Your First "Real" Meeting with Your Architect

So, you chose your architect, now it's time to get down to business. Our architect for this project is Kaye Orr (let me know if you want her contact information). I highly recommend that you set up weekly meetings at your house to keep the project moving forward. We often traded emails with Kaye between meetings, but we found we made the most progress with in-person meetings. Your architect may do things in a different order, but generally these are the next steps.

1) Without a doubt, the very first step will be signing a contract or engagement letter with your architect. Read it carefully (I am a lawyer after all) and be sure that nothing looks fishy. This is probably not a lengthy agreement (a few pages) but should include the terms of how he/she will charge you for your time, how often you receive bills (this should be at least monthly), and any additional expenses that you may be charged for (photocopying, printing, engineering consults etc.). Most reputable architects work off of the American Institute of Architects form agreements so the language will be fairly standard. You can ask if this is they use the AIA form.

2) Measuring every inch (literally) of your existing house. Your architect will be able to tell which walls our not plumb and which floors are not level when he/she is all done. I highly recommend giving your architect a key to your house and just let him/her do the measuring when you aren't home. We told her to move anything or go into any closet she needed to go into to measure. Later she had to come back and rip up floor boards in the attic to understand the structure of our house. Probably not something yours will need to do at the outset, but something to prepare yourself for so you can avoid surprises when you start construction.

3) Meet with you to get more specifics on your ideas. At this meeting, you'll have to give her as much detail as you can about what you want from your space and how you envision the finished product. It's equally important to give her information on what you do NOT want because then she won't waste time drawing things that you are dead set against. At the same time, you don't want to close off options which could open up lots of other ideas. We started a wish list which included absolute must-haves (e.g., walk-in closet, laundry upstairs, spacious kitchen, 5 bedrooms, 1st floor powder room), nice-to-haves (e.g., permanent stairs to the attic, new basement bathroom), and don't-wants (e.g., master bathroom jacuzzi tub, fully finished basement). We also gave her our idea notebook to look through to get an idea for our/my style.

4) Give you initial rough plans for discussion purposes. Some architects may provide very rough sketches at your initial meeting just to get a feel for what you like and don't like. This is probably more likely to happen at the first meeting if your project is relatively small and the measurements of the existing house are not as critical to the addition plans.

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to tell your architect everything you are thinking about the project at any point. Even if you aren't at the relevant point in the process, the thought has been relayed and your architect can keep the idea for later as well as better understand your style. As you move towards getting bids from contractors, everything down to choice of tile, kitchen countertops, and shingles should be included so you can have very detailed plans and get more accurate bids (more on that later of course).