Sometimes You Don’t want to Build

February 15th, 2018

Sometimes You Don’t want to Build is about the honesty an Architect must default to when discussing potential projects with possible Clients.

What are we talking about?  How about this: we got a call a few days from some nice Ms. Something or Other from east South Carolina.  Here’s sort of how the conversation went.  We believe it is self-explanatory:

architectural project management

“Hello, I’m looking for an Architect to complete my drawing for my idea for my house.”

“Oh? so you have it all worked out?”













“Oh yes, I scribbled it on the back of an envelope.  1-story. All you need to do is copy what I’ve done and then you’re done in no time at all.”

Pained silence.


“Yes, ma’am.”

“So can you help me?  I Googled things for a whole month and found these wonderful aerated concrete blocks that I want to build my house out of.  You just need to show where the hold down anchors go and be responsible for that.”



“Okay.  So if you have the architecture all worked out, have you considered contacting a Structural Engineer in your area, and having him do this for you?”

“Well, I’ve contacted several Architects, but none of them wants to help me.”

“Would you like me to explain why?”


“Alright.  You call experienced licensed professionals like Architects, and then tell them that you spent a whole 30 days researching systems that caught your eye and then you scratched out a not-to-scale plan on the back of an envelope, and now you believe you have done 90% of the Architect’s job, so you won’t have to pay the Architect much to take legal responsibility for an exotic structural system, right down to specifying the most critical attachment points.  Does that about sum it up?

“Why, yes, it does.”














“Okay.  Let’s put this another way: suppose you needed a heart operation.  Would you research the procedure you are going to have online for perhaps a day or two, think about it, do some scribbling, then go to your surgeon’s office with your sketch, then tell your Doctor how you want him to perform the operation and how you think it could be done better and faster, so he should charge you a lot less than he and his hospital normally do?”

“Well of course not.”

“I would hope not.  You are doing the equivalent of that when you approach Architects this way.”

“Oh my, I had no idea.”

“Yes ma’am.  No Architect is going to be interested in assuming 100% of the liability for your project, being paid for 10% of what they would normally charge, then have to spend hours trying to talk you out of what you have scribbled and why the stair you drew 18″ wide by 4′ long won’t really work to get  you from one floor to another, and why the 12″ wide front door you drew won’t allow you to walk through it.  It is a classic mistake, by lay people: drawing things about half of the size (or less) than its real dimensions.  No self-respecting Architect is going to want to go through the time it’s going to take to get this on-track.  Also, there is a huge misconception that all  you need to build a house is a floor plan.  That is incorrect.  You also need a Site Plan, Elevations, Building Sections, Wall Sections, many details, Finish Schedule, Door Schedule, Detail Plans, Cabinetry, Electrical, Structural Foundation, Structural Framing, Specifications and more.  It doesn’t get done in a day.  It’s a very complex task: designing a home.  And while we’re at it, let’s do the budget analysis.  How much money do you think this new house is going to cost you to build?”













“Well, there was a handyman down the street fixing a neighbor’s back porch door and he said he would build my new home for $85 per square foot.”

“Ma’am, I can tell  you that is not a realistic cost of construction for a new house, especially one all on one level.  Did you show this person your plans?”

“Excuse me? What plans?”

“I thought you said you had this drawn all out?”

“Well, not exactly.  I sort of doodled on the back of this envelope that had my power bill in it…”

“Okay, so this handyman, did you show him that?’

“Well, er, no.”

“So what is this Builder person basing his price on?

“Oh, I don’t know…”

“Ma’am, what size home and what construction budget are you planning?”

“Well, I was thinking all one story, 1,100 square feet and $100,000.”

“Alright, thank you.  Your budget = $90 per square foot.  That’s still far from reality.  In this part of the USA, a custom home project (not included fancy construction systems) go from perhaps a low of $165 per square foot, to $200 per square foot, to well over $300 per square foot, depending on what you want and what you can afford.  Most people think they are going to get their dream home for $100 per square foot and that is totally unrealistic and you are even below that. I’m sorry to tell you: it’s just not going to happen.  May I ask what is your economic condition, savings and such?”











“Well, we’re retired, my husband takes lots of pills these days, we have no savings at all and live from social security check to check.  We live in a mobile home.” 


“Okay. Ma’am, I hate to be the one to tell you.  You really should not be even thinking about having a custom home designed and built for you.  You are going to end up in so much financial trouble, your dream will turn into a nightmare and you’re not going to have any way out of it.  DO NOT DO THIS, PLEASE.”

“Oh, but I’ve cleared the land and installed the septic system…”

“STOP.  Don’t invest any more of your hard-won income into that land.  No one else is going to care.  Sell that land now, and think about selling your mobile home, then consult a local Real Estate Broker and find modest homes in your area that you can afford and enjoy the rest of your life there.”

