Inside the Designer’s Head – From Concept to Completion
When thinking about laying out a house or floor plan, there are numerous ways to start this process. I have various ways, as do most designers. The process is much different when you start a project for a client versus a project that is for a model that will be repeated, or for a spec house that is a “one-off” design, and never to be built again. All three have their challenges and fun parts of the process, and I follow different paths for each in the design process.
Designing in collaboration with the client
When I design for a client, there is a choice that I make and it is very specific to each client. When a client asks us to design something for them and they already have a style in mind, then I follow the developing process of the program that the client wants to include in the design, while following that requested style. When the client doesn’t know their preferred style but knows the program they need, it is more work-intensive to figure out what style makes the most sense based upon the client’s desired program. Since there are many styles that the project could take on, each with its options, I must make the personal decision about how much I want to provide my opinions and design talent as opposed to following the simpler path of allowing the client to control the design.
Clients are all different. Some have a bit of experience in the field of design and others have previously built a house and can offer insightful options to the final layout. Most don’t have their ideas and rely on the professional. However, when they offer an idea, and when it is not feasible to integrate that idea, they feel that they are not being considered a helpful source. Then, I am back to the decision I have to make about providing my opinions. It’s a delicate balance. Some designers take the position that they are the professional and that clients just need to accept what they are given, but that is a very egotistical way to design for a client. In my early years, I had that attitude, and it didn’t go well for me.
Designing a spec house
Spec houses in our market are for the most part replicas of the previous one built. Very rarely do you find a house that stands out significantly from others. That is because our market is a transplant market, and people want what their neighbors have, “but different,” so small twists are made to achieve this “difference,” then, people feel safe, and buy it.
As a designer, I have more leeway in making changes or moving structural components.
This layout is very easy and allows freedom to roam in the design, however, there are caveats. One limitation is the uncertainty of procuring a buyer who will warm to the design.
Other considerations are that when freedom is involved, there is a risk of going over budget, creating a plan no one will like, selecting the wrong style and layout, etc.
This layout process, without the inclusion of the client, and having to appeal to the base public, necessitates research of the style under consideration. I spend a good deal of time looking at the area of the build, and the reasons the style is in vogue.
Once I determine the factors that are driving this trend or style, I identify available end product images of the houses. Since the advent of Houzz and Pinterest, at which internet searches usually point, I use those sites as points of current information. It is a time-effective way to see what works and what does not and serves to minimize my risk as much as possible.
Putting concept to paper
Some designers start the process with rigidity and sit at their computer and either use SketchUp or CAD to start an idea. I find that method too restrictive in getting the overall design laid out and stifling to my innate creativity. While many use this method, and there is no right or wrong way, it is not for me.
The next steps follow a free flow of trace paper and sharpie layouts, sometimes tempered with a perfectly mixed Martini. I add the ambiance of mood music and, as they say, and put pen to paper, and let the magic happen.
As all designers agree, the overall picture must be front and center at all times. You can’t just think floor plan only or elevation only; a holistic image must be the driving force when creating a new design. You must ask yourself questions and see the design through the client’s eyes. How will the buyer approach the homesite? What will they first see? How will they enter the house – from the front door, the garage, the lanai, or from the deck? Sometimes I will see the corner of a house, and it has a detail I like. Then, I will create the remainder of the house from this one detail. The process is different, every time.
From this start, the process follows a path of concept finalization on trace, and many times, it will have flaws due to scale versus free sketch. But, when I get to CAD, I correct these little things and make the adjustments required to get a floor plan and elevation that is as close to the concept, and that will work with the builder side of my brain.
My Builder Brain Takes Over
This is where design verses cost begins to fight each other. I weigh out the values of adding details and how they will affect an expedient sale in contrast to how these added details will impact the end budget. I have to make decisions about whether or not they can be included, or if I can borrow from another area in the house to find the budget for this specific detail.
Many times, I design what I want, and then when we go out for bid, I make the change to Value Engineering (VE’ing) a project or detail to have it meet the budget I need to meet. The combination of being the designer and also the builder with solid experience of actual costs and labor allows me to make precise decisions when I am in the design stage knowing if the concept will meet my projected, desired budget.
Experience drives the design meeting the end build
For the novice designer, many pitfalls litter his or her path. Things like “change orders” come up during the build process, and time can also hamper a project. Just because I design the same detail into a current project used in a previous design, doesn’t mean the same cost will apply to the current project, and VE’ing may be required again – it does happen. There are no constants, and there are always changes in the construction industry.
Trades come and go, materials are available, then not. It’s a cycle that is always in flux, requiring an experienced designer and builder to have a foot in the race to maximize the budget to include as much of the original design as possible. The trick is to get as much figured out in the design phase so that when it comes to the build portion of the project, you don’t end up with unforeseen issues. Even though design is not cheap, it’s much less cost than construction. I always endeavor to educate my clients about this reality. It’s much more cost-effective for us to move lines on paper than it is to tear out structure and move it in the field if the client decides against a design element.
Planning, Planning, Planning = Optimum Results
This leads me back to a previous blog, where I outlined the beginning process of building a custom house. If you don’t plan properly and spend the time and money to do so at that stage, then you will pay for it in the build side, because your plans and design will not be thought out and will have many issues in the field. Clients rarely listen to this until it happens to them. They only consider the overall budget with the design aspect as intangible and therefore seemingly most important, so, they don’t see its value, focusing their eyes only in the end result. They forget that to get to the end result and ensure that it will be the best it can be, you must start with the best design possible and a strong set of plans, or else the hoped-for vision will fall woefully short.
KTS Group has the advantage of both design and build under one roof to ensure a harmonious inspiration, design, and construction, true to each client’s dream luxury home.
J. C. Amodea for KTS Group