Frequently Asked Questions

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Why should I use a Professional Residential Designer to design my new home or renovation ?

First, let's establish that we are discussing the use of a practiced and competent Professional Residential Designer. Being professional suggests one dedicates a large amount of their career to working and growing in their field. Residential design talent evolves from in-depth knowledge of architecture and construction, practical design and field experience, and the ability for putting those pieces all together with communication skills and attention to detail. Another important aspect is to find a Professional Residential Designer with a personality you can respect and work with as they guide you through the design experience. It's helpful to meet with your potential home Designer, and discuss a previous project they've completed that might be similar to yours.

That being said, let's look at the value an effective Professional Residential Designer brings to the team for your project. First and foremost, you get what you want - a truly Customized plan. The conception of a design that encompasses your objectives, your tastes and your unique site considerations is something you may not be able to find in the endless plans on the internet or in publications. You want your design to make every square foot count, to be optimized for your finances, site and climate, and to incorporate appealing and useful features that suit your style, while avoiding over-budget designs with unwanted space or tacky cookie cutter detailing.

Organizing and prioritizing the architectural aspects of function, aesthetics and budget into guidelines called an Architectural Program can be more difficult than most think, but it is critical to a successful project outcome. A Professional Residential Designer can sort out objectives and create a fresh architectural design which embodies your unique requirements, tastes and budget.

Tapping into a Professional Residential Designer's Knowledge and Experience can be a treasure trove to draw from throughout the project. A Professional Residential Designer whose knowledge is rooted in timeless proven theory while keeping an eye on current trends, who understands the integration of function with style, who utilizes "best practices" with appropriate materials and who has real field experience can greatly impact the realization of a distinctively tailored home design concept. Improving architectural aspects like 'curb' appeal can enhance not only the aesthetics which you enjoy daily but down the road resale value. Selecting correct construction systems and materials can increase performance and save money now and for years to come. These tangible and intangible improvements materialize when a talented Professional Residential Designer brings together value, suitability and visual appeal in a residence. For example, adding a beautiful balcony to take advantage of the last glimpse of the evening sunsets can add a wonderfully unique touch for a lifetime.

Careful Planning can reduce a myriad of "issues". Many design flaws or awkward conditions, overlooked by a trusting owner or preoccupied builder until it's "too late", can be spotted and corrected by a Professional Residential Designer. We once redesigned a contractor's own design which used an open floor plan, popular with today's 'modern living'. It had the Great Room / Kitchen / Dining areas open to each other. However the Great Room was so open and had so many traffic paths through it that furniture placement was difficult, if not impossible. This problem was missed until after the construction of the first few homes were complete. When the contractor realized the problem they attempted field fixes which made little improvement on the architectural gaffe. After looking it over, we resolved the problem by combining and eliminating traffic paths, moving doorways, and adjusting the Kitchen layout. The new plan yielded a furniture friendly Great Room and more usable floor space without adding a dime of cost.

Working with a Professional Residential Designer usually means an elevated level of Communication during the design. Typically designers adopt the most comfortable interface method for their clients, allowing more input, an improved understanding and an added clarity of the project. Traditionally graphics like 'blueprints', sketches, renderings, and 3D modeling are used to communicate the design but verbal skills beginning with the use of appreciative inquiry to develop a clear architectural program, having face-to-face meetings, visiting suppliers and addressing questions between meetings enriches the design experience...that personal touch.

Builders find open and clear communication a real benefit, too. It helps in clarifying expectations and creating solutions in the office before time and money are expended on-site, reducing costly change orders and limiting situations that might otherwise end in disappointment or frustration.

Value Engineering is a strength many Professional Residential Designers pride themselves on. Traditionally this is exemplified not in cutting quality but rather by getting the best performance out of the building materials used, resulting in less waste, reduced problem callbacks and decreased maintenance. Whether adding longevity in detailing, integrating best practices, integrating 'green' criteria or creating ambiguous spaces that can change function as your family grows, value engineering is thinking beyond the lines on the paper.

Developing concise Construction Documents (plans, elevations, details, specifications, etc.) optimizes the construction process. A comprehensive set of construction documents fosters construction process efficiencies and greatly reduces on-site issues. Savings start in the bidding process because materials are accurately shown and called out clearly– no guess work or 'fudge' factors to cover dubious or vague areas, avoiding mis-ordered materials, time delays, and oversights.

Most design offices should review their construction documents many times as the different layers of information are added and the design progresses. This continual review and improvement by a Professional Residential Designer often spots critical interactions and conflicts that are sometimes missed until the builder comes face-to-face with the issues in the field. This careful review process can avoid field problems and unforeseen costs. The right design and the proper design documents can outright pay for themselves by avoiding construction pitfalls and disappointed expectations.

