A table spread with magazine inspiration for a warm, modern kitchen remodel, scribbled measurements, and a phone.

Have no clue where to start? You probably need an Architect.

A table spread with magazine inspiration for a warm, modern kitchen remodel, scribbled measurements, and a phone.

To cut right to the chase, having an Architect on your team ensures that you have an advocate for your vision. They’re there to support you, mitigate stressful situations, and guarantee your project will ultimately be successful.

If you are thinking about undergoing an extensive remodel, a new build, or adapting an old building for a new use, you need an architect.
When you hire an architect for your project, they become your stalwart producer and guide through the process. From recommending the best builders to navigating the local building codes and ordinances (especially when the building is over 50 years old) your architect has – or will find – the right solution to meet your design needs.
a modern hexagonal addition rises above the garden of evergreens at this single-level family home.

”I like to use the term puzzle instead of problem. Each project is a different puzzle with different pieces. These pieces include, but are not limited to: aging in place, budget, limitations based on lot size/zoning, existing construction, HOA [and] historic district guidelines.”

Who should you hire first: A Builder, An Architect, or An Interior Designer

Let’s begin by defining what each of the members of your Dream Team does. 
  • An Architect develops the design for the plans (or drawings) with you, the owner, for a new building or the remodel of an existing space. They design to fit your specific needs and work within the parameters of the site, your budget, and timeline. They will advocate for your needs, while also working to adhere to building and zoning codes, throughout the design, drawing, and permitting process.
  • The builder is responsible for overseeing the construction and implementation of the Architect’s plans. Most builders do not provide designs or drawings for your space.
  • If you choose to engage an Interior Designer, they work primarily in the interior of the space to further bring functionality and expression of the space. Architects often recommend working directly with a designer for “fixtures and furnishings”. 
We may be biased but we (and other home industry professionals)  absolutely recommend engaging your Architect as soon as you decide to start your project to start it on the right foot, save money, and mitigate stress.
However, we value collaboration over ‘who comes first’, so your Dream Team should be in constant communication throughout the project.
UrDesign provides a good benchmark for beginning your project with an architect:  

If your home remodel will cost beyond 5% of your house’s value and/or involves major structural changes, experts recommend working with an architect to create the design. This is largely because such projects are complicated and will benefit greatly from an expert’s input at every stage. Getting things wrong here can result in serious legal, financial, and safety consequences — so it’s worth getting it right.”

Inside the DFC-LMA offices. This is the meeting room with a large oval table, 5 black leather office chairs, and a picture window that shows a summer view of the downtown Winchester VA walking mall.

What To Expect - The Architecture Design Process Explained

We begin by meeting – in our office, digitally, or at the site. You can easily request one of these appointments online or by phone.
During this meeting, we get to know one another and seek to understand the project hone in on your wants and needs. We discuss your project, budget, schedule, and design goals.
Once we have a contract signed, we begin the research to understand site opportunities and restraints. We study how the environment impacts your site as a part of basic sustainable design principles. We’ll tour and measure any existing structures, and gather zoning and code information and any HOA restraints. 
Meanwhile you, as the owner, share with us images of your likes, dislikes, and inspirations.
Schematic Design 
After we get to know you and your site, we draft the first round of design.
Through a series of collaborative meetings, we will work through multiple schemes, brainstorming ideas together to get to the plan and exterior that you want in your custom design. 

“[A client] had a small second home above a resort on the side of the mountain… I started with interior remodeling but they wanted to add a Great room and a two car garage which would have access to their remodeled kitchen, since they were approaching retirement age… The finished project totally transformed the house, inside and out.”

The goal in this collaboration is to come to what we call a “design intent” as approved by you, the client. This intent is documented in the drawings as a Schematic Design Pricing Package that includes small scaled plans and elevations with notes, and often exterior 3D.

Historic downtown brick building rehab 'after' picture with modern gray panels and honey wood siding that gives a pop of bright orange color
Jurisdiction Review
If your property is located in a historic or another type of zoning overlay district, we might need to present the plans to a Board of Architectural Review, a Zoning Board or a Planning Commission. Sometimes during the pre-design process, we find that zoning ordinances change after a structure is built. These are sometimes called “non-conforming” structures. If this is the case, we may need to meet with and sometimes present to a review board to ensure the “design intent” of alterations or additions are compliant.
We’ll know ahead of this step if your project fits these special circumstances.
Pricing The Project
This is the stage where we really get a sense of the implementation of the project. We can discuss builders in the area including those you are talking to and any we have experience with. We want you to get the best results during the construction process.
It’s best to “shop around” with builders to get an idea of their interest and how pricing is matching to your budget. An ideal goal from this step is to have a builder on-board for the project. From there, we can move into more detailed drawings.

“In many cases, homeowners choose from among several contractors they've asked to submit bids on the job. The architect can help you prepare bidding documents as well as invitations to bid and instructions to bidders.”

Design Development
While other pieces of the plan fall into place, we work further on the specific details of your design. These details might include big picture ideas like lighting and electrical plans, smaller ideas like built-in details, exterior ideas such as cladding options or window size studies, or time to work with a consultant such as an interior or landscape designer.
Construction Documents
This final set of drawings includes the information we need to get permitted for construction. This is the best time to get feedback and input on construction methods and cost-saving strategies from you, the engineer and the builder. We usually have 2 or 3 series of reviews in this part to get to our final drawings.
Permit Drawings
We stamp, sign and deliver the permit drawings to you or your contractor to file with the jurisdiction in which you are building. Often, the permitting office will have questions or comments which we will be quick to answer before issuing a final permit.
Construction Administration

As your architect, we advocate for you and your design and can answer questions on-site that you or your builder have while putting the pieces into place. 


We can be hands-on throughout the process as much as you, the owner, wants to ask questions.

Leesa, a DFC-LMA architect, is at a construction site examining a roll of material on an unfinished floor. The exterior and interior wall are just wood framing and you can see an open window to the left

The Bottom Line

Is Hiring An Architect Worth It? 
First off, you can take a deep breath knowing that there’s no need for a large commitment at the beginning of a project. Pricing is hourly at the beginning, so you can easily manage your investment until you are confident in the value of the project.

“Sometimes I solve problems owners don't even realize they have! For residential, it's working out what they really need and how to make it all *fit* in the space they have to work with… For all my clients, it's finding the clever solutions to make a space you live or work in as comfortable as possible.”

So, really, what does it cost? 
Here at the office, Don likes to explain your investment in architectural services by pointing out that when you buy a new house, realtor fees are about 6%. Similarly, an architect will generally cost 5%-7% of your total construction budget through the permit drawings.
It’s easy to get started- the fees are hourly until the pricing phase (and if you engage in our full scope of services that means this part is about 40% of the total cost outlined above).
Ultimately, the benefits of hiring an architect greatly outweigh the costs for most medium to large projects. You will benefit from having an advocate who:
  • implements your design wishes so you can have confidence in the big picture — the plan — and the stress reduction which comes with that.
  • thoughtfully designs your project to meet budget parameters and/or eco-friendly design and passive solar design.
  • provides code compliant documents to protect you and your property.
  • communicates with all the members of the Dream Team on your behalf.
Are you starting a building project in 2022? How can we help you live more efficiently and happily in your home or business?