Choosing an architect for your home

Looking to build or renovate your dream home? Choosing the right architect may be the most important decision in the process. Finding the right architect or architectural designer is easier if you have a clear idea of what you want, set simple selection criteria for and evaluate a small group of potential candidates. Here’s how to choose a designer or architect.

Why use an architect or designer?

Using a designer to tailor something specifically for you, will give you a home that is unique and often with elements that will add value to your home. The foundation decision to help ensure a successful project will be selecting the right designer to guide you through the process. Finding the right designer for your project can be a relatively daunting prospect, but like most decisions, it can be easily made by setting simple criteria for selection and evaluating a small group who can offer you the service you’ll need.

Have a clear idea of what you want

Before looking for an architect or designer it’s a good idea to think about what you’re looking for. This will help you find an architect whose design is similar to what you’re after and can help give them a brief. 

Here are some starting points to consider:

  • Decide what kind of house you want – do you want a brand new build, or renovate your old villa? This can dictate a lot about the architect or designer you choose
  • Put together a scrapbook of looks and designs you like. Use magazines and websites or Pinterest and even photograph homes you like 
  • Collect brochures on the materials and fittings you like or imagine for your home
  • Take a measuring tape to friends’ homes so you can see how much space is required for elements of the home 
  • Understand what your needs and wants are 

Home ideas

Collecting ideas and inspiration can help you find an architect who understands the style you're looking for.

Choosing an architect or an architectural designer

Once you’ve established what you’re looking for, you can search for someone whose work you like or an area of expertise relevant to your particular job, or seek recommendations.  

Those who can prepare a custom-designed home are:

  • a Registered Architect (only those registered can call themselves an ‘Architect’)
  • an architectural designer
  • an architectural draughtsperson
  • some group home builders have Registered Architects or architectural designers who can design your home from scratch

It is important that the designer you select can understand your needs and adapt to that particular architectural style. This is a good place to figure out whether a designer will be suitable or not.

Once you have established a small list of suitable designers, you are ready to begin the detailed process of finding the best fit for you. In doing so you’ll need to consider what is important to you and define selection criteria. Typically, the criteria may include:

  • the scope of service required
  • experience
  • personality fit

Architects and architectural designers will offer a wide range of services from the creative aspects of designing your building to the technical aspects of preparing construction documentation and providing support to you and your contractor during construction.

It is important that you thoroughly discuss the range of service each offers, to be sure that you will have the right support throughout the whole building process – so there are no surprises down the line.

The world of architectural design is incredibly varied and while all architectural designers will be able to demonstrate their experience in some areas, it is important that they are able to competently deliver your unique project. Looking at relevant examples of their work and talking with client and contractor referees will help you establish the designer’s competencies.

Finally, given that the building project is likely to consume many hours of your time over a number of months, a key element is for you to have an effective professional relationship with your designer. Finding this fit is perhaps the single most important item.

Be comfortable with the way your designer communicates and their alignment with your personal values. Positive relationships lead to positive outcomes. 

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What to expect to pay for your design

Price is a small consideration specifically not considered. The value the right designer will add to your project will far exceed any small difference in fee. While it is important to have a clear understanding of your costs, emphasis should be placed on achieving the project budget. Perhaps the matter of architectural fees could help separate the final two designers on your short list.

A typical fee can range from six to 15 percent of the total cost of the job and is affected by the level of service required (full service being full supervision of the build) and size of the job. The three usual ways of charging are:

For small jobs, you can pay by the hour (can get out of hand if you keep changing your mind)

  • A percentage of the cost of the project – this is the most popular method. You will pay more for well-regarded, high profile ‘star’-chitects
  • An agreed fixed fee
  • An alternative and much less expensive method can be to use your architect to sketch phase and have an architectural draughtsman finish the technical drawings. The drawback is that your designer’s involvement is very limited

This article first appeared in the New Zealand Building Guide. Read more about building your dream home at buildingguide.co.nz. 

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