cottage custom home

Do Architects Only Work on Big Projects?

A question I hear now and then is “do Architects only work on big projects?”. I heard it again today – a potential client wanted to know if their project was big enough for me to consider.

I was asked that question online recently, too – “Erika from Texas” explained that she couldn’t find any Architects interested in her 2,900 square foot house project and asked, “…What I’m wondering is, are architects typically only used for large houses? Might you be able to give any Texas design talent suggestions?”

Here’s my answer:

Good morning Erika – glad you’re enjoying the blog, thank you! In big cities like Dallas and Austin there’s plenty of work (my wife’s nephew builds homes in the Austin area) so Architects are probably picking only the bigger projects to work on. That could be part of the issue you’re encountering.

Another part is the “type” of Architects that do custom homes – some do “true” custom, others do versions of homes they’ve done before; usually those Architects do most of their work for builders so there’s little opportunity to innovate. They often charge by the square foot, so bigger is always better for them. The design process you’re read about in my blog is a “true” custom design process, and not everyone does that (it is quite a bit more work).

But the biggest issue you’re probably running into is budget. It’s not that Architects only work on higher-budget houses, it’s that a modest budget often doesn’t allow for Architects to do what they do best – innovate. I’ve had numerous inquiries over the years from folks who want custom design, but whose budget only allows for modest design. At that point, you’re not getting the best of what an Architect has to offer (and I’m not interested in designing ho-hum homes).

Another angle on that – I’ve done a few fun, interesting homes for clients with modest budgets, but they’re very small homes; the money goes into design, features, and finishes, not into space. 2,900 sf isn’t too small, but if all of your budget goes into space, there’s nothing left to spend on interesting design. You’ve haven’t mentioned your budget, but here in central Ohio at 2,900 sf custom-designed home is going to be around $1m. If you had, say, $750k to spend instead, you’d need to be thinking about a smaller home – maybe 2,200 sf or less, to get the value out of working with an Architect.

2,900 sf is a pretty big house – a lot of my clients start out thinking they need much more space than they really do, part of what an Architect should do (assuming your budget is not unlimited) is help you design a more compact home that doesn’t waste any space.

Does that make sense? Check out “The Not So Big House” books by Sarah Susanka. Her series of books is about putting money into design, not space. In other words, same budget, smaller house.

Finally, consider what you’d spend on fees – I don’t know how Architects charge in Texas, but in my area we’re around 10% of budget. Sounds like a lot, I know, but that’s what it takes to get a complete Architectural service that gets you a house worthy of an Architect’s involvement. For my out-of-state clients it varies a little, depending on the package of services.

Good luck with your search, hope you find someone to help you out.

Contact me to learn more about the services I offer and how I can help make your new home or remodeling project exciting, valuable and unique.

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