The Road to Renovation Redux – Part 1

An Architect’s Home

With several clients heading down the road to their own renovation, I thought I’d reach back into my past and re-share my personal experience with renovating a house. My house. Well – mine and James’ house. It’s hard to believe that we finished the work almost four years ago, and that we managed to not bury either of us in the process. HGTV makes the work look pretty easy, but the reality is that every project has its own challenges – from the extent of work being done to normal day to day life that add its own special stress.

Join me as I step back over the next few months and delve back into The Road to Renovation, beginning with this post: An Architect’s Home.

Most professionals will tell you not to do business with friends or family. Things never work out well. So what do you do when it’s both?

After ten years in our home, and a remodel to the front half in 2004, my husband, James, and I decided the time had come to finally change the rest and create a Master Suite we both could enjoy. Our old Master Bath was barely big enough for one with just a shower, toilet, and pedestal sink. And the Master Closet was so small the closet rod supporting James’ clothes collapsed one day under the weight.

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One galley Kitchen. Two people. Two dogs. Christmas cookies everywhere. Not sure how we ever did it.

If we had only stopped there.We started the initial project in January of 2012, and here we are at the end of May 2014 and we’re finally to the point of starting construction. What started as a simple addition to the Master Bedroom to create a true Master Suite morphed into a second floor to house the Master Suite and Office and a reconfiguration to turn the existing Guest Bedroom into a Laundry with Garage access.

News came in early 2013 that James would be working from home full time, so we ditched that idea, went back to our original addition plan, and added an office, guest room, and bath on a second floor.

Dealing with bids, lenders, and appraisers ultimately resulted in a much simpler project, still giving us what we need, but not overdoing it. As an architect, watching clients dream bigger than their budget is not unusual.

Amazing how much you ignore that with your own project when you’re the one telling your spouse “No.”

GUEST BATH 02
We didn’t even get the cool 1950s pink tile with an accent trim. Just blue and brown fish scattered around the tub.

At one point we were even having “the-cobbler’s-children-have-no-shoes” moment, and my “client” was getting fussy about getting drawings done and construction started. In that moment, I thought of just hiring a friend to finish the drawings. However, I knew I’d find the time somewhere between dealing with my own clients and running a practice to “pop out” some drawings.

And it only took two years.

Check back in as we start down the road on our renovation. Please try not to laugh as I get to experience this as both the client and the architect. And learn firsthand if I can do business with friends and family – even when it’s me.

Live and Learn

Old dog? New tricks? Maybe.

The first architect I worked for never understood how other architects could refuse to look at new products and new processes for construction. In 30+ years of practice, she always felt there was something new to learn. Architecture is an evolving profession, and why limit oneself to the way work has been done for the last 100 years?

To that end, I’ve just gone through one of those learning experiences and am still processing what to take away.

A contractor contacted me recently to assist with assembling a bid for one of his past clients. While I am quite accustomed to working on bidding from the client/architect side, being the one responsible for finding subcontractors, answering questions, interpreting drawings, etc. really gave me a new perspective.

First and foremost, I had to separate myself as an architect from what I was seeing as I reviewed the drawing set. Flipping through the pages and saying “I wouldn’t have drawn it that way” wasn’t going to get me where I needed to go. However, having an architect’s eye allowed me to ask some questions to help clarify issues before the subs came to me asking what to do and how to bid.

Second, I have a new appreciation for finding the right subcontractors, especially when you’re looking at an aspect you’re not familiar with. In this instance, locating the right company to handle soil retention as the excavator dug down right along the property line was a challenge. Luckily, I was able to get some referrals and then track them down via Google. Which makes me wonder how anyone did this in the “old days.”

Not to mention the frustration of tracking down a particular product from a particular vendor – even with the manufacturer directing you who to call. I have yet to figure out if the companies I contacted are really busy, or if they’re not interested in providing the one door the project needed. Either way, three weeks after finally reaching someone, I still don’t have a number.

