Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Hiring the Perfect Contractor for the Job: Finding "Mr. Right" -The search for the perfect contractor.

I guess you could say I "grew up in the business.” My great grandfather was a developer in Pittsburgh after World War II. My paternal grandfather was a union carpenter and worked his way up to Construction Superintendent on large jobs like the Watergate in Washington, DC. My father took the path of higher education and became a Professional Engineer, working in Construction Contract Management for major projects like the New Library of Congress (it is not so new anymore!). Construction talk was dinner conversation most evenings. The epic stories are the ones of major mishaps.

Now as an Architect (the only one to carry on in the “family business”), not a day goes by that I don’t talk to a contractor. Clients and friends who are renovating their homes always want to know who my favorite contractor is. Well, I must qualify that …I have never met a contractor that I wouldn’t get a drink with…they are in general light-hearted guys that know how to have a good time. But just like finding “Mr. Right, you would not necessarily want to enter into an “until death/built do we part” agreement.

So, my experiences have taught me to:

1. Get recommendations and references from each Contractor
  • Call the references
  • Verify that the work done by the contractor is similar in scope to what you are    planning to do.
  • One reference is not enough…
2. Ask the reference how they know the Contractor
  • Be specific and ask if they are a friend or family-member of the contractor?
  • Would they hire the contractor or their sub-contractors again?
  • What was the scope of their project.
  • Did the contractor meet the schedule.
  • How did the contractor communicate with them--email, phone, notes, in person?
  • Did you work with an Architect? 
  • Did the contractor follow the drawings?
  • Did the contractor encourage you to keep the Architect involved with Construction Administration Services? Or did they discourage you from keeping the Architect involved.
3. Ask to visit two jobs similar in scope that the Contractor has completed.
  • Make sure the client is going to be there, and verify that this Contractor did the work that you are looking at. I have personally been shown very impressive projects where the Contractor led one to believe that he had built the entire house. Research into the initial permit at the building department revealed that the house was built by others.  He was a past employee of the company.
  • Look at where materials change/meet. That may tell you what type of craftsman the Contractor is. It could also be the fact that they did or did not work with an architect on the detail…so ask.
4. Check the recommendations and complaint records
  • Better Business Bureau
  • Local online sites
5. Licensing, registrations, EPA Lead Safe Certification and insurance
  • Call and verify that all of the documents are originals and currently active; don’t accept a certificate as proof before you sign a contract.
  • Call your insurance agent to determine if your Homeowner's policy requires an additional rider during construction.
6. Beware of a Contractor that wants you to…
  • File for permits yourself or tells you that he can “do it” without a building permit.
  • Pay in cash or will not allow you to retain 10% of the costs until you have a Certificate of Occupancy as required by law in New Jersey and stated on the Building Permit. 
  • Wants you to pay the subcontractors directly.
Often, once I know more about you and your project I am a better match-maker. Personality does play a huge role in matching clients up with Mr. Right. So, once you have found “Mr. Right”…it is time to "get engaged." We will go over getting the right pre-nuptials next time. Until then, to learn more about how to work with an architect or the process of getting the right construction documents—your contract with the contractor for that big day -- visit www.clawsonarchitects.com.

Contracts and Contractors: "Pre-nuptials" - Your Contract with the Contractor

"Pre-nuptials"-- Your Contract with the Contractor

When it comes to renovations, alterations, additions, or building a new house, the best endings are “…and they lived happily ever after.” The best way to get to “Happily Ever After” is to clearly and concisely define expectations and to make sure that your expectations are in alignment with that of Mr. Right, the Contractor, before you say “I do.”

The best way to do this is have a Contract. When building a residential project, you really need a set of Construction Documents, which are Architectural Design Drawings and Specifications that communicate your expectations to the Contractor. I recommend this approach even if you are “just remodeling your powder room.”

