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Ask the Architect

Famous last words: We’re on a budget


Q. We’re planning a large renovation with an architect, and wondering when to get a contractor for estimates and an interior designer to go over everything? We have a limited budget and don’t want our taxes to go up drastically. We’ve heard stories from friends about architects and interior designers who didn’t get along, which we want to avoid. Also, all of our friends complained that they went over budget, by a lot, which really concerns us. How do we avoid this?

A. It isn’t easy, but you can keep your budget somewhat in line by remembering one thing: that you are the link between each of the parties. You control — or don’t control — your budget with the way you handle the project and the people working with you. The first mistake that people make is to let others take that control, usually by convincing you of things that were more than you wanted or “no big deal.” It’s an ongoing problem that I face as the architect.

The second mistake is not letting just one party be your adviser. As first in, I’m the one, usually, who is explained the bare facts about a budget. I consider it my goal, when given this restriction, to design an efficient, well-functioning, well-structured and beautiful home. The third mistake I find people generally commit is to not make their budget clear to everyone involved. When I walk through a project that has exceeded the budget by hundreds of thousands of dollars, I wonder if the budget was reality or just a put-on.

The fourth mistake is to not get the interior designer involved closer to the beginning of the design process, with the budget and objective understood. I regularly find that my plans are put in front of the interior designer after spaces have been arranged and functional decisions have been made. I sit with my clients at the computer, carefully discussing needs and developing those needs with concern for organizing the other parts of design, namely, how loads will transfer from the roof to the foundation, how piping will be installed to save the most money and avoid freezing, windows will meet safety regulations, and several hundred other codes (no exaggeration) will be complied with.

I’m amazed when, after explaining this to clients, they have a “designer” undo things with artistic license and a need to show their talent. I often have to explain that some beautiful, unique ideas will not pass code or cannot be structured, the seemingly left-out parts that make for a real designer, able to handle every restriction, not just aesthetics. Then, trying to accommodate the owner and interior designer, the architect’s task becomes uncomfortable as the one relegated to “just drawing” things that the construction trades are going to think the architect actually thought made sense. The contractor wants completed plans to estimate and wants logical plans without field problems, and everyone on your ‘team” needs to recognize this. Good luck!

© 2018 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.