Specify More To Enhance Design

There is a fine line between architecture and interior design. Architects in the residential market traditionally have shied away from specifying products, relinquishing this responsibility to others. However, as professionals, we can embrace this facet of the project so the end product better reflects the architect’s original vision. This need not preclude working with interior designers, who may remain involved in the selection of custom finishes, furniture and window treatments, for example. The architect, however, can specify fixtures, appliances, plumbing, tile and hardware, etc., as well as cabinetry since it greatly impacts the interior look and neatly fits into CAD development.

Moving away from allowances and toward greater specificity is a good objective for an architectural firm. To provide this professional expertise to the client, the architect will need to become well informed about what’s available in the marketplace.

With so much focus on design in today’s marketplace, there is much greater interest in residential architecture. The public is bombarded with home improvement shows, myriad residential design books, articles, seminars and expos. Our appetites for home ideas and new products seem to be insatiable.

There is tremendous impetus today for architects as professionals to stay not only informed about what’s in vogue but to be ahead of the curve so we lead projects rather than clients leading us. Pursue continuing education in parallel with licensing requirements and take time to learn from seminars, conventions and periodicals.

As with all pursuits, the Internet brings to our fingertips information and access to most every product and service available.

It’s all there for our edification, and with the popularity of home improvement, our clients will be perusing the same. Since it’s embarrassing when the client might know more about something than we do, commit the time to educate yourself.

One great way to keep abreast of trends and have information readily available is to organize and maintain a resource center of information on products, materials and providers. An updated in-house library of materials and products can be indispensable to the residential architect who desires to take a project’s specifications and drawings to a higher level of completion.

This initially requires a lot of time and logistics, as well as maintenance, but it’s well worth it. Delegate someone in the office — perhaps clerical staff for cost efficiency — to research and catalog information to suit your needs. Categories could be organized by kind of product (doors, plumbing fixtures, windows, etc.) or architectural style (modern, Old World, traditional). Include methods of installation and pictures. Make use of your Internet browser’s “Favorites” for easy access to most commonly referenced manufacturers’ websites or specifications.

Communicate with your product rep what you need as a specifier. Demand information on pricing, specifications and performance, and at the same time offer feedback about their products. Suggest how the manufacturers can improve their websites to make them more effective, user-friendly and easier to locate. It’s their best sales tool for the buck, and they will welcome input from their customers.

Incorporate website addresses directly into the project specifications to better communicate your design intentions to the team players. In this way the builder and other professionals can become informed about the product, where to purchase it and how to install it. You can also specify particular artists and craftsmen.

If you want your architectural style to mature, you must put in the time to move beyond your current level of expertise. Embracing specifications with fervor as part of the design process will better integrate the overall project and reflect the character of your aesthetic intention.

Luis Jauregui, AIA, is a registered architect and a member of the local and national chapters of the American Institute of Architects for more than 20 years. He has been an active leader within the Homebuilders Association of Austin, Texas, serving as president in 1999, and as director at the local, state and national homebuilders’ association levels. Jauregui was appointed to the National Committee on Labor Shortages and was instrumental in the formation of Austin’s Custom Builder Council and served as its chair in 1997 and 2001. He has served as chairman for HBA’s Parade of Homes committee for several years, and is regularly solicited to judge residential award competitions throughout Texas and the United States.