Throughout 2017, Dunn Solutions kept up with Daniel Westbrook as he renovated a historic Seattle residence. This post is the final installment of the series. For related posts, click here.
Cooperation between a homeowner, a contractor, and an architect is key in any successful remodel project. Recently, I had the privilege of working with such a cooperative team on the restoration of a historic Capitol Hill residence. The homeowner, architect, and I accomplished more by working together than we otherwise would have.
For this video and post, I chatted with Robert Mech—my architect partner on this historic project. Robert is a project associate and architect at Board & Vellum, where his focus is on creating—and preserving—architecture that will withstand the test of time. I've summarized the highlights of our discussion below. We hope this information will offer some helpful insight into why working cooperatively on remodel projects is so important. Let's get started.
Advantages of Hiring An Architect
A remodel project begins a year or more in advance of any site work and usually starts with a homeowner’s idea. If a homeowner knows what they want, the next best step is to talk to a contractor about cost. If not, it’s probably best to start with an architect, because an architect is responsible for bringing the client’s vision to life by listening to the homeowner’s primary needs and communicating those needs to the contractor.
Some homeowners don’t think they need to have the architect involved once the project starts, as it’s the architect’s job to “draw stuff” and the contractor’s job to “build stuff.” In reality, that’s overly simplistic—it’s two team players and a homeowner, all working together to accomplish a project. Each person is responsible for great design and project solutions throughout the entire process.
Advantages of Hiring a Contractor Early in the Design Process
Hiring a contractor should be primarily about trust, because the homeowner will be working closely with the contractor through the costing and building process. The general contractor’s responsibility is to create cost budgets reflective of scope—and then build the project. As the project is being designed, having a contractor provide budgets early in the process helps with understanding cost before a fully developed design is paid for. Bringing a contractor in early means the contractor can also provide how-to-build-it field solutions to problems that might not otherwise be seen. The contractor then becomes a valuable tool for the architect and homeowner in not only the development of design, but in building the project logistically as well.
Key Elements of Working Together Successfully
Cooperative, consistent teamwork. Think of it as if you’re all working for each other. Without teamwork, a project will definitely have problems, usually rooted in lack of information or slow sharing of information between parties. This will set the stage for failure, creating a problematic domino effect through the project affecting cost, quality, and relationships.
This is why free sharing of timely information is so important—it equals success in finding solutions to things that do crop up in the building process. Phone calls and face-to-face conversations get convoluted and forgotten over time, and can slow the project down. Documentation is key: Keep an updated records file of communications and decisions that track everything about the project, and share freely with everyone—the owner will obviously realize a much better value for their dollar spent.
An Architect's Advice for Contractors
Be open to ideas, and share these ideas in a process of communication—aimed at a mutual goal of cooperative solutions. Remember that a two-way communication process will get things done efficiently and effectively. As a contractor, I love having an architect I can rely on to share ideas about how I might build a specific component within the project. Robert is great at providing detailed working drawings reflective of our ideas that just make the project better. An architect’s help means I can focus my time on building and scheduling. There are always changes through a project, whether it’s client additions, unforeseen structural issues, or product delays that affect schedule and cost, so it’s necessary for the contractor to communicate these changes to the client and architect in a way that explains why expectations are shifting.
An Architect's Advice for Homeowners
Stay the course! Don’t skimp on budget toward the end of the project when finishes are most critical. There are some ways to cut budget in a project to save money, but there are also many areas where cutting can’t (or shouldn’t) be done to meet expectations. Just like in life, projects have twists and never go as smoothly as one might hope.
This is why it’s so important to understand that we are professionals and have done this many times before. Our job is to complete the project in the best way possible, and to provide the client with the end result they want. Even though the process may seem a little chaotic to the client, to us it might be going smoothly, because we are practiced in managing the building process. It’s the professional’s job, however, to communicate expectations continuously through the building process. Practicing mutual trust, patience, and teamwork is the most cost-effective way to get through a project.
Any successful project requires a free flow of cooperative teamwork. The flow formula always starts with information, which is communicated so a decision can be made. That decision is then implemented. Remember: information, communication, decision, and implementation equals a successful project.
I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish on this remodel together, and would like to take a moment to thank Robert, as well as my subcontractors, suppliers, and our client. We worked diligently as a team. Our efforts exceeded expectations, and the resulting quality was exceptional. Well done, everyone!