The Architectural Drawings may include the following:
  1. A survey of the site showing the footprint of your house and any additions.
  2. Existing conditions drawings that represent your “as-built” house.
  3. A Scope of Work defined in words and drawings.
  4. Demolition plans if the project is a renovation.
  5. Dimensioned floor plans, elevations, and reflected ceiling plans illustrating the Scope of Work.
  6. Wall Sections and Construction Details are technical drawings required by the Building Department that provide information pertaining to the structural, environmental and other components of the house.
  7. Electrical Plans that specify and locate: lighting fixtures, electrical receptacles, lighting switches and dimmers, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, as required by code.
  8. Structural Drawings representing the foundation and framing of the house.
  9. Mechanical Systems Drawings that specify systems and coordinate locations, color, size and models for supply and return registers as well as radiators and thermostats.
  10. Plumbing and Gas Riser Diagrams. These are single line drawings that schematically represent the fixtures and fittings for each system.
  11. Details for the project that articulate what will happen where two materials come together.
  12. Material Specifications. Larger projects have specifications in book form. Smaller projects can simply incorporate the material and fixture selections by notes on the drawings.
  13. A Professional Seal from a licensed architect and/or engineer certifying and insuring that the drawings and calculations are correct and meet national, state and local building codes.
Additional concerns to discuss and include in your contract are:
  1. Schedule for the work and hours of work permitted by your Township.
  2. Emergency contact numbers for Contractor
  3. A Payment Schedule clearly showing milestones for the project and the corresponding payments.
If you plan to live in a home that is being renovated, these are additional items to discuss with the Contractor:
  1. Notification prior to electrical, water and heating shut downs and provision of temporary service if more than one day.
  2. Protection of areas not in Scope of Work, especially protection from dust migration.
  3. Introduction to the Contractor’s superintendent who will be your daily contact on the job.
  4. Schedule for weekly progress meetings.
The drawings and specifications serve as Construction Documents and appear as an “Exhibit” to the formal Contract between the Client and the Contractor. By defining your expectations in the Construction Documents, you are:
  1. Clearly defining the desired Scope of Work.
  2. Protecting the investment in your house.
  3. Protecting the structural and material integrity of your house.
  4. Minimizing the length of time that you will spend “working on your project.”
Following the process described above provides you with a guide for a successful project. It is a less stressful and more enjoyable approach to what is, for most, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

If a potential Contractor hands you a one to two page document that does not reference the Construction Documents by title and date of issue, overlooks the construction schedule, and focuses only a payment schedule, think twice.

Because when we are talking about your house…there is only one good ending and that is Happily Ever After.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Architects...What do they really do? Careers in Architecture

I recently entered into a casual discussion with an acquaintance who happens to be an editor from the New York Times...she confessed, "I don't know if I ever told you but I always wanted to be an Architect....but my parents made me take typing instead of drafting in High School." 

While an entertainment channel did a montage recently of celebrities answering the question "If you could be anything what would you be resulted in 50 or so people saying "Architect," "Architect," "Architect," "Architect," "Architect," "Architect," "Architect," "Architect,"
"Teacher," "Architect,""Architect," "Architect,"
"Architect," "Architect," "Architect," "Architect," "Architect," "Architect," "Architect," "Teacher," "Architect,""Architect," and the men have been named the sexiest professionals, I think many are confused about what we really do.

Some of the myths and mystique revolve around what we do and wear.  It seems that we all wear black, cool glasses and point at cool drawings and models.  But it has became clear to me that being an Architect is much like being a writer/editor --we are three dimensional storytellers. 

I thought about how many people are calling me because they saw my portfolio on Houzz and they love what they are seeing.  I visit with potential clients and they have print outs from the site or cuttings from a magazine and they tell me about how they are trying to create what is in the picture.  First and foremost it is like trying to get the look of the person on the cover of a fashion magazine.  These images have fancy lighting, they are staged and they have been photo shopped.  What I believe people are responding to is the story that is being told...the problem is that it is not "their story". 

Successful architecture tells a story of its occupants and the site.  Much like a good story has a hero and a context that support the plot, successful spaces are created when the Architect understands the setting and the client and how they are going to move in and around the space and how they live and work.  Trying to copy an image you see online might give you a look, but if you want that space to make you feel good like your favorite pajamas or an old leather jacket, the space needs to tell the story of you.  Not the story of a famous designer ...but the story of you.  It should be tailored/edited to meet your living style and needs and should have your voice. 
I like to think the reason people are drawn to the images in our portfolio is because they like the stories that being told and they want us to help them tell theirs.  A good Architect will help you find your voice.  They will listen to your stories about your life and how you work and play, what your interests are and help you write the story of you in 3D.

Many people don't know this either...if you want to be an Architect, you don't have to take High School Drafting.  You don't even have to have to be really great at Math.  What you do have to have is the ability to conceptualize, draw and tell a good story. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Architects depend on the "Referral Machine"--oiled best by satisfied clients. Glowing Referrals for Clawson Architects

Architects are typically working themselves out of a job.  Repeat clients certainly do exist, however, many clients are building their dream house/addition and there is only one dream that can be realized. We have found that our best clients come from the Referral Machine -- satisfied Clawson Architects clients whose first-hand experience with our firm provides their friend or colleague who is now a potential Clawson Architects client with a valued, experience-based opinion of us and our work.

