How do I get an architect to design the house I want… and what if I don’t like the design they come up with?

These are excellent questions, and no doubt asked by virtually everyone who has ever hired an architect to design a home. The short answer? Hire a good architect. If your architect is good, they will draw your stylistic and functional preferences out of you (hopefully without having to resort to some medieval torture device – that’s a last resort for me, by the way, mostly because the cost of dungeon rentals is out of this world).  This ‘drawing out’ occurs via a design process that gives you the ability to provide feedback and let your thoughts and ideas be heard all along the way, until, at the end, you have the home design you were envisioning. If this doesn’t happen, you need a different architect. Obviously, it’s easier to hire the right architect to begin with. 

The most important question you can ask when interviewing an architect is, “What is your design process? How will we get from here to there?” Followed closely by, “Who will actually be designing my home?” And, “Did they design the houses that I like in your portfolio?” If they have no houses in their portfolio… run. Fast. You don’t want to be the guinea pig.

So, back to the question, how do you get what you want? Sometimes it’s easy. If you know exactly what you want and have pictures, you simply hand them over and say, “I want this!” Done. But let’s say you want a unique home, and cannot describe it because, frankly, you don’t really know exactly what you want, but you’ll know it when you see it. What then?

Well, that describes most of my clients (the rest just tell me to design something cool, “we trust you,” they say. No pressure there). Here’s what I do: 

First, I narrow the design direction with an in-depth discussion (called programming) of functional and aesthetic issues, likes and dislikes, such as: how they want the spaces within the home to feel; should they be cozy and warm, expansive and grand, fun and lively, charming or sophisticated, or dark and dank (surprisingly, no one ever asks for this). What’s their tolerance for openness vs. privacy.  Do they prefer a more traditional or classical or modern home. 

Next, I prepare a drawing detailing the constraints and opportunities of the site / location. This outlines what needs to be avoided (bad views, undesirable wind, difficult building conditions, etc.) and exploited (good views, sunlight and breezes, interesting site features, etc.). From this, a general idea of how the massing of the home might work out based upon available land vs. desired size of the home. If the buildable area is 1,000 square feet, for example, and the client needs 5,000 square feet of home, it’s a good bet we won’t be designing a rambler 😉

Then, I sketch – usually little vignettes and simple ideas, mostly for my own benefit, just because it’s fun. 

Finally, I design… and design… and design some more. At this point I am trying to lock down an aesthetic direction, because even if you tell me you want a modern home, for example, and I say, “Yeah, baby, let’s go!” there’s still a huge latitude of design possibilities. The images above show a variety of design ideas within a general set of design parameters. They show variations of a home designed for a hillside near Los Angeles, California.

My clients review images like these and choose a design direction based upon one or more of them. On occasion they will even send me back to the drawing board. From this process we are able to discuss the pros and cons of design ideas and they are able to pick out features and ideas that they like and ultimately set the direction for the final home design. This is how they get the home they want!

Los Angeles Hilltop Modern Glass House, Calabasas California
Final House Design Style - Selected and Refined

The rendering above shows the home design in its final configuration, ready for us to prepare the construction drawings and specifications required to build it.

How do I get an architect to design the house I want?

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