Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Designer vs. Homeowner

One day, sitting in the office playing solitaire, we were rudely interrupted by the phone ringing.  On the other end is a potential client who absolutely loves one of our plans and would like us to make a few minor modifications.  Since they live 15 minutes away, we are willing to take a look.  Generally we don't offer this service for out of towners because of the distance gap.  Strangely, communication gaps grow exponentially to distance gaps.  But being close by means we can meet in person and see the hand gestures that generally accommodate limited similar vocabularies.

We offer to meet the potential client at a local coffee shop, buy them a drink, and go over their ideas.

When we arrive we are hesitantly surprised to meet the client (a couple) and a mother of one of them.  Also in attendance is a friend or college roommate, or maybe it was a friend's college roommate.  In any event, they are the interior designer.

Things look stickier than raw honey already.

Also in attendance is a 3" notebook that appears to be full of photos, design ideas, and several copies of our plan with different colors of ink all across them.  After introductions are made, the first plan comes out.

"We thought about taking this one, removing the windows from the obvious locations, and putting in weirdly sized windows where they don't make sense.  Over here, we'd like to remove this entire bearing wall and not have any posts in the way.  The idea on this one was to expand the second floor by 800sf without touching the first floor.  How much can we cantilever?"

The mother-in-law chimes in about her room.  We end up arguing with the interior designer who knows nothing about shear and load-bearing.  Finally we say we'll make some adjustments and see how it goes.  Everybody leaves pretty sure that the job is not going to happen.  We're out about $12.

An open letter to potential homeowners:

Dear potential homeowner;

Thank you for choosing an Istockhouseplans design.  We are pleased that we could design a plan that meets your exacting eye for beauty and function.  However, if you would like some changes to the plan, we suggest a quiet meeting with just you and us so that we can figure out your basic needs.  If we end up spending more time modifying the plan than we did designing and drawing it, you're probably better off having a custom home designed from the start.  Please consider a design from scratch that uses one of our plans as inspiration.  We tend to be very strict about the homes we design and sell.  If your plan ends up being a 3 story neo-modern with a 4 car attached garage, we can recommend a couple of other designers that could help you out.  Having us design that style of house is akin to getting a taco at McDonald's.  It won't be what you expect and we will struggle to make it happen.

Thank you


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Designer vs. Builder

"In this corner coming in at a lean 180 pounds and sporting a 3-button mouse is... The Designer!  His house plans have sold nationwide but he has a beef so he has called his opponent into the ring."

"And in this corner weighing in at 205 and wielding a framing nailer is... The Builder!  He has built houses nationwide and accepts the challenge by the designer."

"Let's get ready to rumble!"

Opponents?  Maybe and maybe not.  Let's look in a little closer...

Designer: "I very specifically drew out the dimensions for this tipout and you ignored it completely."

Builder: "Are you crazy?  Have you ever tried to build something like that?  It was too much work."

D: "How will you set this house apart and make it look good?"

B: "I thought that was your job."

D: "I did my job and you ignored it."

B: "Too much time for the payout.  Maybe I'll paint the house light brown with dark brown trim."

Designer then tries to whip Builder with the mouse.  Builder fires a few nails into the mouse and renders it ineffective.  Both contestants leave the ring.

A draw?  No, a lack of communication.  In our experience we have found that designers and builders rarely (want to) discuss plans beyond the price tag.  Those that have discussed plans are usually wanting to strip the house down to a bare square.  The designer does the work because he is getting paid, but often against his values because he is being asked to design the wow factor out of the house.

Or perhaps it is a technical issue.  The designer specifies to start joist layout at a particular point in order to avoid plumbing issues.  The builder spaces evenly from the corner because it's easy and then gets mad at the designer for putting the toilet right there.  "But I specified the second joist to be 10" away from the corner, not 16".  "That messes up the plywood, besides it's not typical practice."

What to do?  How about encourage open discussion?  Every plan we sell, we ask the builder if we can discuss some of the points of it and why we did certain things.  Sometimes a few bits and pieces are dependent on a single item.  If that single item gets changed, the rest of the dynamic crumbles.  So we want to alert the builder to such issues.  No, not all plans are designed the same.  It doesn't matter how many years you've been building.

What would really be ideal is for the builder to invite the designer out the job site.  This accomplishes two things.  First, the builder better understands what the designer had in mind.  Second, the designer gets exposure to the job site and sees and learns how certain elements are put together and how particular builders tend to approach problems.  The designer might also be able to suggest an immediate solution if something nosedives.  Understandably, the designer should be in the office to conduct business.  But if builders can be mobile, why not designers?  With a laptop, car charger, and a cell phone, the designer could conduct business from on the road.  Camp out at a jobsite for a few days, take orders and process them via wireless, offer solutions with realtime speed.  Then off to another jobsite, bouncing around the lower east side for a few weeks before taking some time to support builders on the middle west side.  Hit the northern burbs, then the next county, and get a good circuit going.  You might even be the next preacher of the Gospel of harmony!

At Istockhouseplans we are happy to offer this service for free.  And we know about a lot more than just design.  We can help with onsite solutions for energy efficiency and building durability.  And as a program ally of Energy Trust of Oregon we can assist with getting your details right to get the biggest incentive possible.