Liza-Jayne asked this great question on the UA Facebook page this week …
“What should we take to a meeting with an architect? We have a rough idea of what we’d like but have no idea where to start.”
Whoever you’re choosing to work with in renovating or building your home, that first meeting is an exciting opportunity to kick off your project.
Whether you’ve decided that this is THE designer you’re working with, or you’re still testing the proverbial water, this first meeting can be improved with a little effort on your part.
A designer can expand your vision. Working with a designer provides a huge opportunity to maximise the potential for your home. If you only want your ideas and instructions converted into drawings, you may miss out on what is possible for your home.
A designer will bring their expertise and experience from many other projects, to yours. Their ability to tailor that experience to your specific needs relies on understanding what you want.
I’ve seen architects and designers gather this information in many different ways. Some architects have schedules they work with their clients to complete. Other architects speak with their clients to create a story of how they live. Others write lists of rooms, and specific requests.
I provide my clients with a questionnaire that takes them through a specific process, designed to illicit important information from them. I learn a lot this way … not only from the answers to these questions, but also in how they’re answered. The type of language used, the length of the answers, and whether a couple fills them out separately or together.
Ultimately, it’s important to convey the story of you and your family. Your designer needs to get to know you really quickly – and pretty intimately at that. You can help them do this by sharing the answers to these questions:
Who are you?
A designer will potentially be making a lot of decisions on your behalf – from big ones about the design of your home, through to more detailed ones about finishes and fixtures.
Understanding who you are helps them do this well. It’s hard to anticipate the sheer number of decisions a designer will make as lines get drawn on a page, and your home design takes shape. To help the design suit you now, and always, a designer will benefit from understanding …
- Who you are
- Who is in your family and home (and whether that will change over the coming years)
- How do you spend your time
- What do you enjoy doing together, and separately
- Why you are renovating or building
How do you want to live?
If you’re planning a renovation or new home, it is generally because you have a different vision about how you’d like to live – compared to your current scenario.
So what does that look like? What lifestyle do you envisage this home will help you have?
This isn’t a case of thinking “we need a bigger house and more space”. It’s more about why you need that bigger house and more space. For example …
- Because your family is growing
- You have active kids who need to be outside, be supervised and safe
- You don’t all want to be on top of each other – but you also want spaces and places you can enjoy being together
- You’re busy, and need to do a few jobs at the same time as being able to keep an eye on the kids
- And you need room to comfortably have family and friends over, because that’s how you entertain and spend time with people.
Get the picture?
How big a home do you want?
You may not know the answer to this. Or you may have specific requests. Sometimes it can be as simple as the types and numbers of rooms you’re envisaging. Or you could have specific parts of the house you want to keep, or furniture you want to house.
Your designer will most likely ask you questions about this to determine the size and type of home you want.
Remember too, though, that bigger isn’t better. So whilst you may be wishing for a 4 bed, 2 living, 2 car home, a compact design with flexible spaces may be a better choice for your budget, lifestyle and location. That’s where the designer’s skill will come into play.
How much do you want to spend?
Your budget is a key part of your brief.
From my experience, most of what I do is bring into alignment these two things: what a client wants for their home, and what they want to spend on it.
It can be a bit chicken-and-egg … as you may not know what you want to spend, unless you know what you’re going to get for it. And you may have no idea about what the cost of your future plans may be either.
If you don’t know, be honest, and ask your designer for ideas around your budget. Don’t leave this out and hope it will get sorted later … as your budget shapes the strategy, the design approach and the overall project.
How do you want your home to look?
Everyone has personal taste, and things they are drawn to and love. It may be that you have a particular style preference, and your designer is an expert in that area – and so you’ve chosen them for that reason.
Sometimes, however, designers will do lots of different styles of work, and be much more led by their clients’ preferences.
You may say “I love Hamptons style” but what does that look like to you? Often styles will have lots of variations. Bring pictures, create a scrapbook, or share your Houzz Ideabook or Pinterest board. When you have a collection of images of things you love, it’s a powerful way to communicate quickly just what you’re looking for in your own home.
Do you have any information about your property?
To get started on any project, you need some base info about your land (and if you’re renovating) your house. Things like survey drawings, existing plans and information about services.
Sometimes these can be passed on to you by previous owners, and can help the designer understand more about your home and site.
What ideas do you have?
Some clients bring drawings to me … they can be quick sketches or fully drawn up ideas in Sketchup. Others will bring floor plans from homes they love.
As an architect, my role is to expand the vision my clients have for their homes. So, I will never take the sketches they’ve done, or sourced, and convert them into their design.
These drawings do, however, give me big messages about what they like, and how they want to live. So they form a key part of their brief … as much as the answers to other questions.
Don’t feel you have to bring drawings. You may have words. You may have images from magazines. You may have a story about a time you were on holidays and the bathroom was just incredible (I’ve had a client brief me that way once).
It’s all part of the rich tapestry that builds the brief for your home … and builds the design for it too.
When you’re working with a designer, you’re bridging the skills gap between you and your vision for your home.
So, if you’ve done your due diligence with choosing your designer, then …
They may challenge you, ask hairy questions, suggest things that make you turn up your nose. Sometimes finding out what a homeowner doesn’t like or want is just as powerful as finding out what they do.
If you have chosen your designer well, and believe they have you, and your best interests, as the driving force for their work with you, then trust in their expertise.
If you’re hiding information, keeping things close to your chest, or being secretive about your budget or other things for your home, don’t be surprised if you can’t get the result you’re chasing.
In my experience, the best working relationships come with total honesty and openness – from both the designer and the client.
If you don’t feel you’re being listened to, or that your ideas don’t seem to be incorporated as you wish, talk about it. Don’t wait.
The thing with design is that it’s a moving train … it will keep progressing down its track towards its destination, and it can be difficult and expensive to move elsewhere once it’s set in a particular direction. Always best to jump on early, provide the feedback, and change the direction.
Don’t worry if you don’t know where to start
If you’ve done your homework, you’ll be starting a journey with a designer who is on your wavelength, and has the skill and experience you need for your project. They’re going to partner you in creating or transforming your home, so it’s perfect for you, your budget, your site and your life.
They’re the expert, the professional that does this every day … and has taken other happy homeowners along this journey.
They’ll guide you and show you the way – that’s part of their job. So go with the flow, ask lots of questions, and get excited.
You’re about to embark on a fantastic adventure – enjoy the ride!
Other blogs you may find useful in choosing and working with an architect or designer …
How do you choose a designer when you need to commit before they’ll design? This is how …
Not sure whether you need an architect, draftsperson or building designer? These are the differences between them …
Worried you’ll look like a fool making those first phonecalls to find your designer? Here’s what to do …