week early. Contractors know how to order materials, get special pricing from supply yards, schedule deliveries, and at the end of the day, you want them responsible for all aspects of the work being done.
  4. Listen to your professionals. Your architect and contractor are there to serve you and to help you make the best decisions possible. If they say, “you can do it, but I would not recommend it” LISTEN. If it is too expensive, too complicated, or simply not a functional solution, they will tell you in most cases. Take their professional advise after all that is why you are paying them.
  5. Have a contingency budget of at least 5%. Renovation work is the highest risk work for contractors. There are many concealed conditions and it is impossible to know what you are getting into behind the drywall before you get behind the drywall. There is almost always a surprise in every renovation project.
  6. Take a vacation – if at all possible, move out while the work is being done. This will help your nerves and allow the contractor to have full access to the project and schedule without worrying about bothering you by showing up too early or staying too late.IMG_0692
  7. Get out-of-the-way – Again, you have hired professionals to do what they do for a living. Don’t try to micromanage the process. Of course everyone in the process wants you to be happy and wants to hear you concerns. However, there is a means to their madness and letting them do things the way they think is best is usually the most efficient solution.
  8. Design Matters – Don’t just slap something together. Hire an architect to think through the design that will understand the desired function / goals and plan a project that meets your needs. Proper planning on the front end is always less expensive than planning / figuring it out during construction – or worse trying to fix it after construction is done. Beauty, function, energy efficiency, durability, and healthy solutions are all possible, but not typical in the construction industry unless an architect is involved.

BEFORE-AFTER

Architectural Relationships

You never know where a relationship might lead you, do you take people for granted? I have been working in the architectural industry for over 10 years. I give at least one presentation on green building and design each month, usually many more. I volunteer for half a dozen organizations, usually focused on green design. I attend at least one national convention a year centered on the construction industry. In other words, I know people.

I work hard marketing our firm, talking about what we do, and looking for avenues to get the word out that we offer high value. In this economy, as I am sure you know, it is tough to find that next great project. It is difficult to decide where to invest your marketing dollars. The best investment I have found through all this work, all these connections, and all the time invested: relationships. You need to be true to who you are, deliver high value, and offer professional service to be successful. If you have built relationships, people know you and trust you before you ever venture into a business venture.

Here are some pictures of current projects, all of which come from a conversation or three about what the client needed before they were clients. All but one came from getting to know the clients and becoming friends long before there was even a project. All of them are a result of hard work, trust, and value. The most important elements of any marketing campaign.

Crossroads FarmFt. DefianceHome Performance with Energy StarLEED for Homes

For more thoughts on saving money, protecting the environment, and on architectural design visit my websites:

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