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Project Partners—Collaboration for Construction Success

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Builders’ partnerships are expansive. From subcontractors on the jobsite, to landscapers, real estate agents, title companies and beyond, getting a job done is not a one-man job.

The core project team includes an architect, a builder, a designer and, most critically, the homeowner. While some partners may join the team at different times, homeowners are involved throughout the process. Colorado Builder talked to some of these key players to learn how they work together on efficient, successful projects that end with happy homeowners.

Related: Consumers Turn to New Home Construction

The architect

“At TKP, we always tell our clients, ‘The sooner you can involve the builder, the better,’” said Tim Barstad, an architect and project manager at TKP Architects in Golden.

Barstad will refer clients to builders and encourage them to begin interviewing candidates before the drawings are even completed.

“In the design-development phase, that’s when we get a lot of really valuable input from the builder” regarding constructability and cost, he said. “The builder can tell us, ‘Here’s how things are actually built in the field.’ Some builders have particular construction methods they like to use. We can accommodate all of that in our construction drawings as the design is forming rather than as an afterthought.”

Early involvement is helpful to builders and homeowners. Barstad will work with clients to develop “progress drawings” to show the builder before the final drawings are complete.

“We’ll actually ask builders to price that set of progress drawings, even if it’s just a rough estimate. We find that having builder input on cost during the design process is huge in terms of helping the homeowner understand where they’re at,” he explained.

For example, homeowners may decide that they don’t need timbers in both the great room and master bedroom after all. Those kinds of decisions are a lot easier for homeowners when they have more concrete ideas about the cost and time it will take to complete certain elements in the design, Barstad noted.

Cost is a particularly sensitive issue, and early input from the builder who will be doing the work is invaluable to homeowners.

“In this market, everyone wants to know what their house is going to cost before we build it,” Barstad said. “These aren’t publicly funded projects; these are people with their savings. They want to know what it’s going to cost to build their home.”

He added, “The smoother the construction goes, the more money is saved and the more value is going into the construction.”

The builder

Dave Mosely is a co-owner at Rosewater Construction in Denver and does everything from small bathroom remodels to large custom homes. He says that some owners may not appreciate what they’re about to take on when they start a custom build, so it’s important to set expectations before any work is done.

“Every person who builds a house for the first time is blown away by how much they have to put into it,” he said. “People think, ‘I’ll get an architect and a builder, and I’ll wake up one morning and it’ll all be done.’”

Most custom builds will take at least a year, Mosely said, with regular input from the owner throughout the process. Mosely and his team have weekly meetings with homeowners while construction is underway.

Builders who serve wealthy homeowners may be frustrated if those clients have busy schedules that keep them out of construction meetings. In those cases, Mosely urges homeowners to “deputize” someone who can represent them and make sure their vision is being followed.

“That could be the architect or the interior designer or both, but when we have questions, we need somebody who can give us an answer. We can’t wait two weeks until [the homeowner is] back in town because we’ll be dead in the water.”

TKP’s Barstad agrees that involving homeowners throughout the process is critical.

“The homeowner is the primary decision maker. The architect, the builder, the interior designer—we all bring ideas and expertise and knowledge to the table,” he said, but “ultimately, the homeowner is the one driving the project.”

He added, “The more information we have to offer, the better that homeowner is able to make decisions in their best interest.”

For Mosely, projects start in different ways. Sometimes his firm is brought in by the architect, but sometimes it’s a homeowner or even a designer. How the team comes together is variable, he said, as long as it comes together.

“Most owners go into a project expecting to have a builder and an architect. Some of them don’t expect to have an interior designer.”

Convincing homeowners that a design expert is a valuable member of the team can be a hard sell, but on large projects in particular, Mosely insists on getting that input.

“Sometimes we meet resistance from people who say, ‘We know what we like. We don’t need to spend money in that area.’ I hate to hear that.”

Mosely said that one of the most difficult things for his company is not finding profitable jobs and skilled subcontractors, or hiring good employees; it’s getting the information they need from homeowners. There may be hundreds or even thousands of decisions that need to be made, he said, from windows and roofing materials to towel bars and door knobs.

“There are so many things and they all have to tie in together. It becomes very complex. Even people who are smart and confident about their ability to pick things get overwhelmed when they get out into the showrooms.”

