Collaboration makes for better design

"How do I build this?” It’s the dreaded question no remodeler wants to be asking himself during a construction project. This question oftentimes can be avoided by working with the person who designed the project. I work for a builder, and we have learned that a good relationship between designer and builder can result in more business, smoother construction processes and happier clients.

There are three great reasons for working with a residential designer on a remodeling project. The first is to help manage the relationship between the client’s wish list and the reality of their budget. No matter what the size of a client’s budget, there will always be restrictions. With this in mind, a relationship with a residential designer will allow for a complete set of drawings that fall within that budget. In our company, we have this built into our process. We typically meet with the builder early on, at a mid-point and toward the end of the design process. Any adjustments in the design are much easier to make at one of those points rather than at the end.

Second, a residential designer will offer design details that will better serve clients by reducing change orders during construction. The builder and I typically go through a checklist prior to finishing my construction drawings to ensure all of the details he wants will be present when the time comes to build.

Third, collaboration between a residential designer and builder can result in better solutions to construction problems. After experiencing firsthand a framer asking, “Ben, how do I build this?” I have developed a great appreciation for drawings that are easy to read and build. For remodeling projects, this means developing solutions and details that are feasible and keeping with real world construction.

No matter how well thought out a project or design is, challenges will arise. These challenges are much easier to handle if you have a residential designer as an advocate and vice versa.

 

For example

One such challenge arose in a recent kitchen/family room remodel. The kitchen framing had been completed when the homeowner told us she wanted to add a coffered ceiling in the family room. This was problematic for several reasons, the main being there were bedrooms above the existing family room preventing us from building that ceiling any higher. Many ideas were thrown around the table, but it wasn’t until the builder and I sat down and talked that we created a great solution.

We used three 12-in. steel beams arranged several feet apart from each other, and then hung 2-by-6 floor joists between the steel (see pictures below). This gave us a 6-in. difference in height to make our coffer work without having to raise the height of the existing ceiling. Our engineer sized the beams and made sure the structure was on cue. The detail turned out great and the client was happy with both of us, not just one party; a win-win.

This solution has proven to not only be useful on remodeling projects, but also new construction projects that feature a coffered ceiling with inhabitable rooms above them. The point is that by ourselves, we may not have come up with that design solution. It was by working together and talking through ideas that we were able to solve our homeowner’s problem.

 

Ben Johnson, CPBD, MCGP, CAPS, works for Will Johnson Building Co., a Chapel Hill, N.C.- based residential and light commercial design-build firm specializing in high-end custom homes and renovations. Ben has managed and designed projects ranging in size from small bathroom renovations to 9,000-sq.-ft. homes. He also is a district director for the American Institute of Building Design.

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