Frequently asked Questions & Answers
What process will you use to gather information?
As the first step toward understanding the full scope of your needs, we ask that you complete a questionnaire which we will go over at a programming meeting. We talk through all of the ideas you may have collected on websites like Houzz or Pinterest, from magazine clippings, personal photos, and other notes and images you have for the project. We discuss overall goals and specific functional and aesthetic issues. We coordinate which technical information will be provided by the architect and which will be your responsibility - clients typically provide plot plans, site surveys and other relevant site information.
How do you approach most projects?
We often approach a project as a site planning as well as an architectural design project. Issues of solar and wind orientations, the front drive, entrance, and relationship of decks and terraces to the house and yard, are important site and landscaping problems which often need to be addressed globally, before delving into specifics of new construction. We recommend a review of your overall master planning and future design goals, to ensure that the designs we suggest will not preclude any future additions or upgrades to the house or grounds. An example is a client who is considering adding a pool in the future- this can affect location of terraces, decks, wells and septic system as well as any architectural expansions.
How will you establish priorities and make decisions?
The priorities for the project are based directly on your own needs and preferences, and are established at the outset to ensure the compatibility of our mutual goals. We set specific objectives at the beginning of the project and then reassess them as we progress through the work. Our decisions are based on what we understand your needs to be, and our professional expertise on certain technical and aesthetic issues. No final decision on design, budget or schedule is made without your review and approval.
Will we be dealing with the same person from your firm for the entire project? And what is that person’s name?
Shannon Scarlett will be providing both design and management services for the entirety of your project. Timothy Scarlett is available to assist in the office with occasional design and technical issues, or as needed to meet deadlines, and to help analyze any unusual or complex situations which may arise, but otherwise you will be dealing directly with Shannon.
What type of project do you personally enjoy most?
Our design strength is in creating architecture which is regionally appropriate, yet contemporary in style. We are less concerned with project scale than design potential. We enjoy renovations and additions where the client is looking to customize a house to better meet their contemporary tastes and family needs, without creating a building that is jarringly out of context with the existing house or it’s neighbors. With new construction what we enjoy the most is total customization to meet a clients aesthetic and efficiency requirements.
How busy are you currently, and over the next 12 months?
The workload in the office is always changing, so the addition of new projects will depend on how full our schedule is. We generally have at least a couple projects in the design phase at any one time, and a couple other projects at varying stages of completion. Because every project has design review periods and other delays, we use those down times to alternate between projects. When there is the occasional schedule conflict, we just have to work extra hours to get it all done. In determining how your project will fit into our upcoming workload, the specifics of the project, and flexibility in your schedule, will be factored into if and how we can take on the additional work. We are careful to plan ahead so that no project or client is underserved because a workload is heavier than the office can reasonably handle. Even if we are currently busy we can often take on new work if your schedule has some flexibility. So please email or give a call to find out if we can help you!
What makes you different from other architects?
We feel that our design talents extend beyond the making of beautiful spaces, to an ability to innovate under constraints, and translate seemingly conflicting client needs into an efficient, functioning plan. Unfortunately, it seems to be the exception to find an architect who listens to the client’s specific ideas for the project, and for the more subtle inferences to how they actually live in their home. Unlike some other architects and designers who prefer their clients ‘stay clear’ of their artistic creation, we welcome client involvement. We enjoy- and seem to be best at- design challenges that bring many different issues and ideas into a clear and comprehensive whole
What is your fee structure, and what is it based on?
Because each client and project is unique, we tend to customize the fees for each project. We adjust the scope of our services to meet budget restraints and to accommodate the level of personal service desired by the particular client. Both industry standards and our past experience have shown standard full service fees for renovation/ addition projects can range broadly from 10 to 15% of the construction cost. New construction is generally 8 to 12%, (cost is often less than renovations, because new projects are typically less complex). The design complexity and level of detail required determine where in the range your project might cost.
Our position as a small firm with lower overhead expenses allows us to offer more reasonable fees than some of the larger design firms. While we strive to keep our fees low, we feel it is important to provide our clients a sound and attentive service, and require a minimum fee to effectively provide a thorough job.
