Through years of experience we have developed a methodology on how to design, plan and build a Home or Cottage that takes much of the risk out of the process. We will take you through the journey from a simple idea to a complete, ready to move in Home or Cottage. The practices that we have developed are thoughtful, thorough and complete. Trusting the process will ensure that you have the “right” Home or Cottage at the “right” price for you.
The very first step of any building process is one of discovery. Discovery-of-self, an understanding ofyour needs and your family needs. The latest trends and technologies that are available to anyone beginning such a project.
It is a time of thoughtfulness, joy and disappointment (we cannot afford that!). This step must be taken very seriously and as early in the process as possible.
It is significantly cheaper to change your mind at this stage, then it is ripping out framing to accommodate the 8 ft doors you now love instead of the standard 7 ft doors that your originally selected.
TAKE NOTICE OF HOW YOU LIVE.
Are you neat? Are you comfortable? (Code for messy). Do you like privacy or do you prefer openness and connectivity? What is the family dynamic? How are meals prepared and shared? What is your morning routine? Do you or others in the family need their space? What is the traffic flow like? How do you enter or leave the house?
What activities do you enjoy? What are the storage implications of each of the activities? Daily, Weekly, Seasonal or annual access required?
What do you want the house or cottage to say about you? Modesty? Grandeur?
How does the rest of the family feel about the design? How would you describe your sense of style?
What are the external influences that are affecting your design? What is the neighborhood like? What are the minimum standards that this house or cottage must meet in order to maximize value and accommodate the neighborhood?
Are some of the design choices just trendy fads? or classic elements you can live with for years to come?
LISTEN TO YOUR FINANCIAL ADVISOR.
What is your pocket book telling you? You need to listen and listen carefully. Stick to your budget or the dream house can become a nightmare. Just because you want something does not mean you can afford it…
This stage should give you an idea of what you need and what you want and ultimately what you can afford.
It is a first step, but a very important one.
The sketch is the most powerful tool we have!
It is the sketch that is the language we use to capture our client’s needs and wants. The sketch inculdes the floor layout to scale, and an elevation of the Home or Cottage to see the aesthetic vision of the building.
However, the sketch is where the client dreams meet the reality of space, construction and budget.
This stage is essential to the understanding of the nature, composition and cost of the project. The sketch is produced from our understanding of what is important to the client, whether it is function, form or flow, and how we are able to translate all the elements of lifestyle, design and geographic into a comprehensive expression of the home or cottage.
WITH EVERY DESIGN THERE IS COMPROMISE.
Based on experience we feel a visual representation of the dream Home or Cottage, is a requirement to articulate the tradeoffs that need to be made.
Seeing the sketch enhances awareness. Seeing the sketch promotes better decision making for your future.
Is the proposed design aesthetically pleasing? Functional? And ultimately financially appropriate?
- “I do not need that much space in the grand room”
- “We need more outdoor living space”
- “I forgot the home office”
- “I need a mud area and a back door sink..”
Without a sketch of the floor plan and accompanying elevation, much is assumed and sometimes unarticulated. Any client who needs to navigate through the decisions required will find it difficult to understand the choices and without seeing their ideas expressed through a sketch.
Once the sketch is complete the real conversation about the Home or Cottage design begins.
We need visual language to make the conversation meaningful.
Without this step, creating a budget is not realistic or practical.
The budget becomes numbers on a page, with no true foundation in the reality of this unique Home or Cottage.
We make the investment in the sketch because it is extremely important to the successful outcome of the project and creating a happy client.
A Budget is not the price of the project! It is an articulation of the resources available to create the proposed Home or Cottage. The budget creates parameters in which the builder and the homeowner need to work within, not how much “things cost”.
Often when we discuss budgets, many clients assume that the budget is the price of the job, but it is not.
THE PRICE IS HOW MUCH THINGS COST TO BUY OR MAKE.
Budgets are the resources that are available to produce the home or cottage. The work is reconciling how much things cost with what is affordable. Collectively we work towards understanding the decisions that must be made to stay on budget.
HOW DO WE CREATE A BUDGET?
Through our experience and data that we gather on all the jobs we produce, we are able to create reasonable estimates on projects, taking into account size (square footage), type and size of rooms and spaces (kitchens, basements, great rooms etc..) andfinally our understanding of the quality expectationsthat the homeowner has.
Given, the data required to produce a reliable budget, the sketch is critical to this step.