That can slow down a project significantly when Mosely is trying to finish the kitchen and the homeowners are still picking out tile. That’s where a designer comes in.

The designer

“There are about 500 little decisions that need to be made to design a house, and I think people don’t realize how much work it is,” said Jodi Wills, principal designer and studio director at Root Interiors in Denver. “They think they can do it all themselves, but there are so many little things: doorstops, hinges, the doorbell, the numbers for the address.”

Even if homeowners manage to make all those decisions without pulling their hair out, the end result may be a mishmash of different styles that don’t work together. A professional designer ensures that “from the minute somebody pulls up to the curb till they go out the back of the house, they’re seeing a cohesive story; that there’s not a disconnect between the exterior and the interior,” Wills said.

The best time to bring in an interior designer on a new home is after the concept and drawings have been finalized, but before any mechanical or structural engineering has been completed, according to Wills. That allows her and her team to do their own architectural analysis to get a feel for the flow of the home and how the owner will live in it.

She also likes to sit down with the architect before meeting with the owner so they can work together for the owner’s goals.

“Our way of looking at things is often different from how the architect sees it,” she explained. “We tend to complement what the architect does.”

She continued, “A good designer is a cohesive part of the team. She’s more like the glue that brings it all together instead of undermining the builder or the developer or the architect.”

Working together

With so many people working together on a project, what happens when something goes wrong?

Rosewater’s Mosely said the most basic form of conflict arises when people start trying to work outside their role and stepping on someone else’s toes. He sees this most often between interior designers and architects.

“It’s one thing for a designer to say, ‘I’d like to move this door 9 inches to the right so that we have enough room for the furniture to work,’” he said. “You get into situations where the interior designer says, ‘I don’t like the windows in this room, and it’s too small. We need to move the staircase.’ All of a sudden, they’re in the architect’s area, telling the architect that they’ve done it wrong.”

Where builders overstep their boundaries, Mosely said, is weighing in on decisions that the owner or designer have already made. An off-hand comment about tile, for example, could send the interior designer back to the drawing board.

“We try very hard to not have an opinion on architecture or interior design. Owners ask us constantly, ‘What do you think of this tile?’ and we answer, ‘If you like it, we like it.’” He also reminds owners that they’ve hired qualified people who can help them with those kinds of decisions.

“You have to be careful about what you’re there for and not try to do more than that,” he warned. “It’s tempting. You always want to be helpful, but it isn’t helpful when that happens.”

Wills of Root Interiors agreed that this temptation can be damaging even if it comes with the best intentions. Sometimes a designer, architect or builder will “go rogue in an effort to protect the client.”

“They’re genuinely trying to help, but … going at it [without] a goal to have resolution, it’s so detrimental to the project. It can make the relationships fall apart,” she said.

Part of a designer’s job, Wills said, is making sure the client gets what he or she wants, but also limiting change orders and delays by designing clear plans and communicating with the builder.

The best thing for the client, Wills said, “is that the builder and the designer have a mutually respectful relationship and that they hear each other.” That means recognizing your limitations and working with your team.

“We’re not contractors,” she said, “so we don’t always know the best way to implement the solution. We collaborate with them in the field to make sure it’s right, or talk to the builder pre-construction.”

Communication is key, according to TKP’s Barstad. For example, “sometimes our drawings are misunderstood and something will be built that’s not in accordance with the design, and we don’t find out about it until later,” he said. “We like to be involved throughout the construction process so if the builder has questions or if the homeowner has questions, they can call us.”

Typically, Barstad’s clients are the homeowners, so when conflicts arise between clients and someone else on the team, homeowners’ interests come first. However, he said, “the best way to handle any conflict is to play fair and to try to understand everybody’s view point.”

Barstad can provide valuable insight for homeowners to help them understand the builder’s perspective and facilitate a compromise. “Usually, everybody has something valid to say and it’s just helping people understand each other.”

He added, “We have the advantage of being able to be neutral in a disagreement between the homeowner and the designer or the homeowner and the builder. Our end goal is that our client is happy, but we look for win-wins. If everybody is doing well, that’s what makes a successful project.”

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1 COMMENT

  1. Excellent article on successful partnerships; essential for project success. All members of the team are equally valuable and the best partnerships are founded on mutual respect. Thanks for the article!

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