March 29, 2010

Your Contractor Doesn’t Know Jack About Design

by: Taz Loomans


So stop expecting to get a great result when you cut out the architect/designer. I’ve noticed in residential remodeling
that many people decide to save money by not hiring an architect/designer and instead rely on a contractor alone.
They expect a contractor to suggest solutions that will look good, perform well and be healthy for their homes. But they got another thing coming my friend.

Your contractor is most likely going to install what he’s always installed before, in the cheapest and fastest way he can.
He’s most likely not going to give you options, think out of the box about products or look holistically at your needs.

A client of mine had to work with a bank to replace her countertops on a home she recently bought. They insisted she work
only with a contractor to do this and she told me the contractor is simply installing a laminate countertop of his choice. There was no discussion about what she wanted, whether laminate would fit in with the rest of the house and if so what color
laminate, what texture, options for other materials, nothing. Granted, most contractors aren’t this bad in gauging the client’s desires. But they do tend to push what they already know, what’s going to pad their wallets and what’s easiest and fastest to install. In short, they’re not looking out for your interests, at least not all of your interests.

And an architect/designer is??…you ask. Yes! It’s an architect/designer’s job to come up with the best solution that fits your
needs. And it’s their job to stay informed about the best materials, appliances, fixtures and anything else you
might need for your project. What if you can’t afford the best that’s available on the market? Well it’s also your architects/designer’s job to offer up the best options that fit your budget. Not only that, an architect/designer
worth her salt is going to be thinking of things your contractor would never consider, such as the toxicity of a certain material or whether a particular solution will contribute to the heat island effect plaguing your neighborhood. Plus, an architect/designer is trained to make your space look and feel good using sunlight, appropriate materials and composition to do so. Contractors sometimes try to do thisfor you, but honestly, they don’t know what the hell they’re doing and you end up with an average result at best and a total disaster at worst.

Don’t get me wrong, I do have alot of respect for builders. They have that knowledge and experience that only comes from actually building things with their own hands, which many architects/designers don’t have. For this reason they are wonderful partners in making a good project. Architects/designers can often have great ideas, but who brings those ideas into reality?
And are there less expensive, more efficient ways of building these ideas? This is where contractors can collaborate with architects/designers to bring you, the client, a high-performing, affordable, and beautiful home

I know what you’re thinking. Hiring an architect/designer is expensive. I ask you to reconsider this. If you hire a good architect/designer, you will end up saving money in the long run. But…, if you absolutely cannot afford to do so, I recommend that you act as your own design advocate. DO NOT, under any circumstance, DO NOT rely on the contractor you found in the yellow pages to provide you with the best solution for your needs. Instead, read blogs, attend classes, get to know what’s out there, take the time to analyze your needs, and become your own advocate to have a decent shot at getting what you really want for your home.

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2 Responses

  1. I couldn’t agree more, Taz.

    It can be seen everywhere. One knows, even if just intuitively, when an architect or designer has been involved.

    From a lay person’s perspective it’s the difference between integrated ( holistic as you say) solutions, and what often amounts to tacked on components and/or details.

    I think it comes from unfortunately pervasive attitudes that design is simply “decorating”; and that anything old is broken or dirty.

    I watched a contractor add a small front porch/entryway to a 50’s ranch home recently. Since neither he nor the homeowner had a way to visualize or think about the addition ahead of time, it was left up to the contractor to chose it’s overall look.
    Of course, he chose to “design” the overhang based upon the most convenient place to tie into existing roof rafters.

    The result is a tall, traditionally gabled style structure tacked on to the front of a low slung ranch with a shallow hipped roof and smooth fascia boards. The workmanship is nice enough, but it looks awkward to say the least.

    It’s net effect, in my opinion, devalues the property- Why? It’s look suggests that the entire rest of the structure is unfinished, and in need of some sort of decorative detail(s). It also naively nags at how inappropriately horizontal and informal the rest of the structure is….and the rest of the neighborhood is, for that matter.

    The long term effect of this on a neighborhood of older ranch homes is horrible.

    Anyway- for what it’s worth, I always advise people to consult with an architect if they care about their home as an investment and care about the long-time desirability of their neighborhood!

    • Taz Loomans says:

      Dan thanks so much for your comment. Your story about the front porch canopy is a typical one. I blame both the contractor and the owner of the house, but mostly the owner of the house. There seems to be a lack of education in the general public about the value of design. And just because someone can build something well (i.e. a contractor) doesn’t mean he has any business in designing that something. I think contractors have ridden this wave of ignorance to their own benefit and kind of take on tasks they may not be up to to take advantage of cutting out another person to answer to/work with.

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