House Calls—a Professional Opinion

"Clawson Architects, how may we help you?"

"Yes, I live here in town and I need to blow out some walls add on to my house.  I had a guy that does work for me look at this and he says we can do it, I just need to get some blueprints from you."

I listen as the potential clients diagnose all the issues and explain how they propose to remedy the situation.  

While there is no doubt that there is a plethora of information available on line and in magazines, there is also the advisory team of neighbors, friends and family that have done this type of project before...rendering them relative experts.  So, I listen to learn more; it usually comes down to the fact that I really need to SEE what they are talking about.  Typically, I recommend that the potential clients go with our Initial Consult Service.

Like the medical arts, architecture is a visual, problem-solving field of study.  It requires years of study, an internship, and successful completion of board exams before it can be practiced legally.  An Initial Consult allows the patient/homeowner to procure a "Professional Opinion."  The architect will visit the site, examine the existing conditions, listen to the symptoms, observe the restrictions, constraints, opportunities and potential, and then render a professional opinion. It may confirm what the client was thinking and give them the confidence to move forward, either together with the architect or on their own. Most likely, the architect will also convey other potentials the client may not have considered or realized. 

In procuring a professional opinion, there is no reason for the architect to hold back on ideas or observations.  The client is in no way obligated to move forward with that architect, nor are they barred from seeking additional opinions. This Initial Consult has given you one-on-one time with a qualified expert who observes the situation first hand. The client receives very valuable information.  

When the caller said they wanted "blueprints" it really meant NOT my opinion. Blueprints are the result of a technology used to copy large drawings; they are produced on clear vellum or mylar and rarely used in the architectural world any more. The term blueprints has come to represent "detailed plans."  So, what they really asked for are accurate drawings depicting the existing conditions, details for the areas of work (demolition plans, dimensioned floor plans, electrical, structural and mechanical drawings and material specifications and details for their project), and a professional seal and liability insurance from an architect or engineer (certifying and insuring that the drawings and calculations are correct and that they meet state and local building codes). The drawings will serve as construction documents and the formal contract between the client and the contractor; if followed, the drawings will protect the integrity of the client's investment in their home.

I also heard the request to "add on." However, I have found on many Initial Consults that the house is really big enough already. The issues are of alignment:  the home lacks organization, storage and flow that is consistent with the client's living style, and in most cases they have 'given up'.  I am often shown a stack of images of what the client would like and 9 out of 10 times, it is a clean, bright, organized home.  While there are many people that will give you generic "blueprints" for a box on the back of your house, skilled architects will offer creative solutions to more complex problems and a holistic approach that addresses the whole home and lifestyle.  We have found that many times the solution is in the box or can be achieved by "pushing the envelope." The professional fees in these types of renovations are often returned quickly in the form of cost-savings:  reduced construction material costs and avoiding property tax and utility increases that would've resulted from a home with a larger footprint.  

So, three things before you add on:

  1. Consider your lifestyle and what is working and what is not working for you...the symptoms, not the diagnosis.
  2. "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."  William Morris
  3. Call on a true professional for an opinion.

Hire a professional to assist you in documenting the project you would like to construct and live in and remember: this architect still makes house calls before, during and after construction.

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