Crafting Your Dream Space: A Client's Guide to the Architectural Design Process

Designing a space—whether it’s a new home, a remodel, or a commercial property—is an exciting journey that transforms your ideas into a tangible reality. Understanding the design process can help you actively participate in creating a space that reflects your vision and meets your wants and needs. This guide will explore the key stages of the design process, the concepts and features to consider, and the importance of a strong architect-client relationship.

Conceptualization: Turning Ideas into Concepts

The conceptualization, or concept, stage is where your vision begins to take shape. It’s the initial phase where creativity flows freely, and ideas start to form the foundation of your future space.

What to Expect:
  • Initial Brainstorming: This is the stage where you and your architect will discuss your vision, needs, and preferences. It’s a creative and collaborative process aimed at capturing the essence of what you want to achieve.
  • Mood Boards and Inspiration: The architect may create mood boards and collect inspirational images to visually communicate ideas and themes. The idea here is to amass imagery of all the possible wants, needs, features, and details you may want in your space. The more imagery we can place, the better it may be to visualize what your space can look like. It also helps set a theme and is the first way we find patterns and trends in your design style.
  • Rough Sketching and Diagramming: In order to understand spatial relationships diagrammatic techniques may be used. Bubble diagrams are great to understand where spaces fit and how they relate to each other. Sketching of rough shapes and masses may also be done here to understand what your space or home might look like.
  • Budget Creation: Your build budget range will be determined by you and the Architect, typically based on square footage and quality of the build. This is just a rough number to get an idea of what size the spaces can eventually be to stay within a general range. You will also be given allowances for materials like fixtures and appliances that can be selected later on in the process.
Client Considerations:
  • Lifestyle Needs: Think about how you live and what you need from your space. Do you entertain often? Do you need quiet spaces for work or study? 
    • Checklist: Create a list of everything you may want or need in your space. Take some time to walk your home, living your average day in your life. What are some of the spaces you require daily, what are some you wish you had, what are some elements within those spaces that make your day better.
  • Aesthetic Preferences: Consider the style and ambiance you want. Are you drawn to modern, minimalist designs, or do you prefer a more traditional, cozy feel? 
    • Embrace your personal preferences and don’t be afraid to tailor it to your liking rather than focusing on resale and what the general public’s taste is. This depends on how long you intend to live in the space. If it’s a forever home, you can make it completely custom, if it’s a for-now home, you may want to make it appeal to a broader audience.
  • Functionality: Ensure that the design will serve its intended purpose effectively. For instance, in a home, this could mean a functional kitchen layout or ample storage.
    • Space Utilization: Maximize the usability of every square foot. Minimizing unnecessary halls, foyer space, or other items can help keep your square foot cost down and given back to your more important spaces.
    • Accessibility: Consider accessibility features for all users. Aging-in-place, or growing old in your home, is a fact of life that should be taking into account. Larger doors and possible ramps can be added or planned for here.
Architect-Client Relationship:
  • Clear Communication: Share your ideas openly with your architect and provide feedback on their initial concepts. This sets the foundation for a successful collaboration.
    • Regular Meetings: Schedule regular meetings to discuss progress and updates.
    • Feedback Loop: Establish a process for providing and receiving feedback.

Schematic Design: Developing the Concept

In the schematic design phase, initial ideas are refined into workable concepts. This stage focuses on developing the basic structure and flow of your space.