“But don’t you want to design my new house?”

“Yes ma’am, I would love to design your new house, but I would feel terrible taking your money, knowing in my heart that you’re never going to be able to afford to build it and I would have taken  your money for no good advantage to your benefit.  I wouldn’t be able to sleep well at night if I did that.”

“Well, what about those modular cedar homes with large glass windows?”




“Please listen carefully to me. I’m not trying to be rude.  You’re not going to be able afford to build a home.  And if you think that you’re going to go on Google and find things that my 52 years of architectural experience haven’t already found and either discarded or improved upon, you are kidding yourself.  Just like if you got a DUI ticket, you wouldn’t go into your Attorney’s office, with printouts of ways you want him to represent you to the local judge, to keep you out of jail.  Same thing.  Your little bit of Googling is not going to replace 21 years of formal education, 10 additional years of internship, multiple licenses and decades of experience designing projects in the real world.  Just like when Arthur Clarke responded to his fans trying to sell him ideas for science fiction stories: “I’ve already thought of it.”  Please do not do this.  You’re not going to outsmart any of the Contractors who might build something for you, or even your Handyman down the street (who may not have a license to build anything for anyone for $85 or whatever).  And by the way, the most expensive way to build a house is all on one floor.”

“Why would that be?”

“Because you have twice the roof and twice the foundation of a 2-story house, which is by far more economical to build.”

“But I don’t want a 2-story house.”

“Yes, ma’am.  I understand.  Which is why you can’t afford to build this.  But fortunately, in this market, a Real Estate Broker can probably find you several options for one-story homes that you might be able to afford, and they all come with a known, fixed price, that you can often negotiate lower, which you really can’t do with a custom made house.

“Why not?”


“Because, your Builder has no incentive to discount his work or materials.  Construction is on the rise and Builders are in demand.  They are not going to build you your dream home in the most expensive way possible for the unbelievable price of $85 to $90 per square foot, when they are building mansions for other people for over $200 per square foot.  Does that make sense?”

“Well, I suppose.”

“Look, I really hate to pop the dream you have, but the worst thing I or anyone else could do to you would be to feed your illusions of getting a spectacular dream home for half or one-third of the going construction rate.  The sooner you understand your vulnerable economic position, the better off you’re going to be.  I really am sorry, but you need to call a Real Estate Broker, not an Architect at this point.  Here I am turning down work, but that’s the ethical thing to do.”

“I appreciate your honesty.”


“Yes ma’am.  You’re welcome.  I feel terrible, if I’ve in any way offended you, explaining the realities of your situation…”

“No.  I needed to hear that. My husband’s been telling me I’m crazy.”

(chuckle) “I wouldn’t say that.  Perhaps simply wanting what you want and wanting to have the best possible circumstances possible for you and your husband.  But you know what?  Construction has a nasty way of becoming more expensive in the way of unknown surprises.  What you think your costs are going to be will end up being far more, and with what you’ve told me about your financial situation, you can’t handle that.  So, once again, for your own good, don’t attempt to build something new at this point.  I wish you the best.”



That’s it.  Was the Architect mean?  Rude?  Or was he telling the caller what she needed to hear to jolt her out of a trajectory that could have killed her and her family?   Hopefully she has called that Real Estate Broker and sold her property and finds that cozy retirement home.


Sometimes the best advice an Attorney can give a possible future client is to say: “Don’t break the law or do the thing that’s going to make you have to hire me and pay me $400/hour.”  And so, with an Architect, once in a big while, their wisest counsel may be to not have their possible Client’s unrealistically low-ball dream home designed and attempted to be built for sub-par construction pricing, but rather look for an existing house that meets their objectives as best they can.  It doesn’t feel good, turning away work, but it would feel worse knowingly taking advantage of someone, knowing that their goals are unattainable.   Always tell the truth about construction pricing and what the various levels can buy. 






Jamaica, Mon

January 20th, 2018

Jamaica, Mon is an online article about Home Architects’ (HA) recent project site trip to Jamaica. 



HA’s Rand Soellner, ArCH, enjoying a brief break during several days of meetings at a beach resort.














A large world-class construction company is building a $28M+/- project for a huge resort in Jamaica.  One of the subcontractors engaged the HA firm as backup for their shop drawing requirements for roof timber frame and stick framing.  To date, a single site visit was accomplished, along with intensive discussions with the A/E of Record.  HA’s expertise with timber framing is what led the roof framing subcontractor to fly HA down to the island to discuss the project. 


This was welcome, as the eastern USA was in one of the coldest winters on record, and the 80*F Jamaican temperature was a welcome change.  Not much time was left, after daily meetings, reviewing the various conditions for the large expansion project, now already under construction.  HA said they didn’t want to share many particulars about the project publicly, as a courtesy to the other project team members and the owner.


