House Design – Part One

Last week and this week were exciting for us. We met with our architect, Cheryl, twice and received the first set of rough drawings from her at the second meeting.

There was a lot of anticipation for these meetings and a lot of pressure to clearly communicate what our vision is, our budget, etc. The document we sent her prior was meant to communicate those things, but of course she still had tons of questions for us after seeing it. For example, in the document we completely failed to ever mention how many bedrooms and bathrooms we wanted! Duh. Rolling-eye-emoji.

So the first meeting was all about clarifying those details and nailing down the really important stuff/non-negotioables. It is so tricky to be specific and decisive while also leaving enough space for the architect to be able to be creative and make the magic happen. But she was so encouraging throughout the meeting, and right away we felt comfortable and like we were in very capable and experienced hands.

And then, Cheryl had a few questions for us via email in between the two meetings that made us slightly nervous that she hadn’t understood our overall goals. Mike in particular was worried, and I tried to reassure him that she was probably asking these particular questions in order to rule out certain possibilities, not because she necessarily wanted to put those elements in the design. It all had to do with where the chimney for the wood stove was coming up through the roof and how that translated to the main floor layout, and it turned out there was an easy solution that made us all happy in the end.

An architect’s time is expensive, and we have a set budget for how much we can afford for her to do, so there is always a fear that we’ll inadvertenly say something that will cause her to go off course and we’ll spend all our money getting things back on track. But as it turned out, Cheryl understood us perfectly.

At the second meeting, Cheryl had the first rough daft of the layout for us, and together we all went over every detail. She drew on the plans in red ink to clarify what each space was.

As we made our way through each layer of the design, I was getting more and more excited and all I could think was, “I hope Mike is loving this as much as I do!” He had a poker face and I couldn’t tell what he was thinking. But to me, it was clear that Cheryl had hit it out of the park on the very first try.

She completely resolved all the questions and problems we kept encountering when we had attempted to come up with a layout ourselves, and she had achieved an open floor plan that still had defined spaces within–exactly what we wanted.

She also somehow fit three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a huge mudroom, a screen porch, a big kitchen/dining room with a walk-in pantry and a breakfast nook, and a study/guestroom into a 2,300 sq ft house (and she thinks we can get it even smaller if we want, which we do). That is some kind of wizardry right there.

I am chuckling at all those red scribbles…

When we got through the main floor and upper floor, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I needed to know if Mike was as happy as I was. He must have been wondering the same thing, because he beat me to it.

“How are you feeling so far?” he asked.
“Um, I love it. I’m feeling great! Can we move into it today? What do you think about it?” I asked, hoping it wasn’t awkward that we were doing this in front of Cheryl.
“Yeah, it’s amazing.” Mike said. PHEW! I was scared there for a second that maybe we were on two completely different pages. Turning to Cheryl he said, “You solved every problem we kept coming up against when we tried to do this ourselves.”

Cheryl looked happy to hear our feedback, but wanted to continue through the rest of the drawings before discussing too much, so onward we went, barely containing our excitement.

We talked about elevation, the site, the yards, the future garden, the basement, the driveway, the garage, the future barn, etc. but all I wanted to do was keep staring at the main floor layout, imagining our life in that perfect house.

But, to hit our budget for building this thing and also for the sake of getting a slightly smaller house that will be easier to clean and exclude any extra spaces we don’t really need, we do need to edit this first design down a little. We began that process with Cheryl at this meeting and right away there were a few really obvious edits that cut the square footage down without changing much about the design.

Cheryl took our edits home with her and will be drawing up the second daft of the design this week. Our next meeting is Wednesday and will likely be out at the building site, nailing down the exact location of the house and garage, the yards, etc. Cheryl will be bringing a model of the house with her, and thinks we’ll be at the point where we can bring the design to a builder to get a rough estimate within a couple weeks.

And just for reference, because I think there is often a misconception that working with an architect is only for really big projects/really expensive homes, getting to this point in the process has cost us about $1200. Not only do we feel that is extremely fair, we feel like we have gotten every cent of value so far.

The key is finding an architect who is willing to work on an “a la carte” type basis rather than only offering complete work-ups and nothing less. We could never afford a complete work-up, and quite honestly (and Cheryl confirmed this), much of what is included in one is unnecessary when you have a competent builder doing your project.

I’ll do an update after our next meeting!

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