Choosing the architect turned out to be very straightforward and satisfying.
Three of my neighbors had recently made additions to their homes. I liked the end product of all. Two of them recommended their architect, the third didn’t. It was a start.
Within a week after pulling together my initial wish list for the addition, Lee and I met with the first architect. He had designed a sunroom for my friend’s farmhouse — a very well proportioned and complementary sunroom. It wasn’t much to go on, but it was well conceived. He listened and looked, gave us some ideas, and explained his fee schedule.
The second architect had designed a very comfortable, roomy, attractive home from a neighbor’s existing cottage. His website showed some of his commercial, retail and residential projects. Nothing looked particularly small and cozy, but that could just mean that none of his clients had that vision.
We corresponded and made an appointment for March 20th. When we met he appeared confident, not at all arrogant, and he seemed flexible, both in his approach to the project and on his pricing. His most memorable questions at this interview were about money. He didn’t want to start something that we could not afford to finish. And he was right to be concerned! We wanted a tall house on a small footprint attached to a cottage by a bridge on the second floor that looked like a squirrel would live in it. How much money would anyone in her right mind want to spend on that? But I’ve never been very smart when it comes to my money. With the addition the house may actually be worth its purchase price in 2007
Duke Beeson is a New York City architect who owned a second home in the town next to mine. Before this meeting I thought it a long shot that he would take this project. But by the middle of our conversation I was hoping that he might want to expand his business upstate, or he might be intrigued with the cottage, the location or the idea. Lee and I pulled together the plot plan, my concept, and whatever drawings we had of the cottage and exchanged them for a business card.
It didn’t take me long to realize I had no idea of how to interview or choose an architect. It is a little embarrassing to admit that I may have chosen Duke because he is tall and handsome and the idea of having a city architect had a bit of appeal.
By April 3rd we had a proposal in hand, Duke had checked out the code to see if we did have enough square footage and setbacks to build, and we took some time to think very hard if we were serious. On May 16th Duke and his assistant came for measurements and I gave him a check for the down payment.
There was no anxiety because there was still plenty of time to have second thoughts.
Lee and I waited patiently, still getting used to the idea that we were making a commitment to live with each other, let alone build an addition together.
Finally Duke told us he was ready to bring over the design. He entered our home on June 25th with a cake box from Dean and Deluca’s. He opened the box and voila – there was a white board model of a house we didn’t recognize. He had hand drawn plans of that addition and one a bit smaller. Even the smaller addition had more square footage than the original cottage. It provided us with lots of space and great views. We talked, we were overwhelmed. He left.
Over the next week I became more and more distressed as I compared the new house to my original concept. The house he designed was a wonderful house, practical, and resale-able. But no matter how we wiggled and jiggled it, it had no whimsey.
It wasn’t until two weeks later, July 16th, that I wrote to Duke:
After being dazzled by your detailed drawings and model, it took us quite a while to realize that what you provided was not what we asked for . . .
After a few more back and forths, I sent a diagram Lee and I had drawn up and Duke wrote back:
The concern I have about your diagram of the addition is that it will truly look like it dropped from outer space into the front yard.
Is that your idea to have two unrelated structures connected by a bridge?
I answered YES with enthusiasm, and knew that somehow we had chosen the right architect for the job.