By Craig Hoopes, Principal, Hoopes + Associates Architects
Most people go to architects because they cannot find a home for sale that meets their needs. Perhaps there are not enough bedrooms or large enough spaces for the family. Perhaps they need special spaces for their work at home or for a collection. Maybe they are looking for something special. Maybe they are re-envisioning their lives now that the kids are grown.
So how do you find the architect that will help you create the home that you want? After all, in a very short amount of time you will be selecting someone whom you are trusting with what is probably the largest single investment you will make. The first thing to do is create a list of architects that you think might be interesting to work with. The easiest way to start is to ask friends who have built a home and now live in homes that you like or that you feel were successfully designed for your friends’ needs. Augment this with an internet search for architects in your area and a search in local shelter magazines. Call the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) for a list of architects that do residential work. Not all architects are, nor are they required to be, members of the AIA, but it is a good resource. Lastly, do not be afraid to knock on the doors of houses you have admired in your community. Owners of architect-designed homes usually love to talk about their project.
Once you have assembled a list of architects whose work you like, weigh the results and narrow the field down to the top five or fewer choices. Every architect wants to feel that they have a chance at getting your commission, so don’t make the field too large. Arrange interviews with the top candidates. Ask how they charge for their fees. Ask if your project schedule fits into their schedule and who in the office will be handling the project (larger firms may have an assortment of players, smaller firms may have higher principal involvement). Ask to see their portfolio; make note of the houses that you like. Ask for a list of references – clients as well as contractors. You will want to know whether your architect ‘plays well with others’ in all parts of the project. Once you have done that, narrow the field again to two or three and ask those architects to take you through one or two houses of their work that you liked in their portfolio.
Walking through spaces, you will get a sense of flow and proportion and light that may not reveal themselves in photographs. After the walk-throughs, rank the architects again. Call the references that you requested at the interview. Call all references. Chances are the architect will not have given names that (s)he thinks would give a bad recommendation; however, clients may open up to you about what they feel went right and what they feel went wrong. Determine whether those issues that may not have gone smoothly are important issues to you. Do a final ranking.
As an architect I have found that the most successful projects have been those where the client feels at ease talking about anything. If you feel at ease with the architect, and you feel the architect is at ease with you, you will be able to better express your needs. This also makes it easier to discuss some of the business issues as well should they crop up. Be clear in your expectations; the architect will then be able to tell you whether those expectations can be met. Spend time with the architect reviewing the contract. And, most importantly, take time selecting your architect. After all, you will be spending a lot of time with this person. These things will help make sure that you will have an enjoyable process designing your new home.