Specifically how will you determine the fee for our project?
There are basically three ways that we work with clients.
First, the most well-known service option we offer is the traditional full architectural services, including design of an overall concept, refinement of details, contract documents (blueprints and specs) and on-site administration of the construction.
Second, in certain circumstances, we can break out specific phases of a project and charge for those on a scope of work basis—occasionally design only, or design and construction drawings phase where the owner supervises building process, with a minimum involvement of architect during construction. (The partial service option is applied on a case by case situation, as it is a less than ideal service for many projects.)
Third, we can work hourly, which is the best alternative for short term consultation, master planning complex projects to determine scope of work, zoning board or historic commission applications, design reviews, etc.
As a loose rule, the fees for basic services may be broken down by phase as a percentage of the total projected construction cost * , as follows:
Schematic Design: 25-35%
Design Development: 20-25%
Contract Documents: 40-50%
Bidding/Construction Admin: 10-15%
Total Fee: 100%
The final fee for design development, contract documents, and construction administration are typically reassessed after preliminary estimates, and the specific scope of work have been further refined.
To understand this concept, assume a construction budget of $100,000 for which the total architectural fee was $10,000. The programming and schematic design phase constitutes 30% of the assumed total fee ($10,000)- which would mean you might assume your first payment in this case would be around $3,000 for schematic design.
For speculative projects (new houses or apartments for sale or rent) and projects where the builder provides structural and finish detailing, the design can often be streamlined. In these cases, assuming a quality builder, both the design and contract drawings can be less exacting- Plans are often simplified for cost effectiveness, and detailing can be more universal and suggestive. For these type of projects a fee of 6-9% is typically sufficient to take the project up to a “bid set” stage, at which point the owner then takes over the project.
Basic services typically do not include surveys, extensive needs analysis, field measuring, existing drawings or other similar tasks which would be both optional and supplemental to the basic services, and reviewed prior to starting work.
If field measurements and existing drawings are needed, the cost typically ranges from $700 to $1500 for average single family home.
* A very rough way to begin to estimate construction cost is to use a cost per square foot method- i.e. new construction with common details and materials might cost around $250-$350/sq ft, where a small upscale kitchen renovation can jump as high as $500-2,000/sf. Typically, basic renovation/ addition work in the Boston/ Metrowest area can start around $250-$300/sf and go up from there. Complex or unusual projects, and renovations where services and other parts of the house are affected are much more difficult to assign a square foot cost. And, no matter what we’ve tried, neighborhoods do affect total cost—a project in Weston costs noticeably more than one in Westborough, even for the same basic design.
What is your design process?
Our design process typically involves five phases -
1) Programming: Involves sitting down for a couple of hours going over the exact details of what you want the project to achieve, and how you prefer to live in your house. This is also when we sort through magazine clippings, books, etc.- yours and ours- to feel out a desired character for the building
2) Schematic/ Preliminary Design: From the programming session, we take everything back to the office and begin to brainstorm ideas. We then meet to review three different schematic design options- which try to explore the full range of possible solutions for the project. We then either select a basic scheme and begin to refine it, or we combine elements of the various schemes into a composite scheme.
3) Design Development: The refinements to the preliminary design are worked out- materials selected, dimensions and details are finalized, and the last phase is
4) Contract Documents: Working drawings, specifications and details are reviewed for a final time, and drawn up as a set of final construction documents. These documents are then submitted to the contractor for bids or contract negotiation.
5) Construction Administration: Weekly or as needed site visits provide the architect an opportunity to review the building construction, and answer questions the builder might have, hopefully before problems arise or develop.
How do you organize the process?
We tailor each plan to both meet the specific requirements of the individual project and cover the major issues relevant to all projects. We can set up a project notebook for the project if you need help keeping all important documents together and easily accessible. We also believe that clear and continuous communication between the various project members is essential to a smooth handling of the project- from planning through construction.
What will we be expected to provide in the process?
