Sunday, May 18, 2008

Finding a designer in my neck of the woods...part 1

I get this question so often - how do I find a designer where I live? How do I know I'm choosing the right person or firm? Do I need an interior designer or an architect? Do I use my cousin the contractor/plumber/tile guy?? This is no easy question to answer by any means - it takes careful consideration and discernment to find the right professionals for your home. However, there are some steps you can take to learn more about who is available in your area and what's possible in your own home.

First and foremost - learn about your own home. Its very easy to get discouraged when any design/build professional comes to your home and says something like, "you can only build out, not up because of your crumbling foundation." Or, "a kitchen enlargement would cost a minimum of $60,000 because of the location of your drain line." Or better yet, "you really can't do anything here." This is so disheartening to hear and yet I think many designers would agree - you could have five design/build professionals at any one property and come up with four or five different assessments of what's possible. Often designers and builders have limits as to what they want to do or are able to do - and sometimes they assume that certain projects would be cost prohibitive. Not to mention the fact that they are often colored by their previous experience of what's worked and hasn't worked. Typically, that first blush assessment is made based on past experience and professional opinion, not a thorough evaluation of your home's structure and current condition. To be fair - this happens after you hire a designer or builder, because the real story in any house often is uncovered during demolition or evaluations made by a structural engineer. Its my belief that the real creativity in home building and renovations is not only seeing the possibility in space, but seeing what's possible with give budgets, market conditions, available materials, etc.

So, back to learning about your home - if you haven't had your home inspected in a long time - do so, whether you're planning on selling or not. Use a reputable home inspector with a long tenure in the profession, and learn about the quirks of your home and property. Do your homework on what's possible and allowable in your community - set back laws or permits required etc. This will help you understand what legal issues that two-story large gold dome you wanted to build will bring up...If you live in an older home, study up on the period and style of architecture. Craftsman-style homes in the early 20th century were often built with a specific philosophy and building style - get to know your home and your home's pedigree. If you had the home inspected when you purchased the home - get your hands on the documentation and ready up on what the inspector found. Chances are if the sale went through there wasn't anything major - but you can still learn quite a bit from inspection reports.

The more you know about your home -what the previous owner did, (has the electical system been updated?) how the house was originally built, (is it insulated?) etc., the more informed you'll be about the potential, the possible pitfalls, limitations or underlying costs associated with any home renovation project. I believe this is the first step in getting ready for a big project.

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