Comparing Services of a Residential Architecture Firm to a Design-Build Company

Deciding who should build your new house – or renovate your existing home - is a complicated process. Factors such as price, your interest in being involved, and meeting timelines are just a few considerations. But the most important question to ask before you hire a residential architect is this: What services will I receive?

In a confusing world of multiple choices, understanding exactly what services you will receive is crucial – especially because prices can vary wildly. A design-build firm, for example, may charge less for their design fee than a residential architecture firm. But they also tend to offer less in the way of services. Understanding whether you are comparing apples to apples – or apples to oranges – is key to ensuring you make the right decision.

Consider this: are you able to envision things you can’t actually see? If so, a set of scope drawings that include floor plans, foundations, one wall section, and a few exterior elevations may be all you need to feel comfortable enough to proceed. Perhaps a “shell” of a house is enough for your purposes; once you know where windows will be placed, for example, you can either hire an interior designer to decide (or decide yourself) where to place bookshelves. If that’s the case, a design-build firm may be a good fit for you. (Remember, however, that it’s always wise to meet and interview a design-build firm’s in-house architect – he or she will have tremendous influence over your finished home.)

But if you’ll feel most at ease understanding how every inch of your new home will look – and live - before construction even begins, an architecture firm might be the better choice. Typically, a full-service architecture firm will scrutinize and coordinate every imaginable aspect of your home. In other words, they’ll think about how your home’s interior spaces will be used at the same time they consider its exterior appearance.  On which side of the lot does the sun rise? On which side does it set? Which sides enjoy the best views? (A seldom-used office should never boast better views than a busy kitchen, for example. Nor should a child’s bedroom provide a more picturesque vista than the master bedroom.)

It’s a fairly straightforward process to design a “pretty” exterior, dotted by an interesting assortment of windows, charming shutters, and a dormer or two.  It’s quite a different process to first ascertain needs for privacy, connection, and amenities such as bookshelves, fireplaces, and window seats – and then design an exterior to support those amenities. In other words, a full-service architecture firm will ensure that fireplace you’re dreaming of becomes the focal point of your living room – not an afterthought that ends up off-center on the wall because someone decided to insert a window there first. It’s the reason we feel so strongly that planning out a fully-priced design before construction begins will always save money. Changes made once construction is underway are expensive. They’re also often decided in haste, which is hardly ideal, considering you’ll most likely be living with those decisions for many years to come. 

You can pay less money for less service, or more money for more service. Decide what’s important to you, and proceed accordingly. But before you make your decision, call Morgante- Wilson Architects. Or click here for more information. Even the smallest budget project can benefit from the lifestyle-oriented design approach a full-service architecture firm will take.

Comments? Questions? We’d love to hear from you!


Elissa Morgante
Morgante-Wilson Architects
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Read other related posts on hiring a residential architect for your home:
Five Questions to Ask Yourself before Hiring a Residential Architect
Hiring a Residential Architect to Design Your Home to Fit Your Lifestyle


Morgante-Wilson Architects provides residential architectural services in Chicago, Evanston, Winnetka,  Glencoe, Glenview, Highland Park, Kenilworth, Wilmette, Northbrook, Deerfield, Northfield, and Ravinia.

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  • Amanda Malsch | May 23, 2013

    What helpful and insightful suggestions! Keep up the great blog!


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