Posts Tagged ‘remodel’

Designer Roulette

May 11, 2010

You know that old axiom, “You get what you pay for”? It’s true.

I see it all the time in my profession. People come to me with designs that run the gamut of absolutely brilliant to pure crap.

When you hire a licensed Engineer, you are hiring someone who completed a college education and a minimum of 4 years experience under a licensed professional before passing their licensing exam.

When you hire a licensed Architect, the same is true.

When you hire a Designer the qualifications range from ‘Highly Qualified’ to ‘Not At All’.

Don’t get me wrong – I like designers. Some of my best friends and best clients are designers and they are design wizards. BUT – not all designers are equal.

There are a lot of people out there with a computer and a downloaded version of some cheap, or maybe even free, CAD program that peddle themselves as designers. Do not be fooled. They may be very nice, well intentioned and honest as the day is long, but lack the training and experience to do your job well.

I have a lot of examples, but I will recount one in particular for you.

An architect friend of mine asked me to visit his neighbors to discuss with them the feasibility of expanding into their attic. Their house was small – less than 1000 square feet – and their family expanding.

As it turns out, they didn’t want to raise the roof, but utilize the existing attic space for 2 bedrooms and a bath. It couldn’t be done. There just wasn’t enough room to do it, but they did have a very large side yard and I explained they might want to consider an addition off to the side to accomplish their goals.

That idea took off and after an hour or so an idea began taking shape in their minds. It turns out that my friend the architect was not able to do the design for them due to previous commitments and I thought a designer would be in their best interests for artistic and financial reasons. I’m an engineer. I’m expensive and I readily admit my designs tend toward the simplistic. If you want a box, I’m your woman. (OK, I’m not that bad, but there are many who are better.)

They hired a young woman who produced some very nice looking plans and elevations of a 2-story addition with attic bedrooms. The problem was they didn’t seem to fit the desire of the client to maintain the cottage style of the house. The original roof, contrary to our initial discussions, was raised significantly and the charm of the original house was lost.

I was truly concerned about the design, so before beginning the engineering, I called the client to make sure what I was engineering was indeed what they wanted. It was not.

They had been lead to believe that what they wanted could not be done because of code issues and they proceeded to describe the code issues the ‘designer’ had made them aware of. The young woman was in error on many fronts and with the client’s approval, I proceeded to refashion her design, which had many good qualities that the client liked, into more of what they had been envisioning.

I also took this time to fix the plans and elevations so that the stair didn’t cut through a window and a few other odds and ends. At the same time, I spent a great deal of time educating the young woman about the code issues she had misunderstood and forwarding to her my sketches to be incorporated into her drawings.

In the course of our conversations it came out that she got started as a designer because she had designed her own house and the contractor complimented her design. He told her she had a natural talent for it and should think about doing it professionally. She took a CAD class at the local tech college and printed business cards.

The problem with that is:
* She had not been trained to do her job – she was flying by the seat of her pants.
* She did not understand the code and in some cases I don’t think she had read it.
* She did not communicate well with her client and gave them a design they were not happy with.
* The engineer educated the designer at the expense of the client
* Plans were redrawn at the client’s expense to reflect their true intent and the realities of the building code.

In the end, the client got an addition they are very happy with, but with a much higher design price tag than they were expecting.

Another issue I had with the designer in question was that she didn’t have a business license and wasn’t paying city or state taxes. It’s questionable whether she was paying federal taxes. It’s hard for a legitimate business person to complete with that kind of operation.

I had another client that hired their interior decorator to design a remodel. They would have been better off with a wino, but that’s another story.

There are many architects and designers in the community with the education and experience to do a wonderful job. Yes, they probably charge a bit more than the average freelance CAD drafter, but in the end, they are worth it – and in the long run, less expensive.

A trained designer or architect will not require the engineer to teach them their trade.

I know many designers with the education and experience to do a wonderful job on any residence. Most of the people I recommend earned college degrees associated with the construction industry and some are trained architects who never sat for the exams. Others worked for architects for many years and learned their trade as architecture interns. A few are contractors with a flair for design.

Ask for references or a resume. Ask where they went to school and/or interned. Don’t get fooled by a cheap hourly rate. Look for quality work.

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