The Process

Initial Consultation

Projects usually start with an initial design consultation of up to 2-hours at your house. This meeting is a chance to discuss your “wish list”, some of the ideas that you’ve already come up with, your budget, your schedule, and your specific concerns. It’s an opportunity to make sure that what you’re thinking of is realistic, and see the particular challenges that your house poses, along with much more!

I do charge a fee for this visit. However, most of this will be applied to the Preliminary Design Phase fees if you decide to go ahead. And there is no obligation after this consultation.
Click here to read more about the Initial Consultation

Or, if you are ready to proceed with the Preliminary Design phase at the outset, there is no need for an Initial Consultation, and we can just include these discussions as part of the Preliminary Design Phase when I visit your house for measurements.

Preliminary Design Phase

If you decide that the project should proceed and you would like to use my services, I will prepare a letter of agreement for the next step. This very simple one-page agreement will reference an addendum, which is here:
Addendum to Letter of Agreement – Read Carefully!

Investigation of existing conditions
Drawing existing plans

Before any design begins, I will measure the house and investigate the existing conditions. This includes verifying how the house is constructed and any special conditions that might impact the design. Once the house has been measured, I’ll draw accurate floor plans that show the layout of the existing space to use as a basis for design.

Preliminary Designs

Once we have the above information together, I’ll prepare some design concepts that we can use as a basis for further discussion.

Don’t panic if the first designs are not what you were thinking of. They are intended to explore possibilities and help you to clarify your own thinking about the project. Often the final project is only remotely similar to the earliest sketches. Designs start as rough concepts, and evolve with increasing detail.

In preparing these designs, I will be thinking of a number of issues: Does the design fit with the existing house? Does the design consider the planning and building code constraints, as well as your own? Is the design reasonable for your budget?

Your budget may not be enough to afford everything that you want to do right now. One strategy is to design your project in phases, based on a long-term master plan. The master plan will help you to decide on what to do when, and make sure that everything you do now will fit into the long-range design.

Meetings to review design options

After the preliminary designs are developed, we will have a meeting to go over the designs, discuss the pro’s and con’s, and answer any questions you have. Generally, one approach or direction seems to be most appropriate, and the design(s) will undergo a series of revisions (and meetings with you to discuss them) until you are happy with it. Up to three meetings are included in this Preliminary Design Phase at no additional cost. Unless you want to come to my office, these meetings are done online, with you watching my computer screen from the comfort of your own home. In fact, clients who are couples don’t even have to be at the same location, as long as you each have an internet connection!

People have extremely different abilities to visualize design ideas from plans and sketches. You will be able to view your design in 3-dimensions on your own computer. But please let me know if you are having trouble “visualizing” something so that we can spend a little more time with it. Another option is taking a photograph of the existing house, letting the computer generate a photo-realistic picture of the proposed improvements, and compositing the images to give you a photo-quality picture of the “before and after.” (Like the following. Move your mouse over this BEFORE image to see the AFTER!)

Initial Review with City

If your project is an addition on which it may be difficult to get City approval, I will use the preliminary design drawings to discuss your project with the Planning Department and get either a preliminary go-ahead or clarification of which issues need to be addressed in the final submission to the City.

Preliminary Budget Review

For those projects that have a strict budget, once the preliminary design is finished, I strongly recommend that a contractor confirm that the design is realistic for your budget. An added advantage is that you will have confidence that you won’t be investing in detailed, engineered construction drawings for a project that doesn’t meet your budget. It’s a good time to start meeting prospective contractors, as well.

What the Preliminary Design Phase Is For

In addition to helping you see how the project fits into the overall design of your house, this phase is intended to help define an overall scope of the project, determine its complexity structurally, as well as a likely “order of magnitude” of costs. Your project is still somewhat generic at the end of this stage, however. You’ll know, for example, how the major pieces of furniture can be arranged in the rooms, what generic materials are being used, and how an addition “fits” into the rest of the house. There are still lots of decisions to be made, though.

Delivery of the “final” preliminary design drawings completes the Preliminary Design Phase. There is no obligation to continue at the end of this phase. Think of this as a feasibility study.

