Tips On How To Choose The Best Architect For You

The average homeowner might only use architectural services once in their lifetime, which can make navigating the complex world of architects puzzling. Try to think about these 4 questions before contacting an architect.

Is my project ready for an architect’s input?

The most common phrase we hear from customers is “we’d never thought of that” so don’t be too concerned about having the finer details of your design in place before you meet an architect. Try instead to focus on the broader aims and ambitions of the project, such as more kitchen space, an additional bedroom or better arrangement and daylight. Faced with a fairly open brief, your architect may well suggest an idea you had never considered that might be more efficient and cost effective, or simply a better use of space.

In terms of preparation, having images to refer to, or even showing them what a neighbour has done, can be helpful for an architect but really the best way to ensure that they have fully understood your vision is to undertake a design exercise together. We find that sitting around the kitchen table and drawing out different design options with our clients, so that they can comment and have input on the design, produces the best combination of what the customer wants and the architect’s sense of what is possible and practical.

I already know what I want- do I really need an architect before I start?

The experience and creativity of a good architect will not only deliver something attractive, but can help on so many different levels with a home-improvement project – what is and is not feasible, planning strategy, budget advice, choosing a builder and much more.

If we take the example of a loft conversion for example; it would seem logical that if you want a loft conversion, you should go to a loft company, but I would urge you to think again! Most loft companies have one way of undertaking a loft conversion that might not take into account the peculiarities of your house or your style preferences.

A good designer will talk through your needs and explain the possibilities (which in most cases are several) on stair position, room arrangement, day-lighting, headroom etc. An architect will also consider the exterior of your extension- designing an elegant and sympathetic loft extension takes skill and expertise, which is why so many people end up with clunky boxes plonked onto their roof.

Perhaps the main benefit of having an architect on board though is that they can help to avoid many of the pitfalls that people so often fall into when running a project without experience. Whether it is an understanding of the local regulations so that you don’t hit major stumbling blocks once you already have the roof off, helping to keep the project on-budget or ensuring that the less scrupulous contractors or suppliers don’t pull the wool over your eyes.

How does it all work?

Traditionally, architects would offer the RIBA’s “full-service” that starts with sketch designs and feasibility, working through the different stages of detail, planning applications, building regulations, tendering and contract administration through to completion of the project. Generally these services would be paid for in fees based upon a percentage of the total project cost.

In more recent times, people have wanted a more flexible service as they may not want (or want to pay for) a full service.

Architect Your Home developed a ‘menu-based’ pay-as-you-go system which sets out all of the services and skills of an architect on a menu, so customers can choose just the services that they need. For example, the customer might choose to get the architect to prepare the drawings, but then prepare and submit the application for planning permission themselves.

Designing should be a collaborative process, so don’t be fooled into thinking that what the architect may be offering is the only way to run your project. The fact is that the architect is there to serve you and you should get them to undertake the services that you want and require.

How do I know if an architect is right for my project?

Architecture is a hugely diverse subject, covering a myriad of different building types. Accordingly finding an architect who specialises in residential extension/renovation projects rather than health centres or office buildings is important. It is always worth having a look at an architect’s past work, but bear in mind that each project should reflect what that particular client wanted and what the architect could do for you should reflect what YOU want.

Really the only effective way to choose an architect is to get them to do a limited amount of paid work with you, because only by working with an architect will you get a real idea of how they can help you with your project. Paying an architect to undertake a preliminary design exercise with you for a small fee will bring out ideas you may not have considered and will give you a sense of what the architect has to offer going forward.

At Architect Your Home, our network of home-specialist architects offer a four-hour or seven hour initial visit session for a fixed fee, at the customer’s house to develop both the design ideas and the working relationship. We find that this limited initial exercise is a great way to answer your initial questions and get the project moving.