The Clawson Architects team always works hard to exceed client expectations, and while we are gratified to hear that our clients love spaces we've designed for them and are happy, nothing -- absolutely nothing -- beats reading a review that articulates everything that we worked so hard to deliver.  Yesterday, I was overwhelmed by a glowing review posted on Houzz.com by a past client of Clawson Architects.

If you have ever wondered if you need an Architect, questioned the benefit of using an Architect, or were apprehensive about what the experience might be like, check out this review.  Two years later, they are still thrilled... AND SO ARE WE:

"We hired Clawson Architects to do a major rennovation of our 1910 house, involving a completely new kitchen and family room, plus a new second floor hall full bathroom.

Why hire an architect?
When money is tight, you might be tempted to “skip” the architect and just hire a builder directly. In our opinion, this is a mistake. It can mean the difference between getting a space that’s merely adequate versus one you’ll truly love.

Why hire the Clawsons?
Drawing skills.
Marvin Clawson’s extraordinary drawing skills saved us time and money. He stood in our old kitchen and quickly sketched different ways of arranging windows, doors, cabinets, hallways. He showed us, in correct perspective, how our kitchen would appear looking down a paneled hallway. He drew three-quarter-views, cutaway views, views as if we were looking through floors and walls, etc. Believe it or not, these days, almost no architects can do this. CAD (computer aided design) drawings, which his office also does, have their place, but the turn-around time is necessarily much slower than Clawson’s instantaneous vision.

The result of Clawson’s old-fashioned drawing ability is better communication between architect and client. We could really see how his ideas, and ours, would look. This helped us rule some things in or out immediately. It also made it easier for him to see what we cared about most. As a result, we made faster, better decisions that we stayed happy with.

Good period design.
The day of the cookie-cutter McMansion is over. The Clawsons are experts at increasing the feeling of light and usable space in your home without needlessly over-building. Our kitchen feels bigger than it is because it is well thought out. The Clawsons know how to incorporate period details that made our house more charming and functional. Our 1910 house got a “milk window” and a laundry chute.

Knowledge that means quality and savings.
The Clawsons’ deep knowledge of materials, and sources helped us achieve a high-end look on a budget. Jane had her heart set on a stone sink like ones she had seen in European farmhouses, but was dismayed by the high price of such items. Thanks to Marvin Clawson, we got a custom-made sink made of native limestone at a fraction of the cost.

The contractors recommended by the Clawsons were a pleasure to work with – Scrupulously punctual, neat and highly skilled. They delivered a high-quality result well before the deadline.

In the 2+ years since the job was completed, we have been super-happy with the result. Seems like we spend most of our time in there! It's a beautiful bright sunny room all day and all year long. It's hard to imagine a better outcome.

We whole-heartedly recommend Clawson Architects LLC! "

Does it get any better than this?  Thanks Jane and John...we loved working with you too.

To see more reviews check out Clawson Architects on Houzz.com

Friday, August 10, 2012

What Color is That? How to select the perfect paint color.

What color is that?  
This is the question I get asked most often.. "what color is that?  Mostly it is in reference to a project published on the Internet?
This apparently is not an uncommon question.  Customer service agents at Pottery Barn were also inundated with the same question every time they released a new catalog. So, they partnered with Benjamin Moore and now they offer official Benjamin Moore Color chips in the store and online. If you don’t see the small print, no problem, the Customer Service Representatives at Pottery Barn can tell you what color is behind that couch on page 54.
This is all well and good; however, I am sure many out there have then commenced to paint a room that color and it just did not turn out the way they thought it would.  This is because color is amazing.  It has the ability to change the one next to it just like your eyes change when you wear certain colors. It is affected by its surroundings especially the lighting. The light bulbs in the fixtures throughout the room, or even in the same fixture may not even be the same.  The light at different times of the year and in different areas of the house will appear completely different as well. 

When Clawson Architects photographs a space, we use a professional and he sets up all kinds of lights. I have even helped change the light bulbs in the fixtures and hang white sheets or blackout curtains in windows to diffuse the light to get an image that will communicate the design intent best.  Then, because I use a double screen at work, depending on which monitor I have the image opened on, the color appears differently.  The images also prints differently depending on which printer I send it to. 

