Why do I need a designer?

Building a new house or improving your existing home can be a complex venture.  You probably have questions about housing styles, structural integrity, materials, codes, and costs.  As your designer, I listen to your ideas.  Together, we review your options and arrive at a workable, satisfying design concept.  My commitment to sustainable design means I can help you reduce your energy costs, minimize the carbon footprint of your home, and eliminate toxic materials that could affect the health of your family.  From preliminary sketches through construction detailing, I find creative and cost effective ways to achieve your goals.  During the construction phase, I can help you refine your product choices and represent your best interests to the contractor.  My goal is to provide you with excellent service and a beautiful place to live.

How do I know if remodeling or adding on to my house is a good idea?

In my first visit to your home, I will be able to ascertain its overall condition and how adaptable it will be to your ideas.  Many older homes are so deteriorated or outdated a complete overhaul is required.  This can cost as much as new construction.  In other cases, you may need to complete the work in phases in order to continue living in the house or to space out payments.  It is usually a good idea to develop a "master plan" of all the improvements to be made, prioritize the work, and be confident costs won't get out of hand.  We may also need to consult with mechanical or other specialty contractors to verify existing conditions.

How do we get started?

Our first meeting offers a chance to get to know each other and discuss your project.  There is no cost for an initial hour of consultation if conducted at my office in Dodgeville.  Bring any sketches, maps, picture ideas, or photographs which will help me understand what is important to you and what your site or existing house looks like.  We will discuss your functional and aesthetic goals, your timetable, and what you need from me.  I can show you some examples of my work from preliminary sketches through construction drawings which will help you understand the steps ahead.  If we agree to work together, I will follow up with a Design Services Proposal which will include a description of your project, a list of the drawings to be prepared, a timeframe, and an estimate for design fees.

What design services do you offer?

My services are tailored to your particular needs, and are billed on an hourly basis with a not-to-exceed figure outlined in the Design Services Proposal.  Several hours of consultation may be enough for you to tackle the design and construction on your own if you have some prior experience.  You may have plans already prepared by someone else and want my opinion of their design quality or construction feasibility.  Perhaps you are considering purchasing a new home and are unsure whether it can be adapted to your needs.  A small project like a bath remodel or deck may require 6-8 hours of my time while a new home with fully detailed plans could take a hundred hours or more.  I can help you plan a project from bare ground and a blank sheet of paper all the way through occupancy.  The Proposal separates the design fee by Data Collection, Preliminary Design, Construction Drawings, and Construction Phase, described below.

How much does a design cost?

After an initial no-cost meeting (usually held at my office), I will have a good idea what you are looking for.  I can then prepare a Design Services Proposal.  It outlines the work I will perform and an estimated cost with a not-to-exceed figure, based on my hourly rate of $85.  Small projects such as a deck, pergola, feasibility study, or conceptual site plan might be $510.  Most remodel or addition projects come in at $2,000-$5,000.  Construction drawings for a new home could range from $3,000-$10,000 depending on complexity and level of detail.

Do you have a particular style?

My practice is based in rural Southwest Wisconsin and the projects my clients bring to me have ranged from the historic restoration of mid-1800's stone cottages to contemporary new homes.  I have worked with farm families who need functional mudrooms to retiring "city people" who are looking for a refined but rustic new lifestyle on an undeveloped piece of land.  While some projects fall easily into a particular type or architectural style, many designs evolve from the unique characteristics of the site, a family's lifestyle, or their spatial requirements.  In almost all cases "form follows function" and the design begins to suggest itself after careful consideration of scale and proportion.  Ultimately, a design must "feel right"....it must be honest, practical, and support a contented life.

What are the first steps after I hire you?

To begin, I research and document existing conditions.  I call this phase Data Collection.  For a new home, I walk the building site with you.  If fairly open and not too large an area, we can shoot the grades together with my surveying equipment.  This will allow me to prepare a topographic map, an invaluable aid in siting the building especially when considering a walkout basement or difficult drainage patterns.  If your site is heavily wooded or complicated in other ways, a professional surveyor could produce a more economical and accurate map.

For an existing home we are remodeling or adding to, I will take measurements and photographs to locate structural members, mechanical systems, utility connections, and architectural features.  I can then prepare "as-built" drawings.  Accurate documentation eliminates guesswork and ensures a new design is realistic.

Also needed is an up-to-date legal description of the property including any easements or covenants.  The local zoning code will be reviewed for setbacks, building height, and other restrictions on development.  I will also consult local officials for applicable building codes which regulate what and where we can build.  You may be considering a non-conventional building envelope or system, renovating a historically significant building, or attempting to infuse a design with a special feature or sensibility.  This is where research, discussion, and inspired thinking can pay off later.  Before putting pen to paper taking time to understand the whole gestalt will make the following steps flow.

We will need to have a frank talk about how much you want to spend on construction.  Almost everyone, no matter their budget, experiences sticker shock.  Separating needs and wants and prioritizing them is an invaluable exercise and can help keep the project in perspective.