Which brings me to the last thing I learned about – allowances. I’m gaining a new appreciation for the word “allowance.” And for contractor’s having to place those in their bids. In the past, I’ve looked at allowances and wondered why that hadn’t been worked out already. The contractor has had plenty of time. The drawings were pretty straightforward. What’s the issue?

However, as I worked through this project, I have been required to list what should be firm bids as allowances. For example, the steel supplier/fabricator provided his best guess as of that day. With new tariffs going into effect, he could not guarantee that steel costs wouldn’t increase, especially by the time he began his work. And I experienced the same with the concrete sub. Dallas is a busy market, and we’ve seen concrete in the past jump 30% within one year.

We’re still rounding up a few estimates, so we can present what is essentially the best guess to the client. So my experience isn’t complete.

But I can recall telling interns that what I was asking them to do was a “learning experience.” Which they often took as code for “you’re going to hate doing this.”

However, after 20 years of practice, I’m having a learning experience. And finding out that’s not such a bad thing.

All in the Details

Or lack thereof

Lately I have found myself grousing to other architects, contractors, my husband – well basically anybody – about how much I am missing drawing details.

Many moons ago, when I was but a wee intern, projects never reached a contractor without the detailing worked out. I can remember one of my first tasks was to pick up redlines on a sheet of door details. Door details? People really need those?

But now? Clients seem more interested in getting the price they want than having completed drawings. Perhaps as we’ve moved away more and more from hand drawings and into computer modeling, people do not feel the need. If you’ve drawn it in 3D, how many details do you really need?

I can recall the contractDOOR DTLSor on the very first project I was a part of commenting that he had not seen a set of drawings with that many details. Just the cabinet detailing alone occupied six or seven sheets. However, I cannot recall the last time I drew a cabinet section for a project.

Not that we need to. Instead of detailed shop drawings coming from the millwork shop, we get whatever elevations and plans the shop’s CNC software produces. And somehow, we’re supposed to review and approve what’s being built based on just that.

Maybe I’m just getting old and grumpy. But I did tell one of the contractors I work with that the next set would have everything worked out before he even thought about starting construction. Cabinet section. Door details. Moulding profiles. Everything right there on the sheets for everyone to see.

And hopefully someone will actually look at them.

 

And We’re Back!

So much for regularly scheduled programming..

For anyone who has figured out how to blog weekly, much less daily, then kudos to you! And can you tell me how to do it?

For the past few months I’ve been telling myself I needed to write a post. Write a post. WRITE A POST!

But that didn’t really work. With all the other normal architect things happening (construction , documents for another client, and trying to work out an addition on a site with an angled property line) I found myself pushing off any writing. Besides, I was frantically prepping to speak in Virginia. Wasn’t that enough writing?

Which means here we are in December with me finally taking a breath to think about what to write. And what not to write. I even had an incident the week of Thanksgiving that I thought would make a great post.

So I would say hang on to your hats, but I don’t know many people who wear hats anymore. Hang on to your man-bun perhaps?

The Big Gay Architect is off to the races. And this time he’ll try not to wait so long between posts!

Twenty Years On

For some reason, time and milestones have been on my mind a lot lately. Some would say this is some sort of “mid-life crisis” thing given that I turned 49 a few months ago. But I swear I had my mid-life crisis back when I was 17. Or perhaps that was just a teen angst type of event.

No matter. I have been really cognizant of time, starting with my one-year work anniversary in July. And coming around on January 1st, the ten-year anniversary of the firm I helped start in 2008.

But what I’ve been most aware of lately is today’s date. August 18th. Because today marks 20 years working in architecture. Twenty years.

When I decided a thousand years ago to quit my job and finish my architecture degree, I wasn’t thinking about architecture becoming my career. I just wanted to finish my degree so I could do something I enjoyed; something I was interested in.

Yet here we are. And I have a career.

How did that happen?

I think of my father, who spent 37 years working for Bell Helicopter, and in my time growing up I never thought of him as having a career. He had a job.  Because that’s what his generation did. You found a job, and you stayed with that job until you retired.

