We’re pleased to introduce you to Becky Shirley. Read below to learn how architects assist homeowners in making their space perfect in accommodating their lifestyle.
Working With An Architect, Becky Shirley, RA
When new clients call me, there’s a pretty typical conversation that follows. Often I spend most of that initial phone call sharing what I do, the process I follow, the time frame they might expect, and what my fees might entail. In twenty years of practice, ten of them as a self-employed architect, I’ve learned that many people don’t fully understand what I do or even if they need me to help on their projects at all. This makes sense when you consider that many homeowners will only employ the services of an architect once, so the process is brand new to them.
What is it that makes a homeowner call me, and why might they need my services? Most homeowners know what contractors do, and many know what interior designers can do for them. Everyone has seen the TV shows. Yes, those shows. The ones where there is a designer who makes some neat sketches and boom, a house is renovated.
But to be honest, most architects dislike those shows because they mislead the general public into believing three big myths:
- Construction projects always move quickly,
- Construction projects rarely require an architect unless it is a completely new home, and
- Getting city approval of the design in order to obtain a permit magically happens behind the scenes.
The truth is that usually #3 is the most important and time consuming part of a project. In most jurisdictions in the Kansas City metro area, you need a licensed architect in order to get a building permit. The architect needs to understand codes, local building techniques, zoning, and how to apply that knowledge when designing the project.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up and look at instances when you do or don’t need an architect, and why hiring an architect can be the best way to get what you want out of your home renovation, addition, or construction project.
In the Kansas City area, most cities will require that a homeowner have professionally stamped drawings for projects that affect the exterior of the home, and anything affecting bearing walls or significant changes to the framing. If a homeowner wants to renovate their kitchen by upgrading appliances, finishes, cabinets and lighting they generally are not required to have a set of stamped plans to get a permit.
Are there instances where it would be a good idea to hire an architect even if it isn’t required by the city?
If a homeowner is considering re-arranging the layout, possibly opening up a wall between the kitchen and other living spaces, maybe removing a powder room to make room for a pantry… anytime you are considering changing a floor plan to accommodate your lifestyle, you may benefit from the problem solving skills of an architect. When appropriate, 3-D computer renderings that develop with the design process help quantify the homeowner’s goals and communicate the Architect’s solutions, as well as uncover overlooked design opportunities and construction conflicts.
Architects are trained to develop appropriate solutions and translate a client’s vision into livable and constructible designs. Additionally, hiring an architect can streamline the process from the initial conceptual design phase through construction. Many homeowners are relieved to hear that I make myself available to answer questions from their contractor if any problems arise in the midst of the messy construction phase. I do not simply create a design then wash my hands and walk away. Architects are advocates for their clients.
Each design project is unique and each collaboration between client and architect is unique. In general, the process follows a path of having an initial face-to-face meeting, discussing client’s wishes and needs, discussing the timeframe for the design phase, discussing fees, and agreeing on what set of services the architect will provide. Services often include more than just the design. They typically include coordination with the city codes and planning officials, and, when needed, coordinating with engineers, contractors and building suppliers.
I recently visited a client to photograph her completed addition, and I asked her a few questions so that I could get her perspective on what it was like to work with an architect. Her project included a kitchen renovation and an addition to accommodate her aging and physically challenged father so that he could live with her family while also having his own private attached ‘apartment’. It was a really fun project, and it turned out beautifully. Here is a copy of my informal interview:
RS – What were your expectations regarding working with an architect?
Client – Because I have an interior design background I knew pretty close what I wanted to do and had the basic floor plan, but of course an addition involves much more than that. At the time, I just wanted to get the project going and knew we needed an architect to draw the plans and make sure it could work on our lot. We wanted to add on an area so my father could move in with us and have his own apartment. We wanted to make sure it worked now with him totally mobile, but also if he were ever in a wheelchair and needed more assistance. We wanted to reconfigure some areas in our house and then add on about 600 sq. ft. I was somewhat worried that an architect might try and change my plans or tell me it wouldn’t work or wasn’t practical.
RS – How was the experience similar to those expectations?
Client – My experience was way above what I expected. She understood exactly what I wanted and certainly gave us some ideas that were very beneficial and we had not thought of. She was professional and worked very quickly. She remained focused on the project and stayed true to what I wanted. I made some changes and she handled that with grace and never made me feel like I didn’t know what I was talking about. After seeing the floor plan and elevations, I could really see that it could become a reality.
RS – How was it different?
Client – I think I was surprised how easy it was. Working with the architect was by far, the easiest part of our construction process.
RS – What would you say to homeowners who are considering starting a new construction project?
Client – I would recommend people really research new homes, pre-owned and adding on to their original home. I took several months and looked at what was available, new and used, and I just never found anything that seemed right to me. I just came home and started looking at our home and thought why I am I forcing a move….I think I should just add on. My real estate agent thought we were crazy, but in the end it has been perfect for my dad and my family. A totally new home might be the right choice for someone else. I spent hours and hours looking at pictures on websites so I had pretty clear ideas of what I wanted and I think that would be helpful to do before meeting with an architect.
I think this client’s perspective is very relevant to the Group O’Dell family and homeowners everywhere. Sometimes a home is not perfect as-is, but with some creativity and teamwork between homeowner and architect anything is possible!