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  • Writer's pictureCaitlin Kelley

10 Questions To Ask To Select The Perfect Architect For Your Project

You’re excited to design a home customized to meet your lifestyle. You may have an idea of what you want, including the number of bedrooms and baths. Perhaps you’d like to live on the coastline with a view of the ocean to watch the waves. Or is a home nestled in the mountains surrounded by trees more your style? Whatever your distinct vision, you’re going to need a professional architect to help you manifest your dream.


If you’ve never had a home custom designed for you, you might find it challenging to select the right architect for your project. And even if you’ve worked with an architect or builder in the past, does that person have the expertise to create that special home for you and your family?


Here are 10 questions to ask, so you can select the perfect architect to make your dream come true:


1. Can you tell us about a project you have worked on that you are particularly proud of, and why?


By asking the architect about a previous project they are proud of, you can get a feeling for the original vision and how the architect implemented it into a solution. You can see if there are artistic components in the design and the aesthetic influence throughout the project. Has the architect created a unique building for the people who use the space?

Listen to how the architect talks about their work to see if their eyes sparkle, and you can hear the passion in their voice. If so, you’ll know that they’ll bring all this excitement into the design and construction of your home.


When asked which project I’m particularly proud of, I mention the design for Tourmaline Urban Lofts, where I was both the architect and the developer. In a typical project, architects oversee the budget and keep the project on schedule. However, as the developer for Tourmaline Urban Lofts, I had the additional financial responsibility of ensuring a profitable project with a return on investment for the management, banks, and investors.


Be sure to select an architect who takes pride in the aesthetically pleasing designs they create and can ensure the project is built on time and within budget.


2. How do you approach a new project?


Once you’ve learned about a design the architect is proud of, you want to find out how they approach a new project. Does the architect have a process that they follow and a programming guide to discover more details about your vision? The architect should ask fundamental questions about what you want to build and if you have a site, as well as guide you to answer questions about what you want in your custom dream home.


A professional architect might also ask precise questions, take notes, and interview you to see if you are a good fit. Designing and building a home takes time, so you want to ensure you can work together. There might also be questions regarding the budget to see if you are aware of the cost and if you have enough money to design and build what you really want.


Listen to the questions the architect is asking and see if they can uncover your desires to design your home to satisfy your current and future lifestyle.


3. How do you ensure that the design meets the needs and wants of the client?


You’ve asked the architect about their process and heard the architect's questions, but how can you ensure that the design will be what you want? You’re trying to learn how you will communicate together. Communication should be both graphical and verbal. It’s difficult to fully understand what your house will look like in reality and how you will feel in the spaces before it’s built. Architects will sketch, and use 3D computer models, renderings, and virtual reality to give you a better perspective of your design.



I always bring a roll of trace paper to design meetings to hand sketch the ideas and take notes on items you may want to change. By listening and graphically responding to feedback, it’s easy to make adjustments to be sure you get what you want before starting construction.


4. How do you stay current with new technologies, materials, and design trends?


Now that you know the different methods of communication with the architect, it’s time to find out how the architect stays current. Is the architect up to date on technological changes, especially if you want state-of-the-art equipment? Keeping current with construction techniques shows that the architect is aware of the latest energy-efficient options, saving you money on energy costs. Knowledge of new materials that are ecologically friendly can help you ensure your home is designed with your health in mind.


Check if the architect is reading daily blogs about the latest products and materials and is following the new design trends that appear in Dezeen, Arch Daily, Dwell, and other trade magazines. The American Institute of Architects and architectural licensing boards require the architect to be current with their continuing education hours annually to renew their license.

Make sure the architect you select is licensed for the state you plan to build your custom home in and knows the latest technologies.


5. Can you walk us through your design process and how you collaborate with other design team members?


It’s great if the architect is up-to-date with technology, but do they have a design process? And how well will they collaborate with other members of the design team? Building a home is a process, and you’ll want to be confident that the architect has steps to follow. One of the first steps is to see if you have a site, and if not, the architect can help you select the one that is right for you. The architect can also verify if you can build what you hope to construct in that jurisdiction.


Have the architect walk you through the process so that you understand the phases of your project. Review my Architectural Process Guide as an example of the steps you’ll need to transform your ideas into physical form.


In addition to the process, there is a team of people involved to work with the architect in the design and construction of your home. Find out from the architect what other specialists are needed, like a surveyor, soils, civil, and structural engineer. The architect may have collaborated with some on past projects, but do they have the right resources to find the engineers you’ll need to turn your distinct home into reality?

