Do I Really Need to Hire a Designer?

Well,  that depends on your expectations…. I could list a long rant about years of training, practice and construction experience, but I’m not going to. Instead, I will tell you about some interesting DIY  and “undesigned” solutions I have seen in a variety of situations.

Like the unexpected effect of not being able to open the door after cladding the two steps leading from the kitchen to the side entry in slate. The solution? No, they did not remove the stone. Instead they cut the corner off the bottom step to enable the door to swing freely. Hmmm….

Or, the newly installed ceiling fan which whipped holes in the drywall covering the sloped ceilings. Ooops…. The (hopefully temporary) solution this time was to not use the fan at all.

Another time, the shower floor had been clad in tile. When you stepped on it, the floor flexed, oddly enough, with the result that the mortar joints crumbled and the water seeped down into the sub-floor. Just lovely…. The required shower pan had for some reason been omitted!

On another DYI site I visited, I noted a door near the bottom of a stair that curved 90 degrees to the left. The odd thing about it was that the door was not located as a destination at the end of the stairs – no, it led out into a 24” or so drop behind the wall. The only reason I could possibly think of was that perhaps they needed that opening in order to bring larger pieces of furniture that wouldn’t fit through the curving part of the stairs, to the upper level. Even so, it looked incredibly awkward! If that was the answer, there were of course a number of other, more palatable options that would have achieved the same goal, but likely were never considered. A door is a door is a door…… right? Or is it…?

Another favorite is the guy that found windows on sale at Home Depot. Having seen his plans, I asked where exactly he was planning on putting these windows. He figured he’d put them on the west-facing wall. Only problem was that that’s where he had built a giant walk-in closet. Considering that the now blocked western view was a lovely expanse of grass and trees, turning golden in the light of the setting sun, the decision to waste that valuable feature on the placement on a closet was an odd one in itself. In addition, it defies common practice to put windows in closets, as exposure to sunlight causes your clothing to fade. Which, of course, rendered the purchase of these windows a complete waste of money. So much for a bargain, huh…

In another instance, there was a 3’ x 4’ shower, clad from top to bottom in dark slate. It could have been nice, except there wasn’t enough light to really see it. As it was, despite the use of relatively expensive materials, it felt kind of like taking a shower in a narrow crawl space. In addition, another concern for me would have been that soap scum can be hard to remove from the uneven, relatively brittle surface of slate. Definitely not the best material for a shower wall….

Then there was the do-it-yourselfer who wanted a spiral staircase leading down into his workspace in the basement. After he had sawn a hole in the floor, it dawned on him (or more so on his furious wife) that the hole provided a potentially deadly hazard as one moved from the elaborate entryway into the two-story main living space. A make-shift railing was promptly installed, which incidentally, remains an eyesore to this day.

And, of course, the guy who miscalculated where the floor of the new addition would meet that of the existing house. The result is a 3.5” half-step along the entire joint. He reports that he has gotten used to it. I can only feel happy for him – it would drive me crazy!

Or, consider the renovated master bathroom that, upon entering, sported a side view of the toilet straight ahead – right in front, as you open the door. Did space restrictions warrant this solution? No, there was ample space, but this was the way the contractor had planned it. The same bathroom had wood trim that suddenly stopped in an incongruous manner, giving it the look of an unfinished thought – thus making it painfully obvious that this was indeed a real hack job.

So, what is there to learn from this? Is being a contractor the same as being a designer? No, not usually, although there are notable exceptions, for example design-build firms which of course, do both. I would err on the side of caution here. The good contractors usually realize their limitations, and will tell you to seek the advice of a professional when figuring out the new layout and dealing with the quirky little details that often surface with the remodeling of older houses. Others plow right ahead, assemble something that works, and leave. Design, it is not! (Say that in a Yoda voice.) The sad thing is, that whether you like it or not, you’ve now spent your money on both labor and materials. With the help of a designer, you would still have spent that money (or perhaps even less) but the result would have been much less cumbersome, and likely quite a bit more functional, cohesive and attractive.

But what about doing it yourself? After all, you spent all of last summer watching all these shows on HGTV, and gathered tons of ideas! Well, if you think that watching TV, no matter how intently, will provide you with a worthy substitute for a college education and subsequent practice –  if you feel absolutely confident you can do it – by all means, go ahead. You can always call in a designer if you get stuck, right? You may think I’m kidding, but you would be surprised how often this happens. Usually, you get the call when the work is already well under way.  Walls have been torn out, materials are on order, and – in some cases – divorce papers filed. Can we help? Of course we can! Truth be known, most of us would rather have helped you before you were in a pinch. Just about anything can be changed, but reversals too, come with a price. And this time, it’s even more painful, because you’re paying to undo something you already paid for once. Revisions are obviously always cheaper on paper, so at this point the real question is – can you still afford it? By now, so much of your budget may have been spent that you don’t have much wiggle room left. Even if you can afford to make the changes needed to ensure your happiness, you will probably always resent the fact that it happened in the way that it did.

