Archive for the ‘True Crime’ Category

The Custom Home: Internet Plans or Local Architect

February 5, 2011

My first post was about this, in a generic way.  (See “About Stock Plans” and “Designer Roulette”)

Anecdotal stories seem to illustrate points better than anything, so here goes.

Everyone’s heard the phrase, “more money than sense”.  One client I had several years ago is a prime example of this.

This client bought a $500,000 view lot on a fairly steep hillside – view of Lake Whatcom, Bellingham, the bay and the islands beyond.  Fantastic!

He proceeded to purchase a very complicated and ornate multi-story plan off the internet.  This plan had the works:  vaulted ceilings, tray ceilings, exposed beams, 4 fireplaces, entry parlor, curved entry staircase, formal living and dining rooms, family room, game room, home theater, a kitchen worthy of a fine restaurant and a 3 car garage.

What this plan was was an exercise in providing every piece of architectural fluff imaginable with very little substance behind it.

What this plan lacked was common sense, thought and organization.  Upon laying out and stacking the plans for engineering, it was discovered the chimney for the central fireplace would be bisecting the game room upstairs, the chimney for master suite fireplace extended up through the second floor exit from the home theater.  Bearing walls from one floor to the next did not line up and the roofline was pure fantasy.  Even using a direct vent gas fireplace for the central unit was problematic due to the distance to an exterior wall. The failure on the part of the designer to carry through essential main floor elements to the second floor plan was appalling.

The designer who produced these plans is from Texas; so all dimensions were based on 2×4 exterior wall construction.  Washington State energy code requires 2×6 exterior wall construction; so all the interior dimensions were incorrect.

A local designer was hired to ‘fix’ the plans as much as possible while retaining as much of the original design as practical.  It was a difficult job that cost more money than the original plans.

The plan selected by my client was originally designed for a flat site.  Due to the extreme slope of his site, the hill had to be dramatically cut back for the ‘front’ entry, which no one is able to see until passing it while traveling downhill through the development.  There is no parking available anywhere near the front entry forcing guests to park in the driveway near the back.

In contrast, I had the privilege to work with a local architect on a custom home on a similar site.  The difference between the two designs was dramatic.

The architect visited the building site and took into account the slope of the hill and the panoramic views throughout the design process.  The result is a beautiful home that matches the lifestyle of the owners and fits beautifully into the landscape.  It is truly a one of a kind custom home.

The price of the lot and cost of construction were probably similar in the two cases.  The design fees for the local designer were probably significantly higher, but look at the difference in quality.  A half million-dollar lot and a 1.5 million dollar home are deserving of a $15,000+ design versus a $3000 hack job.

Given the choice, I would go with the local professional every time.