Schematic Design: The Most Important Part of The Design Process
For those who are new, here’s a super condensed SparkNotes recap of our home buying journey:
We sold our home in Wilton, CT at the start of the pandemic and moved our family of 5 to a small townhouse in Montclair, NJ. We spent 10 months house hunting, having lost out on 6 homes, before closing on our current home. (Enter lots and lots of excitement and celebrating!)
It’s big, but not quite as big as we wanted. It’s old (built in 1905!) and has character, but it also needs a good deal of updating. However, it’s in the perfect location for our family, on one of our absolute favorite streets in town, convenient to just about everything. And you know what they say, location location location.
We took this to heart. Location is quite literally the only thing you cannot change. And so my husband and I decided that we were willing to change just about everything else.
A week before we closed on our home, we asked our realtor if she could get us inside again (she could, the house was vacant). We brought in a few different architects for walk throughs (1) to hear what they thought was possible with the space, but also (2) to learn about their personalities and see if we would potentially work well together.
Surprisingly, it was an easy choice! We knew immediately who we wanted to move forward with, and after receiving estimates from each, our guy was priced smack dab in the middle. Not the most expensive, but not the least expensive. It felt right.
When we closed on the house two weeks later, we had a signed contract with our architect, ready to push forward and hopefully begin demo by July 2021. Spoiler: that did not happen.
February and March 2021
It would be four weeks before our architect and his team could come and measure our house (Step 1) and another 5 or 6 weeks before we would see the first floor plan (Step 2: Schematic Design).
What is Schematic Design? This is the first phase of the architectural design process. There’s a lot of back and forth with the architect, talking about specific goals for the project, including budget!, and by the end you’re supposed to have a rough construction drawing where you more or less know where everything is going to live.
It’s a lot easier than it sounds. Our architect’s policy was that there was no cap on how many iterations he would show us. He’d keep at it — showing us revision after revision — until we were satisfied.
And sadly, there were a lot of misses.
It wasn’t until the end of April — almost 3 months into the design process — when we finally saw a floor plan that we felt could be the one. It checked a lot of the boxes and we were excited about what our home could become. At the end of our call with our architect, he told us that this plan would cost roughly 2x our budget.
I’m not sure why anyone would design a project without keeping a family’s budget in mind. It’s a bit soul crushing to have waited months and months for a floor plan that felt worth the investment, only to find out that your architect has been prioritizing ‘checking the boxes’ instead of helping guide you through the design process in a way that is realistic.
May, June, and July 2021
May showed absolutely no progress. We expressed the importance of designing within our budget versus designing for the dream layout at any cost. (A no brainer, right?)
Over the next two months, almost 6 months into the schematic design phase, we were given a few additional floor plans. It felt like we were pulling teeth trying to keep the project moving forward, and we almost always felt like our project was an after thought. Meetings were never scheduled in advance. Sometimes we would go weeks without hearing from our architect.
Finally, after yet another failed floor plan that left us scratching our heads — sketch 15!! — we decided to terminate the relationship.
It was an incredibly hard decision. We had already invested time and money, but more than that we truly believed our architect could help us bring our vision to life. We just felt so defeated. Remember, our initial timeline had been with a goal to begin demolition by July 2021.
And so, 7 months into schematic design we realized we needed to find a new architect. Cue lots and lots of tears.
Schematic Design: Part 2 will be posted soon!
All photos in this post are from a mood board. They are not images of our home, nor do I own the rights. There are links, where applicable, to the source.