Our Design Process

We approach design not as a product but as a collaborative process. It takes thought, research, coordination, and time to create the right place for you, your budget, and your site. This process is completed in phases, giving many opportunities to discuss and adjust the project direction from the big picture at the beginning through the small details at the end.

ExteriorCorner midFor most projects, the phases below cover our basic services. The first two phases are done on an hourly basis and help define the scope and associated fees for the remainder of our services. For planning purposes, our total fee usually runs from 7 to 12 percent of your project budget. Programming and Preliminary Design time uses about 15 percent of that total fee, or 1 to 2 percent of the project budget.

Integrated Design is an additional layer we recommend for any project with high-reaching energy and sustainability goals. The coordination involved with this process can add a few weeks to the project timeline, but save thousands in the cost of construction and in the operation and maintenance costs over the lifetime of a building.

We also offer Consultation services. If you have a small project, or would just like us to serve as consultants at any point of the design or project, we are happy to do so on an hourly basis – whatever it takes to meet your needs.

Our team provides you with quality design and guidance every step of the way. We understand that building is a major financial and personal investment, and offer service options customized to your specific project. Our overall goal is to help you improve the health, livability, and economic value of your space, whether new or existing.

All of our services start with a free one-hour meeting at a time convenient for you.


The first hour of consultation is free, and can be held at our place or yours. This is where we find out the basics of what is important to you – the project you are considering, what your goals and special needs are, what styles appeal to you, and what your budget is. We discuss different levels of architectural service, and determine whether the chemistry is right. After all, we will be working closely over some time, and how well we relate with each other will impact your experience and the quality of the project. To get started, you may download our initial questionnaire to bring with you to the meeting, or send it to us before we meet. Click here to access these questionnaires if you are ready to start now! After that, we start with a simple Consultation Services Agreement to establish a program and budget, explore some options, and determine how to serve you in the best way possible.
Programming is a research and discovery phase, where we explore many questions and answers. For Custom Homes and Remodel projects, we provide you a series of questionnaires to help you think about how you want to live, which guide us when we design your new space. For Business and Community projects, a Master Planning process is a better programming tool. This can include a Charrette with your team of stakeholders, followed with a written outline that is used to help direct each phase of the project. We conduct pre-design research during this phase, so need legal information pertaining to the site, such as surveys and easements, ready for us to use. Photographs from books, magazines, and websites can be very helpful in conveying your individual tastes and goals to us, so we take time to go over them in detail. We visit the building site to get familiar with its gifts and surroundings, and develop a few thumbnail sketches to get the spatial relationships determined. These activities and follow up discussions help determine what options you would like to include in the design and in our services. No matter the size or scope of the project, we have found a Team Approach early in the process makes for a better outcome. If you have a building contractor selected, we like to bring them in to the conversation at this early stage. If needed, we can suggest contractors and associates to join the team.
The Preliminary Design is the first phase of the drawing-producing services. This includes a basic layout of proposed floor plans, the building(s) located on a site plan, outlines of the most prominent exterior elevations, and sometimes a simple massing model of the structure. These are presented for your review and possible refinements are discussed. This is the easiest time to make changes, so you may want to take some additional time with the proposed design. If there are major revisions, a second preliminary design is done before completion of this phase. After the review and refinements noted, your builder will be tasked with creating a ballpark estimate of the construction cost. If the cost range is within your comfort level, the process can continue – if not, this is the time for adjustments before moving forward. With an Integrated Design approach, this phase will include at least one in-depth team meeting and follow up discussions to identify which elements provide the biggest offset to others, such as a higher level of insulation and better windows for a much smaller heating/cooling system. If you are a business or organization, your operational structures and practices become elements of this integration. Architectural fees can now be estimated, and if appropriate, a fixed-fee amount determined for the remainder of the project. Fees are based on the complexity of the building and site, the code enforcement jurisdiction, and the level of service we all agree is best. A Construction Documents and Services Contract is prepared for you to sign, and we are set to continue!
Blueprints, Permits, Action! We take care in preparing accurate plans to build from, so there are no surprises in the field. 35% to 50% of our time is spent in this phase. There are several levels of Construction Documentation, and we are happy to customize our services for individual project needs. Our basic service level provides you with permit-ready documents when complete. However, permit documents do not address the finish details which pull a project together, create a Net Positive building, nor specify healthy or sustainable products. Some of our custom home clients also want to build their own place, which requires a higher level of documentation than for drawings used by a seasoned contractor. So, we offer a variety of expanded services to create a custom fit. We discuss what services best suit your needs, and their estimated fees, during the Program and Design Development phases. With an Integrated Design approach, this phase focuses on documenting the design decisions and systems coordination completed in earlier phases.
As with our Construction Documents services, this phase has different levels available. A pre-construction meeting with the entire team is required before anyone onsite sets a form or swings a hammer. We always remain available to answer questions from code officials and contractors throughout the project, with a combination of phone and site consultations. Regular onsite meetings are often added to ensure everything is going as planned. We really enjoy coordinating with clients and other consultants such as interior designers and landscape professionals during construction to help with finish details and alternate selections. And we offer a final walk-through service to ensure no detail is missed. With an Integrated Design approach, the construction phase is highly efficient. With early project planning dedicated to systems coordination and finish details, this phase can focus on quality control.
What better way for people to feel a connection to their home than to participate in the building process. We look for workshop opportunities on home sites of our clients where homeowners and workshop participants can learn the theory and practice of alternative construction methods. A wide range of topics is covered both in the orientation sessions and during the hands-on demonstration and construction. These workshops are suitable for homeowners, contractors, and anyone who has an interest in exploring the craft of home construction utilizing alternative materials and methods. Similar to an old-fashioned barn raising, workshops are a way to bring like-minded people together to accomplish a lot of work in the space of a few days. In the process, people develop skills and connections that extend well beyond the workshop. We work with homeowners to coordinate all aspects of the workshops. Please contact us if you would like to attend a workshop, or if you would like us to consider a workshop on your site.