Custom Home Design Process: What does the architect do?

The Custom Home Design Process is foreign to most people. It’s not complicated, it’s just that most people go through the design process only once. While it is always nice for me to have returning clients, it is far more likely that they will only go through this process one time. Wouldn’t it be nice to get it right?

Before meeting with your architect

The most helpful thing you can do before you meet with your architect is to know what you want. Your most important contribution to the design process is to have things clear in your mind. Take your time getting ready for this first meeting.

And remember, you are meeting with an architect, anything that you can bring in picture form is appreciated. Some architects are gifted both verbally and graphically, but it is true that a picture is worth a thousand words. Make a computer file and bring your tablet to share, clip magazine ads that show a staircase you love (even though the ad is for soap) and for sure bring pictures of what you are expecting the exterior to look like. The level of detail and decoration on the exterior of a house is typically where you make or break a budget.

It is perfectly acceptable to not have all of the answers. Actually, it can help quite helpful if some of these things are fluid. Just the fact that you have thought through the information is extremely helpful.

Be prepared to discuss these things:

• Square footage -This may be based on budget or living requirements.

• Required rooms – Number of bedrooms, bathrooms, what you need to entertain, etc.

• Unnecessary rooms – For example, dining rooms are disappearing in 50% of new homes.

• Style you like – Pictures of exterior style are very helpful at this early stage.

• Site – it is best if you have a site in mind. It is impossible to quote a project with knowing basic site info. It may also be best if you haven’t actually purchased the property in case what you want is not possible on the site.

After we sit down and go over all of your gathered information, I will write out and send you a proposal. If it all looks good to you, then the real fun begins! Here is the process:


Define owner’s program based on information provided.

• Establish design objectives, sizes and approximate square footage.

• Architect will prepare Preliminary Design Documents consisting of:

1. Main Floor Plans

2. Front Elevation

3. Site Plan with setbacks and placement of house


• Once Preliminary Design is approved, the Architect will prepare Design Development Documents consisting of:

1. Further development and refinement of floor plans with large furniture placement

2. Basement Floor Plan

3. Four building exterior elevations

4. Site plan based on site information provided


• Once Design Development is approved, the Architect will prepare the Architectural Construction Documents.

• These documents shall be sufficient to obtain local building permits. CDs to include layout and sizing of wood structural elements.

• Construction Documents will consist of plans noted & dimensioned:

1. Cover Sheet

2. Site Plan for location purposes

3. Foundation Plan

4. Basement Floor Plan

5. First Floor Plan

6. Elevations

7. Sections and Details as required

This is the layout for a basic set of construction drawings. There are additional services that we would discuss and depending on your project, we will work together to arrive at the best services you will require. The design portion of the process ends with either the drawings being sent out for bid or the issuance of the building permit. This depends on if you have pre-selected a builder.

After the design process the next steps are:

• Request bids from three recommended builders

• Analyze, dissect and interpret bids to compare apples to apples

• Contract negotiations

• Hire builder

• Material Selection

• Contract Administration

• Payment Certification

• Punch list

• Substantial Completion

There are many benefits to hiring an architect to design your home: Thoroughness, knowledge, passion. (It's also undeniably fun to take a call during a design meeting and ask your colleague if you can call them back because you are in a meeting with your architect.)

The number one benefit is to have an unbiased professional on your side. There are literally hundreds of decision you will have to make. The way my services are structured, my only allegiance is to you. Everyone else working on your project has something to lose or gain based on your decisions. Who doesn’t need an unbiased advocate in a once in a lifetime project?

– Sheri

As Founder and Principal Architect of Springhouse Architects, Sheri’s mission is to lead Clients through the building process with the Clients in control and Springhouse as their guide, advocate and ally.  With over twenty years experience in Residential Architecture, Sheri brings knowledge and confidence to your custom home project.

Lisa Saldivar