What Comes Next?

The Preliminary Design phase is where the fun begins.  Taking everything we have learned and discussed in the preceding steps, a design concept begins to emerge.  It is a synthesis of necessity, physical & legal constraints, economy & practicality, and the quest for a comfortable, happy life.  At this stage, I am not looking for the one, perfect idea.  Rather, it is a time for unfettered thinking and brainstorming......there are almost always more ideas to be had than are apparent at first glance.

For a new home, I will prepare two to three site plans for your review.  Each will configure the house, driveway, outbuildings, or other feature in a different way so we can discuss the pros and cons of each.  For an addition or remodeling project, I will begin with several (two, sometimes as many as eight or ten) ways to reconfigure the space both in plan and elevation.  Your participation in the design process is essential.  I ask you to take the drawings home, leave them out on the kitchen table and "live in" them for several days or weeks.  Perhaps you will camp out on your land in several spots, to notice the views and the way the sun moves across the sky.  For a kitchen remodel you may mock up an island with a cardboard box, or do some showroom shopping to understand the spatial or material features indicated on the sketch.

It takes time to understand what you like and how it will function.  You will find yourself asking what is really important in your life and how the space you live in can better facilitate family interactions, your work or hobbies, or your connection with nature.  When you consider the fact your project will probably outlive you and be passed on "for better or worse" to the next generation, the design process can be intimidating!  This is where my experience working with many homeowners over the years, my understanding of design styles & trends, and my commitment to sustainable design and construction practices can help inform you and lead the way to a practical, economical, and responsible solution.

Depending on the scope and complexity of the project, we may go through several rounds of preliminary sketches and meetings.  If you live at a distance, we can converse by phone or email.  I can send revisions electronically and you can send sketches back.  There is nothing better however, than meeting in person to pore over the blueprints.  Conventional architectural drawings may be supplemented with a scaled model, a computer generated 3D walk-through, or visits to completed projects to see comparable spatial or material qualities.

Before we settle on a design concept, you may choose to meet with a builder or supplier for initial cost estimates.  I am always eager to include contractors in the early stages of design.  We may have an old house with cobbled plumbing and need to consult with a subcontractor about relocation costs and feasibility.  Perhaps we're considering a tricky structural solution or a new product.  This is the time to seek expert advice and resolve as many questions as possible.

Once we have arrived at a workable option, I will refine the design further and continue to integrate the site or existing house with our chosen building components and finishes.  I will generate a list of products to be selected or researched and help you find local or online sources for those materials.  If we need to verify costs before proceeding, I will recommend local contractors or suppliers you can work with directly, or I can take the lead and meet with them.

What do the blueprints look like?

From a solid set of preliminary plans, I will prepare the final Construction Drawings.  Depending on local regulations, your needs, and the expertise of the contractors involved, these documents could range from a basic, no-frills set of blueprints to a highly detailed set including product specifications.  It is important you have as much information as you need to make your project successful, without draining the design budget on marginally useful details or "boilerplate".  There are many free design/estimating services available through lumberyards, material suppliers, and showrooms and I encourage you to take advantage of them.

A typical set of plans for residential construction will include:

-Site Plan showing building location, driveways, and utilities

-Foundation Plan showing dimensions and several details

-Floor Plan(s) showing dimensions, structural elements, window & door selections, and special features

-Exterior Elevations of all sides, with callouts for cladding materials

-Building Sections with vertical dimensions and callouts of construction materials

-Construction Details showing special conditions

Why is site planning so important?

The setting of your home is an essential consideration.  A design that pays attention to the site results in a home with a sense of belonging and connection to the outdoors.  Orienting the house to the South and understanding the micro-climate can play a major role in reducing heating and cooling costs.  My plan will address favorable views, the path of the sun, slope of the land, drainage issues, utilities, and road access.  Also considered are neighboring structures, adjacent features, and the historic use of the area.  Respect for these factors brings context and meaning to your new home and lasting value to future generations.  "The best places always make you feel like all is well with the world."  Andrei Codrescu

What is Green Building?

It has been estimated if everyone lived like the average American, we would need five Earths!  Buildings account for 48% of the energy consumed in our country.  For environmental and ethical reasons, we can no longer continue to waste non-renewable resources.  We need to build smaller and smarter.

With rising awareness and demand for information and products, more professionals in the building industry are devoting themselves to sustainable design.  The American Institute of Architects has issued the "2030 Challenge", a goal to have all new buildings and major renovations carbon neutral by 2030.  Focus on Energy works with Wisconsin residents to install cost effective energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.  They are the premier "go-to" source for information, resources, and financial incentives.  Business ventures and non-profit organizations of all types have jumped into the market.  You can hardly pick up a newspaper or magazine without seeing another article about going green.  Google "green building" and you will be presented with 22 million websites to browse in your spare time.  The challenge and creativity are there, but it can be overwhelming to narrow down the options.