Remodeling will always bring a measure of stress, and the feeling of helplessness as you’re facing galloping costs that you weren’t anticipating, is not exactly blissful. Even if money is not an issue, remodeling is stressful simply because it involves change – often dramatic change.

The gist of this post is to point out that hiring qualified professionals can save you money in the same mundane way that changing the oil regularly in your car can. It ensures a relative peace of mind, and avoids large, remedial expenditures later. An architect or designer can point out the snags you may not be able to foresee, and he or she will make sure that the end result is what you and yours desired in the first place.

The most optimal answer to your quest may not be the most obvious solution – it may in fact be something completely unexpected. The most exclusive benefit of working with a designer, is that they are trained to look beyond the obvious to find the solution that works best for you and your situation. It is this informed creativity that sets us apart from most contractors and do-it-yourselfers. The vision and know-how to go beyond the obvious, provides the most inherent value of using our services. The contractor that built the bathroom mentioned above, no doubt provided a solution – just not a good solution. So, are our services worth the money? Again, it depends on your expectations. If your only goal is to slap together something that works – probably no. If your aim is to improve your quality of life, and optimize how your space responds to your individual needs, then it’s a really good idea to talk to one of us. What about fees – are we expensive? Weighed against the multifaceted values that you will gain by consulting our expertise, and allow us to guide you, the answer is no. This professional guidance can happen on many levels – from the very basic, to the very comprehensive. There will be a separate post on levels of design and their corresponding fees in the next day, or two.

Lastly, over the life of a project, it’s important to know that design fees occur early in the process. Because they occur when the physical transformation has not yet started, it may seem to some that they are paying a lot for nothing. This feeling is deceptive. The inherent value of a well designed project will reveal itself as construction begins and the progress becomes tangible. The shaping of the perfect project is a process of continuous, close collaboration between architect/designer, client, and contractor/builder. Open communication between all parties ensures a well-executed project, and smoothens a path that may otherwise be littered with stressful bumps. When allowed, your architect/designer can function as both resourceful problem solver, creative mastermind, stress filter, spokesperson, and translator during the construction process, which of course adds additional perks to your mental well-being. By the end of the project, you will find that your early investment has already paid for itself, as evident in the evolution of the customized transformation of your space to fit your expressed needs and desires.

A worthy compromise that would help in staving off the real doozies – that is if you still really want to pursue designing yourself – is to simply run your ideas by a design professional in the form of a consultation before you begin. Many designers do offer consultations for an hourly fee. Consultations don’t result in the drawings you need to secure a building permit, but you will at least get educated feedback to your vision. And, it could be the best money you ever spent! Read more about that in my next post…


About annamadeit

I was born and raised in Sweden, By now, I have lived almost as long in the United States. The path I’ve taken has been long and varied, and has given me a philosophical approach to life. I may joke that I’m a sybarite, but the truth is, I find joy and luxury in life’s simple things as well. My outlook on life has roots in a culture rich in history and tradition, and I care a great deal about environmental stewardship. Aesthetically, while drawn to the visually clean, functional practicality and sustainable solutions that are the hallmarks of modern Scandinavia, I also have a deep appreciation for the raw, the weathered, and the worn - materials that tell a story. To me, contrast, counterpoint, and diversity are what makes life interesting and engaging. Color has always informed everything I do. I’m a functional tetrachromat, and a hopeless plantoholic. I was originally trained as an architect working mostly on interiors, but soon ventured outside - into garden design. It’s that contrast thing again… An interior adrift from its exterior, is like a yin without a yang. My firm conviction that everything is connected gets me in trouble time and time again. The world is a big place, and full of marvelous distractions, and offers plentiful opportunities for inquiry and exploration. I started writing to quell my constant queries, explore my discoveries, and nurture my curiosity. The Creative Flux was started in 2010, and became a catch-all for all kinds of intersecting interests. The start of Flutter & Hum at the end of 2013 marks my descent into plant nerd revelry. I occasionally contribute to other blogs, but those two are my main ones. For sure, topics are all over the map, but then again - so am I! Welcome to my blogs!
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