Architect vs. Design-Build firm for Houston Heights Renovations


I found this conversation thread on a Houston Architecture forum that I thought was an interesting read. I completely agree with the Architect and others giving advice to this person.

1 – To find a Design/Build Firm or assemble a Design + Build team to help you navigate through the process of designing the investment in your home.

2- Get professional help from firms with an established reputation to keep your sanity and stress levels down. Working through the Houston Heights Historical qualitative guidelines and Certificate of appropriateness can be a daunting process for individuals without this skill set.

3- When investing over $100k in your home there really is not the savings you think there are when not choosing professionals to help you along the way. Your time is worth money & your family will be in the home quicker. The stress of a project gone awry can be devastating to your family and finances.

4 – I like that the (AIA)American Institute of Architects is moving to the Design/Build process. As an owner of a Design/Build firm I know that this process works and takes care of the client through out the process. Our clients need to be living there lives, not managing an architect, interior designer, the GC and construction projects. ~ Allen W. Griffin


Lowndes; We are in the early stages of deciding who to hire to expand our Heights home.  Basically adding a 2nd story master suite addition and reworking the downstairs a tad.  This is our first renovation project.  Seems like a lot of the signs I see for renovations in the Heights are design-build firms (and from the looks of it they do really nice work).  Are there any benefits to going with a architect and then choosing your own general contractor over the design build route?


Arche -757 Full disclosure: I’m an architect.  And I’ll always say “hire an architect”  however… A few questions remain to be asked of you:-age of home   -budget    -how large is this addition & renovation? 

I would approach this issue with the idea that a design build might work.  First, find a contractor or architect (who you like) and ask them about their counterparts, and if they’ve ever done any design build work.  You needn’t select “XYZ Design Build of the Heights” because you see alot of their signs up.  And a “pretty” exterior and neat looking kitchen is not always conducive to quality.  Every newly finished building will look nice and neat on the outside.  What we’ve found – particularly in the Heights – is that many of those “cutesy wootsey” Faux-torian homes are not as great on the inside once you start having to think about “How the heck am I going to LIVE in this?”  Livability and cost are key.

A good design+build team can keep the budget within the means from the get-go.  Rather than say, having to revise plans post-construction bid after all 4 of the contractors come in $200k higher than what you ever imagined spending!

We’ve done some design+build in the past – currently have a town home under construct in Galveston that we worked extensively with the contractor on to keep things within a tight budget.  Budget is key, understanding that construction today is expensive.

Arche -757    Design+Build needn’t be ONLY firms currently doing work in the Heights.  My firm has done design+build (I love using the plus symbol) before and we do not exclusively work in that fashion.  Many architects will be able to approached and asked about whether this is something they would consider.  Coincidentally I recall a few years ago reading about this very topic, and how architects need to start approaching jobs with this type of service in mind.  Oddly enough it was in an AIA publication.

 By the by, GC’s in Houston are so busy right now that no one will be very “cheap.”

And I just can’t say it loud enough — hire professionals when in doubt.  It never ceases to amaze me that people wouldn’t ever give second thought to requesting professionals when spending $50k, 100k or more for medical or legal work, yet they scoff at the idea of hiring an architect when spending the same amount.

DianeTx   Having just attended my first HAHC meeting to voice my opinion on a CoA, I would HIGHLY recommend using a firm that is familiar with ALL the gyrations involved in getting pass this process.  I went home that evening and told my husband we would never remodel or do new construction in a historic district cause it was WAY TOO much chaos in the whole process.  Saw a lot of worn out folks dealing with this whole process. 

S3MH   Hiring your own GC should be cheaper as long as you get someone who is reputable and does good work.  A lot of the design build firms that do a lot of work in the Heights are very expensive.  But most will be happy to draw up your plans and then hand it over to your GC. 

I am actually planning on going with a design build and forking over a bit of a premium, mostly for the piece of mind.  GCs are a dime a dozen and come and go with the wind.  But the Heights design build firms that do a lot of work in the neighborhood have grown roots and are here to stay. 


I’m not an architect, but I have owned a house built in 1923 for the last 25 years.  I agree with everything arche_757 has posted on this thread.  All I can add is to talk to some of your neighbors whose remodeling jobs you like to get their comments on how the process went, how they feel about the results, and whether or not they’d recommend whoever did the work.

Also, since this is your first project – It is a very stressful thing to do.  I’m not saying it’s not worth it, but just be aware that there will be surprises along the way, most of which will add money or time (or both) to the project.  I have a friend who re-did his own very old house top to bottom while still living there.  The only way they maintained their sanity was they had one room they started and finished first, before any other work was done.  They called it their oasis, and would retreat to it and repeat over and over, “it will all look like this some day.”

Second, make sure that all the details of the work are agreed upon, and that you have a firm understanding of the budget, the scope of work, and the schedule – all of which need to be incorporated into your written agreement.

Third, my experience is that there are three major components to this kind of project – Money, schedule, and quality.  If by the time you finish you hit two out of three, and get somewhere in the neighborhood on the third, you will have done well.

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