Story #1: The Dream
My client, Ruth*, spent years imagining her dream home. She came to me already knowing how the rooms would flow one into the other. From the kitchen would be a view out onto the water. There would be a small, private porch. The dining and living rooms would relate in a certain way to one another. But Ruth bought a site that was the wrong shape for the particular house she had imagined all those years.
As I do with all my clients, I listened to Ruth, then considered how she wanted to feel in the house, the relation of the site to its surroundings, and the size and shape of the lot. Understanding all this, I developed an initial layout and conceptual design for the house and showed it to her.
..And Meeting Reality
Ruth rejected the design. ‘No, it has to be exactly the way I described it,’ she said. Wanting her home to be just right for her, I tried again. And again, and again. There was simply no way to put the dream from Ruth’s imagination onto this particular site. Slowly, Ruth began to realize this truth, too. It was only then that she could see, ‘Yes, here is the private porch I wanted. There is the kitchen with the view of the water. Perhaps I could love living in this house.’
We went back to the first conceptual design I had designed because what she most wanted was in this conceptual design from the start. Now that her house is built, Ruth is ecstatic about her home.
Sometimes clients second guess even their own needs and wants. I see this in architecture students, too: The belief that changing something in the design automatically makes it better. Unable to choose between all the possible options, they revise and revise until the deadline is nearly upon them and the design is not anywhere near completion.
Of course, when it comes to real life projects, extensive revising and second guessing wreak havoc on the schedule, the budget and, unless you are careful, the relationships.
Story 2: The Dream
Renee* and Dan* hired me to design their home, where they would retire, transitioning from living up north. They knew that I would listen to them and that I understood the ins and outs of the Architectural Review Board (ARB) requirements (it’s one of the things I’m known for). They had seen the projects on my website and liked the flow and the style of my work. After all, these are the reasons why homeowners hire an architect.
Once the project was underway, though – and they freely admit this – the clients then proceeded to revisit everything, from the conceptual design to the builder’s process to the ARB’s restrictions. Renee and Dan’s outdoor spaces, in particular, reflected what they believed: ‘We’re going to practically live outside,’ they said.
..And Meeting Reality
Coming from Chicago, they hadn’t considered how the local conditions would affect their lifestyle. In reality, the bugs, humidity and intense sun usually make the screened porch the outdoor location of choice for most of the year. This meant the decks and viewing spaces at each floor level and other features they insisted on would be valuable space that would likely not even be used except on vary rare occasions.
While I admired their tenacity, I also knew Renee and Dan wanted to enjoy their property to the fullest. I, in turn, wanted to do everything feasible to ensure they would, and so kept the original conceptual design, which did consider all of the factors, always available.
We went through three or four revisions of various parts of the house and of the pool, ending up right back where we started. Our consensus was that it was indeed the best design for their needs (though there were some ‘wants’ they stuck with).
Even after settling on the design, my clients remained anxious, not trusting implicitly our advice. When the builder talked with them about where their budget and schedule were headed and asked for some final decisions, they seemed bogged down.
…And Why You Should Hire a Professional
Our clients had to learn to trust the whole judgment-making piece that is an important part of being an architect and of the design process. This is what all of us expect of any professional (imagine telling your accountant how to do your taxes), the ability to consider all factors and make well-founded decisions. In this case, that the cost, lifestyle, flow of circulation, site conditions and other factors in which the clients may not be fully versed are taken into account in developing the design.
All so that you end up living your dream, even if it the final dream house design isn’t exactly what you first expected.
This is what makes an architect an architect and why you hired one in the first place.
*Names and some details may be changed to protect the privacy of my clients.