Choosing an Architect

The Right Architect

When building a custom home, good design is the cornerstone for a successful project. Choose an architect who has designed homes you’re drawn to. Always check out their portfolio.


Like general contractors, architectural firms thrive or fail on word of mouth referrals. Good architects understand that the best marketing is a happy client. Choose your architect partly based on what others have to say about them. Read their testimonials!

Who does the work?

Architectural firms can be horizontal or vertical. A vertical firm might have a couple of Principals, several Associates and a lot of apprentices and draftspersons. A horizontal firm might be comprised mostly of architects, all operating on about the same level. This is important for understanding the way the project will get done. In vertical firms most of the work is done at the lower levels with the upper levels managing, and bringing in new projects. The vertical organization can cause a loss of continuity and a breakdown in communication. When considering architectural firms, consider who will really be doing most of the work. Be sure to ask how much of the work will be done by licensed architects.

What does the Architect handle?

The process of building a custom home involves a lot of steps. The Architect is responsible for the overall design of the home, as well as masterminding the coordination and supervision of these steps. The steps involved in designing and building a custom home are:

Additionally, the Architect is responsible for coordinating with subconsultants, including Structural Engineers, Mechanical Engineers, Mechanical Contractors, Electrical Engineers, Electrical Contractors, Landscape Architects, and Interior Designers.

Working relationship with clients

Work with an architectural firm that has good collaborative relationships with their clients. Your architect should be open to creative implementation of your ideas and desires rather than imposing his or her own design vision.

Custom homes are a highly personal endeavor. Your architect should have the sensitivity and respect to listen thoughtfully to understand your needs and desires.

Working relationship with general contractors

The building process works best when the architect and general contractor work together as a team. The architect’s role in this team is to provide clear, precise and detailed drawings that clearly describe the construction. The architect should also consider the construction implications of any design decisions, looking for the best way to achieve the desired results.

Like any team, architects and general contractors have different roles. Teams work best when team members do their job well and respect the job of other team members.

Working relationship with consultants

Part of the architect’s responsibility is to coordinate with the consultants such as the structural engineer and interior designer. Good architects understand and appreciate the contributions of these important team members, collaborating with them to come up with creative solutions to problems.


Architectural fees typically represent around 5%-12% of the cost of construction depending on the level of detail of the construction documents and the amount of supervision. Fees can be per square foot, percentage of construction cost, or hourly. It’s usually best to ask for a value-based fee so you’ll know what the final design fee should be.

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