New group forms to publicize services


September 19, 1993|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

Most homeowners wouldn't think of hiring David H. Gleason to remodel their kitchen or build them a deck.

Architects such as Mr. Gleason have long been considered beyond the reach of anyone but the well-to-do building custom-designed, million-dollar homes. But a handful of Baltimore architects want to make this clear: They do decks, they do garages, and they do windows, too.

Contrary to popular opinion, no project is too insignificant for most residential design firms, say architects in nine local firms.

To spread the word, the members or affiliate members of the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects have formed the Residential Design Group, the first of its kind to form under the AIA nationally.

"People feel you have to have a multimillion project before you can consider using an architect," said Mr. Gleason, of David H. Gleason Associates Inc.. He is cochairman of the group with Nikolaus H. Philipsen, of N. H. Philipsen Architects. "But this is not limited to people in the upper-income brackets. Good design is a benefit to everyone."

The group will publicize services that could range from a single consultation on moving a window or door to detailed designs for a $300,000 home and follow-ups throughout construction.

The firms also intend to pool research and equipment to offer big-company resources at small-company costs and ensure top-quality work of members by sponsoring educational seminars.

After years in which architects and builders have eyed one another warily, the group also hopes to forge partnerships between architects and builders, remodelers and real estate agents. Even builders, who often rely on stock plans ordered from design books or drafts men, fail to use architects' services as they might to solve special problems, Mr. Gleason said.

"We're all suffering from business being off," he said. "Even if the recession hadn't occurred, architects have been losing markets they traditionally had over the last 30 years, to interior designer, decorators, homebuilders and remodelers. What do you do to re-establish yourself in a market after it has collapsed?"

For one thing, the group decided, you try to alter consumers' and even builders' perceptions of architects' roles.

Say, for instance, that a couple building a home likes a plan in a magazine but wants to change the placement of a room, a window or a door.

Many times, consumers think of interior designers, room specialists or engineers before considering an architect.

"Involving an architect on a consulting basis for three hours can save a lot of stress," Mr. Gleason said. Consumers "get the benefit of his expertise and educational background, his ability to look at a plan and know what works and what doesn't. They can come back and customize the home for their own use. For a little money upfront, a simple plan suddenly works that much better."

Because tract housing is the norm today, architects say, few people consider alternatives or realize a custom-designed home might not be more expensive than an existing home.

"Like a car, people go and see what's there," Mr. Philipsen said. "People don't think a house could be totally designed for their needs. The only danger is you can get carried away, but a good architect will tailor to a budget."

Fees vary, depending on the complexity of the project and an architect's involvement in it. But generally, an initial consultation could range from $65 to $95, which might include sketches, a general budget and some recommendations on contractors best-suited for the job.

For a custom-built $250,000 home, design fees might range from $12,000 to $20,000. A homeowner adding a 600-square-foot family room with a powder room for $60,000 could expect to pay an architect from $4,000 to $6,000. Someone building a $10,000 deck might pay between $800 and $1,000 for an architect's design.

By spending the extra money, a homeowner can ensure that additions fit in with existing structures. And by giving a contractor a more detailed request or set of plans, a homeowner is more likely to get a more precise bid from the start, Mr. Gleason said.

Unless they're building a true custom home, designed specifically for one client, builders usually buy stock designs from plan books, use in-house drafts men or contract for an architect's services. In the design-built approach, architect, interior designer, landscape designer and builder work as a team.

In the past, builders and architects often regarded one another as adversaries. Many still do, said Dwight Griffith, whose company, Griffith Brilhart Builders, builds custom homes and offers remodeling services.

But that may be changing, he says.

"You get the best product when everyone works together," Mr. Griffith said. "An architect might have a wonderful idea that's impossible from a construction standpoint."

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