Architects and Designers: Spot the Difference

Residential Architect or Residential Designer?

A fellow Chamber member was surprised when I told her that Texas does not require an architectural seal for residential projects. (And I say that broadly, as I’m sure some jurisdictions might, depending on the type of project. I know Dallas would be fine if I left my seal off the drawings.) She simply assumed to design houses you needed to be a licensed architect.

Nope.

I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve seen project drawings from designers, design associates, designs studios, etc. Some good. Some not so good. Some really not so good.

Not to disparage designers. I know several people who despite having an architecture degree simply do not have a license for one reason or another. One person, in particular, was designing very high-end homes in Dallas and California when I was still in high school and could draw circles around some of the best. However, because he never completed his exams, he spent his career unlicensed.

Except after 40 years of practice, I still considered him an architect.

A licensed architect will typically possess a master’s degree in architecture; have completed a multi-year internship; and sat for and passed a series of exams administered by their state architecture board.

To be a residential designer, you simply call yourself that. You can have zero education. Or a degree. Or simply experience in one drafting class and you can hang out your shingle.

For the residential client, one must hope that the designer they hire is cognizant of building codes and various ordinances. That they understand structure and how buildings really go together. Know what an energy review requires. Or just have insurance should something go wrong.

Which means any client must do their homework and not be afraid to ask some basic questions:

  • Where did you graduate from?
  • Are you licensed and what’s your license number? (Any architect should be able to rattle that off in their sleep!)
  • How long have you been working in residential design? (Important to ask because not all architects are comfortable with residential projects. The head of one of the largest commercial practices in Dallas hired a residential architect for his home because he only knew commercial design.)
  • Are you insured?

And if there are any doubts about any of those answers, there’s always Google and the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners.

Because, as I told my fellow Chamber member, anyone can call themselves a residential designer.

Literally.

Anyone.

 

 

No One Said

I’ve been corresponding with an architecture student for the last few years following a chance meeting at the AIA conference in Orlando. He’s involved in a co-op program, so he’s been working off and on while pursuing his degree – well on his way to becoming an architect.

Except his most recent e-mail indicated his career trajectory was taking what most people would consider a turn for the worst.

At some point this past fall, during his study abroad semester in Germany, he reached the conclusion that he really didn’t want to be an architect. That despite his best efforts, architecture is not for him.

Did I mention he graduated in May?

I’m not sure how his parents are going to feel when he makes that announcement. However, I must give him props for not completely freaking out the moment he had the realization. Four plus years of school and work (or more) only to realize you should be doing something else? Most people would be devastated.

Except no one said he has to be an architect.

And that’s the hidden secret behind an architecture degree. So many opportunities are available that don’t follow a traditional architecture path. Off the top of my head I was able to mention three people I know that do anything but architecture with their degree.

Furniture design. Set design. Stained glass art. Videography. Business development. Computer animation. All are possible with an architecture degree.

And the list goes on and on.

If nothing else, he’s created a mindset that will see the world in different terms, no matter what he decides to do. He will appreciate the beauty of the environment he is in. And hopefully, his architecture background will have an influence in whatever he decides to do.

Besides, no one said he has to be an architect.

Although I’m sure his mom and dad would probably appreciate it.

The Road to Renovation Redux – Part 2

I Said I Wouldn’t

One of the biggest challenges architects and contractors face during the construction process is a daily visit by the client. Such a visit is often distracting for the contractor. There is also the likelihood that the client will give opposing directions to a subcontractor.

Simultaneously, architects may find themselves fielding more questions and/or complaints than originally planned. Clients living in the house during construction can sometimes make that worse, and on more than one occasion I have told the client they wouldn’t be living there. Easier for them. Easier for me. And easier for the contractor.

I vowed when we were getting ready to start construction that I would not become the client that swings by their house every day. After all, I had spent way too much time on the drawings, so nothing should come as a surprise. Not to mention having been through the process with numerous clients. Plus we were not going to be living next door or even down the street, so going by would not be convenient.

THEN, I looked at the dates on the construction photos I’ve been taking. June 1st. June 3rd. 6th. 10th. 11th. 19th.

Oops!

I would like to chalk my visits up to professional curiosity. Or a need to answer questions for the job superintendent. Or the opportunity to take some photos and share them with family and friends. However, James just rolled his eyes at any of those comments so I must now confess.

LP & SS.3
Larry with his very patient contractor.

I am that client. I said I wouldn’t, but I just can’t seem to help myself. I want to see how work is progressing. I want to see if what is on paper is what is happening at the job site. Are the spaces working? Is the shower big enough? Should we re-think any of the layout? Are they keeping the house secure?

You can laugh at me all you want. I’ve been doing the same. (Not to mention Holly and Laura.) Luckily I have a contractor who is understanding and takes everything with a grain of salt. And he knows full well that I’m going to continue dropping by.

