Your New Home Design: What to Expect


Collaboration between the architect and client is the single most important aspect of the design process.  The best projects result from clients who want to be engaged in having an architect help them see the opportunities and potential of what their project can be, beyond their imagination.  It is never my intention to impose my own design style on a project, instead I want clients to be creative partners with me so they can have shared ownership of the final design.  Below is a summary of the steps you can expect during the design process…..

1.  Programming:  Listening Exercise

Programming is when you’ll meet with me to discuss all of your goals and requirements for your new home.  Here the scope, style, features, and functionality are defined.  Together we will develop and refine a vision for your project.  Based on our discussions I will create a written program document to use as a roadmap for all future design decisions.  It’s at this time that we would also gather information on your building site, and code/zoning research, including local, state, and DNR requirements. 

In addition, we will begin to define the project timeline and budget for your project.

Typically the costs of constructing a custom home can vary from $250 per square foot to $500+, depending on the size, structure, and materials.

At this point, you should be prepared to discuss:

  1. What works well in your current house and what would you change.

  2. Overall size of the project.

  3. Your budget expectations.

  4. Your ideal move-in timeline.

  5. Some examples of designs that you like.  Houzz and Pinterest are great resources.

  6. Is there a property survey?

2.  Schematic Design:  Problem Solving

At the start of the design phase, I will analyze the site’s conditions and develop preliminary ‘rough’ sketched plan options (usually 2 to 3).  At this point it’s better to think more broadly than getting caught up with details like appliance locations or colors.  I will typically create a basic 3D computer model as a tool to help you visualize building massing and interior spaces.  We will begin to determine the type and quality level of finishes. 

Finding a Builder:  During this time we will begin the search for a Builder, which we want to engage with to develop realistic budget goals.  I have a list of preferred builders that I can recommend, based on the type of project and your location.  I strongly prefer to work with builders I have used in the past because I have found that working with builders that the client has chosen without my input (the “I know a guy” type) result in project complications, delays, lack of communication, and other issues that result in additional headaches for you and I both.  Quality builders are organized, have set schedules, show up on time, are great communicators, and have great relationships with reliable subcontractors.  My preferred builders understand how to work with architects, especially the importance of talking through potential problems to find a solution together, before they get out of hand.  It is also important to understand that you get what you pay for, in that a quality builder will usually come with a higher price-point.

3.  Design Development:  Getting into the Details

Once we have a strong design concept with the overall plan and massing determined, I will continue to develop the plans, adding more detail, and making decisions on construction methods and materials.  We start to get into details like kitchen and bath fixture layouts.  A structural engineer will be engaged to advise with structural system types and strategies.  We will also ask the Builder for a cost estimate at the end of the Design Phase, before entering into Construction Documents.

Interior Design:  It is in this phase in which we will start exploring product and material selections, including flooring, tile, countertops, backsplashes, plumbing fixtures, lighting, door hardware, and colors.  My approach to interior design is highly integrated into the overall building design process.  Material selections are critical to the overall design direction and often inform the drawing detail development early on.  My goal is to set the tone with overall material choices (for example, wood floors, stone accent walls, etc.) and involve an Interior Designer to help with specific product, fixture, and hardware selections if necessary.  An Interior Designer is a great resource who has a wealth of knowledge on specific products and materials, and the ability to coordinate your aesthetic preferences into a cohesive whole.  I will typically insist on reviewing all of the Interior Designer’s selections to insure everything is working together to support the overall design strategy.  I can recommend Interior Designers that I really enjoy working with. 

A typical drawing set at this stage will consist of:

  1. Site plan showing the house placement on the site and related outdoor features

  2. Interior floor plans

  3. 3D renderings

  4. Exterior elevations

  5. Building sections 

4.  Construction Documents:  Writing the Instruction Manual

At this phase of the project, major design decisions will be made, and I will transform the design drawings into detailed documents used by the builder for construction.  Material and fixture selections will be finalized in this phase.  A typical CD set will consist of:

  1. Proposed site plan

  2. Foundation plan, floor plans and roof plan

  3. Electrical/lighting plan

  4. Exterior building elevations

  5. Building and wall sections

  6. Wall types and details

  7. Interior elevations

5.  Bidding, Negotiation, and Permitting

Justin will assist the Builder during this phase to clarify any questions from the bidders for the project.   The Builder will finalize the construction costs and you will enter into a construction agreement with the Builder.  During this time we will apply for permits from local municipalities for exterior design review, a building permit, mechanical permits, etc.  This usually requires a few weeks.

6.  Construction Contract Administration:  The Construction Phase

Once the Builder starts work, the architect’s role is not diminished.  I prefer to be fairly involved during this part of the process.  There can be a lot going on behind the scenes, such as the Builder calling me with questions or clarifications, or needing to troubleshoot with the Builder when issues arise.  I will typically engage in weekly or bi-weekly site visits to the project to check on progress and be available to talk through construction questions.  During this phase I will also review and approve subcontractor shop drawings and mock-up samples as needed.  As the end of construction, I will do a final walkthrough with you and the Builder to verify completions and create a punch list of outstanding items.

Architectural Fee

Typical residential architect design fees range from 5% to 20% of the final cost of construction of the home (excluding land costs).  Our fees generally fall in the middle, but also depend on the complexity of the project. 

We primarily use a fee based on percentage of cost of construction because:

  1. It is the most common fee structure for this type of architectural work and typically reflects a fair comparable hourly rate for the architect to complete the project, allowing for some flexibility for both the client and architect.

  2. It provides incentive for the architect to stay in the client’s budget because we will be responsible for redesigning the project to get costs down without charging you additional fees.  And it provides some relief to the architect if the client adds to the scope of the project.

  3. The size and complexity of a building is typically related to cost, meaning the fee would increase based on how complex the house is to design.

We are open to other fee structures and are willing to work with you to find a solution you are comfortable with.  Justin Racinowski Design will invoice for work monthly based on work completed and will include reimbursable expenses.  Payments are due thirty days from the date of the invoice. 

Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions, I would love to talk further about working with you. 

- Justin Racinowski

Justin Racinowski