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  • Writer's pictureMaria Luisa Castellanos

How involved should you be in your project? Who picks the finishes?

Design is a collaborative effort between an architect and his/her client. Although the architect is responsible for the technical aspects of the project, making sure that his plans will pass the permitting process of the pertinent county or city, the client will have a major role in deciding on finishes.

Normally, the design process starts with floor plans and elevations, whether it is a new house, an addition, or an interior remodeling. Sometimes sections and wall sections are required. This describes to the general contractor how the project will be built. In South Florida, we are talking about concrete block walls and stucco for the exterior and drywall for the interior. Then, for special areas such as bathrooms, the walls will receive cementitious board and tile or marble finishes.

The floor plan and elevations will determine the look of the house. The floor plan will determine how the house functions, what spaces will be next to each other. The client's input in deciding what rooms go next to each other will determine the final floor plan. The elevations will determine the heights of the rooms and how the house will look from the outside when finished. Up to this point, the client is involved, but mostly they approve the drawings after they have given the architect general directions.

As these drawings are almost completed, the finish schedule is developed. Here is where the client must really get involved. Does he want tile floors or wood floors, does he want tile or wood bases, does he want marble or tiled walls in the bathrooms, and does he want them throughout the entire walls of the bathrooms or just the bathtub and shower areas? Most clients really want to be active participants in this part of the process.

Building departments require permit plans. They want to look at the technical drawings - the floor plan, sections, walls sections, elevations, electrical, structural, air-conditioning, and plumbing drawings. However, they accept generic finishes. In other words, the floors are to be porcelain tile, but they don't care by whom. The floor tile could be a fancy Italian tile or it could be a cheap ceramic tile from Home Depot. They don't care either way. The same is true for the quality of the kitchen cabinets. They don't care if you buy them from IKEA, have them custom-made in a local shop, or have them imported from Europe. So this is where the client really needs to be involved. Most architects specify generic finishes, but when it comes to actual specifications, most architects charge extra for this service.

There are two ways to do this. The client can go shopping and pick out everything or the client can pay the architect to do the research and bring options to him. Normally, when I am not hired to select every material for the project, I still like to provide "allowances" for the items.

Allowances work like this: Let's say I put an allowance of $200 for a toilet. If the toilet the client finally chooses is $250. Then, the $50 difference is charged to the owner as an extra. If on the other hand, the toilet turns out to be only $175, then the $25 difference is credited to the client. Allowances permit a project to be bid to different general contractors, but when the bids are taken, a clear comparison can be made between bids. In addition, the sum total for the project can be determined fairly closely. Surprises will be kept to a minimum!

Whether the architect proposes the materials or the client picks out everything, the project can be very successful. It is really up to the client whether he would like to do the legwork himself or he would rather pay for that service and let the selections come to him.

Next blog we will discuss shop drawings.


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