Even though I said I wouldn’t.

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.

DSC07587
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.

Gym Thoughts

Because this is normal, right?

I made the courageous decision recently to dive off into the world of core exercises as part of my gym routine. Enough time had passed (4 years I think!) that I figured I’d better get on it while I could still stand up on my own.

Now if you’re married to an architect – or know someone who is – you know we don’t see the world quite like most people. I always tell people if you walk into a room and someone’s staring at the ceiling, they’re probably just an architect checking out the lighting. Don’t be alarmed.

Consequently, as I’m laying on the mat at my local Y, staring up at the ceiling, what do you suppose I think about? How many crunches I can do before being carted off in an ambulance? Will anyone notice if I cry a little? I don’t recall my abs hurting like this before. Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea?

ceiling
My view at the gym. Stunning!

Of course not.

I’m looking up at the ceiling and noticing they’ve used steel roof deck for the exposed ceiling. And now we’re off to the races.

“Did they fill the deck with lightweight concrete?”

“Or is there rigid foam insulation on top?”

“They must have run the electrical for the lighting inside the pans because the light fixtures are attached directly to the ceiling. Who had to lay all of that out? That’s a lot of time on a scissor lift.”

I would love to lie and say none of these thoughts shot through my mind. But I can’t. I’m an architect.

Besides – it’s better than worrying how big a scene I’m likely to create getting off the mat.

Maybe I’ll just lay there a little longer.

It Gets Better?

Isn’t that why it’s called a renovation?

Like most commuters, my drive to work takes me through the same neighborhoods over and over. And you become so accustomed to seeing the same buildings, that you can’t help but notice when one changes – for better or worse.

My current path takes me past an older house in Dallas that’s currently undergoing an exterior renovation. Not uncommon in Dallas. Not the least uncommon for this neighborhood.

Except that every time I go by, the house doesn’t look like it’s getting better. And for me, that’s not the direction you want to see a renovation heading.

RENOVATE

One of the first steps was to remove the windows on the west side that face the side yard with the busy street and cover the openings with more of the two-inch wood siding already on the house. Which means someone thought less light on that side of the house would be a good solution. True, you’ll cut down on the noise coming from the street. However, the 8-foot fence they erected in the side yard is probably taking care of most of that.

Next step? Paint it a bright, bright, BRIGHT color. Like lemon yellow. And not just lemon yellow, but neon lemon yellow. I’ve never driven by at night, but I just picture it glowing even in the dark. So much so you can probably see it from space.

Now there’s nothing wrong with a bright color. Bright colors can make a house pop. But the entire structure? Almost makes my face pucker every time I go by!

Finally – let’s put a concrete porch and steps with the requisite iron rail on the front of the house. The front of the house without any overhang that would indicate a porch goes there. And the front of the house with the gray door you hope is only primer.

I’m thinking there isn’t much left to do to the outside, but I could be wrong. Perhaps some landscaping? And I know I’ll never see the inside.

Maybe the house belongs to a developer who is just flipping and selling. Or maybe it belongs to someone with very specific tastes the contractor must meet.

Except it’s called a renovation. And it’s not getting better.

50

How did I get here?

Today I am 50.

And I’ve been pondering what that really means.

Initially I thought I’d just spend the day in a dark room, dressed in black, and wearing a veil. But then I realized while I am in fact a queen, doing that would require putting the word “drama” in front of it, and I don’t think I’m quite there yet.

Once upon a time 50 would have meant I’m on the downside towards retirement after having worked for the same company for 30 or 40 years. I would also most likely have been closeted and married with a few kids running around.

Oddly enough, while I’m certainly not closeted, I am married and do have two “kids” running around. Maybe not so much running as lazing. But you get the idea.

As for retiring – not even close. I have a husband who is really looking forward to a time where he can say goodbye to his job, eat bon-bons, and watch Oprah. I, however, have a hard time imagining myself not working. Maybe working less but still working.

When I was 18, I don’t know that I ever imagined being 50. And given some of the stupid things done in my youth, it’s a wonder I’ve made it this far. But I think we can all say that.

I certainly didn’t think I’d be an architect and working for myself. That possibility wasn’t even on the table.

And if you had told me that I’d be speaking at conferences across the US, I would have told you you’re nuts. Why would I subject myself to that? And what would I possibly talk about?

As for podcast hosting and blogging…we didn’t have the internet. Podcasting would have been radio. And blogging a column in a newspaper. Seems almost archaic!

Yet here I sit, hammering out this blog post on my birthday. And yes, while wearing a pair of readers – something that’s happening more and more often these days.

But it is my birthday, so for now, I’m going to close this out, relax, and just enjoy the day.

At least until a hip gives out.