A Professional Residential Designer is used so that your home or renovation turns out right. You may be inundated with pre-designed plans but a Professional Residential Designer can be a master at creating a beautiful home specifically for you... so that your new home or renovation is all that it can be.

What are my choices when it comes to designing my home?

So you're starting to think seriously about building a new home or renovating your existing home and wonder what's the best way to get started. It's important to select the right design path. Poor design can result in accumulation of unexpected costs; squandered value; lost spatial and design opportunities; and can extend your building schedule by leaving more questions and guessing for the job site than anyone can manage well. Design 'failures' become painfully tangible during the build and can lead to significant compromises which follow you into your living in the space. Here are some of the more common design choices and their pros and cons.

First: The published plan. These drawn plans and construction documents can offer thousands of alternatives at a reasonable value. The ability to search by style, square footage or features creates a pool of choices unbelievably accessible in today's environment. You'll be able to choose the creative work created by some of the best designers and get a set of construction documents that are usually technically adept. Added value is in the reduction of design time if that's an important factor.

Although many options and styles are available this way, by nature these pre-designed plans are prepared for more typical site conditions, needs and and features. Often times the originator of the plan can revise the plan for minor changes you may want or need for your site. In general, these published plans may have to be updated to new and local codes, reviewed for structural issues like local snow and wind loads and modified to regional insulation standards, most of which a proficient builder could manage. Quality on some of these plans can excellent, supplying not only plans and elevations but offering material lists, specialized detailing and specifications. While others may be dated plan sets requiring hours of office clarification, updating and field correction.  

Nearly all plans viewed on the web or published are copyrighted and are typically sold with a one-time build license. Certainly if you can find a plan that suits you, this can be a cost effective alternative. It can shorten the design process and allow you to pick a wonderful design from a designer you otherwise would not be able to access.  However it lacks personalized consultation, specific site orientation and "uniquely you" characteristics. In some instances that could be fine for your taste and project needs. 

Another option: Using a builder or a design/build firm to develop your plan. The integration of the design and build teams working in harmony could be an optimum situation combining the construction commitment directly with the budget. Builders vary greatly in the talent and resources they enlist to develop your ideas. Often clients select a  model from the builder's lhouse design services. 

Typically builder's have a sweet spot for a certain genre and quality level that they prefer to stay in; while others claim a wider range of capability. So if you've discovered a builder whose portfolio is impressive to you and similar to what you want to build, this may be a good avenue to pursue. Before you get started have a clear understanding of costs involved and rights in regards to your ability to use the plans with another builder if you're interested in getting competitive bids. Inquire about their design process and find out exactly who you'll be directly working with throughout the design.

That brings us to: Engaging a design professional. Whether you use an architect or a residential designer (more on the difference in another FAQ), you will find talent and services vary significantly, as with the other options. What's key here is to find the mix of talent, technical knowledge, process and personality that's best for you and your project. If you are expecting material, color and finish selections then find a professional who has successfully completed that level of service before. If you expect a minimalistic set of drawings for your builder to bid and work from, than make sure your designer will do a quality job on your more conventional project. Many times, projects are best served somewhere in-between these extremes. It'll be worth your time to find a designer with the spectrum of talents that can be personalized to suit your needs.

If you are going to have some interaction during the design, the designer's personality is an important facet to a successful design. Do you feel comfortable communicating with them? Can they effectively communicate their ideas to me?   Are they bent to a certain style or quality level? What is their process? Set up an appointment with your prospective designer to see their work; ask for references and make sure you 'click' with your designer. Ask questions that would give you an understanding of their familiarity with aspects of the project that are important to you. You'll have a much better understanding of what you're about to step into, even if you've been through the process before.

That's a quick overview of home design options. These design options can also work for additions, renovations and outbuilding projects. Of course there are hybrids, derivatives and regional variations of these design alternatives. Ultimately it's the right combination of architectural talent, technical knowledge and the ability to keep the project on budget that create the best residential design value. Like many things, the cheapest method is seldom a good indicator of  the best value and premium prices don't insure premium services. So with a little homework, you can ensure yourself a great design experience and immensely enhance your new home.

Why use RNR Designs?

RNR DESIGNS has a reputation of professional and courteous service to homeowners and builders since 1993. It can be difficult to find the mix of competencies that RNR DESIGNS brings to your project. A creative, communicative and resourceful approach, combined with years of construction field experience and architectural knowledge combine for a pleasant and rewarding design experience.

Designing homes and producing working drawings for new home or renovation projects is what RNR DESIGNS' does. So your best interest is at the heart of the service, advice and consultation we provide.

