The American Institute of Architects, in its mission to meet the needs and interests of the public by raising awareness of the value of architecture and the importance of good design, has helpful answers to some questions which have been outlined in the three links below.
What are some of the typical types of projects NLD Design works on for clients?
Here are some of the things we’re currently working on:
1.) 7,000 sq. ft. single-family beach-front renovation and addition.
2.) 3,000 sq. ft. single-family new construction on 5 acre lot.
3.) Renovation of kitchen, dining room, mudroom, bathrooms and bedrooms.
4.) Renovation of kitchen, living room and new entry addition.
5.) Consulting for multi-unit condo and single-family housing development.
6.) Several projects involving the addition of a second floor above an existing first floor.
Why does NLD Design’s work stand out from other architecture firms?
Our skill in custom design – specifically building science, aesthetic details, program layout, and site responsiveness – is top-tier. We also do an excellent job of tying together the design intent and the practical construction efficiently and harmoniously to benefit both the client and the contractor. Through our tested knowledge and experience working with a variety of clients with different needs, we know how to give a client a design that captures their vision and exceeds their expectations. Lastly, we celebrate our ability to design in multiple styles – Revival styles, Shingle-style, Craftsman, rustic, modern, etc. We have the discipline and understanding to achieve authentic stylistic solutions (not just diluted reflections) as well as the creativity to innovate and synthesize using classical, traditional, and vernacular inspiration.
What’s the best part about a project?
Taking client ideas and making them a reality. In other words, there is nothing we love more than taking a client’s verbal description and turning it into their dream home. It is truly a fulfilling experience.
What is the key to great design?
There’s not a single key to great design. Great design is complex, involves both the art and science of building, constantly seeks to balance client priorities with creativity and problem-solving, and is the culmination of a passionate team of people. But the following five keys are the best place to start to for achieving a great design.
Understand and analyze the site to maximize potential. Even for additions, the site conditions have a huge impact. Climate, sun, precipitation, topography, wind, views, orientation, circulation, approach, and neighbors are all critical. And keep in mind, most of the remaining design components can change, but location is the only thing you can’t change.
Programming and Plan Layout:
Bigger is not always better. We seem to forget that. Designing the right rooms at the right size is critical. Making the plan specific and efficient maximizes the dollar and even makes the design feel indulgent. By avoiding wasted spaces and unresolved forms, the money left over can be spent to upgrade materials or add unique features. Too often the inexperienced move walls, change angles, relocate spaces, or add more square footage. This results in plans and exterior elevations that are not congruent with strange jobs and bump-outs. This is not only an aesthetic problem but also wastes money because it’s inefficient for construction.
Systems and Science:
Great design is not just the aesthetics but also how the building systems (HVAC, plumbing, electrical, equipment, insulation, windows, roofing, siding) are integrated. Systems must be designed to achieve the aesthetic goals and function at maximum efficiency. One size doesn’t fit all. Each project needs the right type of system for its specific conditions. Issues of longevity, durability, and true cost over lifetime are significant.
Scale and Proportion:
Scale and proportion are critical to design, both on the interior and exterior. You can’t achieve a great design without the right balance of both. Volumes, massing, spacing, location, quantity, and details all use rules of scale and proportion to govern how each component relates to the whole as well as how the whole relates to the individual who experiences the building. An error in scale and proportion is one of those things you can’t explicitly name as the mistake right away but in your gut you immediately know something is wrong. It’s also one of those mistakes that’s incredibly hard to correct afterwards, unlike changing the flooring material or changing the paint color.
Attention to detail is a hallmark of an exceptional home. All surfaces, including their color, pattern, and texture, enrich the character of spaces inside and out. Each component should have a clear message. And each detail should be appropriate for its location, fit with the others, and harmonize with the whole design into a cohesive vision. As the idiom says, “God is in the details.” Too often the untrained add superfluous details or delete essential details, use a particular detail in the wrong place, or, worst of all, invest the money for the detail but make a mistake in the correct assembly of the components. Any one of these mistakes is an aesthetic distraction and creates a sense of uneasiness. Even worse, one of these mistakes can negatively impact building performance, meaning additional costs down the road.
Does NLD Design have any inside secrets to share about the industry?
There are a lot of inside secrets we could share. And with our clients, we always do share. That’s part of our philosophy of educating the client, keeping them informed, and serving them to the best of our ability. We have the experience and dedication to deliver all the information without the spin or bias. And that can be extremely valuable to clients.
But more the the point – be wary of individuals or companies who claim to be architects or provide architectural services or in-house design. To be an architect and to practice architecture requires a license. A license can only be obtained after one receives a professional degree (B.Arch or M.Arch), completes required training (5,600 hours), passes required exams, and submits all records to the state. Only a licensed professional can stamp plans to submit to the building department for a building permit.
Also be wary of builders who market “custom homes” or “in-house design.” Nine times out of ten builders only have a limited catalog of years-old pre-designed homes from which a client can choose. Small modifications can be made to these plans but it is not a custom home. Further, all the stuff a client can put in the home (from recessed lights to kitchen countertops) comes from an extremely limited menu. As a result, the whole process really becomes a paint by number exercise and the client is the one who suffers.
Finally, if a client is fortunate enough to find a builder that can truly do design from a blank sheet of paper, the reality is the builder employs architects or hires them as subcontractors. As a client, wouldn’t it be better to hire this person directly so there’s no middleman?
What advice does NLD Design give a client who is searching for a contractor?
Finding a good contractor takes time, work, and contacts. It’s absolutely critical to find the RIGHT company for the project. One size doesn’t fit all and the least expensive is almost never the smart choice. Availability, typical services, labor skill and care, standard job quality, size of the job relative to size of the company, current work load, reliability, warranties, licensing, insurance, etc. – these are all part of the formula.
