What Kind of Design Help Do I Need?

While all designers should have each of these skills in some measure, not all designers are alike.

Photo: poshsurfside.com

A designer must be both creative and pragmatic. He or she must have an artist’s eye for shapes and color. The designer must be able to envision the space being designed, and to anticipate the traffic patterns, airflow, and seasonal changes. In addition, the architect or designer needs to know the rules and regulations to be met in a given jurisdiction and have an accountant’s expertise for balancing budgets. As if that were not enough, the designer must also conceive a design that suits the sub­jective tastes of the client.

While all designers should have each of these skills in some measure, not all designers are alike. Some have a great deal of design training, others have relatively little. Some are especially expert at solving complicated structural problems; others are more adept at devising decorative solutions. What kind of professional do you require? Must your designer be a fully licensed architect? Or will an experienced draftsman suffice? That depends upon the job and the experience of the designer. Consider the following questions:

How complex is the job?
In deciding which professional you need, a key considera­tion is the complexity of your renovation. One that involves structural change should be reviewed by a licensed architect or engineer who has been trained to resolve the special problems presented by removing beams, opening up cathedral ceilings, or otherwise changing the skeleton of the building and thereby shifting the loads it must bear. Architects and designers alike consult structural engineers when the going gets complicated, but if you are thinking of using a designer-draftsman, inquire whether he will consult an engineer if your design involves out-of-the-ordinary or outsize shapes.

How much design help do you really need?
For small jobs, design help may be an unnecessary luxury. An experienced carpenter who has done dozens of similar jobs may have the necessary design skills to see you through a wide range of basic remodeling.

On the other hand, a good architect or designer has design experience to draw upon. When you look at a rabbit warren of tiny upstairs bedrooms in the old house you just bought, you may understand intellectually that there are many possi­bilities there. But the professional may see immediately that the addition of a dormer here, the removal of a wall there, and presto, in his very mind’s eye, a brightly lit stu­dio appears. To you, there are possibilities you can’t quite see; to the architect, it’s a matter of developing a clear image that can be put on paper. Then you get to review the possibilities.

The bottom line? If your project is very straightforward and requires essen­tially no imaginative brainstorming, you may be quite satisfied with the standard structure your contractor offers to build for you. But if you want something out of the ordinary, you need a professional to guide you in the design of your new house or addition. And sometimes design professionals pay for themselves simply by helping you avoid costly mistakes and assuring that you get what you want… not what you think you want.

On the other hand, if you are hiring an architect to supervise a contractor so you can be confident the job is being done just right, what you really need is a “con­struction manager.”