Finding a Designer to Modify Plans

Terry writes:  I have talked to many contractors and they mention that a home designer or adviser is able to work on layouts, provide plans, and file permits for the customer at less cost than architects. Do you know of any in the Dallas area I can contact?

For the most part I’m trying to find an organization that offers these options. I have already picked a plan that I want to modify, but mostly I want a designer to present ideas and options for integrating the landscape with the house design and taking advantages of the natural surroundings and solar exposure.

Steve Bliss of writesI don’t have a lot of contacts in your area. However, it’s true that there are many competent home designers who are not licensed architects and generally charge a lot less. Most states do not require home designers to be licensed, so pretty much anyone can offer this service. In fact, the vast majority of homes in the US are not designed by architects.

Architects can be great for bringing creative ideas to high-end projects, but may not be the best fit for your project. Finding the right person or persons to help complete your design will take some work, but it will be time and money well spent.  Options include professional home designers and design-build contractors, as well as people who specialize on one aspect of design, such as kitchen and bath, energy conservation, or landscaping .

Since few people are good at everything, you may get the best results by using more than one designer: for example,   a landscape designer for the landscaping issues, a kitchen and bath designer for those spaces, and  an energy expert to help with energy design – in your climate, that means keeping out the summer heat and promoting natural ventilation.

One place to look for names is the American Institute of Building Design (AIBD), which offers training and certification to non-architects and has a directory of members on their website. Kitchen and Bath designers can be found pretty easily at home center and cabinet shops and often work for free if you purchase their cabinets. Another organization called the National Kitchen and Bath Association offers training and certification and also can provide names of certified designers. For energy design, you might want to start with your city or state’s Energy Conservation Office (SECO in Texax). They may be able to review your plan for energy efficiency or city or may connect you with others to do so.

While training and certification are certainly a good thing, many good house designers are largely self taught. Perhaps the contractors you spoke with can give you some names to start with. To evaluate whether any designer, architect, or consultant is right for you, make sure you look at their previous work, check out their references, and get cost estimates for their work – a must for any designer, contractor, or consultant you plan to hire!  Design if very subjective — what your designer finds beautiful may and may not match your own tastes, desires, or budgets. What you are looking for is not the best designer, but the best fit for your project.

You can usually save a lot of time and money by starting with an existing plan, as you have done, and then adapting it to your needs — rather than starting from scratch. There are countless plan books in print and online for just about any house style and size you can imagine.

If you haven’t already read them, you can find helpful tips at the sections on  CHOOSING YOUR TEAM to work with and  developing PLANS and SPECS.

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