Hiring a designer

If you can't hire an architect, a designer may be able to help with your plans

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Architects aren’t the only professionals equipped to handle comprehensive designs, as Haliburton cottager Mary Ann O’Connell found out. Looking to replace the drafty windows of her Kennisis Lake cottage and add a screened-in porch, she started phoning contractors in her area for ideas. “Some of them offered to create drawings but then never called back,” she says, speculating they felt the job was too small. After searching for almost a year, she had all but given up when she met Jutta Court at a home show in Haliburton, Ont. Court is trained in architecture, building design, and construction but isn’t licensed with the Ontario Association of Architects. She drove to see the site and came up with a plan that included not just the new windows and porch, but also a new roofline to accommodate a larger kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom.

So how long does it take to design a cottage? The timeline from the first meeting with the architect or building designer to the finished designs depends on the complexity of the project, but typically ranges from six to 12 months for a new cottage, or two to three months for a small renovation. “Some people have a very clear idea of what they want, and the process is shorter,” says Court, who points out that it can take a year just to get all the permits for a large multi-storey cottage.

James Pitropov, of Smith Architect in Huntsvill, Ont., urges patience — the best projects take longer to develop, he says. And Torrance cottager Judy Huyer cautions people to think long and hard about how they’re going to use their place. “It will change over time, especially if you have children who’ll grow up, leave, and then come back with their own babies.” She recommends taking a month or so with each version to review the plans as they become available. “It’s amazing how much you’ll want to modify if you have the opportunity.” As for the plans themselves, the more detailed they are, the more likely it is that the project will be close to budget, which means more decisions early on — down to picking trim, flooring, and kitchen cabinets.

Some people who’ve used an architect will admit their cottages ended up costing more than if they had hired a builder. (Architect fees tend to be about 10 per cent of the project’s estimated construction value.) But what’s really expensive, Pitropov says, is bad design and planning. “Typically, a well-designed project will increase in value and be more energy efficient.”

This article was originally published on April 8, 2008


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