Wondering if it’s time to hire a design-build firm? Unlike the more traditional path (known as “design, bid, build”), which involves hiring a designer and a builder separately, hiring a design-build firm gives you design and construction services under the same umbrella. Whether led by an architect or a builder, all true design-build firms include both designers and builders at their core.
If you are thinking of remodeling, adding on or building from scratch and want the ease of working with a single firm from start to finish, a design-build firm may be the right choice for you. (If you want to learn about other home pros, go to the bottom of this story for links to earlier stories in our “10 Times to Hire” series.) Here are 10 times it makes sense to work with a design-build firm to bring your project to life.
Green Hammer1. You Like the Idea of Working With a ‘Master Builder’
Once upon a time, the professions of architecture and construction were not as separate as they typically are today. And while it’s true that even in a design-build firm, the design work and the construction are generally handled by different people, a close collaboration between these two wings can result in something akin to the “master builder” approach that was once more common.
For example, design-build firm Green Hammer, whose work is shown here, has a team that includes architects, designers, construction experts and craftspeople who work together under a single contract. If you’re looking for a similarly close integration between the building side and the design side, be sure to ask questions about which professionals are included on the team and which (if any) are subcontractors.
building Lab, inc.2. You Want a Specialist in Construction Methods
Because the design-build model brings all members of a project team — including the designer, contractor, engineer and any specialty subcontractors — together early on in the process, you can be sure that tricky construction issues are taken into account from the get-go.
In this San Francisco home, design-build firm building Lab completed an extensive lower-level demolition and renovation that required the house to be suspended on cribbing while a new foundation was laid. The finished space, which includes a stylish family room, guest quarters and laundry, won a Remmies award from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry in 2016.
Disagreement between the designer and the contractor on how things ought to be done can result in serious slowdowns. When you’re working with a design-build firm, however, everyone is on the same team — which can translate into faster timelines. Also thanks to this collaboration, building can often begin even if there are still a few small finishing touches to iron out in the design.
Fuse Architects, Inc.4. You Want Your Team to Work Well Together
Although a conflict-free building experience is never a sure thing, one comfort in hiring a design-build firm is that the key players already know one another and presumably respected one another’s work enough to have gone into business together. And since the two pieces of your team are already working as one, ironing out later-stage changes tends to be quicker and smoother. This is important because conflicts between your architect and contractor aren’t just annoying — they can also potentially create delays, inflate costs or even bring work to a grinding halt.
When a couple hired the architectural firm Fuse Architects to design a getaway in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, they envisioned a 3,000-square-foot dwelling. But once the construction had begun, the homeowners realized that they wanted to scale back the home to about half the size — which led to the contractor opting out of the job. Faced with this challenging situation, Dan Gomez and Dan Townsend, partners at Fuse Architects, decided to bring on Townsend’s brother, a licensed contractor, and become Fuse Architects + Builders.
PBC Design + Build5. You Spotted Work You Love on Houzz
If you happen upon work you fall in love with while browsing Houzz, it’s worth finding out more about the pro (or pros) who made it happen — liking a pro’s past work is a pretty good sign that you will be on the same page, designwise. To find out more about a photo you adore, click through to that pro’s Houzz profile page to see more work in his or her portfolio, find out the geographic area served and use the contact form to ask questions.
When professional skater Tony Hawk was looking to surprise his friend with a home remodel, he used Houzz to find builder David Spetrino and designer Chrissy Bonney of PBC Design + Build. To get this kitchen, the team opened up the space and brought in much-needed light. Spetrino removed a wall dividing the kitchen from the living room, while Bonney whitewashed the ceiling, added gray cabinets and updated the lighting.
Terracotta Design Build6. You Want to Fix Up Your Fixer-Upper
Renovating a home that’s in poor condition is challenging under the best of circumstances. Add in the logistical, organizational and emotional challenges of negotiating multiple contracts, personalities and conflicting ideas, and the headaches can multiply. Because a design-build firm handles everything under one roof (and one contract), you can eliminate a lot of the guesswork and unnecessary push-and-pull that you’d need to deal with if you were hiring a designer and a contractor separately.
When the owners purchased this 1925 Georgia home in foreclosure, they hadn’t even been able to step foot inside. When they did, they found a mishmash of former renovations. Faced with the prospect of gutting the home, the owners turned to design-build firm Terracotta to handle the renovation from start to finish. Today the home has a cleaner, unified design that sits well within the neighborhood and feels like a cozy sanctuary inside and out.
In the traditional design-bid-build model, multiple contractors bid on the project — the perceived benefit being that you can potentially save money on the construction. However, securing that initial construction contract is not the only factor that goes into escalating project cost: Poor communication between your designer and contractor, and unneeded or excessive change orders, can also wreak havoc on your budget. In the design-build model, your architect and contractor work together under one contract, which can help cut down on unnecessary changes and keep everyone on the same page when it comes to budget expectations.
Of course, everyone involved in a project would hope that nothing goes wrong. But if there is a dispute, working with a design-build firm puts more of the legal responsibility for design errors and omissions, as well as defective construction, on the firm. In the traditional design-bid-build model, however, the homeowner is in a potentially more vulnerable position since the owner is placed between the architect and the contractor.
Green Hammer9. You Want a Green Home
You’re probably already aware that there are architects who specialize in green building — but did you know that there are also design-build firms that count this as a specialty? Hiring a design-build firm with expertise in this area is a good choice if you are looking to complete a remodel, addition or new build that incorporates green building methods and principles such as passive energy and high energy efficiency.
Green Hammer, which specializes in green building, was commissioned with upgrading this petite 1922 bungalow in Portland, Oregon. Retaining the historic facade (the home is on the National Register of Historic Places), the design-build firm updated the interior with comprehensive energy upgrades, a full-house heat-recovery ventilation system and more.
If you are planning to build your dream home from scratch, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. Choosing to work with a design-build firm can simplify the process, reducing the stress of project management and reducing the number of people you need to deal with. Once you’ve chosen a firm you trust, this one-stop shop oversees the architect, contractor and subcontractors.
Your turn: Have you worked with a design-build firm you loved? Share what made the experience work well for you in the Comments.