How do you know when you need a contractor or a designer? And who should you hire first? Let our Build Services pro answer your renovation and building questions.
There are so many reasons a construction project can feel daunting. Deciding to undertake a renovation means one hundred micro-decisions—and one of the first is hiring your team. It’s enough pressure to make sure you’re hiring the right person, but then there’s the question of in what order should you start assembling your design dream team. Do you being with a contractor, so you know you have someone who can execute your vision—or do you start with the person that has the vision? We asked Mya Anderson, our Project Manager for Build Services, for her advice on the process.
If someone’s starting a design project, what do you recommend they do first?
First, I would recommend coming up with a wishlist of sorts: all of the changes you’d ideally want to make to their space and how they want to live in and use their space. From this list, decide what items are “can’t live without” and which are expendable should budget or technical execution be an issue.
From there, they should work on selecting a designer; their designer will help them refine and tweak their wish list, fully flushing out the items into a cohesive design concept.
Why is it important to have a contractor and a designer working together?
The construction of a space is not wholly divorced from the furniture and artwork that inhabits it. Having your contractor and designer working together allows the final product to be more than just the sum of its parts.
Ultimately you want a project to have design and construction synergy. Your contractor is bringing your designer’s vision to life and there will be moments throughout a project where that vision is open to interpretation. You want your contractor and designer working together to create a final outcome that balances execution requirements (codes, building rules, technical skills) with creative, visually appealing problem solving—all while moving with a good momentum.
Why do people need both?
A huge mistake is people assume that a contractor will be a substitute for a designer. If a project is as simple as swapping old appliances or repainting an apartment the same shade, yes, a contractor can be enough. But, at its most basic mission, a contractor is hired to build—not design. While there may be some overlap in their skill sets, one is not a substitute for the other.
Contractors have a tendency to fulfill requests in the most straightforward way; while your designer will approach problem solving to address the issues at hand while ensuring that the solution fits aesthetically with the rest of your project and your lifestyle.
Finally, there are a very long list of materials that will need to be selected depending on the scope of your renovations (lighting, flooring, stone, tile, bathroom fixtures, door hardware etc.). Your designer will assist with material selections, pulling options that work cohesively together for you to select from, and saving you the time of scouring the thousands of options and ensuring those final selections work together.
What are the mistakes you see people making when it comes to hiring a contractor?
One of the biggest mistakes is selecting a contractor solely based on pricing. Cost is clearly an important factor—however, you also get what you pay for. There are reasons selecting a more expensive contractor will provide value down the line.
First of all—a higher quote may be more inclusive than a lower quote—allowing you to see more of the costs upfront. Review the full quote and think of how this would reflect a plan where you are receiving less change orders during construction to account for all of the items not included in the original bid.
In addition to cost, you should consider the quality of the end result. A more expensive GC will typically provide higher quality work and a more experienced team of subcontractors, resulting in higher overhead costs but a more efficient and effectively run job site.
What are the benefits of starting with a designer versus the other way around?
One of the biggest advantages to starting with a designer is developing a fully flushed-out scope of work that highlights the client’s priorities and lifestyle while designing something singularly for them (not just a cookie-cutter layout). The more flushed out the design (drawings, material selection etc.) before receiving the bid, the more accurate—and the less pricing fluctuations you’ll have during construction because of design changes.
This also allows you to make decisions that affect pricing before a single hammer falls. If changes need to be made to adjust for budget, a designer can find a way to reduce costs while staying true to overall project aesthetic and goals.
Designers are optimization specialists in ways a contractor is not traditionally trained to think. They will approach problems not based on the most obvious answer, but on the design decision that works best for your project and translate that vision to your contractor for execution. Starting with a designer helps ensure that the final project (construction & furniture) are created as one cohesive design vision.
What should clients look for in a contractor?
A vetted background.
If they’ve done work in your area or done similar work to what you require.
If they can provide references from previous projects, images and/or site tours.
Confirmation that they are licensed and fully insured.
If they seem like a good fit personality and style-wise.
If they seem communicative.
With Homepolish you are matched with a contractor who has already been vetted. We make sure that they provide quality work, are fully insured and licensed, and based on your project we try to provide an experience and style match. Throughout your project, we will check in with both your contractor and designer to make sure that things are progressing. Should issues arise, Homepolish’s Build Team will intercede and get the project back-on-track.
Will you use a designer and a contractor for the same amount of time?
No, your designer handles the life of your project, from preliminary design to helping oversee construction and troubleshooting design issues as they arise. Once construction is complete your contractor is finished with your project. You and your designer will continue to work on furnishings and finishing touches. It’s their job to bring all design decisions together to tell one story.
How will my designer and contractor work together?
As I mentioned, it’s your designers job to convey that overall vision to your contractor and check during construction that the project is being built correctly. Your contractor, in turn, will not only do the physical work of building that vision, but ensure that all codes and rules are followed and work with your designer to provide alternative solutions when design and technical execution collide.
When do I need an architect?
If you are doing any of the following as part of your renovation your team will also require the assistance of an architect:
Making layout changes
If you need to provide architectural plans to your building, coop board, or the city
Moving plumbing or gas lines
Making structural changes
Renovating a landmark property
Required to get DoB approvals
A team with both a designer and an architect will need someone to take the lead design wise. When renovation is phase one of a project and design/furniture is phase two it is best to let your designer lead your design team; with the architect serving as technical support. Organizing a team in this manner ensures that the final project (construction & furniture) has one cohesive design vision.
Of course, there are designers with formal architectural training, just as there are architects with strong design skills. Collaboration between a designer and architect on plans and layout is a wonderful way to make sure that you end up with a space that not only works well spatially, but is also up to code and will pass through the approval process. But that collaboration will still need someone to direct the course of the ship and letting your designer lead the process will ensure that your renovation moves smoothly into your furniture phase and move-in.