topic of the articles

by Brendan Charters
Photography by Valerie Wilcox

Architect, Designer or Builder—who gets retained and why

Unless you are a confident DIYer with lots of spare time, a home improvement project is usually born when someone puts pen to paper to retain the services of a professional. But who do you hire and in what order? Well, it’s neither an easy nor a one-size-fits-all answer.

ASSEMBLY REQUIRED - Architectural, interior design and building execution are all required to bring a project like this to reality.


The duty does fall upon you as the homeowner to take this first crucial step. Regardless of your experience or knowledge of construction or design, if you will be retaining the services of someone else to assist with the project, it is essential that you detail your wish list. Start high level, with the must-have items; for instance, a two-storey rear addition of a specific size, or the gut renovation of an existing kitchen or basement, or a 3,500-sq.-ft. custom home—whatever the high-level description of the project may be. Then figure out your realistic budget, and don’t be afraid to share it with those who will be helping you with the project. This will help people understand quickly if your goals match your pocketbook. Sure, retain a contingency for the unforeseen or unknown items that can come about in a project, and for items that the build may not include, such as furniture or appliances, but sharing the budget will help avoid both the homeowner and the professionals from wasting their time.

WISH LIST - Decide what the end goals are and your true budget to see if there is a fit.


The second step is to meet with people—at least a couple from each discipline (architect or designer, interior designer and builder), and two to three firms that may roll all those services into one (i.e. Design-Build). We recommend meeting at the proposed project site, as it will allow the professionals to identify any potential obstacles to undertaking your wish list, such as trees, neighbours or other potential structure or site conditions. Get an understanding for their rough costs in a project like the one you are planning, and also use the time to get to know them and their process. Take notes, as different people will give you different advice and all of it could come in handy down the road, no matter who you ultimately retain to help. Designing and building a home or large addition/renovation project is unlike most other transactions. This service arrangement can involve working together daily for a year or more, and attitudes, egos and personalities need to mesh as well as the scope and budget do for the project to be a successful undertaking.

FINISH LINE - Touring finish suppliers early in design can help determine budget needs for finishes.


The third step is to retain services to commence the project development. This is the scariest, we know, but is the only step that thaws the project freeze we discussed before, and is required to convert the project into something real. If you are hiring someone for architectural design, as well as interior design, and a third person to build the project, we recommend bringing them all on-board simultaneously. It may only involve a minor commitment at the outset to buy some time, but will help ensure that the architectural design and interior design stays in line with the budget, and most importantly what it will ultimately cost to build. If you have a single source design-build firm retained, getting updated budgets upon crystallizing the basic floorplan will ensure budget constraints are adhered to if design changes are needed. It can be done early in the design phase, and thus be cheaper. Likewise, if you are selecting your own interior finishes, or retaining professional interior design help, we recommend touring suppliers to get a sense of tastes for finishes, and how those costs fit in against the initial budget. A high and low(er) type selection in the early stages will help your designer and your builder understand where your goals are esthetically, and will also help you to learn the cost impacts of your decisions related to finishes, and what compromises you may have to make to keep the project within the budget.

SERENITY NOW - The right budget, the right team and the right attitude ensure a dream home come true.


The final verdict is that while some may say you should start with a builder first, others will suggest the architect or designer needs to come first. We feel that ultimately the homeowner or project initiator comes first, and that upon the first project idea development, the other three disciplines should quickly follow, but in unison as soon as possible to ensure an accurate and successful outcome. It is ultimately up to you, the property owner, to decide how you bring them together, either by way of building your own team of designers and builders, or reaching out to a single source design-build provider. Neither option is right for all projects, nor for all consumers, and we urge you to meet with all options to see which people and process will work best for you and your specific project.


When planning your own addition, renovation, or custom home, remember there is real value in working with a professional to design and build the space. Remember, the process is as important as the final product here, not just the price. We recommend you start your search at the relevant professional associations to explore your options, including the OAA (Architects), AATO (Architecture Technologists), ARIDO (Interior Designers) and BILD or RenoMark, the home of the professional builder and renovator, to find the true industry professionals. Best of luck with your next exciting project!