As a homeowner you probably get so excited when you talk about your home. At least I do. I love showing people through our little home. We have been through 3 renovations. We have done 70% of the work ourselves. We have learned a lot over the years. My husband went from having a roll of duct tape under the seat of his van to fix things to an honest to goodness tool shed which is currently full to the gills due to our 4 th renovation on our studio. All the crap is in there for now.
I promise I’ll only rant for a second. One of our favorite show to watch with the kids is Tree House Builders. (Yes I do believe that HGTV has ruined the industry and clients experiences with unreasonable expectations of time and money). We always laugh when we see that he has a design created /sketched out in 2 minutes with all the structural elements in tact.
Every house has a lot of moving parts, whether it is wood or block, single story or multi story. When we are designing a new home or a full gut and renovation, we consider all of the moving parts at the same time. It can be complicated. The factors that go in to the timing of designing and completing a set of construction documents are 1) how busy we are at the time and our client load (how good are our current clients at making decisions); 2) how prepared the client is with ideas, budgeting and decision making, 3) once plans are designed, then how busy is our engineer to finalize all the structural elements; 4) the contractor can come in and convince the owner to change everything! We start from scratch…Ugh.
Our first step in the design process is to simply get you in the line up. As a design firm we generally take on several clients at onetime. We can and have to do this because each project and each client have differing time tables. We are a business and we do make a living at this work. But our clients time tables, GC’s time tables, sub contractors timetables all may not coincide with when our mortgage is due or when the owner wants everything done. Billing with any continuity is a struggle, this means we have to take on extra work to make sure we can still pay our selves and make a living at what we love to do. So sometimes it may take a week or two to get our client in the production schedule.
The first phase of designing is the schematic design, or for us, it is the floor plan and the exterior elevations. This is where we work mostly with the clients and any other stake holders in the process to come to a finalized floor plan design that serves our clients needs and wants the most while keeping cost effectiveness in the front of our minds. We have yet to run in to the client that says “Hey its only money, sky’s the limit!”
I tell all of our clients this is the longest phase simply because its timing depends on their ability to make good decisions quickly. It also depends on how ready they made themselves before they got started. I insist that my client do their own homework, to come to a level of self awareness of what styles they truly like, what elements resonate with them and be sure to collect and organize thoughts about how they need their space to serve them the best. Also they need to have a solid hold on what their budget will be for the project so they can actually finish it. This is one element I have no control over. If a client tells me they are great decision makers, terrific. Now show me. It is such a typical scenario that a client says ” I love it” then 3 days later after talking to their neighbor, want to make another change to the design and follows up with “why is this taking so long?”
For us there is also the creative process. once we have everything we need from our clients, we then use our own creativity, experience, structural knowledge, material knowledge to create. As much as I wish I could simply churn out great design after great design, its just not a reality. I am creative when it is quiet, when I run or ride. I am creative early in the mornings. I am creative when I am not stressed. I think about your project when I am not in the studio. It can take time to think about and be creative around what needs to get done and to exhaust all options. I generally challenge myself to push your design in different directions to make sure we cover a lot of ground often before I present floor plans to the client.
The second phase is the designing of the structural elements of the project. As a residential building designer we undertake 98% of this, with our knowledge base we are totally capable, with the oversight of our engineer. It does take time to design and draw in our computer programs all of the lines, appropriate notes, refine structural details, etc. We do not simply click a button and its done. If each project was exactly the same we might get a little closer to that concept, but there is no such thing unless we are working on spec houses for a developer. This process can take from 2 weeks up to 2 months or more depending on the complexity of the building.
Finally the engineer gets our plans, reviews everything and gets documents back to us, asking us to add what detail he feels are appropriate, etc. This is another element of the project I have no control over. Our engineer has a business of his own, clients of his own, we then have to get into his production calendar, he has to find time to review our plans, make time to possibly create structural details for us, meet with us to discuss changes, etc. This can take anywhere form 2-3 days to 2-3 weeks. On large projects it can take up to a couple months.
Finally, once the homeowner hires a contractor to do the work, he/she may have changes they want to make to the plan to “value engineer” (save money) to meet the clients budget or simply build it the way he wants. Then we as the design firm, who have more or less moved you off of our production calendar, have to try and fit the project back in to the line up, all the while maintaining the timing for other projects we have started.
I am writing this to help our clients gain insight in to the complexity of what we do, how hard we try to maintain our production schedule and understand there are many others involve in the process that can dictate the timing of their project, more that how quickly we can generate a set of drawings. There is our current work load, client readiness and decision making ability, there are friends and neighbors that offer input, there is the ever daunting task of simply running a business for us, answering phones dealing with projects that are already underway. Then there is the engineering and general contractors, all who will have input and changes along the way. There are so many moving parts and everyone’s project is dear to us. We truly do our best to right in everyone and create the most amazing plans as well as trying to create an amazing experience for our client. It can be challenging, but we are up to the task.