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Tips on Designing the Perfect Home: An Interview with Frank Leslie Spangler, Architect

By Frank L. Spangler

Please tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

My architectural firm is unique in many ways. For example, I closed my successful practice in Newport Beach after 20 years, choosing to follow my dream. My dream was to live and work in Europe and be able to view and study their classic architecture. When the opportunity came from Interhomes, a German developer, I packed my bags and headed to Europe. Four years later, I left Interhomes to experience the South of France and its culture. I probably would have remained living and working in Aix-en-Provence, but circumstances demanded I return to the United States where I could apply my new knowledge and insight that I acquired in Europe.

When I opened my new practice in Rio Rancho two years ago, I wanted to take a different path. A path where I would not have to depend on others as I did in my Newport Beach office as well as in Europe. Not having others depend on me gave me a new freedom. I found it more satisfying to work independently in design of new homes, renovations and interior design. It was a good decision. I found that I can produce a better product at a lower cost to the client in this manner.

What are some of the biggest decisions that everyone needs to make when it comes to the design of their new home?

The biggest decision the owner makes is who designs his or her home and who will build it. The decision affects the cost, value and beauty. The owner has four choices to determine who builds and designs his home.

The first choice is the owner as owner builder. The owner assumes the role of contractor and either does the design himself or hires an architect or designer to fulfill his design concept. Thus, he assumes role of architect and contractor. He accepts responsibility for all the work and must be insured to cover any losses that might occur. Although this is fairly common, the result is generally not very satisfactory.

Second, the client can hire a contractor. The contractor hires the designer or architect to design the project. The contractor works with owner to achieve his goals. The contractor determines the price of the project and the project is not bid out. Quality and design decisions are made by the contractor.

The third option is a design build company. The design build company does all the functions of a contractor but generally a larger operation.

Fourth option is the owner hires an architect. The project is designed according to owner's specification and budget. The job is bid out by at least three competing contractors according to working drawings and specifications. The architect ensures the work is done according to the drawings and specifications. Any changes are made by change order, which specifies work to be done and price. This is signed by the owner, architect and contractor. The architect oversees the project until completion. The architect communicates with owner on a continuing basis.

Building a home, making a renovation or an addition is a large investment. Like any investment, the investor can lose, break even or make a profit. The choice you make who will design and build your home, will determine one of the three results.

Can you briefly explain a few features of a well-designed home?

All homes that are well designed will have four features. For example, I am sure you have walked into a home and experienced a good feeling without knowing why. There are four features that contribute to this pleasant experience; Light, space, detail and harmony.

When you enter a dark space, compared to a light space, your experience is completely different. For example, in light you experience safety and security and in darkness you experience doubt, which can lead to sadness. Space has much the same physiological results as light because length of vision is important. Some of the most enjoyable moments are standing on a beach taking in the openness with a vision of sea and space beyond, or a mountain top and the distance.

Detail and harmony also are important features that go un-noticed but definitely contribute as a feature. All these, establish a good feeling that comes from a well designed space. An example of a building that incorporates all four features are the renaissance cathedrals with their stain glass, high ceilings, consistent detail and harmony that is created by all three.

What are some of the misconceptions you have come across in designing a home?

Two misconceptions that most clients have are what is included in an architect's services and that architects' fees are high.

A common concept is that architects make blueprints or get building permits. Architectural services can vary widely and so can fees. For example, a complete architectural service includes preliminary design. At this stage, after meeting with the owner, the architect makes a plan showing how the owner's ideas can be put together. A dialog continues between the client and architect until the drawing reflects the client's concept.

The second stage is called design development. Here all unanswered questions are resolved so that working drawings can begin. A complete set of working drawings includes but is not limited to general notes, schedules, site plans, roof plan, foundation plan, architectural floor plan, structural floor plan, mechanics floor plan, interior and exterior elevation sections and details. The plans on residential projects also include specifications. Additional services include submitting plans to the building department, making corrections, choosing contractors to bid on the project, writing instructions to bidders, evaluating bids, making periodic site visits to make sure that the work is done according to plans and specifications. When required, writing change orders and additional details. Finally verifying that all work is done according to drawings and specifications.

The architectural fee therefore varies according to the services rendered. Architectural fees can be at a percentage of the contract, a fixed fee determined by the scope of services or an hourly fee for smaller jobs. The important information the owner must have is what services is he paying for, then he can determine the value of the architect's services.

What is the most important thing a client can do during the design process?

Another way of asking the question is what can the owner do to achieve the best result? There are a number of things the client can do. Continuous interaction with the architect leads to the best result. Some of the ways to interact are be prepared; make sure the architect knows what you want by photos or neighborhood examples.

When you cannot understand the drawing, make sure you tell the architect. Remember most people cannot read drawings.

Make sure you stay on target by not increasing the square footage (cost) without increasing the budget.

Ask the question, why? And make sure you receive an answer you understand.

Have the architect explain the design process. For example, how does the design progress from preliminary design to design development to working drawings? Make sure the architect does not proceed from one phase to another until you are ready to move forward.

Be sure you understand if the architect is doing a full-service or partial service job, which greatly affects the fee.

What's the best way for people to contact your company?

The best way to contact me is by cell phone or email. I can contact you immediately. Please call me at 323-401-3843 or fspangler3@gmail.com. If you would like more clarifications regarding the questions above, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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