REAL ESTATE – Designs on living

Posted on 02 Mar 2006 at 10:36pm
By Ryan Short – Contributing Writer

An architect can add personalized value and experience to the home-buying process. Here’s how to find the one that’s right for you



Architect Joe Don Holley, whose firm HKS designed the planned W Hotel at Victory Park, says selecting an architect who can communicate his ideas to you is vital.

Finding an ideal house takes hard work, but constructing one from the ground up takes the challenge to a whole new level. Building a dream house should not be a nightmare experience. And the first step choosing an architect is a crucial beginning to a rewarding journey.

In today’s world of McMansions and cookie-cutter model homes, a house built with creativity and cleverness certainly reflects one’s individual style. People wanting a custom-designed house have details in their minds of the building blocks needed to create a castle. An architect can make take those scattered plans and meld them into a cohesive, livable work of art.

“There’s nothing more personal than your home,” says Joe Don Holley, a vice president at HKS, Inc., an architectural firm responsible for visionary projects like Las Ventanas al Paraiso in Los Cabos, Mexico, and the much-anticipated W Dallas Victory Hotel and Residences in the Victory Park project.

“Home ownership is the goal of any red-blooded American to own a piece of the pie. Where you live should parallel who you are, and any talented architect will work from that concept,” Holley says.

Architects bring a level of personalization and personality to any project, whether it is a hospital, house or high-rise condo. And like hunting for the perfect house, smart buyers must shop for the best architect for their needs. Holley offers some advice on getting the right one for you.

First, search for an architect that fits your communication style.

The initial process may seem endless. Web ites abound across the Internet offering various searching methods and types of architects. The American Institute of Architects offers an architect finder function on its site, www.AIA.org. From there, you can filter your search by plans and locations.

A quick Google search will turn up many similar sites, all established on the same principle of finding the best architect for your needs. Local civic organizations may be able to help, too. Look at portfolios and previous works. Compare prices and quotes. Then gather a list of a few prospective candidates to interview.

Despite these tools, the best method may be the most obvious: word of mouth. Talk to friends, co-workers and family members and ask about their experiences. Try to discuss the architect’s behavior and attitude, communication styles, ability to meet deadlines and creativity.

Some architects, like many other artists, are imbued with sizeable egos, certain that their designs and ideas are superior. Others offer a tremendous flexibility and understanding. Still others lie somewhere in between. All can be exactly what a prospective client needs.

For someone fairly certain of housing goals, an architect who listens closely will fit best. Locate an architect willing to engage in a dialogue about your needs and wants.

For people less articulate about their vision, interview architects with a more strong-willed, type-A method of doing business, the kinds that will infer your style from discussions and make those difficult decisions for you. Selecting the wrong architect could mean scores of arguments, disappointment and an unsatisfactory product.

This means that you need to clarify your own terms, too. Think about your lifestyle, from the simplest points (such as bedtime and meal schedules) to intricate aspects (such as family and career and how those relate to living in your home). A dining room designed to fit a 12-seat table may be unusable for a private couple. A home with a single level and embellished designs could be impractical for a bustling family with kids and a pack of inside dogs.
Once you “click” with an architect and begin a relationship, start considering the initial design. Show the architect some styles that you particularly like. Browse through old photographs and books to pull tear sheets that embody the picture in your mind.

Try to avoid being entirely rigid in your needs, though. After all, the architect is the professional. Creating a balance between professional creativity and effective communication of goals will allow your architect to create better designs more quickly .

“A client can make a huge mistake if he or she does not work with the architect and have a two-way conversation about the project,” Holley says. “You may say, “‘Oh, I want an Italian Renaissance style house,’ but do you live like an Italian during the Renaissance? Do the others in your family live like that?”

Holley adds that what looks great in a photo might not translate to a livable home, but also that the architect should be able to use that idea as a springboard to create a house that is more sensible to the client.

After the beginning rounds of conversations, the architect will prepare some sketches, starting from very basic block diagram and getting more detailed. Each pass at a design will incorporate all the discussed elements until a final draft emerges. At that point, once both parties agree upon the design, the architect forwards the prints to your contractors, along with a booklet of specifications matters too intricate to display on a set of drawings. His main function is over.

But don’t let your architect off the hook yet. Ensure that you’ve contracted the architect to supervise the entire construction of the project. Though the details are being hammered and nailed by the construction crew, any design questions need to be answered by the architect. The last thing you want is a laborer making design decisions that rightfully belong to the architect, especially when those mistakes waste your time and money.

Finally, months later when your home has become a reality an exceptional architect should check in with you to see how satisfied you are. Not only is this call courteous, it allows you to discuss what aspects of the designs really worked for you and what areas might have been done differently. The feedback is always helpful, and the service will be highly appreciated, especially since your design will not be the architect’s final project ever.

Choose your architect carefully, and many possible problems and complications will disappear. It’s the best way to turn building a dream home into a wonderful process.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, March 3, 2006.

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