The successful culmination of the design process is in creating a home specially for you. Sometimes put together from your favorite pictures, tearouts and sketches, and other times from the straight from creative talents of Rich Rokisky. 'Blueprints' are a helpful vehicle in getting your new home built correctly... with style and technically up-to-date (high-performance).  RNR Designs is well known for the quality of its plan sets. But we haven't lost sight of the fact that the 'blueprints' are just a means to an end...your new home. Once the design phase is complete the constructions documents need to be finished as efficiently as possible to preserve high value for our clients.

That's why RNR DESIGNS personalizes our service package to your project. After reviewing some basic facts about the project we'll suggest the right set of services and construction documents for your project. Whether you need a BUILDER set drawings for a rural farmhouse addition or a MASTER set for a period lakefront home, you'll get our finest service bundled the way you need it. 

How much will the design cost?

Fees like talent can vary significantly. As a percentage of the project's construction cost (even though fees may be fixed, hourly or based on square footage) design only fees can generally range between 1% to 10% , but can even vary beyond that range. Sometimes design/build contractors will offer design services for 'free'. Fees in these situations are typically rolled in with the construction costs and are devoid (or may involve costly fees) to obtain rights to use the prints if you decide to go elsewhere.

Most of the time the designer will be more specific about their design fees after they find out more about your project and you. Fees are usually determined by the project's level of difficulty and customization; talent, process & capabilities of the design office; and requirements of the owner and/or builder. You can seldom compare 'apples to apples' because the thoroughness of the design process and construction documents usually varies greatly between design options. Some designers will have extensive interview and product selection processes, while others hardly inquire or discuss your architectural program (the conditions and objectives that are basic to the project). Furthermore all working drawings are not alike. Some designers produce final working drawings that don't 'measure up' to the quality of work found in what other designers would call preliminary drawings. The design value point (best choice) for most owners becomes relatively apparent once they review the work and talk with a few designers. Checking references and seeking recommendations from unbiased professionals and previous clients can definetly help you with your determination.

Construction observation services (oversight through project construction) are typically seperate and can double the design fees cited above. These services can range from a predetermined number of site visits during critical project milestones or could include daily visits and facilitation of team meetings. They are usually always a good idea but are mostly reserved for higher end or more complex projects. These more challenging projects require additional professional oversight to bring together special conditions and products, complex systems and the myriad of details successfully. A few designers will include these construction observation services as a standard part of the design contract and their fees reflect that fact.

Although some still use 'handshake' agreements, most professionals use a design agreement. This contract explicitly lays out details of your arrangement and fees involved. It's important to read through and understand this contract so that there are no surprises. More on design contracts in another FAQ.

How long will it take?

Of course this varies greatly, so these are generalities. For a homeowner, to design and draft a traditional home (2,000 - 3,200 SF), starting from scratch typically takes 2-3 months. More complex and detailed projects usually run 3-4 months. Either of these can be fast tracked and length of design be reduced up to 50%.

We recommend ample time be allocated for the design process. This allows the creative work; the review process; input from builders and major subcontractors; revisions and investigative work (if needed) be progressively and organically taken into account during the conceptual and development phases. No doubt, this more comprehensive attention to the design in the early phases has big payoffs in the building of and living in your new home.

How do I get started?

Once you've determined that your going to build, it's important to gather your thoughts regarding your new home or space. Sometimes clients have a montage of pictures, sketches and ideas that need to be forged together into a harmonious piece of architecture. These collections of ideas can signal to a good designer as much of what you want as you don't. Rely on your designer to take this information, ask questions and develop concepts that will solidfy into a home that suits you.

But if you're not the gathering type, or would rather give the designer a clean slate to work with, a good designer can step you through a process they use to extract the information that is vital for a successful project. To get to the design vision that suits you, a good designer will assess the physical nature of your site, your preferences and the realities of building and budget into a solution thats just right for you. 

What are the  functions we need to accomplish? Aesthetically what kind of styling most appeals to you? What are the project budget considerations? These are some of the basic questions that have to be answered. For more on communicating your project requirements see "PROJECT DATA"  PDF on the "Connect with RNR DESIGNS" page.

What do I do with my 'napkin' sketch ?

 The 'napkin' sketch. This is the one where in a moment of clarity you jotted out the plan for your new dream home on a handy piece of paper. It's a great way to convey hard to verbally describe thoughts and give design insight into what you're thinking as rough as they may don't be embarrased to show them to your designer or builder. Those sketches are often the kernal idea. Of course, the sketch incorporates taking advantage of the view, solar siting, aesthetic appeal, value engineering and keeps to a budget to name just a few aspects of a comprehensive home design.  Fact is, even the best builders need a comprehensive plan to achieve quality, value and beauty in your new home.

Many builders would take the napkin and have that drawn to their professional standards and needs before they even bid the project. The concept needs filled out in form, function and budget as the design develops into construction documents that will be used to accurately plan, bid and build your new residence. So don't tear up those 'napkins', they could be the soul of your new abode. 

Read more about the "Sketches that Spark Imagination" on .