For many, their concept of the architectural design process has only been shaped by what they see on HGTV or other design oriented reality TV.  Unfortunately, this can create some unrealistic expectations.  If you watch these shows, you may be fooled into thinking that the designer comes with a large construction crew and over the weekend, dramatically remodels the house.  What is missing from these shows is the weeks, and more often months, of preparation the producers of these shows have put into setting up this false "reality".

Architecture takes time.  It is a labor intensive process that requires many hours, and sometimes hundreds or thousands of hours, to carefully consider the thousands of little decisions that must be made in order to properly design such a complex living machine as a building. 

Single family homes are no exception to this complexity. They contain so many different "systems" that each need to be coordinated and properly designed by a team of professionals to make sure they function properly. The architect, while portrayed by Hollywood as the heroic artist who draws these pretty pictures of buildings, is just as much a technician and engineer as he/she is an artist.

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Consider the example of a typical 3,000 square foot single family residence built on an empty lot. On an efficiently designed process, it may take 6-8 weeks for the design process.  Then, the building permit process may take yet another 6-8 weeks.  This is if everything goes smoothly. If not, then it could take much longer depending on the city or county, the encumbrances on the property, the availability of financing, etc.  This is why we highly suggest paying an architect for consultation that includes an analysis of the project parameters and property in question.

If everything goes smoothly, here is a typical design process for a single family residence:

  • Architect and homeowner meet for a design consultation (this is if the property issues have already been addressed). In this meeting, the needs of the homeowner are outlined and a discussion of wants and stylistic preferences are noted.
  • A couple weeks after the initial meeting, the architect and homeowner meet again to review a schematic design of the home.  This home design would consist of floor plans and elevations.
  • If approved, the architect then proceeds with finalizing the design over the course of the next few weeks. The architect then sends this design to the homeowner for approval.  This design would have incorporated much of the phone and email discussion on the small particulars of the project.
  • The next step would be to send the documents to the structural engineer, and probably also a mechanical and electrical engineer, to complete the technical portion of the design.  As a team, the architect and engineers finalize the construction document set that would go to the city or county for approval.
  • The architect delivers the construction documents to the homeowner.  Some architects will also take the documents to the city or county on the homeowner's behalf. At this time a set of documents would also be provided to the general contractor for initial bidding.
  • During the city or county review process, the architect should be providing responses to the city or county to help ensure a smooth process of obtaining the necessary permits.
  • Once the permit is issued, the architect continues to support the homeowner through the construction process.  Depending on the contract, this could even include active construction management services.  At the very minimum, a good architect will support the homeowner by answering contractor questions and quickly repairing any mistakes in the documents if any are found during construction.  

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Each project is different. Make sure you consult with your architect and be honest about your budget. Some people worry that an architect will always over design a project making it unaffordable.  If you don't tell your architect your budget, then over design is a guarantee.

Another common mistake homeowners make is having an appetite for caviar on a spam budget.  Be realistic in your expectations.  A good architect will help you find the best use of your money to meet your most highly prioritized desires.