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Finding the Right Architect

Finding the right architect can feel like wading into dangerous waters.

I can’t say enough about finding the right architect. There’s no doubt the stars and moons lined up for me in building McMillan House. I’d love to sit here reciting a litany of clever questions I prepared for screening each potential architect in my efforts to cull away the less qualified. But, truth be told, finding Lon Booher was a simple matter of dumb luck colliding with fate. Fact of the matter is, he wasn’t looking for me nor was I looking for him, yet we found each other. Serendipity at its finest.

Not quite sure how I first became aware there was a tiny lot for sale in a historic neighborhood less than five minutes from downtown. But once advised I hopped in my car and drove over to check it out. Mind you my loft building was on 25th Street and this lot was on 34th Street, a mere nine blocks away. Sure enough I drove past the lot and there it was, just bigger than Dallas, a realtor’s sign in the yard. It was a lovely green respite nestled between two distinct homes, each at least 70 years old. There was a 40” oak tree in the front yard and a 48” oak in the rear yard. Gorgeous hardly begins to describe the lot.

I phoned up the realtor to get the skinny on the lot. The price was fair but there was an onerous caveat attached. To build a new structure (or for that matter, renovate an existing structure) in this historic district, you’re require to obtain a “Certificate of Appropriateness” from the Historic Preservation Commission. Lord only knows what that was going to entail. Well I certainly wasn’t going to purchase if I wasn’t sure I’d be allowed to build on it. Notwithstanding the “Certificate of Appropriateness” from the Historic Preservation Commission question, there was real concern as to what type of house could be constructed on such a small lot. To answer the last question I needed an architect’s opinion.

Through a mutual I was introduced to Phil L., an architect from USC formerly employed as a design architect with a large architecture firm. Phil was now on hiatus working on his MBA. I knew he wasn’t the guy to go the distance, I just needed some informed opinion as to whether a house could be erected on such a small lot. As luck would have it one of Phil’s classmates in his MBA program, Sara G., was the bookkeeper for a small three-man design/build architecture firm, G3 Collaborative. Phil brought G3 to our next meeting. That’s how I made the acquaintance of Lon Booher, and as they say, the rest was history.

G3 Collaborative was a design/build firm. The three principals felt architecture had “sold out,” so they left a large architecture firm and opened their own shop. They wanted to design as well as build their own projects. One advantage to design/build projects is interior design details continue to evolve as the project proceeds. Basically we just assigned allowances for budgeting IE. $20K for cabinetry, $20K for elevator, etc. The downside was — as the building was coming into fruition and the design was so impressive — it became impossible not to continually upgrade to better materials, better wood, better stone, etc. The implications to cost overruns is fairly self-evident.

In the end, I was extremely pleased with the outcome. I have a beautiful and functional home that allows me to live independently and enjoy an aesthetically stunning living environment. Because we went ahead with many upgraded materials, I will not have to invest in as many updates in the future unless I choose to for purely aesthetic purposes. What would I have done differently? Preparing for potential cost increase and scope creep would have been advisable, but on the other hand, it’s difficult to be prepared for the unexpected. All you can do is brace yourself the unknown and take that leap.