Taking a Chance on Strangers

Projects land on your desk from many, sometimes surprising, sources. If lucky, you can identify the risky jobs early enough to give yourself a chance to back out. But that’s not always the best move.

Two projects on opposite ends of the continent serve as real-world models of what can happen when taking a chance on strangers. One was a success from the start while the other project faced many challenges. Because it’s always better to end on a high note, allow me to first tell the story of the more challenging project.

A client on the West Coast chose a prominent, successful architectural design firm to bring the client’s custom home vision to life. The architect, however, did not have the opportunity to recommend a builder because the client had chosen one already. The builder was someone the client knew from within the community — you know, one of those “I know a guy” people.

Four years into the project the home had barely risen from the ground. The client let the builder go and followed architect’s suggestion when hiring a replacement. Twice the initial budget and five years later (yes, nine years total), a beautiful, well-planned, 10,000-sq.ft. hilltop mansion sits wrapped around a serene outdoor living space anyone would enjoy living in.

Had the client given the architect an opportunity to recommend a builder, the experience would have been much different, most assuredly less expensive and far less lengthy.

Clear on the other side of the continent in the Northeast, another custom home project began similarly with the client choosing the architect and builder, both of whom were unaware the other had been hired. Their first introduction to each other came surprisingly on a job-site visit.

As the architect told me, he knows many colleagues who would have said, “To heck with this” and walked away from the job. This architect, Frank Ryan, AIA, of the Golden Mean Group in Connecticut, chose to trust his talent, interpersonal skills and experience and ventured into unchartered territory, just like his West Coast peer. The builder, Jeff Hallquist of Jeff Hallquist Builder in Connecticut, also chose to take a shot and see what would happen.

The result of this East Coast collaboration is the modern Victorian on the cover of this issue. Both builder and architect entered the project with uncertainly and slight trepidation. They trusted their ability to work through any challenge and came out in the end of what one of them described as a “dream project,” convinced the risk was worth the reward.

It’s in your nature to please clients, but more importantly it’s also your duty to proceed only with your company’s best interests in mind. Take the risk and you might get lucky, but be willing to accept the consequences if things go bad. Listen to the little voice in your head then follow your gut.