And I can count on one hand the number of firms I’ve worked for, including my own.

By contrast, the intern I’ve been mentoring has had two jobs in the last four years. I know that’s becoming the norm, for the younger generation to move jobs every two to three years.

But when their twentieth year rolls around, will they look back and see that time as a career? Or will they simply think of architecture as just another job that they’ll leave again in a few years to go on to the next?

Either way, I hope they enjoy their time as much as I’ve enjoyed mine. And look back and not regret the path they’ve taken.

Of course, by then, they’ll be on their way to 50. And wondering where all that time went.

LEED Platinum My Hiney!

And no, this has nothing to do with my rear end

I currently office (when did that become a verb?) in a building that is LEED Platinum certified.

Well somebody spank me! Not only is the building LEED certified. But it’s Platinum. You want to touch me, right?

While I’m sure that would be just lovely, I will be the first to tell you that in spite of the giant plaque on the wall, this building couldn’t possibly be LEED certified. Or if it was, the certification lasted for about 10 minutes.

Then someone turned the air on.

Swing by here any time of the bIMG_2770usiness day, and you can watch two doors in the main lobby open and almost close on a continual basis. And when I say almost close, I mean just that. The outer door will almost shut, then the inner door pops open and the cycle starts again.

The air conditioning system is so out of balance that the doors only really close on the weekend when the magnetic locks kick in. And even then it’s only the outer door. The inner door still swings open, seemingly sad that his friend on the outside won’t join in the fun.

And I will refrain from discussing the loud whistling sound on the weekend as the air forces itself out between the gaps in the doors.

I wish I could remember when sustainability and certification became a thing. I do remember the firm that shared space with my old firm (I almost said “officed” – again, a verb?) had become one of the top – if not the top – firms in LEED consulting. And that was a big thing.

And I do remember having conversations with clients about sustainability and how we could make their projects “green.” At least until they saw the cost.

Writer Thomas Friedman commented in his keynote at the AIA conference in 2011 that architects need to get away from the idea of green building as a novelty. We’ve become so focused on sustainability and LEED buildings as a promotable concept instead of simply including green design in the normal course of our work.

Instead we encourage the idea of sustainable design as a badge of honor. “Our office? Oh, it’s LEED certified.”

Sort of.

That Was Fast!

Now what?

I remember being told as a kid that the older you get the faster time goes. Like every kid I thought “What a crock!” Especially as we got closer and closer to summer vacation.

But today marks a year since I left my partners at HPD Architecture.

And it’s gone by like that!

For some reason, I’ve been expecting to have some epiphany or reaction to the fact that a year has passed. Yet as I sit here and write, I’m realizing that isn’t coming.

It’s been a year. There have been good moments and bad moments. And everything in between.

Do I feel better? Yes. I’ve stopped stress eating, and I go to the gym. Which means I’ve lost weight. I find that I sleep better as well.

Do I regret leaving? No. Leaving was probably the best thing I could have done from both a mental and physical health perspective. Should I have left sooner? Probably. But woulda shoulda coulda.

Do I regret the 8-1/2 years with HPD? Not at all. The experience was invaluable, not just for what I learned about the business of architecture but what I learned about myself. I can safely say I’m not the person or the architect I was in 2008.

My perspective on architecture has changed. How I deal with clients has changed. I’m involved in my community – both personal and professional. I’m speaking at conferences. I’m involved with AIA National.

Am I doing what I had planned on or expected? No. I hadn’t expected to start another practice as I was planning my departure. However, fate intervened, and I decided the best option was to just go with it. When fate gives you the finger…

People talk about how great it is to be your own boss. And that does have its moments. I think what’s been best (and perhaps here is the epiphany) is feeling I only need to answer to myself. I’m not busy juggling everyone else’s business and/or drama. If something doesn’t get done or doesn’t happen, the buck stops with me. And I have control of that.

So a year has passed.

Now where the hell did the time go?