Hiring the right team for your NYC renovation is essential. Which professionals you enlist, and whether you go with an architect plus contractor or a one-stop design-build firm, depends on the type and scope of your project and your own comfort level with the whole ordeal. To get you started, it helps to know what each pro does, when you will need them, and what/how they charge.
If you are embarking on an extensive renovation, such as changing the layout or structure of a property, you may have no choice but to hire an architect (or engineer) to draw up and submit the plans. Even when that is not the case, a skilled architect can maximize the functionality and aesthetics of the space by applying universal design principles.
Generally speaking, an architect provides design and construction services including:
- consultation and evaluation
- planning and preliminary studies
- drawing and submitting designs
- administrating construction contracts
- managing contractors/subcontractors
Other potential benefits of hiring an architect include:
- Creative problem-solving: Whatever your need or desire––an open kitchen or a home office––an architect can provide you with design alternatives that you may never have thought of (or dreamed of). They can also maximize every square inch of your tiny New York City bathroom or kitchen--practically worth its weight in gold.
- Built-in connections: Rather than having to find a contractor and other professionals on your own, an architect will have established contacts and can suggest the best people to hire for your particular project. They will, in theory, also have leverage over them too--in the form of repeat referral business--should something on your project go awry.
- Extensive sourcing: Architects have relationships with manufacturers and distributors of surfaces (stone and tile and flooring), granting you access to a wider variety of options than you could find on your own––and at a discounted price.
- Smoothing out the process: Besides knowing how to navigate the Department of Buildings permitting process, an architect can monitor the construction phase to make sure the work is being done correctly and according to plan (before it is too late), and to keep the project on schedule.
You must hire an architect for any project requiring a buildings permit, such as:
- gutting an entire apartment or brownstone
- gutting the kitchen and/or bathroom(s)
- adding a bathroom
- making structural and layout changes (such as opening the kitchen)
- combining two apartments
- moving plumbing or gas lines
- making electrical upgrades
- adding an extension to a brownstone/townhome or penthouse apartment
- doing any kind of interior or exterior work in a landmarked residence
You may want an architect and/or designer is for improved results and professional oversight if you are:
- replacing finishes such as kitchen cabinets, countertops, and backsplashes
- updating kitchen appliances (but not changing plumbing or gas lines)
- swapping out bathroom fixtures
- replacing or refinishing floors
- upgrading lighting
- adding architectural details such as crown molding or wainscotting
- painting and wallpapering.
Some renovators on a limited budget will hire an architect to draw up designs and then work directly with the contractor on the rest. Not all architects are on board with this practice however because they will not be able to monitor how their designs are implemented, and their reputation will still be at stake.
Contrary to popular opinion, interior designers are not merely decorators but are trained to visualize a space in terms of both function and aesthetics and can be the lead in a smaller scale renovation, in lieu of an architect (when DOB permitting is not required).
For more extensive renovations where an architect is required, whether you need both of these professionals depends on your architect’s willingness to handle the A to Z of designing the interior. Some do but many (most) do not.
In the case of a major gut renovation, for example, there’s something to be said for paying architects for their particular skill set (creating the spatial design and structure) and interior designers for theirs (creating a cohesive aesthetic within that structure). Wisdom has it that a collaboration of the two will produce the greatest pay-off. An interior designer will also be there after the reno work is finished in tending to all the finishing touches.
Other potential benefits of hiring an interior designer include:
- Sourcing: Similar to architects, interior designers will have access to a much greater supply base of “to the trade” materials, and at a discount. This applies to surfaces (countertops and backsplashes), lighting, textiles, furnishings, and accessories––the whole gamut. Plus they can get samples to test out in real time and can use their connections to smooth out any hiccups.
- Choosing: There are countless decisions to make in any renovation and a designer can help you hone in on the selections (paint colors, faucets, etc.) that match your goals, saving you much time and energy in the process.
- Understanding value: Designers know what’s selling and what’s not, and while you may not be planning a move for a while, it can be helpful to have someone on your team with that kind of input.
As the name implies, a design-build firm is a one-stop shop for architects as well as contractors and specialists, with the goal of providing a more efficient experience for everyone involved. Some design-build firms handle all types of renovations while others specialize in kitchens and bathrooms.
One key advantage of working with a design-build firm is that instead of contracting with an architect and a contractor separately (even if the architect brings the contractor on board), you will just have to manage the one contractual relationship––and skip the contractor bidding process. On the flip side, they could end up working in cahoots to their ultimate benefit, not yours, so here as always, be sure to do a thorough reference check including clients whose projects have withstood the test of time.
Other potential benefits of hiring a design-build firm:
- Streamlined process: Everything is handled in house, from start to finish, reducing the risks of the usual communication and scheduling snafus.
- Inherent collaboration: You’ll have a project team that routinely works together and, as a single source of responsibility, be incentivized to finish on time and to your satisfaction.
- Cost savings: You may be able to save money working with a design-build firm. Compare bids to find out.
Unlike when you're repairing or replacing a few fixtures or refreshing the paint and flooring and can rely on a competent handyperson, a licensed general contractor (aka GC) has the expertise to oversee an entire renovation project.
- Contractors work with architects to implement the design plans or can devise their own when an architect is not warranted (such as when not opening up any walls or changing the layout).
- Contractors obtain the DOB permits generated by the design plans; they can also self-certify final inspections.
- Having this point person is critical in creating the build or construction schedule and then procuring the materials and finishes and overseeing the necessary subcontractors (plumbers, electricians, countertop fabricators, etc.). Things have to happen in a sequence and an experienced contractor knows how to make that happen.