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Variations of the Camden House Design by Allison Ramsey Architects

When my wife and I first found out we were going to have a baby (my daughter that is today in Graduate School) a book appeared on our coffee table. What to Expect when You’re Expecting I believe the name was. It is a good resource to get some idea about what would be coming and how life would soon be very change. We had no real idea what we were in for, you can’t fit that in a book, but setting a few expectations helped us.

At Allison Ramsey Architects we have seen and heard many ideas and top 10 lists about what people should expect when wanting to build a home. Since I am an Architect, I thought I might chime in.

How does this start? First contact

In today’s day and age, not many people who are planning to build their dream home, forever house, second home, garage, or backyard cottage for the mother-in-law set out looking for an Architect anymore. Typically, at first contact, most of my potential clients come from a few different places. Builders, friends, website plan searches, social media, realtors, as well as publications like Southern Living, Coastal Living and Pinterest. Some will even come to us after a negative experience with another designer. These are the toughest! I feel for them. Not many are looking up “ARCHITECT” in the yellow pages anymore. Some folks want to meet in person, some call, some email and many now want to Zoom. At Allison Ramsey Architects we do a mix of these every day.

Let’s meet.

At an initial meeting with a potential client, they are often very prepared to describe their ideas, their life plans and even what they like and dislike. Pictures, links, Pinterest boards, drawings, and all sorts of materials that illustrate what they want and what they don’t want. This information along with my questions and their answers are critical for the process. The client has had a lot of time and experience thinking about how they live and their wants for the future. My first job is to get a quick basic understanding, recognize the sticking points or conflicts in what they describe, and of course the best course for progressing.

My goals in an initial meeting and what a new potential client should expect from me:

  1. Be prepared, on time, attentive, and unhurried.
  2. Listen
  3. Ask questions
  4. Take Notes

    The client has had a lot of time and experience thinking about how they live and their wants for the future. My first job is to get a quick basic understanding, recognize the sticking points or conflicts in what they describe, and of course the best course for progressing.

The second step is to formulate an approach – an overall approach, not work out every detail. Finding the best way to get them what they desire. We don’t have to solve and develop an amazing, well proportioned, solid resale potential, curb appealing, efficient floor plan for them while we speak, but we do need to hear what they are saying and understand how to get there. This is where having a sincere interest in who they are, and what any surrounding issues might be is critically important. As architects we are trained and experienced in catering to the needs of the client, and what unique circumstances they face in getting a house design they like. We can lock ourselves in a closet and design until we are happy but if not solving a “problem” for clients then we may as well be daydreaming. At this first meeting my goal is to:

  1. Share what processes and options we have to offer to help them reach their goals.
  2. Recommend the most “time and cost efficient” way to tackle this.
  3. Explain why the process being proposed is the best answer for their project.

Next, let’s talk about how we work through this. What the client’s role is as well as my role is in the process. These expectations are important and at this point of my career based on doing this successfully with other clients hundreds of times. I explain that there will be some tough decisions but also some enjoyable parts. I also want to let them know that the design process should be fun! We also need to have the uncomfortable “what this will cost” discussion.

  1. Discuss how the process works and how they are part of it.
  2. This is not a “send a check and your home plans arrive” process. They are involved!
  3. Let them know we will insist they share input and that we expect them to pester me for progress.

I explain that there will be some tough decisions but also some enjoyable parts. I also want to let them know that the design process should be fun!

Ok, great meeting, now what?

When our initial meeting is over, I always try to have a clear idea of what’s next. Do they need to contact a surveyor? Do they need to develop or organize their wish list? Is there anything that they can be doing that will help with the next steps. It’s now time to formalize my plan of attack. Did I offer to find some potential house plan possibilities? Did I offer to go see the property?

  1. We need to do anything promised. Often overlooked but extremely important!
  2. Now that I have had some time to think – not too much time – have I thought differently about my initial thoughts?

Once we have all the information needed to move forward, it is my job to put together a “proposal”. This is an agreement/contract that I will ask clients to read, review, discuss and then to ask questions if they have any. They should have some. We want them to be sure we are proceeding the right way for them. This agreement contains information about,

  1. The process
  2. Costs
  3. What’s included and not included and items additionally available.
  4. Payment schedule and amounts.
  5. Ownership of designs when we are complete.
  6. Options for stopping work if wanted. Life happens, things change, we understand this.
  7. Legal stuff our attorneys tell us is important.

We will always respond to any questions that have not been answered and ask them to “sign on the dotted line”. By this point it is time to get to work!

This article became more detailed than first intended. I am finding that I have more to share than first expected. I have decided that I should label this as PART One and my next article “Getting to Work” to be PART Two. As mentioned in my first post I did not know where I was going…

Your input, ideas and additional topics are always welcome, it does not hurt my feelings if you have feedback. I love to hear. It makes me a better designer and a better Architect. Maybe even a better person!

Thanks for reading.
Bill Harris
Allison Ramsey Architects, Inc.
[email protected]

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