What Architects Want You to Know

We spoke with two Best of Houzz architects from the United States, Nils Finne of Finne Architects and Matthew Coates of Coates Design, to get the inside scoop on what architects do, where they find inspiration and what you should know before you hire one for your project. Here are 10 of their insights.

What do architects do?

Architects plan and design buildings and coordinate construction.

  1. We want you to be an active participant in the design process

While it’s true that the actual work of design is the architect’s responsibility, it is your responsibility to be upfront about your budget and expectations and to give candid feedback. Finne, who has worked for many years with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in Seattle on a program called “How to Select and Work with an Architect,” dedicates a section of his seminar to what architects and clients should expect from one another. In the workshop materials, he says the ideal client is “honest, open, flexible, realistic and decisive.” Being open to your architect’s ideas and making decisions in a timely fashion will help your project run much more smoothly.

  1. We can oversee your project from beginning to end

If you have a major home project to tackle, whether it’s a large-scale renovation or building your dream home from scratch, you may be wondering where to begin. Well, wonder no more – the first call to make should be to an architect. These pros have the skills and training needed to keep your project running smoothly, and they can coordinate the work of your entire design and construction team.
“Architects can have a role in all aspects of the project, from site selection and feasibility studies through construction observation and project closeout procedures,” says Coates. “Homeowners can negotiate the level and scope of services they are looking for with their specific project. At a minimum the architect is usually responsible for design, documentation and permitting.”

  1. Our work takes us everywhere

“We have about 50 percent of our work out of town,” says Finne, whose office is in Seattle, “so every month I take several trips to visit job sites and meet with clients and contractors.” So if you’ve been limiting your search to pros in your immediate area, you may be able to widen that circle. See pros whose work you admire on Houzz? Don’t be afraid to contact them and ask if they take jobs in your area.

  1. We do a little of everything

“Rarely are two days alike,” says Coates. “Some days I am traveling to a job site to look at design opportunities or to inspect ongoing work. Other days I spend in meetings with clients, contractors or engineering consultants. Most architects do spend a lot of time at their desks, and I am no exception. We do a lot of emailing and computer drafting.”

Finne adds, “I work on design at home every day for about one and a half hours. Then I am in the office talking with clients, contractors and my office staff. I review drawings, mark changes and corrections etc. I write the specifications for all projects. I often visit the shops of special fabricators such as steel or cabinets, and I also visit job sites in the Seattle area. Finally, I try to spend some time on marketing every day, sending photos to various design sites, talking with magazine writers, posting on the Finne Facebook page.”

  1. Looking for insight into our design sensibility? Ask who our architectural role models are

Ask any architects you are considering hiring for your project who their design role models are, or who inspires their work. Their responses will tell you a great deal about the look and feel they aim for in their own work.

Finne, who grew up in both Norway and the U.S., is inspired heavily by the architectural traditions of Scandinavia. “Sverre Fehn, the renowned Norwegian architect, was my friend. I believe he has had a profound influence on my work,” says Finne. “I will never forget the afternoons I spent sitting with Sverre in the living room of his house on Havna Alle in Oslo. Sverre lived in a classic functionalist house designed by his teacher, Arne Korsmo. He had an uncanny ability to understand construction and materials and then imbue a certain poetical dimension to those elements.”

Finne adds, “He was also a very unassuming person and was amused when the Americans awarded him the Pritzker Prize (the Nobel Prize equivalent for architecture). ’Oh, yes,’ he said. They sent ‘top secret’ faxes and then flew into Oslo on their private jet. ‘But then, there was so much snow in many places that they could only manage to visit a few of my buildings!’”


  1. We are inspired by nature

Architects design buildings that bridge the private, safe, interior world of home and the outside world. So it makes sense that no matter which style your architect works in, nature is almost invariably an inspiration. “Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are surrounded by some of the most magnificent topography and natural surroundings in the world,” says Finne. “I am inspired by the natural world every day.”

  1. We may be able to offer design expertise even on smaller jobs … but not always

Homeowners are more apt to hire a contractor than an architect for smaller jobs, but are there times they should reconsider? “It depends on the job, and it depends on the architect, as you might expect,” says Coates. Most architecture firms with less than 10 people do tend to take on smaller projects, but larger firms may not.



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