What to Expect:
  • Preliminary Drawings: The architect will develop preliminary sketches and layouts based on the initial discussions. These will outline the basic structure and flow of the space.
    • This may include a combination of floor plans, elevations, hand sketches, and other visual media to understand the space.
  • Space Planning: This involves determining the size and location of rooms and how they connect. It’s about optimizing the layout for functionality and aesthetics.
    • Working off of the initial diagrammatic planning in the conceptual stage, further study will be done bringing spaces and relationships together. Your space will begin to look more like a building rather than circles and squares.
Client Considerations:
  • Flow and Circulation: Consider how people will move through your space. Good design ensures a natural flow and easy access to different areas.
    • Main Pathways: Identify primary pathways and ensure they are clear and unobstructed. Thinking about focal points to draw the users eye and make it easy to navigate a space is important. A subconscious hierarchy can be created simply by organizing the space efficiently.
    • Secondary Routes: Plan secondary routes for less frequent use. These are areas that will be within larger spaces and other lesser circulation routes.
  • Natural Light: Think about the orientation of the building and the placement of windows to maximize natural light and views. If you have a beautiful lake, or rustic forest, you may want to orient your more personal spaces to those like your bedrooms and living rooms.
    • Window Placement: Strategically place windows to capture natural light. Large windows that can capture light in public spaces like family rooms and kitchens are a plus.
    • Skylights: Consider using skylights to bring light into interior spaces. These are especially useful for internal rooms that do not have access to an exterior window.
  • Spatial Zoning: Decide on the division of public and private spaces. For example, in a home, this could mean placing bedrooms away from noisy living areas.
    • Public vs. Private: Clearly define public and private zones. What constitutes a public or private space to you? If you have a library, is this a more personal space or one to entertain a small group of friends in light conversation.
    • Noise Control: Use design elements to control noise between zones. Adding closets, bathrooms, and hallways all serve to control the noise given from a public space like a living room, to a private space like a bedroom.
Architect-Client Relationship:
  • Iterative Process: Be prepared for several rounds of revisions. Provide constructive feedback and trust your architect’s expertise to refine the design.
    • Flexibility: Be open to making changes based on new insights or constraints. Some of the best ideas only show themselves after engaging in the design process going back and forth with your Architect. One roadblock may open up a pathway to the best idea of all.
    • Collaboration: Maintain a collaborative attitude throughout the process. Your Architect is your partner and advisor through this. Lean on them for support and trust the relationship.

Design Development: Refining the Details

Design development is where your project starts to take detailed shape. This phase focuses on refining the design and selecting materials and finishes.

What to Expect:
  • Detailed Drawings: The architect will create more detailed drawings, including elevations, detailed floor plans, and building sections to flesh out the design.
    • Construction Details: Review detailed drawings that show construction methods and materials. This may be what material you use for the structure, the exterior siding, and other building elements.
    • Interior Layouts: Finalize interior layouts, including built-in furniture and fixtures. Every aspect of the design should be considered including things like furniture layouts, benches, countertops, and interior trim details. The layout of a space is simply the beginning of the journey. The intimate details within each space is what tells the story.
  • Material Selection: You’ll start selecting materials and finishes for the floors, walls, cabinetry, and other elements. This stage adds texture and color to the design.
    • Material Samples: Review samples of flooring, wall finishes, cabinetry, and countertops. You may have physical samples of certain materials to touch and feel. You may also visit local vendor shops to see what they offer and get expert advice from their representatives.
    • Finishes: Choose finishes for hardware, lighting, and fixtures. This can include your plumbing fixtures like faucets and sinks, all the way to paint colors, light fixtures, and appliances.
Client Considerations:
  • Material Quality: Choose materials that are durable and appropriate for their intended use. These typically range from low to high end and can be selected both on a budgetary and use case basis.
    • Durability: Ensure materials will withstand daily use and wear.
    • Eco-Friendliness: Select sustainable and eco-friendly materials when possible.
  • Consistency: Ensure that the materials and finishes align with the overall design concept and aesthetic.
    • Harmonious Design: Maintain a cohesive look throughout the space. Consider working with an interior designer or asking the Architect for this additional service to enhance the design even further.
    • Accent Features: Use accent materials to highlight specific areas. This goes back to creating a focal point in each space. Having a focal or accent feature in spaces help hold them together by breaking up a boring pattern.
  • Budget: Keep the budget in mind when selecting materials. Your architect can help you find high-quality options that fit your financial plan.
    • Cost-Effective Choices: Balance quality with cost to stay within budget.
    • Prioritize Investments: Identify areas where you can invest more for better quality.
Architect-Client Relationship:
  • Collaboration: Work closely with your architect to select materials and finishes. Their expertise can help you make choices that enhance the design and stay within budget.
    • Decision-Making: Involve your architect in key decisions to ensure consistency. Look to other vendors for additional advice and opinions.

Construction Documents: Finalizing the Plans

The construction documents phase translates your refined design into technical specifications. These detailed plans guide the construction process and ensure everything is built according to your vision.