Typical question. Why is my sister’s house is bigger and cheaper?
Without details on the construction, understanding of room composition, layout, site costs implications and finishes throughout the house it is difficult to make direct comparisons without a detailed analysis. Often many elements are left out of the equation, garage costs, site costs, HST implications, finish levels. Often some key elements are “high end” granite counters etc. included and other elements are economized (trim finishes etc.). No two custom projects have the same sensibilities to budgeting.
When creating a budget other factors come into play such as the level of difficulty in the design. What does the roofline look like? What is access to the site look like? Have we accommodated sufficient funds for specialty areas, wine cellars, dramatic windows etc? Assumptions must be made at this point in the process, but the better the data, the more reliable the budget.
Some typical items that can be missed in the budgeting process include but not limited to, include:
- Site Costs
- HST implications
- Appropriate level of allowances for specialty items
- Accommodations for change
It is the sketch that drives the production of the budget. Only with a clear understanding of what is involved can we start the task of budgeting the project.
And only with an understanding of budget, can we find the “right” materials for your project and consequently, the “right” price.
A lot of work needs to be completed before a reasonable and reliable pricing exercise can begin.
With an understanding of the scope of the job, which includes the design, areas of responsibility, financial resources at hand, as well as the aesthetic sensibilities of the owner, can we start to “price” the appropriate materials and resources for the project.
PRICING A PROJECT IS COMPLEX.
Many stages, many elements, and many different skill sets are needed in the building of a Home or Cottage. Sequencing of tasks needs to be understood, working conditions considered and material sourcing timely and efficient, and the level of difficulty of the in constructing of the design.
Pricing must consider all these elements in order to be realistic and meaningful.
To be to respectful of all the challenges of the creating realistic pricing, we have developed a three-part system.
Each stage has its unique characteristics defined by ease of scope development, logical project progression and complexity in sourcing and decision making, for each stage.
This stage is inclusive of all the work, and materials required to enclose the structure. This typically includes items like foundation, framing, windows, exterior doors etc. The typical timing of final selections is relatively quick. A firm price can be established in short order once the design has been finalized.
Ready to cover
This stage is inclusive of all the mechanical work and rough preparation required for completing the site for inspection. This stage is generally referred to as “ready for cover”. Simply put, the site must be prepared for mechanical inspection and ready to drywall the structure.
What drives pricing in this stage, is the size of the structure, nature of heating and air-conditioning, specialty lighting and/or fixtures. Again the ability to develop pricing for this stage is short and relatively reliable. What is required are decisions for room layout, kitchen layout, and bathrooms in order to price and complete this phase.
Occupancy is the most complex, it includes all the finishes and items that need to be sourced and installed before the homeowner can move in. Kitchen cabinets, counter tops, interior doors, trim, tiles and flooring etc. The decision-making can be involving, contentious and time consuming. We guide our clients through the process with an eye on the budget and the aesthetic tastes of the client.
Trade offs are made in some areas to accommodate spending in others.
It is this area where self control and discipline is required the most. In the age of“architectural media programming” clients are exposed to many products that are gorgeous, and as is often the case, expensive. Too expensive.
“But I love that….”, but the budget cannot accommodate the fine Italian marble or Peruvian tile etc. Sometimes it is best for our clients to allow us to present the products that best meet both the criteria of budget and aesthetic appeal… rather than blow the bank on an item or items that are beyond their resources.
If they really want the Italian marble then that is both a budget decision as well as a design finishes decision.
Once the design is agreed to, the budget established, and the pricing exercise well under way, now is the time for a formal agreement with our clients.
With focus on Shell Enclosure the scope of the work and details are finalized, and a price agreed to, the project begins. With clarity of work, expectations are set and our client can rest assured that the project resources will be sufficient and well utilized.
A similar process unfolds for "Ready to Cover" and Occupancy of the project.
“BUT WHAT IF I CHANGE MY MIND ON SOMETHING?”
Well, highly unlikely, (Just kidding, happens all the time).
Our mandate is to make sure the client understands the implications of the change in terms of both cost and timing. Sometimes just cost is affected; others only time and in many cases both. Our mission is to have the client understand the implications of the change before the work begins.
We have automated our change order approval process. Before the work begins an email is sent to the client requesting approval for the work to be completed with the corresponding time and cost implications articulated. Timely information makes for effective project management.