You will be responsible for providing information on a variety of topics- from outlining program/ listing space needs requirements, to supplying surveys, plot plans and other documents you might have, or can get from Town Hall, defining budget and schedule constraints, and contracting with a builder. You will also be responsible for making decisions, within a reasonable time frame, and asking questions as they arise throughout the design process, confirming that the final design will meet all of your needs.
What is your design philosophy?
Creativity in design is a process of searching for answers- some solutions are immediately apparent, other times it requires an evolution of ideas before finding the answer. Revelations might come from arduous exploration at the drafting board, a phone conversation with a client, an afternoon walk, a dream, or even a child’s observation. We believe that the best architectural designs emerge from the specific issues and constraints of the individual project: They are expressive of their time without being trendy, and they offer multiple uses and meanings for many different people.
What has been your experience/ track record with cost estimating?
Architects as a rule are not strong at cost estimating. Because costs are affected by so many outside factors, we prefer to leave detailed estimating to a professional. We strongly recommend an early review of the project (end of master plan or schematic design phase) with a local builder, who can estimate price ranges before the project gets too far along. They cannot fix a precise number to your project until a specific scope of work has been outlined, however we can begin to feel out a ballpark estimate in the schematic design phase. We can also work with your builder early in the process as a way of pinpointing what they see as high cost items, or design alternatives that might reduce costs.
What will you use to communicate the design to us during the project?
Typically, we communicate each element of the design of the project through loose plan and elevation sketches, and perspective views, with the intent of keeping you fully aware of exactly what the design looks like as it develops. We have developed a very quick way of generating multiple detailed interior sketches, with furniture, which most clients have found very helpful. Colored renderings, perspectives, computer-rendered walk-throughs, and detailed models may be more instrumental in getting certain design ideas across. While these are not part of our basic services, they may be requested as an additional service if you feel they would better clarify a complex design before moving to construction documents.
If there are changes to the scope during the project, will there be additional fees? How will you communicate these scope changes to us, and justify any additional fees?
Scope changes on a project can vary widely, from a minimal change to bring a project on budget, to extensive redesigning to accommodate a client’s changing priorities. For small changes, there is generally no additional fee. There are instances where additional fees would be requested: changes which affect fees are generally an expansion of the project by the client (i.e. “while were spending money we might as well remodel the bathroom, replace the cabinets, or add new lighting…”), or unforeseen conditions which require alternate design solutions. Both parties review the need for the additional work, then an appropriate fee for the work is assessed - generally on an hourly basis. Any changes in fee would be agreed upon in advance of the performance of services.
What services will you provide during the construction phase of the project?
Traditional services for the construction phase of the project which we would provide include:
Bidding/ negotiation: including review of potential bidders, issuing of documents, answering contractors questions/ providing clarification, and an add alternate package, if needed to bring the project in on budget.
Construction administration: including site visits during ongoing construction, shop drawing reviews, as needed, progress reports, review of payment requisitions, and a punch list inspection.
How long does it take to complete each phase of a project for both design and construction?
Project schedules can range from 3 weeks to a over a year, depending on the type of project and your desired time frame for completing the work. To address the issue of schedule it is important to understand that all projects are based on three factors; quality, cost and schedule, each one directly effecting another. For any two of the factors to meet all of your requirements, the third must be compromised. If the schedule is based on a critical date or event, then either the cost of the project will increase, or the overall precision of the design will have to be adjusted.
If there is flexibility in the schedule, then design quality and price can be more easily established. As with any project it is preferable to establish the major goals and have a big picture before delving into the specifics of the project. If you are considering a compressed schedule to meet a specific bid date, keep in mind that what will be compressed is your review time in exploring your design options to the fullest. Construction scheduling is dependent on several factors which we are unable to control. The actual construction timetables are typically established after the total scope of work is defined, and may be based on the work schedule of your preferred contractor.
What is your educational background and any professional designations you have earned?
Shannon Scarlett and Timothy Scarlett both received Bachelor’s of Architecture degrees from the University of Oregon in the 1980’s. We are both registered in Massachusetts, and were active members of the BSA, the Boston chapter of the AIA. We have received several design awards for national and local competitions, and Shannon has been a juror on competitions and critic for architectural design studios.