Author Topic: Question for residential architect or designer - are there any here?  (Read 2607 times)


  • Handlebar Stache
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Hi all,
When my husband and I FIRE in 5 years we would like to build a home suitable for the activities we enjoy and aging in place in the location we enjoy.  We have a certain aesthetic we're after (modern farmhouse meets Scandinavian design), but have other important goals like building in ergonomic features that make it suitable for aging in place.  I also envision using solar, geo-thermal,  and other eco-friendly design concepts, and designing the yard so we can have kitchen gardens (raised beds) and low-impact landscaping.  We live in the upper midwest.

We're DINKS, so don't want or need a large house (1400-1500 sq feet, with finished basement) and want a situation that's going to be manageable as we age (including use of lower maintenance materials).   So good, efficient, open-concept is crucial to us.  We have built two other custom homes, so are somewhat familiar with the process, but we've always used a local draftsperson to draw up the plans.   

I've been fairly happy with the homes we've designed on our own, but can see how using a designer might have helped us better engineer the space and use newer technologies and building techniques.  Sometimes I have found that even the best builder tries to impose their will, and there are definitely things in my current home I wish we would have been sticklers about.  On other space issues (for instance, doorway widths) I don't think we were well advised by our builder.  In general, I think my husband and I are good at visualizing space... but we're not handy.  That's not going to change.

Now I'm weighing the cost-benefit of using an architect.  I have no idea how much it costs, how ultimately it works when a builder gets involved, and what to expect.  Are there any architects or designers who can weigh in on these basic questions?
« Last Edit: February 24, 2016, 09:07:45 AM by Trudie »


  • Bristles
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Re: Question for residential architect or designer - are there any here?
« Reply #1 on: February 24, 2016, 05:12:11 PM »
Posting to follow.

What about a kit home or a prefab home? I looked at those and it seems like your aesthetic, although the prefab homes I looked at were not frugal.


  • Handlebar Stache
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Re: Question for residential architect or designer - are there any here?
« Reply #2 on: February 24, 2016, 07:30:19 PM »
I have a similar interest in accessible housing and have twice modified (one remodel, one addition) our existing home, which is actually pretty accessible to start out with.  Both times we worked with good builders, but neither had any particular expertise/experience with accessible design and I have to say I don't really think either one "got it."  I mean, they were verbally supportive of the concept and willing to do things I insisted on (e.g. 3' doorways, easy-access cabinets -- those are reasonably popular even among the able-bodied set...), but didn't pay attention to or I think really understand what good accessible design involves (two examples -- doorways with thresholds instead of same-level -- not that the thresholds constitute true obstacles, but they are carelessly inconsiderate of the not-able-bodied and/or fall-prone; and the kitchen tiles we picked out are horrifically slippery when they get wet which -- again -- fall hazard.  Doh.  I didn't think to check for the slipperiness, but a good builder should know about that kind of thing.). 

As for architects, as far as I can observe most focus on aesthetic and even simple utilitarian concepts like adequate and well-positioned closets (say, one in the foyer, thinking of a friend's architect-designed home) escape them.

There are, though, builders who've been trained in accessible design, and I assume there's a way to find them.  See e.g. as a starting point.  Good luck!


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Re: Question for residential architect or designer - are there any here?
« Reply #3 on: February 24, 2016, 08:00:06 PM »


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Re: Question for residential architect or designer - are there any here?
« Reply #4 on: February 24, 2016, 08:26:58 PM »
If you Google NKBA guidelines, this will give you general guidelines discussing specifically kitchen and bath designs.  While they are not solely based for accessible design, there is information about walkways, clearances and obstacle-free radius dimensions required to maneuver a wheel chair. Beyond NKBA guidelines, researching accessible design will speak about some other topics like multilevel work surfaces in a kitchen, drawers over doors when it comes to cabinetry, and handles over knobs.
When doing these rooms specifically, meet with a kitchen and bath planner/ designer. 99% of the time you will get a better design than what an architect draws up... (In my experience).
« Last Edit: February 24, 2016, 08:32:16 PM by sistastache »


  • Handlebar Stache
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Re: Question for residential architect or designer - are there any here?
« Reply #5 on: February 25, 2016, 02:22:12 PM »
Thanks for the tips/suggestions... and keep them coming.  I was able to find a good designer (not architect) who came recommended by friends.  Turns out that he helped them design their house, which has lots of features (zero threshhold, etc) that make it good for their daughter who is in a wheel chair.

Our next dilemma will be finding the appropriate piece of land.  We've narrowed down the area where we want to find something, and we know we want to be on city services.  I also want a right-sized lot -- something we can hardscape to cut down on mowing and maintenance and to accommodate a nice kitchen garden.  We will be about 60 and 51 when we FIRE; the future I've imagined for us doesn't involve lots of mowing or caring for a steep/difficult lot (which is what we have now.)

However, we'd prefer to be in a spot that will accommodate a house that is not "cookie cutter."  Trust me -- our tastes aren't strangely esoteric, but I don't want some lame "architectural review board" (I have experience with these) putting their foot down about a metal roof, for instance.  Or having a hissy fit if our house doesn't look just like the other cookie cutter houses in the hood.  Right now we live in a neighborhood with pretty traditional houses, covenants.... the whole nine yards.  I must say, however, that I do enjoy not having to look at peoples' junk in their yards.  Or service vehicles on the streets at all hours of the day.

Maybe I want too much.  Maybe "good fences" truly do make "good neighbors."  But I'm also wondering if others have tips on finding good urban land when you don't want an acreage and you don't want to live in the land of cookie cutter houses.
« Last Edit: February 25, 2016, 02:28:46 PM by Trudie »


  • Stubble
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Re: Question for residential architect or designer - are there any here?
« Reply #6 on: February 25, 2016, 02:43:54 PM »

I'm definitely interested in this, and your hopes sound strikingly similar to mine, other than avoiding a basement and wanting the house on a 5+ acre lot outside of city services. I have not actually spoken with any architects yet, but I have started earmarking certain firms that I know would do an awesome job. My concern with using an architect is two fold both related to money:

1) They are expensive! I believe the general rule of thumb is 10% of the total building cost (excluding land purchase) goes to permits and architect fees. I cringe at the thought of spending $30k or more on that, but I really do think I'm going to not get what I truly want without it. But the thought of saving all that money and just picking a plan from the builder and maybe tweaking it a little bit is tempting.

2) I'm afraid (again without having met with one yet) that it will be difficult to work with an architect when you have a set budget that is not in the $300+ sq/ft range. Architects, for obvious reasons, love all the angles and materials and cool features that cost a shit-ton of money. I want those things, but without paying out the nose for them. I'm afraid they will not be able to respect the budget I give them without simply designing a boring house that I could have gotten out of a small design-build firm anyway. I want an architect to want to figure out how to make the cool, amazing house within my budget. I just don't know if I'll be able to find that architect. I hope I'm way off base though!


  • Pencil Stache
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Re: Question for residential architect or designer - are there any here?
« Reply #7 on: February 25, 2016, 03:01:29 PM »
I know friends who basically gutted a bungalo, raised the roof & made a 2 story.

This was in an older subarban Neighborhood. The house kinda matched the surrounding look. I have no idea of the rules.

They hired an archetect who basically doubled as the general contractor. They knew & recommended all the trades people.

They were also reasonable in letting my friends DIY the insulation & more stuff. I only remember the insulation because we helped one weekend. Her DH worked full time on the house every day for a few months.

Anyway, the archetect's cost was 10% of the build.

They felt it was worth it.