A Higher Level of Service

The role of the architect in residential design is more prominent today due to the growing appreciation for good design in the residential market. The roles of the architect and interior designer often overlap in the architectural development of a project, but the architect may bring the greater leadership to the interior design and get deeply involved in client selections.

If relinquished by the architect, interior design often is relegated to third parties who may not be educated and trained in the field. Even interior design companies may, by default, end up doing interior selections as a byproduct of their managing furnishings for which they are most prepared. As architects, however, we can embrace this design area as part of our mission.

Unless a project is particularly elaborate or the architect’s fee is percentage-based, residential architects often are forced to provide what we know as builder sets for construction documents, with just the basic set of drawings and outline specifications. This deficient set leads to finger pointing between the architect and the builder, and places a daunting burden on the builder and client to figure things out as construction moves along. As architects, we owe it to our clients, and our own reputations, to provide exceptionally documented drawings and specifications to ensure the successful completion of each project.

As professionals, architects need to grab the bull by the horns and lead the project team toward full architectural development before construction starts. The construction drawings can be fully detailed and referenced to provide the builder with all the critical information at the outset. Materials can be extensively documented in the specifications so all finishes — interior and exterior — are predetermined, virtually eliminating the need for allowances.

Ultimately, the objective is to delineate not only the technical and mechanical, but also the project selections within a comprehensive set of specifications. The end-to-end-all result of documenting all selections during project design is that now we can determine a definitive cost of the project. Having eliminated most every allowance, the architect/builder can determine construction cost within a small margin of error.

There’s nothing more aggravating to our clients than allowances that fall short, and allowances open the door to hasty decision making and loss of design continuity. Allowances have a place if the project is fast-tracked into construction before all of the construction documents can be completed. But otherwise, we should lose the word allowance from our vocabulary if we care to preserve the quality of our projects.

It takes a strong infrastructure within an organization to provide comprehensive design services. The advantages of growing interior design services within the company are: 1) project control; and 2) potential profit center. Truly integrated services under one roof will require much time and effort to realize, but ultimately they should lead to increased compensation and professional distinction.

I realize that expanding your design services is a lofty goal and requires “staffing-up” in order to oversee the myriad services required for an outstanding project. The important thing is to make a commitment to a higher level of services, learn to sell the concept to your clients and reap additional fees along the way. After all, if your clients are seeking comprehensive design services, who better to provide them than you, the qualified professional architect?