What to Expect:
  • Technical Drawings: The architect will produce detailed technical drawings and specifications required for construction. These documents ensure that the design is accurately executed. They will also be used by the contractor you select to determine the final build price of your project.
    • Your Final Blueprints: Review the complete sets of blueprints that detail every aspect of the construction.
    • Specifications: Examine the specifications which outline the materials, products, and workmanship standards that will be used in your project. 
  • Bidding Out the Drawings: The architect will help you determine which contractor is right for your project. A minimum of 2-3 contractors should be selected to bid on your project to ensure a competitive nature in the proposals. 
    • Selecting the contractor: The cheapest contractor is not always the best option. The most expensive isn’t always either. A thorough review of all bids must be completed to determine which are accurate and acceptable for the project. 
  • Permits and Approvals: Your architect will assist in obtaining the necessary permits and approvals from local authorities.
    • Permit Applications: Your architect will prepare and submit applications to the relevant authorities. Make sure you have a discussion with them to understand the timelines and any additional requirements or fees that your may encounter.
    • Regulatory Compliance: Ensure that all designs meet local building codes and regulations. Your Architect will be solely responsible for maintaining this and ensuring that your plans pass all review for approval.
Client Considerations:
  • Accuracy: Ensure that all aspects of the design are clearly documented to avoid misunderstandings during construction.
    • Detailed Information: Confirm that every detail, no matter how small, is included in the documents. Review the final drawings before giving the Architect the green-light for permit submission. Any change after this costs extra time and money.
    • Clarity: Make sure the documents are clear and easy to understand and that you have no further questions on the intent or interpretation of them.
Architect-Client Relationship:
  • Trust and Verification: Trust your architect to handle the technical details and ensure that the construction documents are thorough and accurate.
    • Review Sessions: Participate in document review sessions to ensure your understanding and agreement.
    • Verification: Have your architect explain technical aspects to ensure clarity.

Construction Administration: Bringing the Design to Life

During the construction administration phase, your design transforms into reality. This stage involves overseeing the building process to ensure everything aligns with the plans.

What to Expect:
  • Site Visits: The architect will conduct regular site visits to monitor progress and ensure that the construction aligns with the design.
    • Progress Reports: You should receive regular updates and progress reports from your architect and general contractor detailing what was built and any questions generated from that.
    • Quality Checks: The architect will check for quality and adherence to design specifications.
  • Problem-Solving: During construction, issues may arise that require adjustments. Your architect will address these promptly to keep the project on track.
    • On-the-Spot Solutions: Expect your architect to find immediate solutions to any problems.
    • Adaptability: Be prepared for minor changes and adjustments. Any change or modification to the design or construction will be reviewed and agreed by you, the Client, and the contractor and architect.
    • Change Orders: A change order may be required if the modification during construction process requires additional cash to complete. This is determined in a case-by-case basis and will always be determined who is responsible for payment or if it will be shared by all parties.
Client Considerations:
  • Quality Control: Ensure that the construction quality meets the standards set in the design documents.
    • Inspection Points: Identify key stages for detailed inspections.
    • Client Walkthroughs: Make sure your contractor is inviting you for periodic walk-through of the project to understand the process and progress of the build.
  • Adaptability: Have a contingency fund set aside for inevitable changes and adjustments during construction to address unforeseen challenges.
    • Flexibility: Stay flexible and open to adjustments as needed. Because this is a partnership, every member of the team, including you as the Client, has a stake in the project.
Architect-Client Relationship:
  • Ongoing Communication: Maintain open lines of communication with your architect and builder. Regular updates and site visits are crucial to the project’s success.
    • Regular Meetings: Schedule regular meetings with your architect and contractor.
    • Clear Communication: Ensure all parties understand the project status and any issues.

Conclusion: The Power of Collaboration

The design process is a collaborative journey that transforms your vision into a reality. By understanding each stage and actively participating, you can ensure that the final outcome meets your expectations. A strong architect-client relationship, built on clear communication and mutual trust, is essential for a successful project. Together, you and your architect can create a space that is not only beautiful and functional but also uniquely yours.

Interested in a custom design of your own? Contact Oztan Studio for a free consultation today!