6. How do you balance creativity and functionality in your designs?


The architect may have the dream design team, but how well can he or she balance creativity and functionality? You’ll want a unique design that fits your lifestyle and functions well as you move about the space. Is the architect aware of functionality in the kitchen using the working triangle with the relation between the sink, stove, and refrigerator? You certainly don’t want an impractical kitchen or bathroom you can’t even move around in.


Having a big, picturesque window may be fantastic, but will it work well, or will it let in so much sunlight that you have to put up drapes to block the heat? Not to mention, you’ll pay more for electricity costs. Check if the architect knows how to orient the house on the site based on the site characteristics and take advantage of natural elements.



Bring your vision to life with a combination of design, artistic passion for precision, and functionality for your lifestyle.


7. Can you give an example of a project where you had to overcome a significant challenge?


Projects don’t always run smoothly, so you’ll want to select an architect who can overcome challenges in addition to creativity and functionality. Can the architect think out of the box and research to find possible solutions? The last thing you want is to have your dream home become a nightmare if the architect can’t solve the problem and you have to settle for a less-than-perfect design.


Ask the architect to give you an example of their innovation. One of my clients is building on a delicate site on the coast. The soil engineer is concerned about the land shifting, so I researched for a creative solution. By using modular construction and a barge-like foundation to allow for flexibility in the structure, adjustments will be able to be made should there be land movement.


By looking for the right foundational design system and working directly with structural engineers, it was possible to come up with a more cost-effective solution for my client.


8. How do you handle changes or revisions the client requests during the design process?


Not only do you want an innovative architect, but you’ll need the architect to be transparent about the price for changes and revisions. There may or may not be costs associated with design changes, but it’s certainly a lot easier and less costly to make changes while you are in the design phase rather than tearing down a wall after it’s built.


There will, however, be a cut-off point where the changes you request become additional charges. The architect should explain the cost upfront, so you aren’t surprised. The price for the plans should be included in the proposal, as well as the fees for modifications made after a certain point in the process.


9. How do you approach sustainable design and incorporating green building strategies?


Asking about changes in design is one question for an architect, but you might also want to understand how they incorporate green building strategies. California has a net-zero energy requirement, so verify that the architect is up to speed or has the resources to learn the latest building codes. When an architect renews their license in California, they must be aware of these energy requirements.


Ask the architect questions about a solar system for electricity and hot water heating, as well as the best insulation to keep the house warm. Be sure to inquire about the use of non-toxic building materials, so you’ll have a healthy home for yourself and your family. Does the architect consider the sun’s angle, and how to position the house on the site to make the best use of passive heating and cooling? Is the architect familiar with the use of circadian light to support your well-being?


You may want to incorporate sustainable and energy-efficient systems and materials, as I used in the Sun Harbor Marina project in San Diego, to help implement a green strategy for your custom home.


10. Can you provide examples of completed projects that demonstrate your experience in the specific type of project we are looking to build?


Knowing the architect has strategies for sustainable and green designs is essential, but so is their experience in completing projects like the one you are planning. Does the architect only design in a traditional style, or are they oriented more towards contemporary design? Perhaps you prefer a hybrid style that does both.


Select an architect who can confidently design based on your tastes and lifestyle, but has a distinct signature of their own. Choose an expert who makes you feel comfortable and isn’t afraid to mix design elements from around the world to create an aesthetic combination that is exactly what you are looking for.



You might not be able to pinpoint an exact style, but with the guidance of a professional architect who is enthusiastic and proud of their work, you’ll surely achieve the custom home you envision.


Questions to ask to select the perfect architect.


Selecting the right architect to design your dream home can be challenging, but the answers to these questions can help you decide. Listen to how the architect talks about their past projects, what they are proud of, and the challenges they have overcome. See if the architect is enthusiastic about designing for you and if they can think creatively.


Does the architect think out of the box to find innovative solutions, and are they aware of the latest technology? Choose an architect that will be flexible, open, and transparent about their process as well as pricing, so there are no surprises down the road. Most of all, you want an architect who will create an aesthetically beautiful home that functions well according to your current lifestyle and for years to come.


If you’d like to discuss your dream home and how a professional architect can help you create the custom home you envision, call me and let's start the conversation:

858-344-2404, or email caitlin@caitlinkelleyarchitect.com.


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