Rand said this was the view from his room at the resort:











And while it may be hard to believe, he typically only had about a half-hour a day after all the meetings, to sit for a short while and enjoy this ocean view, before sunset came.  Large ocean-going vessels would often float by, about a mile offshore, including huge cruise ships.


The resort project involves about a dozen building types of various sizes, from gazebos to significant hotel structures.  Soellner noted that Jamaica has mountains, about a mile or so inland from the shoreline, although this particular project was all very close to shore, which made for a thrilling site plan so close to the ocean.


HA was delighted to have participated in discussions to advance this interesting international project.  Their expertise in timber framing continues to be noticed around the world, along with their award winning architecture for custom residential-oriented projects (although they were not the design Architects on this particular project). 




tags: timber frame, post and beam, Jamaica

Art + Technology = Architecture

January 1st, 2018


Art + Technology = Architecture is about how this Architect of custom mountain houses combines award-winning design capabilities with expert technical knowledge to craft outstanding projects.

home architects

Lake Murray, South Carolina residential design. (C) Copyright 2016, Home Architect, PLLC, All Rights Reserved Worldwide. This original work of architecture was created by HOME ARCHITECTS, national architectural firm that specializes in the design of custom houses in scenic places across the Country.














In the above example.  The ART is fairly obvious: the interesting color scheme, the dramatic chimneys with arched silver colored top and cross posts (reminiscent of the masts of sailing ships out on the lake behind the house), the sharp angled metal roof and house mass (recalling the sails on the sail boats on the lake), contrasting with the lower slope main roof, the clearstory row of timber framing, the diagonal timber bracing, the stone column piers, the dramatic site planning with code-required pool fencing matching the chalky green color on the main house, the hot tub and swimming pool layout.  And last but not least, the symbol/logo of the house, reminiscent of a red cross symbol, as one of the owners is a doctor, and the other a special services technician who saves lives. 


The TECHNOLOGY is evidenced in the timber framing, which efficiently & solidly supports the porches to resist the fierce winds across the wide lake, in the fence around the pool (required by code), in the various drainage swales and underground piping around the entire site, in the roof framing, supporting the structure, in the large glass areas, allowing the spectacular views, while resisting the horizontal wind forces, in the house porch railings which resist horizontal pressure while provide an artistic arrangement using standard dimension lumber (pressure-treated), and in the horizontal wind beams connecting the exterior timber posts to the main house posts between the sliding glass panels (to resist the wind forces while permitting larger glass areas).  The technology continues in the various systems for HVAC (Heating, Ventilating, Air-Conditioning), electrical, spectacular cabinetry and fireplace design, amazing open plan kitchen, master bedroom and posh master bathroom and more. 















Each project designed by this architectural firm starts with Programming, to understand the owner’s Lifestyle and Land (what they call the “2 Ls”).  Then something from that becomes the Concept for the project.  Something that comes from how the owners want to live and features of their site.  Then the project is designed, based on that concept.  This is where the Art & Technology merge and flourish, to become the custom house. 








tags: art and technology, Cashiers, Lake Toxaway, Highlands, Hendersonville, Asheville, Sevierville, Nashville, Aspen, Telluride, timber frame, post and beam




Intro Preliminary Services

December 17th, 2017

Intro Preliminary Services is about this Architect providing their Clients a choice of low cost, no commitment initial services before the main project begins, so that people are better informed about the options available for their project on their land, and the main spaces desired for their homes and other improvements. 

The link to this webpage on the Architect’s website is here:

Intro Preliminary Services














Why: some people need time to wrap their minds around the idea of doing a new project.  Such things are no small undertaking and require a significant commitment, usually in terms of financial investment and to a certain degree, some time.  And this can take a while to get used to such an event.


Which is why HOME ARCHITECTS ® decided to provide some early services, available to its Clients before the main project was started.   Most of these preliminary services can be had for a flat fee of a few hundred dollars, such as the favorite: the SITE WALK, where the Architect comes to your land and walks it with you, takes digital photos, analyzes the land and its topography, understanding where the best options might be for your house, possible outbuildings like barns, possible well, septic, driveway, garage, and other features.  The Site Walk isn’t intended as design work, more like a land use plan indicating the best use of various locations for Client features.  And most preliminary services include a PDF report filled with text, photos and Google Earth imagery explaining the Architect’s findings, emailed to  you within 5 days or so after the event, for you to use to help you with the next step. 


And knowing the best place(s) to put your house and other main improvements can be a big load off your mind and give you a comfort level for proceeding with the main project: the actual design of your house and other items, which occurs after any preliminary services, whenever the Owner decides they are ready to proceed.



