Products, Products, Everywhere and Still Decisions To Be Made

by Maurice Levitch, AIA

Typically a design happens because a client needs more space, a better floor plan, or necessary repairs with upgrades along the way. In any design project the concept comes first, then it is developed, detailed and built, right?

Not so fast: the actual process is not always so straightforward. Many clients have backed off on remodeling after receiving the Preliminary Estimate of Construction Cost for their approved design solution so they can look at open homes and see what is out there. More often than not they come back realizing that other homes would require improvements to meet their needs anyway. Considering the property tax increase if they have been in their current home awhile, they often come back, make some revisions to the design and then build.

Recently, however, one client decided to move to a newer home in another neighborhood instead of remodeling. I believe that one half of the couple always preferred to move while the other wanted to stay put. Another client did not want a zoning fight with a neighbor about privacy issues stemming from a proposed second floor addition to their one-story home. Their neighbors preferred to walk around in the nude, did not like curtains and were opposed to the addition of any windows that would face their existing two-story home. This client pulled up stakes and moved from Berkeley to Moraga, where it is “safe”.

While many clients know what they want up front, they are not exactly clear on how to get there. They may have struggled with ideas for years, even drawn up sketches or constructed models. Others have a collection of photos with images of the perfect rooms. Others still have no idea where to start, what they need, or how much they should spend.

The challenge for the Architect is to get in tune with each client, to educate the client in the way that you see the process working, and to make sure you are all on the same page before moving ahead. This is not always so easily done. Depending on your workload you may make exceptions for what appears to be a difficult client from the beginning. Or you may be pleasantly surprised that what seemed like a wasted sales call to see a cracked plaster ceiling repair turns into one of the more creative challenges you’ve taken on recently.

Due to the overabundance of products and a forest of style magazines and the internet to market them, clients are much more aware of product options and architectural styles. While this makes the material and product selections more complicated and time consuming, it also makes it easier since we have the internet to display the items and to share with each other. Digital cameras and simple design software often put my clients ahead, as with one client who imported images of marble slabs for the counter and a wood pattern for the floor into the floor plan to help them make a decision.

Sending a link or pasting an image of a toilet or basin is easy and the email confirmation is something you won’t lose. Searching through various manufacturers’ web sites or giving the web addresses to your clients can save time and space in your architectural library. Using the “save in my portfolio” option gives the client or the Architect a place to group possible selections. For some items you still need to send your client to a showroom to touch and feel the products, such as for a specialty bathtub, tile, or flooring options. For this process it is necessary to develop good relationships with your local showrooms. You give them each equal business and they offer you and your clients good service. Every time your client has a good showroom experience, it reflects positively on you. This of course can work both ways.

Not having a showroom at your office is more possible today due to the rapidly changing products and the ability for everyone to see them from the comfort of their own home. At my office I try to keep examples of staple products, design details and materials and to have quick access to project photos that show what we have done in the past to solve similar design challenges. This personalizes the design process and comforts the client since they see can see something we have done, rather than just a picture of someone else’s work.

Even though our clients may be one (or two) steps ahead of us, we know they still need us to develop and realize the concept through all of the distractions because this is what we do as design professionals.

This article was originally published in the May 2007 issue of Builder/Architect magazine.