Ask the Architect

I need help getting started


Q. I’m confused about the whole process of doing work to my home. I want to add a room and deck at the back of my kitchen, plus a second floor at the front of my Cape Cod-style home. Do I interview contractors first, architects first, ask an interior designer, ask my building department? What should I do, in what order?

A. The most important thing to understand when beginning the process is that each of the many people who will have input has a particular set of abilities, and approaches your project from his or her particular perspective. When you take the wrong advice from the wrong person, communication begins to fail, which is what you’re trying to avoid. The contractor has a specific perspective, for example, which involves budgeting and getting the work constructed. Unfortunately, without training in codes that govern what can legally be done, they will still often advise the customers, and this can go awry, because they don’t have the responsibility to stand behind the advice they give.
The same can be said for interior designers, whose perspective should be within their scope of expertise, which is interior selections and knowledge of finishes and furnishings. Where the interior designer oversteps is when they plan the shape and location of spaces without the knowledge and expertise to determine the multiple issues of engineering, whether it’s the structure or other types of building systems like electric, plumbing and mechanical (heating, ventilating or air conditioning).
As an architect, I regularly struggle to work out problems when a contractor has altered something on a construction site or an interior designer has made a change that involves great cost to undo. Examples of this could fill a book, but here are a few common ones. As I write this, I am preparing a case to present to a zoning board because a contractor was told, quite specifically and in front of the owner, that a second-floor addition had to be a specific roof angle and the structure had to sit on top of the first-floor walls. The contractor altered the roof angle and raised the addition 10 inches above the top of the first-floor walls. He even told the owner that the inspector “would never notice.” He did.
An interior designer advised a client that they could violate the laws of nature, building codes and zoning regulations when they recently took a copy of architectural plans and reconfigured them, telling the client that the architect didn’t have the artistic acumen or skill that the designer uniquely possessed. So a column ended up going in place of a sink, the roof structure had to be rebuilt, and there was no place to run the plumbing and air conditioning ductwork vertically. The cost for slender steel beams to accommodate the design decimated the budget as well.
All of these people need to be consulted, as long as they stay in their lanes of expertise. Good luck!

© 2022 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.