Role of Designer, Architect, & General Contractor: Choreography is Key

Whether you’re building a new home or remodeling one, there is a C word that really matters:  Choreography.

I’m referring to the need for coordinating the roles of the architect, builder and/or interior designer, especially if your project scope requires all 3 skill sets. To ensure a smooth conclusion, these professionals need to function as a team, with ongoing communication between one another as well as with you, the homeowner, on their respective roles and optimal work sequencing.

Depending on the scope, a homeowner often starts with an architect or interior designer to solicit ideas, and then shops for a general contractor (GC).  Once the overall design plan is finalized, an interior designer typically works closely with the homeowner to select the plumbing fixtures, paint colors, light fixtures, tiles, countertops, cabinetry finishes, flooring materials and other design elements. Those decisions ideally are shared with the GC for review prior to purchasing the items.  That way, any potential installation problems can be resolved.  

Some building firms bring all three types of professionals to a job, which helps ensure a seamless team.  One GC explained to me why he felt compelled to add architectural design capabilities to his firm.  “Architects create elaborate designs, incorporating everything in the client’s wish list.  When they hand the plan to me to price it, I’m stuck having to deliver the bad news on how costly that plan will be to build. Revisions inevitably follow, and those take-aways can be emotionally painful for the client.”

Riskiest of all is the homeowner who decides to save money by functioning as the overall project manager.  Under this scenario, the homeowner either brings in his or her favorite electrician, mason, plumber, painter or other subcontractors, or hires relatives who are “in the business” to do some of the work.   Without proper sequencing of tasks and communication among the players (not to mention building code compliance), work schedules can get delayed.  And subcontractors making multiple trips back and forth to a project site for piecemeal work runs up labor costs.   On occasion, I’ve found myself thrust in this situation, ultimately forced to function as the project manager to keep the job moving forward.  It’s not a good scenario.

Most GCs prefer to bring in subcontractors with whom they’ve developed time-tested, trusted relationships.  Generally, the GC charges a mark-up ohome-renovation-projectn those services as part of his/her calculated revenue stream.  So make it clear at the project start who is making those hiring decisions.

Two years ago, I had a client unhappy with the prices from his GC for interior painting.  So the client asked me for alternative painters so he could solicit competing bids.  It put me in an awkward situation, but I complied.   One of my recommended painters ultimately won the job, infuriating the GC.   He made that painter’s life miserable by requesting frequent do-overs, and then unjustly criticizing the work in front of the client.

So think of your home construction or renovation project as a Broadway play, requiring careful casting.   But keep you mind, you’ll be living with that set design long after the working cast members have departed.