Home renovations are the products of team effort. Whether you’re gutting your bathroom or embarking on an addition to your home, experts in the residential remodeling field will make the difference between a gorgeous success and a possible money-pit mishmash. Even if you’re incredibly handy—or perhaps a skilled carpenter, plumber, electrician, or designer—chances are that at some point you will find yourself enlisting the services of an architect or interior designer.

The presence of one or more design and/or architecture professionals on your remodeling team offers myriad benefits. These pros have high standards for aesthetics, ethics, safety, and execution.

Architects are uniquely qualified by education, experience, certification, and practice to lead a group of people in designing buildings. Designing and planning a home addition or remodeled space with proper attention to codes, safety, and aesthetics is no small feat: It’s a complex process that demands sound judgment before and during the actual renovations. (N.B.: Designers may know how to develop a building design, but because they are not licensed, they are not held to the same professional standards as an architect.) Architects who are members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) must adhere to the Institute’s code of ethics, and the AIA’s annual continuing-education requirements exceed those set forth by state licensing boards.

Designers possess particular education and skills in creating pleasing, practical interiors and exteriors. Although not licensed to design actual structures, designers provide a keen aesthetic perspective that can complement and shape the work of both an architect and a general contractor team. Designers make a renovated space uniquely yours.
Just as a general contractor in a home renovation ensures that a residential remodeling project moves as smoothly and seamlessly as possible from start to finish, an architect and/or designer offers a thoughtful angle on the big aesthetic and physical picture. All three experts—architect, designer, and contractor—have specific focuses that are integral to creating the space of your dreams. Their roles overlap but are distinct:

– Contractors understand the ins and outs of renovation project management and technical execution (and, if they’re really good at what they do, they will have a good eye for aesthetics and pragmatism, as well!). They ensure that the actual building and finishing are done well (artfully and up to code) and on time.
– Architects understand how a space is best constructed for safety, harmony, and usefulness and what materials should go into that aspect of the renovation or building stage.
– Designers know how a space should flow and what decorative and practical details will yield the most effective use and presentation of a renovated shell.

So—how best to go about choosing an architect or designer for your residential remodel or addition? Here are a few tips.

1) Ask around.

Word of mouth often yields excellent leads when it comes to finding the designer or architect that’s right for you. Does a friend or professional acquaintance have a gorgeous space in their home? Does someone you know rave about their architect’s or designer’s amazing work? These sorts of comments are great starting points for your search. You may also want to check with your local chapter of the AIA for their recommendations. If you already have a renovation contractor in place, that firm should be able to tell you which architects and designers they have worked with successfully; your contractor may have particularly well-developed relationships with specific architects or designers, as well. Familiarity among team members can go a long way toward a smooth residential remodeling process.

2) Check the Internet.

Web searches using keywords can provide great results (and a chance to view a professional’s work and read pull-no-punches reviews). Home renovation websites like www.Houzz.com also offer search functions that allow you to narrow your results geographically or by a pro’s specialty or style.

3) Think about your priorities and desires for your home remodel or addition.

What sort of style and approach are you looking for in an architect or designer? Do you have specific needs you will be addressing—handicapped access, a small space, an urban or rural setting, a historic home, a particular space? What is your price point?

When considering a designer or architect, consider how he or she approaches a project. Is it about blending the work with existing décor or the landscape, or does the professional focus on making a splashy statement? Does the pro have a discernible style “fingerprint,” or is he or she comfortable with many styles? An architect or designer’s approach and style should be similar to your own. Regardless, your chosen pro should be able to listen and respond to you and should demonstrate a consistent level of quality. Your renovation contractor can often attest personally to a particular pro’s work style and consistency.

4) Do your research.

When starting a conversation with a potential architect or designer, make sure you’ve done some homework first. It helps to have pictures of styles and decorating schemes you like as a visual confirmation that you’re communicating your preferences clearly.

5) Communication matters.

It’s crucial that an architect or designer be genuinely interested in your home renovation project and goals. Not only what you want to do but why you want to do it—that’s a question any good pro should be asking you.

You should be given drawings, shown samples, and presented with storyboards and the like as your ideas take shape. Ask about zoning and other regulatory issues in your region. Is the pro fluent with these details?

Be sure to establish whom you will communicate with. Will it be the pro him- or herself, or an associate?

6) Understand the investment required.

An architect or designer may charge based on one, some, or all of the following: time, a project fee, a percentage of the project cost, the renovation project’s square footage, or unit cost (a residence’s number of rooms). Initially, total cost for a remodeling or addition project is tough to discern, so a professional may charge hourly. Your architect or designer may charge a retainer fee to begin work, as well.

You’ll work closely with your chosen architect or designer, so take the time to shop around and make sure that you truly like and trust your professional’s work. Adding these pros to your remodeling or building ensemble will give you peace of mind that every aspect of your renovation project will be up to snuff—legally, aesthetically, and logistically.