But the best way to find the great contractors is to ask three simple questions (and get a “yes” answer to all three):
1.) Do you prefer to have everything planned out and detailed before construction begins? Yes. Plan ahead. Plan ahead. Plan ahead. It makes everything easier, faster, and helps the contractor stick to the budget. Of course there are simple things that can be handled during construction. But the more information known upfront the better.
2.) Do you have open book pricing? Yes. Clients should receive direct pricing from every vendor and subcontractor for labor and materials, know the mark-ups at each level, and have a breakdown of costs by construction category. Transparency allows the client to make the best decision without wondering if they are getting a fair price. It also allows the client to spend money on what they value and save money in other areas.
3.) Do you want to be part of a project team? Yes. A contractor who wants to collaborate with the client and architect is a contractor who truly values the client, the final product, and the insight each team member brings to the table. This team approach makes one plus one equal more than two.
What are NLD Design fees?
It depends on the project and what services the client requests. Architecture is more than just drawing plans. An architect’s value to a client is truly realized when the architect provides services for the entire project from start to finish and not just one or two pieces.
Many factors affect fees such as:
1.) What level of service is the client looking for: consulting only, basic services, full services, interior design, etc?
2.) Does the client want design ideas only, a permit set, full construction documents, or the complete range of services including construction administration?
3.) How big is the job? Is it a small kitchen renovation or a 2,500 sq. ft. new home?
4.) How complex is the job? Is it a simple, unheated garage or is it a luxury guest house with independent cutting-edge building systems?
The three most common fee structures are: a.) percentage of construction, b.) fixed fee, c.) hourly. The level of service the client is looking for lends itself to the fee structure. For example, if the client is only interested in consulting services, an hourly fee structure works best. If the client wants full services on a new construction home, a percentage of construction fee structure fits well. Whatever the case, we tailor our service packages to fit each client’s project and budget.
Is cost per sq. ft. a reasonable way to estimate construction costs?
No. Unfortunately the building industry (as well as real estate agents) use cost per sq. ft. figures incorrectly. This error is equivalent to paying for a meal by weight. It doesn’t make sense. Of course the size of the project is critical, but it’s only part of the story. The three other important factors affecting cost are: a.) quality and complexity of the design, b.) skill and care of the labor doing the work, c.) quality of the products and systems used in construction.
Further, don’t forget site-related costs are a part of the total investment. These are sometimes buried in the construction costs (another reason cost per sq. ft. estimates aren’t the best) or are sometimes additional to the construction costs (often called “lot premiums” in new construction.) In either case, you’re paying for site-related costs. As such, it’s wise to know what and where they are. Site-related costs include: purchase price of the land, size of lot, site clearing, topography, utility work, outbuildings, grading, drainage, landscaping, paving, driveway, fencing, irrigation, electrical, etc.
Why are the estimates from each competing contractor so different for the same project?
Clients usually evaluate a range of estimates for their project with skepticism, believing the high estimate is price gouging, the middle estimate can be much better, and the low estimate is the average. It’s incredibly rare for those three beliefs to be true. We all want the best deal and spend a lot of time and energy trying to find it. But the least expensive option is almost never the smart choice. The smart plan is to evaluate the estimates using the age-old idioms “too good to be true” and “you get what you pay for.”
Here are the three main reasons an estimate varies between competing contractors:
1.) The estimates assume different things. They are not an apples-to-apples comparisons. Important factors affecting cost such as quality and complexity of the design, quality of the products and systems used in construction, and client expectations of finishes, performance, and personal attention are not the same. Different assumptions in one of these areas result in vastly different estimates. Further, these different assumptions are where two regrettable things can happen: someone underbids the job just to get it then charges more on the back end, or someone makes the mistake of omitting important components that should be included. Avoiding these pitfalls is the best reason to have an architect help you with the bid process.
2.) The subcontractors used for different parts of the work are different. Smaller companies tend to charge less, larger companies tend to charge more. Some crews are the clean, organized, and talented “A” crew and some crews are the messy, unsafe, and unskilled “D” crew. Obviously a small company “D” crew will cost less. But is it worth it?
3.) Overhead, profit, and wages of the general contractor are a variable. Some general contractors have less overhead, seek less profit per job, and pay their staff less. Some general contractors reduce the level of personal service, thus reducing labor costs, by foregoing a site supervisor or not having a dedicated project manager on each job. The latter means less supervision, reduced responsiveness, limited quality control, and more potential mistakes.
Does NLD Design have a favorite story?
Client satisfaction is always a favorite story. On a recent job, the client was nice enough to share the following:
“The number of choices required for the project were daunting. There were so many things I didn’t know. But [NLD Design] was a great help in educating, finding value, and managing budget….Through the process I came to know the difference between the quality we achieved on this project and the poor McMansion standard that my friends have wasted money on.”
What does NLD Design wish clients knew about the architecture profession?
It seems clients know less and less about the practice of architecture and what architects do. To help the client with a little background, the following link is useful: http://howdesignworks.aia.org/. There are also a few short YouTube videos that do a great job: http://www.youtube.com/user/CRANtv.
Does NLD Design do any sort of continuing education to stay up on the latest developments in the field?
Continuing education is required to be a licensed architect. We also participate in local industry related events, sponsor student design competitions, and give seminars to the general public.
West Hartford Residential Architects. Farmington Valley Residential Architects. Glastonbury Residential Architects. Hartford County Residential Architects.
Boston Residential Architects. North Shore Residential Architects. South Shore Residential Architects. Cape Cod Residential Architects. Metro West Residential Architects. Western Massachusetts Residential Architects.