We have built several homes and offices. Some because we wanted to and others because we had to (aka Sandy). Each has taken on a different life of their own. I am quite sure if you interviewed contractors, architects, and decorators, they would tell you that each project was completely different and none of them were seamless. It is like building a start-up, nothing is standard and each one, no matter how many times you have been involved from whatever angle, be it the founder or the investor, each one has their own paths.
I have been asked what would my advice be to someone going through this for the first time so here goes. Culture fit is important. You will spend a lot of time with each person and you want someone who gets you. Depending on the size and scope of the project depends on who you hire. If you are hiring an architect, it is sometimes good to bring in the decorator at the onset. Just like companies are better off with diversity so are projects. Architects think about the big picture and decorators (if they are good) think about how you live. For instance, a decorator is going to be thinking about the width of a bed and the size of two side tables in a bedroom and how that fits without a door hitting the table or a table jutting out into the doorframe. Architects might not.
If the project is large, hire an owners rep. That person represents you and the cost of that person offsets all the mistakes that can be made. They oversee budgets, come to a weekly meeting and represent you. If not, make sure you have a weekly meeting with your architect and contractor on site to hold everyone accountable. When the job slows down more than likely the contractor isn’t paying the subs (millworkers, electricians, plumbers). Don’t let your contractor hold the keys to the cash. You want to approve changes and payments as they happen. You want to be in front of the contractor on cash not behind.
Before hiring a contractor, make sure that the architect has at least 90% of the plans drawn to price. If not, there could be big change orders down the line. We like to make all the decisions before bidding. Once you move to construction you are also moving from the architect to the contractor, it is the contractor you have to rely on and if the architect didn’t provide enough information, you could be the one paying for the mistake. Architects come onsite to make sure that plans are being built accordingly but they are not great at overseeing the building of a job. Your contractor is the person who knows how to build.
Decorators. I am not a fan of the way most of them charge which is hourly and then 30% of the furniture purchased. I prefer a flat fee so that you are aligned. If you buy a $10 table vs a $100k table it doesn’t take any more time to purchase an install so why should you pay 30% for that?
The last two projects we are on now seem to appear to be working really well. All the knowledge over the years is finally paying off. We ask questions, we push back, we know what we want and we don’t trust anyone but ourselves because we are going to live there and we are going to pay the bill. I’d say the biggest piece of advice I’d give is to trust your gut. Even if you have never built anything before, it is yours so ask a ton of questions and pay attention to the details that work for you not them.