Hiring a designer

If you can’t hire an architect, a designer may be able to help with your plans

Architects aren’t the only professionals equipped to handle comprehensive designs, as Haliburton cottager Mary Ann O’Connell found out. Looking to replace the drafty windows of her Kennisis Lake cottage and add a screened-in porch, she started phoning contractors in her area for ideas. “Some of them offered to create drawings but then never called back,” she says, speculating they felt the job was too small. After searching for almost a year, she had all but given up when she met Jutta Court at a home show in Haliburton, Ont. Court is trained in architecture, building design, and construction but isn’t licensed with the Ontario Association of Architects. She drove to see the site and came up with a plan that included not just the new windows and porch, but also a new roofline to accommodate a larger kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom.

So how long does it take to design a cottage? The timeline from the first meeting with the architect or building designer to the finished designs depends on the complexity of the project, but typically ranges from six to 12 months for a new cottage, or two to three months for a small renovation. “Some people have a very clear idea of what they want, and the process is shorter,” says Court, who points out that it can take a year just to get all the permits for a large multi-storey cottage.

James Pitropov, of Smith Architect in Huntsvill, Ont., urges patience — the best projects take longer to develop, he says. And Torrance cottager Judy Huyer cautions people to think long and hard about how they’re going to use their place. “It will change over time, especially if you have children who’ll grow up, leave, and then come back with their own babies.” She recommends taking a month or so with each version to review the plans as they become available. “It’s amazing how much you’ll want to modify if you have the opportunity.” As for the plans themselves, the more detailed they are, the more likely it is that the project will be close to budget, which means more decisions early on — down to picking trim, flooring, and kitchen cabinets.

Some people who’ve used an architect will admit their cottages ended up costing more than if they had hired a builder. (Architect fees tend to be about 10 per cent of the project’s estimated construction value.) But what’s really expensive, Pitropov says, is bad design and planning. “Typically, a well-designed project will increase in value and be more energy efficient.”

This article was originally published on April 8, 2008


Working with an architect

Architects can help with projects big and small. Here’s why you should hire one

Architects are most often called upon to design a cottage from scratch or to reconfigure an existing cottage to maximize space. But they can also help you with smaller projects, such as retrofitting an old structure to take advantage of natural light and ventilation, redesigning a kitchen to make it more functional, or designing a screened-in porch.

Whatever the size of your dreams, Trevor McIvor, a principal with Toronto;s Altius Architecture — whose portfolio includes boathouses, additions, and new builds in the Kawarthas, Georgian Bay, and Muskoka — recommends going with an architect. “Not hiring a professional,” he says, “is like investing a few hundred thousand dollars in the stock market without an advisor, or not seeking a specialist for a serious health issue.” An architect himself, McIvor might be a tad biased on this topic. But a professional does bring to the table extras such as computer modelling software to “construct” the building or calculate energy use, and animation programs that enable clients to see realistic project images throughout the design phase. They’ll also spend considerable time at the site to create a design, factoring in not just the topography but also the surrounding views and natural light. “This is often lost in prefab cottages and in designs taken from a design plan book,” says James Pitropov of Smith Architect, in Huntsville, Ont. “Architects have been trained for years to look at things in a way other trades can’t,” adds McIvor. “Have you ever been in a poorly designed 2,000-square-foot cottage that felt like 1,500 square feet? Conversely, a well-designed 1,500-square-foot building could feel like 2,000 square feet if the design is efficient. Less really can be more.”

When Judy Huyer and her husband decided to tear down their old ant-infested Torrance, Ont., cottage and build a new one, a standard solution was not an option. “We wanted a cottage tailored to our specific property, as opposed to just taking something out of a catalogue and plopping it down on the lot,” she says. “Using an architect was key.” They interviewed a few firms, looked at their portfolios, and checked references. They asked contractors and other cottagers for leads before they retained Altius on a recommendation from their septic contractor.

Lori McHardy and her husband, John, called on architect Craig Elliott to design a partial replacement for their Port Elgin cottage on Lake Huron. They wanted to tear down an old portion dating from 1929 but preserve a 1999 addition. While they were at it, they asked the architect to throw in unobstructed lake views and a verandah. But the lot presented obstacles: a hill on one side and a privacy-protecting, boundary-defining hedge on the other, coupled with the need for space to move a boat in and out of a storage shed at the back of the parcel. All these restrictions meant the new structure couldn’t take up too much room. By roughly following the footprint of the old cottage and adding a second floor for a master bedroom, dressing room, ensuite bathroom, and small office, Elliott and his clients worked around the constraints. Not only does the revamped cottage, measuring a total of 2,100 sq. ft., fit nicely on the lot, it also blends in with the 1999 addition and the surroundings. “Going with a builder would have been cheaper, but he wouldn’t have had the design background to tie it all together,” says McHardy.