So when someone calls or writes to me and asks what color something is, the easy answer would be to just tell them a number.  They won’t get even close to the same results, but they are begging me for the number. 

So, if you see a color you like, I would like to recommend you do three things:

1.   Try to capture the color with one of the Color App Catchers. I like Benjamin Moore’s.  Or hold up a fan deck from any of the paint companies out there and try to pick one that is close to what you are seeing.
2.   Buy small can of the paint and paint pieces of white poster board.  Tape it up in different parts of the room and look at it at different times of day. It may take several tries but it will be worth it.
3.   If you have control over the light bulbs in your fixtures, buy ones that are “daylight”. If the fixture has multiple bulbs, and one goes out change all of them at the same time. 

There is so much hesitation over color.  As an Architect and Interior Designer, I select colors for clients all the time.  I use the process described above.  It works. How do I know when I have found the right color?  When your friends come in and say “What color is that?”  Or in the case of the exterior, you will see people standing out in front of your house with a paint fan deck…the brave ones ring the bell and ask. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Typical Dimensions for Home Design: Architecture by Numbers

Formulas for good design.
What are the dimensions for…? How much room do I need for…?

Kitchen Counters
Are 36” high.
Counter depth is 24” + 1” overhang for a total of 25”.

Bathroom Vanities :

18-21” deep and are typically 30-34” high

You need minimum of 60” to get a double Vanity in, but we recommend at least 72” so two adults can stand next to each other at those sinks.

Closets:   need to be a minimum of 21” deep for a
standard hanger to fit…go for 24” clear on the inside …you will be happier.

Porches:  less than 6’ deep are useless. 6’ gets you a rocking chair and room to walk pass. 8’ is good, but 10’-12’ is ideal for entertaining and hanging out on.

Paint:  One gallon of paint typically covers 400 square feet of wall surface.

3’-0” wide openings for doors to the exterior.
2’-6” to 2’-8 inches everywhere else unless you need
Wheel Chair Accessibility…then 3’-0” everywhere.

This also helps with getting large furniture and appliances into the space. Note: Double check that if you are getting a large Viking Range that you can get it into your house.

Halls or circulation paths need to be at least 36” but the closer you can get to 48” the more gracious it will be…this includes kitchen circulation.

The kitchen work triangle = the distance from Refrigerator to the Sink to Stove back to Refrigerator. Each leg of the work triangle should measure between 4’ and 9’ in length and the total length of all 3 legs should be between 12’ and 26’ with 21 being rated at the most efficient.

Bed Sizes:

Twin 39”x75

X-Long Twin found in Dorms 39” x 80

Full Size Bed 54”x75

Queen 60”x80

King 76”x 80

California King 72”x 84”

Couches:  What ever size couch you decide to get, research shows that rarely more than 2 people will sit on it together at one time….don’t know where the research is another one of those things Mother Mary always says…and I have noted the phenomenon at parties.

Dining Rooms:  The minimum dining room size is 12' X 12' this allows for proper circulation around the table and allows for 6 people to fit graciously...more if you are good friends.

Chandeliers: or pendant lights should be approximately 36” above the table/counter surface.
Shelves:  Books minimum 12" however 13" is better.  Dishes need 15" clear in an upper cabinets.  If  you have glass doors on your cabinets either use glass shelves or line the shelf up with the "grill" pattern on the door and for the Love of Good Design-- shelves should always be adjustable because stuff comes in different sizes.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Understanding Architectural Drawings

Below I have illustrated plans, sections and elevations of the custom-designed vanity pictured on the left.

The plan is a bird’s eye view looking down from three feet above the floor. I equate this to looking down at the top of a birthday cake.

Continuing with the birthday cake theme, a section would be like cutting into the cake and seeing all the layers.
The location of where the sections are cut is shown on the plan with a “cut line” and an arrow indicating where the cut has been made and which way we are looking at the section. 
The elevation shows us what we would see standing in front of the vanity. The location/point of the view is again noted with a circle and arrow on the plan. Referring back to the birthday cake image, if you are looking at the side of the cake and it is a round cake, the drawing of this would be a rectangle.  Vertical parallel lines are used as shading to show the curve.

The corresponding numbers in these circles, or "tags," tell us the drawing number and the drawing sheet/page in the set. The number on the top of the line indicates the drawing number on a sheet and the bottom number is the page or sheet number in the set. While these drawings all occur on one sheet, the principle remains the same for a larger set of documents where the drawings are on many sheets ... you match the “tag” numbers.