Ask an Expert: 17 Ways to Communicate Your Vision to Your Architect
Make sure your architect knows exactly what you want by following these simple tips
You have chosen an architect because you like their style, right? But do they know yours? Your architect needs to get to know you and what sort of spaces you like. It’s important that you put some of you into the design and don’t just rely on your architect to design it without your input.
See what to consider when hiring an architect
Sydney architect Elaine Richardson says the more information a client can give, the better.
‘Firstly, I really like a verbal discussion, where I take notes and provide the notes back to my client after questions,’ she says. ‘Some clients provide me with a written outline also.’
‘I also find images of what people like extremely important, as I have these images plus a client’s own home to help me understand their style, what they like and dislike,’ she says.
‘Essentially it is part of my job to extract a client’s brief and style; some clients provide little and others a lot. Providing a lot makes my job easier and gives me a clearer direction. A written list and images of things you like would be my top two things to provide.’
Think of styles but also materials, colours and images that capture ‘mood’. This will help your architect interpret your vision. Depending on whether you are planning to engage an interior designer, your architect might play a role in the final decorating, too.
Don’t be shy about letting your architect know other details about you – your taste in art, music, fashion, books – because it might give them insight into the sort of home you would like to live in.
Try to define your style. ‘There is no point putting a country kitchen with Shaker doors and a vaulted ceiling in front of a family that love clean lines and minimalism,’ says Elaine.
Consider the mood you want to convey. Do you like large open spaces or little cosy, den-like snugs? Or a mixture of the two? Your architect might think you want all spaces to have a light and airy feel. Don’t assume your architect will know you actually love to watch television in a dark cave – tell them. And tell them before they design the final floor plan.
As well as your style, your architect should know about who you are and your values. Are you an outdoors person? Are green issues important to you? Is energy efficiency a big concern for you? Make sure you tell your architect all of this at the start so it can be factored into the design.
It’s important to let your architect know if someone in the family works from home or if they are likely to work from home in the future. Better to have a home office in the plan now rather than wish for it later. Or think about some flexibility in the floor plan if space is an issue. Could a guest room double as a study? Is there space for a work/study nook?
Tell your architect about any of your daily habits that might be relevant to the design. If you’re the sort of person who just can’t stand to share your bathroom basin with someone else, even your partner, better let your architect know sooner rather than later.
Are you a clutterer or a minimalist? Do you have 10,000 books or 1,000 pairs of shoes? A massive collection of toy trains? Most architects today will specify plenty of storage, but if you have a large family and lots of stuff, let your architect know so they can find clever ways to build in extra storage for you.
Your architect should meet the whole family and know what all of their individual needs are. If you don’t want a vast room for yourself and tiny rooms for the kids, but prefer plenty of space for them as they become teenagers, let your architect know this.
If you don’t have any kids now, but are planning for them in the future, again, convey this to your architect. Or, if you’re planning on nudging your children out of home soon, perhaps the floor plan should reflect this.
The same goes for your pets, of course. If you’re planning a menagerie, your architect could incorporate this into the design from the start.
If you’re the sort of person who has a large extended family wanting to stay every weekend, advise your architect. If space and budget allow, consider some kind of separation between the main space and guest accommodation. You definitely won’t regret this.
Once you’ve put the general feel and style across, you can get very specific regarding practical details.
Two areas stand out for me where I had differing ideas to my architect – heating and lighting. My architect lives at a lower altitude to us, further down the mountains, in a warmer climate. Like my partner, he also has the admirable attitude of, ‘If you’re cold, put on a jumper!’ Hence the sole heating specified for our build was a slow combustion wood-burning stove.
It was only a few months later, during a cold snap, that I remembered how much I love being warm, so I insisted on changing the planned heating to a full hydronic system with underfloor heating and radiators in the bedrooms. This impacted the entire floor plan, with a lot needing to be changed and involving extra work for my architect, but it was good to have had this realisation before starting the build (and I don’t regret it).
It was only at the end of the build that I realised I wanted lights in different places to where my architect had specified, but it was too late at that point, without costly changes to the wiring and ceilings.
So, while it’s important to have faith in your architect along the way, it’s also crucial you understand every drawing – it’s your home and it will be you, not your architect, living in it.
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Everything runs more smoothly on any project when it’s clear what everyone’s role is. Be explicit from the start about your architect’s role. Agree on fees up front and have a contract. Ensure you have conveyed your budget to him or her for the entire build – and if your budget has an absolute upper limit, make sure they’re aware of this. Also, be clear on where everyone stands on the project – does the architect brief the builder or do you brief the builder and other tradespeople? Set this out from the start to avoid headaches later on.
Try to think of everything else you might need, now or in the future. Think you might want a massive rock climbing wall, an indoor or outdoor pool, or a tennis court? Better tell your architect so it can be added to the design.
Why not invite your architect over for dinner? As with any relationship, good communication is crucial to keeping it healthy. Talk regularly to your architect by phone, email or in person. Be patient, have respect and listen to your architect and they will be more likely to do the same for you. It’s their job to distill your ideas and combine this with their vision – a delicate process requiring patience on both sides.
This one is hard – as soon as you’ve decided to build, you just want your house – right now! But taking your time, relaxing and trying to enjoy the process will pay off. Don’t rush the design stage – you should absorb the drawings, and understand everything before signing off. You will be glad you took your time at this stage because any changes later will be costly.
I don’t mean literally. No, that really would be taking the relationship too far. But some people have an architect draw up the plans and then assume they don’t need them for the rest of the build.
If possible, keep your architect on for the length of the project. It will of course cost extra in the short term. But building can be hard and complex, and issues will arise along the way. You might be really glad to have someone hold your hand along the way.
Have you worked with an architect or building designer? How did you communicate your ideas to them? Let us know in the Comments below.