To see what the Preliminary Design Fees will be, as well as an estimate of the next phase, click the “Design Fee Estimator” button to download the Excel spreadsheet that I use:
Design Fee Estimator

If you elect to go ahead with the project, we will then to proceed to:

The Detailed Design Phase & Construction Document Phase

These phases expand on the Preliminary Design and produces drawings and specifications suitable for obtaining a building permit and final costs. The selections and designs in this phase have a very large impact on the overall project costs, and therefore need to be thought through carefully. While your project may not include all categories, areas that are typically designed and specified include:

  • Detailed cabinet layout, style, and finish.
  • Lighting Plan and Electrical Plan
  • Selection of plumbing fixtures and fittings.
  • Selection of decorative lighting fixtures.
  • Countertop materials, edge details, and backsplash design
  • Tile selection and design
  • Hardware (door knob) selection
  • Door and window trim details, baseboards and crown moldings
  • Flooring selections
  • Paint and wall covering selections.
  • Appliance selections
  • Detailed furniture selection and layout
  • Window treatments (draperies, curtains, shades, and related hardware)
  • Additional fabric selections (such as cushions, bedspreads, pillows, etc.)

Again, I can adjust my level of involvement in these areas, but these selections should be made early so that there are no surprises in cost, as well as making sure that the construction accommodates your choices. (You wouldn’t want to find out after the project was built that there was no good way to hang your favorite curtain rod, for example. Or that the sofa you wanted won’t fit.)

Based on your choices, I will prepare the Construction Documents.

Construction Documents

The design phases produce drawings that help you understand what your project “looks like”, while construction documents show how the project is to be built. These documents are the detailed plans that get submitted to the Building Department for a Building Permit, and they are used by the Contractor for final pricing and building your project.

What’s In Construction Documents

The set of construction documents contain a number of different parts, each equally important. These include:

  1. Drawings (Often called “plans” or “blueprints”): A variety of intricate and detailed drawings may be included: Plot Plan, Roof Plan, Floor Plans, Elevations (Interior & Exterior), Sections, Details, Electrical Plans, Structural Framing Plans, and others. Not all projects will use all of these, though.
  2. Specifications: Specifications define the quality on your project. They are written descriptions of the materials, procedures, and quality levels desired. They deal with such issues as: How many coats of paint and what type? What grade of lumber should be used? Will the drywall be screwed or nailed to the studs, and what kind of texture should be used? What plumbing fixtures and faucetry will be used? What kind of roofing guarantee will you require?

Specifications need to be closely coordinated with the drawings.

Here is a sample set of construction documents for an “alterations only” project. (No square footage was added.)

Also included in my fee are Title 24 Energy calculations and documentation.

Importance of Good Construction Documents

Other than having a good contractor, probably nothing is as critical to the success of your project as a good set of construction documents. They’re necessary, of course, for getting a building permit and a price from a contractor. But most importantly, they form the basis of an agreement between you and the contractor, and as with any contract, if there are areas of ambiguity, there may be misunderstandings. For this reason, I take the extra time needed to make sure that these documents are quite detailed and of high quality. It’s time and money well spent! I highly recommend choosing at least the “Intermediate” level of service to avoid problems.

Please review your set of construction documents carefully. I will be happy to answer any questions you have. If you wish to make any adjustments to the design, it’s generally less expensive to do it now, rather than after construction starts.

Applying for the Building Permit

Obtaining a building permit is often one of the lengthiest parts of the entire process, so I recommend applying for the building permit as soon as possible.

When the construction drawings and specifications are complete, I will act as your agent in applying for the permit. For the application, I will usually need a blank check from you payable to the appropriate building department, as the exact fees are usually calculated only upon submission of plans.

The Competitive Bidding Approach

If you decide to get competitive bids, I will provide you with names of contractors who may be appropriate for your project. Or you may have some names of your own. In any event, you should feel that you can work with any of the contractors who bid on your project.

To be fair to the contractors bidding on the project, I like to have clients meet all prospective bidders in person and talk to their references before start of bidding. If the “chemistry” is not comfortable between you and a prospective contractor, it does not make sense to put that contractor through the time of assembling a bid.

Once you’ve decided who should be included as a bidder, I will issue sets of drawings and specifications to these contractors, along with a Bid Proposal form and Instructions to Bidders so that all contractors submit bids on an equal basis.

During the period when bids are being compiled, the bidders will want to examine the premises with their subcontractors. Often it makes sense to have all of the bidders there at one time. In this case, I will be happy to be on hand to answer questions.

I will also answer questions that come up during the bid period and provide written clarifications if needed, so that all of the bidders have the same information at the same time.

When the bids have been submitted, I will assist you in reviewing bids and awarding the contract for construction.

Regardless of how the bids turn out though, you still have the right to select any of the contractors. In all cases, the final choice of contractors is yours; I will not choose the contractor for you.

The Negotiation Approach

You may decide to use a “Negotiated” approach, rather than competitive bids. In this case, the contractor is selected during the design period. The contractor can then assist in price planning during the design process, making sure the project will fit your budget. Also, you are assured of being on the contractor’s construction schedule.