Change orders should not affect the project budget more than 5% on any given project. Thoughtfulness, meaningful budgeting and aggressive communication can, and should eliminate surprises.
Our process is founded on the belief that building a Home or Cottage is not only complex, but without a sound planning process, an understanding of costs, as well as construction techniques, can be risky.
Our mission is to build the right Home or Cottage for you, at the right budget.
But, it takes thoughtfulness and work.
Now the moment of truth, the building process begins. It is a journey that starts long before we break ground.
The pre construction phase is often under estimated. Permitting, surveying, planning and scheduling are all important dimensions of the build phase that are often underestimated in terms of the amount of time required to complete. A sound approach to pre construction can save time and money.
CAN YOU START RIGHT AWAY?
The answer is invariably yes, but “start” does not mean, “dig a hole”. “Start” means finalize construction drawings, research permitting issues, deal with the conservation authority as well as schedule materials and resources etc. A strong pre construction phase also establishes good relations with the authorities, which can facility problem solving during the course of the project. Sound relationships must precede the work.
Anxiety is often at its highest level during the build phase and a clear understanding of the process, does certainly help. Effective communications can alleviate stress.
We recommend a formal communication plan with any project. Formal meeting times and preference for communication (phone/email/text etc.)
Access to information on demand does help alleviating stress. Access to our project web portal that includes project timeline, ongoing status of finances and weekly project site photos, is the foundation of a strong communication plan. You cannot communicate too aggressively with a construction project.
ULTIMATELY, THE NATURE OF THE WORK GUIDES THE PROJECT PLAN.
Early stage work, foundation, framing etc. is best described as managed in series. One step at a time, with only the next phase started once the previous has been complete. The items are dramatic (foundation, framing) and progress is very apparent.
As we move through the build phase "Ready to Cover), opportunities exist where multiple tasks can be completed simultaneously. Plumbing, electrical etc. (with the provision that space and task allows for safe and effective work conditions) can run concurrently depending on design and scope of the work.
Task completion during this phase is not as dramatic or apparent at times and consequently this is often misinterpreted as the “project pace is slowing down”. Typically the work is more detailed and nuanced. Milestones are not as grand…“rough in of mechanical” vs. “the roof is on”. At this time, it is important to monitor the project schedule vs. the action on site. We have a plan and we are executing against the plan.
The final stage in the building process we have labeled, "Occupancy".
This phase includes all the finishes required for occupancy. Cabinetry, flooring, trim, paint and all the items that are required to create the Home or Cottage as you imagined it. Many details, and correspondingly many decisions are required in a timely manner.
Working with our Interior design professionals we guide you through the many decisions that need to be made. With a clear understanding of your aesthetic tastes, as well as your budget, we provide you with choices that will delight both the eye, and your pocket book. We attempt to bring order to what may seem an over whelming task.
NO ONE IS AT THE SITE TODAY?
Given the complexity of materials supply, sequencing of tasks and complementary skill requirements during the course of a project, it is not unusual to have days where the site is quiet. It is not because the builder “does not care” or he is “floating multiple jobs” but often it can be as simple as rain last week delayed completion of a task that has a cascading effect on other resources.
Complex projects do need flex time. Without flex time, the final timeline gets longer and not shorter. Narrow windows lead to resources being overbooked and ultimately longer delays. We need to plan with the notion that “stuff happens” and we need to be prepared for the unexpected.
A DAY OR TWO OF QUIET TIME IS NORMAL, WEEKS ON END IS NOT.
Finally, decisions matter.
We take great effort in our planning process to resolve as many decisions in advance before the project starts. It improves materials management; it improves labour and trade scheduling and consequently shortens timelines and improves cost management.
However, it is not always possible to get all decisions made in advance of the project start. Decisions sometimes need to be made during the course of the project. In certain instances it is unavoidable and unfortunately delays in decision-making can be the number one reason for project delay.
It is essential that every owner has clarity around their decision making process. Is budget the most important factor? Is design integrity? Are all the decision makers on the same page? What are your information requirements for making a proper and timely decision? If we do not have the “answer”, we need to have clarity on how we arrive at the answer.
FINALLY, YOUR PROJECT IS DONE.
It is said that 4000 decisions are required to build a Home or Cottage and once every decision has been made, it is now time to enjoy the fruits of your vision.
Enjoy what you have accomplished, it was a journey, but you did it!
Appreciate what you have created… it will be special!