Michelle Plotnik, Architect | How to Prepare For Your First Meeting With Your Designer
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How to Prepare For Your First Meeting With Your Designer

So you’ve found someone you’d like to work with on your new home design or remodeling project and you are going to meet to get started on the design. Now what?

You may have already met with your designer just to get a feel for each other or you may have already provided some of these things, but let’s pretend you’re starting from scratch. Some of the items listed below may only apply to new homes while others may be more appropriate to remodeling projects so don’t worry if something seems unnecessary, just pay attention to the thought behind each item and gather what you can.

Your first meeting may actually be on your property or at your home so the architect may see the site or existing building but you’ll still want to provide as much information as you are able.

Any Information You Can Find Describing Your Property and Any Existing Buildings:

This might include your deeds, parcel map, preliminary title report, septic design drawings, topographic maps, surveys, old building plans or other materials that show what’s existing. If your property is in a subdivision with an architectural review board or homeowners association with specific building requirements you will have been provided a copy of the CC&Rs or Architectural Guidelines at the time of purchase and you’ll want to make a copy of those as well as any of the other items listed above that you can locate. Your designer will likely be able to help you obtain information you don’t have but locating copies existing building plans can be tricky and having them available can save a lot of time and trouble.

Any Information You Have Regarding the Zoning Restrictions for Your Property:

Again, your designer can probably help you with this, but, if you happen to have any materials that describe the zoning restrictions or if you know the zoning of your property, bring that information with you. Zoning will tell you what kinds of structures you can have on your property, how close they can be to the property lines, how tall the structures can be, how many parking spaces you need and a lot of other things.

It’s likely that your designer may ask for a topographic survey of the property. I almost always do for a new home. A topographic survey not only describes the property boundaries but also the slope of the property, identifies and locates trees, rocks, utilities and other site features, identifies easements and other legal constraints and generally give us an accurate description of what we have to work with. The topgraphic survey drawing may also show setbacks, adjacent strcutures or identify the view direction. This drawing will become the background for the initial sketches and is valuable in making sure that the design you come up with will fit on the property as anticipated without requiring the removal of trees or more grading than you really want to do. Property can be deceptive and most level lots slope a lot more than you might expect.

Your Wish List:

This is the fun part. You’ll want to bring a list of all the features and spaces you want in your new or altered home. And you’ll want to provide images (electronic or printed) of spaces and buildings that speak to you in some way. What you don’t need, but may bring if you like, are floor plans or drawings of what you want to build. Sketches of ideas can be helpful but it’s not necessary to pore over planbooks and website looking for the perfect floor plan, that’s why you are hiring a designer to develop a custom plan that works for you, your family, your lifestyle, your budget and your property. Sites like Houzz.com that allow you to create ideabooks of images can be very useful but magazines and books are great too. Some people have been compiling images for years and have binders of things they love.

If you have existing furniture that needs to be incorporated bring a list with dimensions and maybe photos. If you have a hobby that requires special equipment or designated space, make sure you bring that information as well. Many designers, myself included, will have a list of interview questions that they will go over with you at the first meeting to make sure they understand your preferences. If you have other project goals, like super energy efficiency, wildfire resistant design, minimal maintenance or want to use some specific material or fixture, make sure you mention it during the meeting or include it on your wishlist.

I glossed over one of the most important things to discuss with your architect, the budget. We’ve all heard the horror stories of architects or designers who have designed a beautful project that turns out to be way too expensive. There are lots of strategies to try and avoid that but the number one thing to remember is that you have to be honest about your expectations and expect your architect to be honest about what they see as a reasonable budget. Sometimes people think that witholding their budget will keep their architect honest and reduce the architect’s fees but that’s not the best approach. If you don’t trust your architect to work in your best interests and treat your money with the same respect they give their own, they aren’t the right designer for you.

And, one last thought, please don’t say there is no budget. In my experience, every project has a budget even if it’s a very large one. It’s okay to say, let’s figure out what an appropriate budget is once we have some preliminary designs together but don’t avoid the issue entirely. I’ve seen people get a long ways down the path when they discover that what sounded to them like a plenty adequate budget turns out to not cover all the things they would like to include. Those pretty pictures can be surprising expensive to duplicate; your architect can help you understand what drives the cost up and suggest ways to achieve something similar at a lower cost if that turns out to be necessary.

There will be more about budgets and fees in a future blog post.

An Open Mind:

One of the most important things you can bring to the meeting is an open mind. You’ll want to share your ideas of course but you are paying a professional for their expertise and creativity so make sure that you are willing to listen to ideas that may not be what you expected. You don’t have to agree with them, just be willing to consider alternatives to the solution that may already be in your mind and have fun! The process can be challenging but it should also be fun and even a little bit exhilarating to plan your new or updated home.