Working with an Architect on Your Dream Home

Sometimes homeowners are timid about hiring architects to help them create their dream home. If you have a definite vision of beauty and luxury, go ahead with confidence once you read this advice from our friends at  casaGURU, Canada's favorite home improvement website.

How to Approach Working with an Architect

We recently ran into a husband and wife team who weren't sure how to choose an architect. They bought five acres of waterfront property blessed with interesting topography. They envisioned a small, green home using water reclamation technology and solar energy, and incorporating local materials. But other than this vision, they didn't know how they should approach working with a professional.

While we couldn't recommend a specific architect, we offered advice discovered by watching lots of other folks tackle projects just like this one. This advice includes both a caution and a recommendation. But let's begin with a question.

If you wanted to buy new clothes for yourself, would you ask a fashion professional to buy something for you, sight unseen? Probably not. Most of us have particular tastes when it comes to clothes, and we want to exercise those tastes whenever we stock our closets. But somehow, when it comes to custom home design, people often turn over complete creative leadership to an architect, somehow believing that the pro knows us better than we do. More than a few people we know end up regretting the expense and inefficiency of this process, and it’s easy to see why. These clients pay thousands of dollars for an initial concept, only to find out that they don’t share the same aesthetic sensibilities as the architect they’ve stumbled upon. The design gets filed on a shelf, never to be used.

Just because someone is a skilled designer doesn't mean they have the same ideas of beauty that you do. In fact, they probably don't. How could they? Architects are great, but you can’t expect them to pluck a pleasing design out of thin air if you can’t give them a tangible starting point. That’s why you need to take a leadership role during the design phase, and this means working out broad-stroke concepts before calling on a design professional. It’s so much cheaper this way and more fun.

From time to time we advise people building their own custom homes, and we always start by getting them to create a simple scale model of their ideas. Few people believe they can do it at first, but almost everyone has great fun once they get rolling. Just rekindle your kindergarten mindset and you’ll amaze yourself. And the outcome is so valuable, too. For 10 or 20 hours of time and $30 worth of foam board, you'll get an excellent sense of what you really want in a new home. Don’t know where to begin?

  • Buy a stack of homes magazines and discover what you like.
  • Experiment with different footprints, roof shapes, and window locations.
  • Have fun, make mistakes, then take your best version of the scale model to various architects until you find one who's on the same aesthetic and philosophical wavelength that you are.


This article was reprinted with the permission of casaGURU. casaGURU is an everyday, everywhere, anytime homeowner website built on the premise that every home deserves a house expert.

For information on hiring an architect in your area, go to the Architect Finder service from The American Institute of Architrects. Look at their The Value of an Architect section for valuable tips on what to expect when working with an architect. You can also go to sites that research and recommend local professionals, like Los Angeles Remodeling Pros, Angie's List, or casaGURU. 

Jay JohnsonComment