Often when there are a great many “unknowns” in a project, rather than seeking the lowest possible price, it is better to select a contractor with whom you feel comfortable and establish a good working relationship early. That way, you know unforeseen problems will be dealt with on a friendly and professional basis. Or you may simply not want to take chances on the quality of construction; you know the contractor being considered will provide the quality you’re looking for. Also, the “team approach” that this method encourages takes much of the stress out of the remodeling process.

Many homeowners fear that they will be paying a much higher price with this method; after all, a competitive bid keeps the contractor honest, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s still possible with this approach to get competitive bids from the subcontractors, who may be providing a majority of the materials and labor. Also, the contractor will make all of the costs and pricing available for your (and my) review.

So, while it is possible that you may pay a slighter higher price with this approach, the advantages often far outweigh the disadvantages for many homeowners.

I will be happy to discuss the pro’s and con’s of both the competitive bidding and negotiated approaches with you, and help you in deciding which method makes the most sense for your project.

Contract for Construction

The contractor will want you to sign a contract before construction begins, since it’s required by State law. (You should want a written contract, anyway!) This contract must be very carefully reviewed by you (and your attorney, if necessary). Although many homeowners are willing to accept the contractor’s standard contract, it is equally acceptable for you to provide the contract. One contract form that has worked well for many homeowners, and that is in common use, is the one produced by the American Institute of Architects. I can provide a sample of this Agreement, if you wish.

Because it would constitute practicing law illegally, I am unable to provide a review of Contractor-provided contracts. Please make sure that you understand any construction agreement and obtain appropriate legal counsel, if needed, before you sign it.

Interior Design & Purchase Orders

If you have elected to use my services for interior design, I will prepare any needed purchase orders for furniture and/or fabricated items, as well as deal with the related acknowledgements, confirmations, receiving companies, etc.

Construction Period Services

The services provided during construction are as important to the success of your project as the services provided before construction. These services are not optional. Because of the great number of hidden conditions and unknowns in residential constructions, drawings simply cannot cover every possible condition that may be encountered. Therefore, the construction drawings will require interpretations to fit some circumstances. And sometimes as the construction progresses, opportunities for improvements in the design present themselves.

Site Visits

I will visit the project at appropriate stages to check on the progress of the work and verify that it is being built in accordance with the drawings and specifications. Usually these visits occur at specific points in the construction process, such as just before the concrete is poured for the foundation (to check the reinforcing steel), when the rough framing is complete, when the plumbing and electrical is in but before the drywall is installed, etc. I will also come to the construction site if any problems come up that can best be resolved in person.

The purpose of my visits is to see that the work is generally in accordance with the drawings and specifications, and to help guard against defects and deficiencies. However, because my inspections are not continuous (such as a full-time on-site inspector would make) or exhaustive, I cannot make any all-encompassing guarantees or representations regarding the contractor’s work.

For other than Basic Services, at the end of the project I will make a final inspection, ideally with both you and the contractor present, to document the items that are in need of correction before the contractor is entitled to the final payment. Usually this includes things like hardware adjustments, areas of poor painting, etc.

Coordination of Changes

If you request any changes to the original design, or if changes become necessary due to other circumstances, I will prepare whatever drawings or additional specifications are necessary. If you or the Contractor wish to make changes, please, please, please, talk to me first. There may be important reasons for doing something a certain way. For example, moving a seemingly innocent wall or door could destroy a seismic bracing scheme. Or changing a kitchen countertop detail could mean that a soon-to-arrive appliance will no longer fit.

Owner-requested changes after completion of construction documents will be billed as additional services.

Change Orders

Usually clients prefer to have me review any contractor requests for “extras”, also known as “Change Orders” before they approve them. These would be reviewed for pricing and appropriateness. (On several occasions, requested extras were already included in the original scope of work!) In all cases, extra work should be by written change order, and approved by you.

Review of Shop Drawings

For some custom fabricated items, such as cabinetry or windows, the fabricator will provide shop drawings of custom fabricated items. I will review these for general conformance with the design concept.

Payments to the Contractor

I frequently am asked to review the contractor’s requests for payments to make sure that the contractor isn’t overpaid at any point during the process. (A couple of clients of mine who hired contractors who went bankrupt in the middle of construction were mighty glad that the contractors hadn’t been overpaid!) California State law says that home improvement contractors may receive a maximum downpayment of $1000 or 10% of the contract price, whichever is less. Additionally, other than the initial downpayment, the contractor may not request or receive funds in excess of 100% of the value of the work performed at any time, unless the contractor has furnished a Performance Bond.