While I can't profess to be an expert, many of my clients have found my advice helpful.  I strive to stay informed on the latest building science practices as they pertain to air sealing, insulation, ventilation, and moisture management.  Passive solar heating and cooling have been an interest of mine since the 1970's, and I'm excited to see a resurgence of new designs along with computer modeling software that finesse their performance.  In the last few years, I have designed two homes built with SIP's (Structural Insulated Panels) and ICF's (Insulated Concrete Forms).  I am familiar with "smart framing", straw-bale construction, floating slabs, and super-insulated strap wall envelopes.

Building orientation, shape and shading devices contribute cost-free thermal regulation while solar thermal panels, photovoltaic's, and wind turbines provide backup heat and electricity.  Salvaged, recycled, and renewable building materials can be incorporated from the foundation through kitchen countertops.  Site disruption and construction waste can be kept to a minimum.  Indoor air quality doesn't have to be a problem in a tight building when you select non-toxic materials & finishes and provide a way for fresh air to be preheated by exhausting air.

Buying locally sourced material and hiring local talent eliminates transportation costs and the use of fossil fuels, while supporting your local economy.  Depletion of the water table can be reduced by selecting low flow plumbing fixtures, capturing rainwater, and minimizing storm water runoff.  Electrical use can be drastically reduced by choosing fluorescent and LED bulbs and appliances which exceed Energy Star requirements.  "Net Zero Energy" and "Passive Survivability" are the gold standards, and if the idea of producing more energy than you consume captures your imagination, it's an achievable goal.

Here's what we'll look at:

1.  High levels of insulation

2.  Reduced thermal bridging

3.  Attention to airtightness

4.  High heat-gain windows on South, minimize windows on East/West/North

5.  Thermal mass

6.  Indoor air quality & heat recovery ventilation

I am committed to exploring the best mix of building methods and materials which makes sense for your project.  By collaborating with knowledgeable mechanical contractors, building performance raters and conscientious builders your home can be a source of pride for you and inspiration for others.  And it can be a home that's more healthy, durable, and comfortable than anyplace you've ever lived.

Do You Do Interior Design?

Interior design is an integral part of conceptualizing the whole.  This includes selections of flooring, wall finishes, countertops & cabinets, plumbing fixtures, and lighting.  Many of my clients feel comfortable shopping for these items on their own or with the help of knowledgeable salespeople.  If you feel you need more direction, or help in narrowing the choices, I can take the lead.  The earlier in the design process some of these key elements are decided on, the more they can inform later choices and set the tone of the whole.  However, there are times when it is better to wait until the building is up and the space can be experienced, mock ups can be installed, and we can stand back and have a look at the scale and proportion of proposed features.  You or your contractor may need me to prepare detailed or shop drawings for fabrication of millwork, cabinetry or a fireplace surround.

How do I find a builder?

I know many of the builders in Iowa County and can recommend someone who may be a good match for your project.  If you live out of the area, I would suggest asking neighbors, friends, and business acquaintances.  Find lists of builders through local builder's associations, guilds, or memberships in non-profit organizations.  Arrange to meet them in person, have them visit your home, and ask to see some of their recent projects.  Talk to several of their clients.  Once you have found one or two builders you are comfortable with, I can talk with them on the phone or meet them in person.  I have found a face-to-face meeting while reviewing the blueprints tells me a lot about a builder: their level of interest, their grasp on our design priorities & intent, how well they understand the blueprints, how they will choose subcontractors and suppliers, and how readily they share ideas and information.

Do you help with bidding a project?

After Construction Drawings are completed and approved by you, I will prepare as many sets as needed for dispersal to your general contractor, subcontractors, suppliers, and local building code official.  It is typically the owner's responsibility to contact potential builders, set the terms of the bid, and sign their contract.  However, on an hourly consultation basis, I am available to talk you through the process, interview contractors, review bids, and/or negotiate a price.  If a question or concern arises, I am available to clarify design intent or discuss product substitutions.  My aim is to facilitate communication and to advocate on your behalf.

How can you help me after construction begins?

When you have decided on a contractor and a construction start date is pending, I like to conduct a pre-construction meeting.  This is a time for me to sit down with your contractor for a one-on-one discussion.  I will go over each sheet of the plans thoroughly in order to gauge his/her understanding and answer any questions.  If an objection or difficulty is raised, I can address it with an explanation or a revision.  After the meeting, I will make a report to you.

During the Construction Phase, I can meet with you and/or your contractor at the job site.  You may want me to address a specific concern or detail, or you may need oversight on the quality of construction.  Even when you have hired a contractor you trust, there are still times when the eye of a trained designer is needed.  With teamwork, a project can run smoothly and the results can surpass your expectations.

608-935-9020 178 1/2 N. Iowa Street Suite 204 Dodgeville, WI 53533 amber@amberwesterman.com