Personality Matters When Selecting an Architect

A chance comment recently helped me realize that personality really does matter for a good working relationship between architect and client. Successful architects with happy clients have the personality traits of: asking good questions, being passionate about design, and interested in defining a client’s unique aesthetic.

The architect’s personality has to mesh with that of you and your spouse. You are going to be working together for what could be months or years. (Remember, a typical new home, custom-built project takes about 18-24 months.) You will be working with the architect, collaborating on the home of your dreams for the duration of the time it takes to design and build it. You want to be sure you not only get along, but that your collaboration leads to innovation and ultimately greater satisfaction with your home. For most people, taking on a custom home project is a once in a lifetime proposal, you want it to be enjoyable and net the best results for you and your family.

Personality Trait #1: Curiosity.

Is my architect curious about our lifestyle? Do they ask good questions?

The architect needs to be really curious about you and your day to day interactions. Your home should be beautiful, inspiring, and functional. It should work for you on a daily basis and have a positive impact on your day.

How about a mudroom? Do you want one? Why not? Do you have a place where bags, and shoes, and coats, and papers go when they first come into the house? I’ve noticed that at least half of every couple will be bothered by a pile of mail, etc. on the kitchen counter. A mudroom (or a family foyer as I think of it) will resolve this issue. Without one, you are in danger of making at least one half of the couple frustrated on a daily basis. How about a dining room or a formal living room? Do you work from home? Do you entertain outside? What’s your morning fitness routine?

I have a married couple who are our clients. The husband wakes up every single morning and gets in the jacuzzi, then takes a shower and is off on his day. Great, we thought, let’s locate the jacuzzi near the shower. His wife said, ‘Wait a minute! How can we make it so that his morning routine doesn’t disturb my sleep? Plus, this means my friends will have to walk through our bedroom if they’re also to use the jacuzzi.’

So we had several scenarios to consider, 1. Design for this very occasional but less private use (friends coming over), 2. Design for the husband’s daily use and allow the wife to sleep without having him traipse through from the jacuzzi to the shower each day. We often have to balance such needs and with the level of detail we have we can determine what the solution should be.

Based on our collaboration, the jacuzzi is accessible from a guest bath as well as the master. The husband now goes through a corridor, closes the door, uses the tub, the shower, and then can even leave through a second door without ever disturbing his wife. He gets what he wants, which is ease of use. The wife gets what she wants most in this arrangement, which is sleep in the morning. I’d asked enough questions to figure out the best solution, which his one they are both happy with.

Personality Trait #2: Passion

What is the Architect’s passion? What drives them?

A lot of people think that every architect is roughly the same as every other architect, so get the least expensive one, right? After all, they all have a five-year college degree and 3-year apprenticeship, and the licensing process ensures particular skills and abilities are in place. So why not?

Most architects have a bent to be either more focused on the technical aspects or more on the design aspects of architecture. Architects that are more technically focus tend to be more interested in the science of building. These architects tend to have less design ability therefore tend to charge less. They are competent, sure. They can design a house with the bedrooms and baths you need. But often they have only a few variations on the plans they create. And only a few styles they are really comfortable executing on.

My particular emphasis is on the design of the home. For me, a house isn’t just the four structural walls. It’s your home. It’s your refuge. I’m looking to create inspired designs, unique to my clients. Beyond the core education I received and the technical competency I have to design a structure to the right codes and with structural integrity, I have a passion for ongoing exercise of my creative brain. I travel, I read, I write, I play music. I enjoy working with clients who want to create the home of their dreams that’s unique to them. Because I stress the design aspect, I’m always ready to deliver on this need.

Personality Trait #3: Aesthetic

How will my architect bring my aesthetic to life?

‘Mid-century modern’ might be tailored and sophisticated, or joyful and exuberant. Where are you on that spectrum or are you more traditional? ‘Craftsman’ can be brawny and mountain-like or very delicate, even feminine. Which do you prefer? In my practice, I use several techniques to understand a client’s aesthetic.

At the beginning of the engagement I use an extensive questionnaires and several follow-on ‘listening’ sessions. I also like to use and have clients create Idea Books. On Houzz, you have the ability to search billions of photos. You can search for ‘craftsman style kitchen,’ ‘white kitchen,’ or ‘marble tile bath.’ Once clients set up their Idea Books, we look through them and usually within the first couple of photos I see I’m able to start calibrating the client’s aesthetic. After 10 such photos, the client and I start to have a dialogue about what they like and don’t like, and we refine from there.

In the cases where there are differing design aesthetics in a couple, I like to use lighting as the way to bridge the divide. Lighting is the only piece in a house, inside or out, that doesn’t have to be the ‘right’ style. As an example, you may like traditional molding and casings around a door, but in a contemporary house this simply won’t work—the styles are too dissimilar and can’t be combined—it will feel like a mistake in the end product. But with lighting, you can have a range. Contemporary lighting in a very traditional home works, and vice versa.

I like to say that a home is filled with the items that represent a life well lived. I’m always reminding myself that for a client to be happy, this must feel like their home, not just like everyone else’s. The chance comment I spoke about in the beginning was, “Thank you Peter for being so enjoyable to work with and for caring so deeply about our family and our home project. We know that it wouldn’t have been the same without you as our architect and we now have this beautiful home to live in every day.”