Plan A Spring Project

We’re always dreaming up ways to refresh our homes, and spring is the perfect time to embark on a project. We asked Neal Thomson and Patrick Cooke, founders of the Washington, D.C.-based custom residential architecture firm Thomson & Cooke Architects, to share their expert advice on what to consider when planning a renovation or addition; here are their recommendations:

Take your timeline into account. Having a sense of how long a project might take from start to finish can help you determine when to start planning. Here’s a general breakdown:

For design: The overall time of design can vary depending on the size and complexity of a project’s scope. The design time for a kitchen renovation might take four weeks, while a larger renovation and addition may extend to eight or 10 weeks. New homes generally take three to four months to design.

For construction: The timeline for a renovation or addition project can vary depending on the scale and complexity of the project, but here are some general guidelines: Permitting schedule aside, construction for a kitchen renovation can take three to four months, a mid-sized addition that requires a new foundation can take six months, and a major renovation or addition can take 10 months. New homes generally take between 12-14 months. (However, a lot of factors can contribute to project schedule.)

Do your homework early. Visit friends’ renovation projects and get a feeling for how you want to live in your home, determine what aesthetic style you prefer, etc. Ask them about their experience with their architect and builder team.

Know your goals. It can be very helpful for the homeowner to have a program—a wishlist of project goals/needs—at the first meeting or point at which you are interviewing architects. That said, a client doesn’t have to come to the first meeting with a full Pinterest board of inspiration images. More important is what you want the project to focus on, and your final goals for the project. Architects will typically have a library of architectural books, magazines, and digital imagery to review with you, as well as the opportunity to tour other completed work to help develop an aesthetic direction.

Note: Pinterest boards can be helpful but also overwhelming. If you’re saving an image or a favorite look, try to leave a note to yourself with what you like about the image—for example, lighting, tile color, etc.—since it can be overwhelming to cull back through a library of images as the project evolves.

Try to avoid factors that can complicate the process. According to Cooke, these include an unrealistic expectation of timeframe. “Permits can take weeks or months, as can builder pricing, so build this time into the schedule. Also ask about lead times for materials and fixtures. Lead times can take 10-12 weeks so it doesn’t hurt to order some materials early to help guarantee you aren’t waiting for a delivery,” he advises. Thomson cautions against much outside influence. “Trust the architect or designer you have hired and avoid crowd sourcing for too much feedback on every decision,” he recommends.

…and try to incorporate factors that can make the project go smoothly. According to Cooke, these include “a good experienced contractor, who can make all the difference. The difference between good and bad is organization and project over-sight. Hiring a contractor who can assign a dedicated site supervisor to be in charge of the job is a major help.” Thomson adds that good communication is a key factor as well. “A good architect should also be a great listener so don’t be afraid to communicate your wishes and goals for the project early on,” he says.

TSG Tip 140 provided by Neal Thomson and Patrick Cooke of Thomson & Cooke Architects in Washington, D.C.