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On Process: The Homeowner’s Role in Design + Build

by Tyson Leyendecker - July 29th, 2015
Posted in: Design, Home Improvement, Remodeling

A guest post by on the design-build process by Tyson Leyendecker with Remodelers Council member Silent Rivers Design+Build, based in Clive, Iowa.

In the design+build process, the client’s role can be wide and varied, or very specific. But it’s critical that the client is always more than just the person with the problem and the money. There are must-have conversations and opportunities for client input and involvement from the first conversation to the last finishing touches of the project.

Sometimes a client will hire a designer because they want nothing to do with the design and construction of their project. But more frequently it is because they are having difficulty finding a voice to the vision they have for their home. An integrated approach usually yields the best results. So, how can the client make the design+build process something truly special?

By being honest.

A Silent Rivers designer collaborated with an owner to envision and deliver this resort-like indoor pool.

A Silent Rivers designer collaborated with an owner to envision and deliver this resort-like indoor pool.

Heart of the Remodel
At Silent Rivers, we believe that “design+build” represents only two legs of the proverbial stool. Our clients form the third and most important leg. Louis Sullivan, an architect and the mentor of Frank Lloyd Wright, once said, “Form (ever) follows function.” It is for this reason a designer needs their client to be engaged during the design phase of the project. We want our clients to be as direct as they can be about what they like and don’t like about their homes, about what works and what doesn’t. This allows the designer to get to the heart of what the client would like to change or create.

We find it is common for our clients to have difficulty in explaining exactly what is bothering them or to describe their vision for their home. That’s when the designer takes the lead and asks more questions to guide the discussion. Once these issues are clarified, the client and designer can begin the collaborative process of defining the finished project and how it will bring beauty to the home.

In Progress
As the home’s functional needs are addressed, the designer will start to explore the universe of possibilities for the build plan and the finishes that will go into the final project.  Clients are involved in this process and should be forthright about what is being presented to them. As designers, we are trained to have a thick skin and will frequently put products or designs in front of a client with the intent of discovering their boundaries and individual style. The designer should be prepared to hear “no” to some of the possibilities, and the client shouldn’t feel like they have to compromise on every selection. The biggest mistake that a client can make is waiting until the project is complete to voice opinions.

Budget Zone
The project budget absolutely needs to be defined early on in the process. This is sometimes the most uncomfortable aspect for a client to discuss.  At Silent Rivers we refer to this as the project “investment” because that’s really what it is. The money that the client is going to put into the design and construction is based on value – the monetary increase in property value, but more importantly, the value of being happier in their home and how that positively impacts their daily lives. Being straightforward about what they want to invest enables the designer to develop a budget-appropriate design that is customized for the client’s project vision. By being open about the investment range, the client and designer can avoid the dreaded words “value engineering” which really mean “taking out things the client really wants.”

Build Phase
Finally, in the design+build process it is important for the client to stay engaged during construction.  If they see something they are unsure of, or would like to change, they should be vocal about it with the field staff or the designer. Once construction has started, it is much easier to make modifications as they are happening rather than when they are finished. The entire design+build process is designed to reduce the possibility of buyer’s remorse. Through open conversations during the design and the build phases of the project, the team can work to achieve this goal.

By staying engaged and collaborating with the designer about function, aesthetics, and investment, the client allows the design+build firm the best chance to provide the highest service they can. The culmination is a happy client with a home that they will be able to enjoy for years to come.

Tyson Leyendecker is a Silent Rivers designer with a background in commercial architecture and special knowledge of the design+build process. He collaborates closely with clients while creating plans that inspire, helping owners navigate through the design process, and working to enhance each day spent in their homes. The original, unedited version of this article may be found at www.silentrivers.com.

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