Sunday, April 7, 2013

5 Essential Criteria in Choosing An Architect

Many of us have learned, through experience, how to select most of our 'support staff' - that is, the people who help us to live our lives fully and successfully. How to choose a doctor? Easy. Qualifications, experience, availability, bedside manner, and do they accept my insurance? How about mechanic? Qualifications, experience, availability, and can I trust him? So, what is on your list when you decide to hire an architect? Here are 5 items that should be on your list:

Qualifications. Architects are licensed by the state. In Oregon, you can look up any architect here and find out how long they have been practicing and if they have, how shall we say... professional problems.

Experience is essential. Find out what kind of experience your architect has. Does she showcase the types of projects you are drawn to? Does she have connections in the industry (ie, residential contractors and structural engineers)? Can she guide you through the building permit process, and advise throughout construction?

Availability is certainly important. But be careful! A good architect will frankly tell you how long you should expect to work through a design - allowing enough time for you to peruse the plans at each stage. A good architect will tell you the maximum number of projects she will work on simoultaneously.

Listening Skills. Did your architect appear to be listening well during your first meeting? Is that reflected in her design proposal? Do you feel comfortable telling this stranger some rather intimate things about how you live? Do you connect? Good architects have the ability to hear what you are saying (and how you are saying it) and then translating those descriptions into 3-dimensional space.

Clarity of Thought. Your architect will not only design for you, but she will prepare the documents that will be the instructions for your builder. Remember the last time you assembled a stroller, a desk, or a new electronic gadget? With clear and concise instructions, you do a much better job, right? So if your architect prepares a clear and concise set of drawings for your builder, the whole process will flow better. How can you evaluate this, if you don't really understand blueprints in the first place? First, ask the architect which builders she has worked with - then call them. Ask to see samples of Permit Documents. Do they look neat and clean? In the first 5 seconds you look at the page, does it look composed? You will get an impression. Trust your instinct. Finally, review the architect's design proposal, and ask yourself: is this document clear and concise?

Your new house, remodel, or addition project will probably be one of the more memorable experiences of your life. Take the time to plan well, choose the right architect for you, and you will have happy stories to tell when the project is complete.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Dormer Addition

My clients for this dormer addition project in N Portland just sent me a note that they have permits! I am so excited for them, and excited to see the project built. It's a pivotal moment as a homeowner when you pull permits. Scary and thrilling at the same time - scary because this project is probably the most expensive thing you'll do aside from the original purchase of your home and thrilling because the new space will be so so so wonderful.
This is a small addition - just over 100 sf! But it will transform the existing attic space into a bedroom, walk-in closet, and full bath with a large soaking tub and a separate shower. There is even a nook at the top of the stair, which may become a tiny office space or a spot for reading. A new operable skylight at the top of the stair will allow air to flow through the house when it is open - a 'natural' air-conditioning technique.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Garage without loft, above
Garage with loft, above

For a home on a heavily treed lot in SW Portland, we are working on a new garage with living space above. In our initial design meeting, the owners identified a loft up above the living space as a priority. But, as we started to design, we realized that the new garage might have an overwhelming impact on the existing house. The owners wanted to see what the garage would look like next to the house, just to make sure.

With a couple of photograps and some google Earth measurements, we modeled the existing house. As you can see, the two extra feet of height that the loft would require does have a negative impact on the house. The owners may even feel it necessary to bring the roof down another foot or so, to give the house the heirarchy it deserves.

This is a classic case of how Spinnaker Architect works with clients - it's a true partnership. We expect our clients to be active participants in the design process, weighing functionality, cost, and aesthetics. We use advanced tools and knowledge of codes and construction to bring an idea alive, but in the end it is your house! We want our clients to be truly satisfied with the end results.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Dormer Addition Project

Back in 2010, I posted design sketches and permit drawings for this dormer addition in NE Portland, but I never posted finished photos.... until now! Shame on me, I should really post finished photos more regularly! In any case, what do you think, dear readers? That dormer pops just a TINY BIT from the ridgeline, but you almost don't notice it from the street.

In this design, we definitely weighed our design sense with our clients' budget. We needed to meet a strict budget, but the dormer also HAD to work, design-wise. I think this dormer works well for several reasons. First, it's stepped back enough to give it that true 'dormer' look. Believe me, it's not stepped back by much - we wanted to maximize space upstairs! Second, the little corner window in the dormer cuts back on the perceived bulk of the dormer. That particular little window, by the way, is required by Portland Zoning Code. If it wasn't facing the street, it wouldn't have been required. Still, I recommend that all dormer additions incorporate little side windows. Third, the overhangs at the dormer eave and rake edges give it a nice shadowline - not too floppy and not too trim. Just right. Finally, on the south side, the dormer windows align with windows below on the main level. Attention to this kind of detail helps the dormer to 'look like it has always been there.'

Monday, March 19, 2012

Attic Conversion Project

This morning, I'm putting the finishing touches on a schematic design package for a home in NW Portland. This family of 5 will become a family of 6 in a few short months, and so they want to claim the attic space above their garage. In addition, we will be building stairs up to the attic room, and expanding the main level laundry space.

At our design meeting on Thursday, we will discuss these two options. As you can see, the roof shape is different, and the size of the addition on the back of the garage is also different.
Option 1 Model Animation (above)
Option 2 Model Animation (above)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Gable, Hip, or Shed

I'm working on an addition project in Beaverton today. We've worked out the plan layout, and now my client, Kim, wants to see what different roof shapes would look like. Here's a photo of the existing house and three options. Which one would you choose?

Friday, September 30, 2011


My heart is full of gratitude this morning. I just visited one of my client’s homes, an addition project currently under construction. The project is turning out so beautifully! The owners have made such good decisions along the way, and the builder has done such a careful job of detailing. I looked at the flashing, the caulk, how the edges come together – everything, every corner is carefully built and the house feels solid and permanent.
The house is tucked back into the woods on a cul-de-sac, and in the new upper floor, the morning light just drizzles in between the leaves of the trees. The owners have chosen vibrant, rich colors for the walls. In the stairwell and main bedroom, the ceilings soar in curves and peaks. Large skylights bring in more filtered light, but more than that, they are actual WINDOWS to the tree tops.

The curved balcony on the exterior is just right – cozy enough to feel perfect for one person, but big enough for 4 to sit out there. It’s in the middle part of the addition, so it’s in the ‘lap’ of the house, but with such a wonderful view of the trees. If it snows this winter, that will be the place to be – a warm mug of cocoa and a seat out on the balcony.
So, as I start my work this morning, I feel so grateful to have the skills I have, but also to be chosen by my clients. It’s such an honor to be part of people’s lives when they are building, or adding on to their homes.