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There are other preliminary introductory services as well:


Check out the INTRODUCTORY OPTIONAL SERVICES webpage when you might like to consider discovering how your project needs might be met on your land.  BTW: this firm can also help you find the right property for your project. 














tags: introductory preliminary services, Cashiers, Highlands, Lake Toxaway, Aspen, Lake Tahoe, Sevierville, timber frame, post and beam, Hendersonville





Net Neutrality

December 10th, 2017

Contact your State legislators NOW (before 12/14/2017) and ask them to vote NO to any legislation that removes Net Neutrality and Yes to legislation that keeps it in place.  This can help you identify and send an email to all of your elected officials: click image below:

net neutrality

Send emails to your state legislators NOW to keep Net Neutrality. You can find them using the Democracy.IO app (above). If you run a small business on the Internet, without Net Neutrality, giant companies with unlimited marketing budgets can crush you under their boots and your website could become virtually inaccessible to your potential client base. Ask your representatives & senators to vote to KEEP Net Neutrality so that American (and global) small businesses will continue to operate on a level playing field. Do something about it now, so you don’t complain later. Defend your website & your small business’ place in the global marketplace.


New Website Format for Mountain House Architecture

November 23rd, 2017

New Website Format for Mountain House Architecture is about the newly renovated HOME ARCHITECTS ® website.  It features new interactive choices that allow anyone interested in the design & construction of a mountain house project to obtain valuable information to improve that effort.

mountain house architecture










The newly reformatted website features 5 new short pamphlets (1 page front & rear) about mountain house architecture that will provide reliable and useful knowledge about the design and construction of a mountain residence, whether it be a renovation or new design and construction.  


Each of these brief booklets can be read in about 5 minutes.  Useful and valuable information in the length of time it might normally take to go outside to your mailbox, then walk back into your house.  And this information is in the form of free downloads.


Why: because this Architect is a world-leading provider of not only award-winning mountain house designs, it also provides more educational information than any other Architectural firm on the planet to Homeowners, General Contractors, Architects, and the public at large on this specialized subject.  They are the go-to source of “how-to” when it comes to mountain residential projects, in terms of design considerations & technological know-how.  Which is why the NAHB (National Association of Home Builders) asked them to present an educational seminar to their country-wide General Contractor attendees at last year’s national convention in Asheville, North Carolina.  HOME ARCHITECTS ® agreed and made a successful presentation to a convention meeting room full of residential Contractors from all across the USA.  The subject was “Aging in Place: Accessible Friendly Residential Architecture.”  The firm takes their role as Architects seriously, but also understands that their lessons learned while designing and managing mountain residential projects should be shared with others interested in this subject, so that mountain residential architecture can continue to be improved, country-wide, if not globally. 

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Subject matter of the new website format pamphlets:

8 MISTAKES DESIGNING MOUNTAIN HOMES (and how to prevent them from happening to you and your new mountain house project)






All of the new information guides are copyrighted, however it is hoped for and accepted that links to the brochures occur, straight to the firm’s website homepage, where others may find and download each booklet to help them on their projects.


The firm also has multiple e-books available as free downloads on their Bookstore.  The addition of these shorter booklets brings the total to around a dozen or so.  The firm realized that while their e-books have been downloaded worldwide thousands of times, that some people might prefer also having the “Cliff’s Notes” version of quick tips to improve their mountain projects, requiring only a few minutes to read. 


The firm also introduced several new INTRODUCTORY SERVICES.  These are Low Cost No Commitment preliminary professional services that someone considering engaging the company can request, before starting the larger and more involved main project.  

(continued below):













mountain house architecture

4 of these Intro Services are listed on the newly renovated homepage:





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Each of these Intro Services may be had for from $95 through $795+/-, subject to location of the meeting and extent of services.  The idea is to provide some introductory options to Clients for a minimal fee amount, to allow them to get their project going and achieve some preliminary understanding of the scope of what they are undertaking.  Such early analysis can be valuable to the future homeowner and to the Architect, in the preparation of the main project work, which is next in the logical progression of a project.

When website visitors click on each of the Intro Services, they are taken to a webpage that lists the various preliminary services, what each involves and how to make payment, although, it is preferred if new Clients first give the firm a phone call and/or email to discuss the scope of the Intro Services to be provided and confirm the price for the Intro Service(s).


The website formatting is also cleaner and simpler, focusing on what will likely be most important to website visitors who are interested in having a mountain residence project designed, managed and built for them.  The new format is less about “See my great designs” as it is about: “How can we help you get yours?”  Which is all about putting the Client at the center of the process, which this firm has been doing for decades, such as in their famous Client Centered Architectural Design Process e-book, used globally as the main method for designing and managing a residential project. 







tags: Mountain House Architecture, Cashiers, Highlands, Lake Toxaway, Sapphire, Glenville, Asheville, Hendersonville, Sevierville, Atlanta, Aspen, Telluride, post and beam, timber frame