Keri Murray Architecture - Awarded Best Of Houzz 2019!

January 24, 2019 – Keri Murray Architecture of Sharon, MA has won “Best Of Customer Service on Houzz®, the leading platform for home remodeling and design.

The Best Of Houzz is awarded annually in three categories: Design, Customer Service and Photography. Design award winners’ work was the most popular among the more than 40 million monthly unique users that comprise the Houzz community from among more than 2.1 million active home building, remodeling and design industry professionals.

Customer Service honors are based on several factors, including a pro's overall rating on Houzz and client reviews submitted in 2018. A “Best Of Houzz 2019” badge will appear on winners’ profiles, as a sign of their commitment to excellence. These badges help homeowners identify popular and top-rated home professionals in every metro area on Houzz.

"Best of Houzz is a true badge of honor as it is awarded by our community of homeowners, those who are hiring design, remodeling and other home improvement professionals for their projects,” said Liza Hausman, vice president of Industry Marketing for Houzz. “We are excited to celebrate the 2019 winners chosen by our community as their favorites for home design and customer experience, and to highlight those winners on the Houzz website and app."

About Keri Murray Architecture - KMA is a practice that specializes in Architecture & Interior Design services for small and large scale residential projects. Delivering thoughtful and timeless design solutions that are responsive to the needs of today's lifestyles. Keri Murray's design philosophy revolves around creative and cost sensitive design solutions, while rigorously providing a unique and cohesive design vision. Keri is committed to transforming the client’s desires into reality, and brings high levels of design sensitivity, technical expertise, and management experience to every project regardless of scale. Keri enjoys working with clients to problem solve and finds the adventure of taking a client from design through construction very exciting.

About Houzz - Houzz is the leading platform for home remodeling and design, providing people with everything they need to improve their homes from start to finish – online or from a mobile device. From decorating a small room to building a custom home and everything in between, Houzz connects millions of homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals across the country and around the world. With the largest residential design database in the world and a vibrant community empowered by technology, Houzz is the easiest way for people to find inspiration, get advice, buy products and hire the professionals they need to help turn their ideas into reality. Houzz and the Houzz logo are registered trademarks of Houzz Inc. worldwide. For more information, visit houzz.com.

Keri Murray Architecture - Awarded Best Of Houzz 2018!

January 17, 2018 – Keri Murray Architecture of Sharon, MA has won “Best Of Customer Service on Houzz®, the leading platform for home remodeling and design.

The Best Of Houzz is awarded annually in three categories: Design, Customer Service and Photography. Design award winners’ work was the most popular among the more than 40 million monthly users on Houzz. Customer Service honors are based on several factors, including the number and quality of client reviews a professional received in 2017. A “Best Of Houzz 2018” badge will appear on winners’ profiles, as a sign of their commitment to excellence. These badges help homeowners identify popular and top-rated home professionals in every metro area on Houzz.

"The Houzz community selected a phenomenal group of Best of Houzz 2018 award winners, so this year's recipients should be very proud,” said Liza Hausman, Vice President of Industry Marketing at Houzz. “Best of Houzz winners represent some of the most talented and customer-focused professionals in our industry, and we are extremely pleased to give them both this recognition and a platform on which to showcase their expertise."

About Keri Murray Architecture - KMA is a practice that specializes in Architecture & Interior Design services for small and large scale residential projects. Delivering thoughtful and timeless design solutions that are responsive to the needs of today's lifestyles. Keri Murray's design philosophy revolves around creative and cost sensitive design solutions, while rigorously providing a unique and cohesive design vision. Keri is committed to transforming the client’s desires into reality, and brings high levels of design sensitivity, technical expertise, and management experience to every project regardless of scale. Keri enjoys working with clients to problem solve and finds the adventure of taking a client from design through construction very exciting.

About Houzz - Houzz is the leading platform for home remodeling and design, providing people with everything they need to improve their homes from start to finish – online or from a mobile device. From decorating a small room to building a custom home and everything in between, Houzz connects millions of homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals across the country and around the world. With the largest residential design database in the world and a vibrant community empowered by technology, Houzz is the easiest way for people to find inspiration, get advice, buy products and hire the professionals they need to help turn their ideas into reality. Houzz and the Houzz logo are registered trademarks of Houzz Inc. worldwide. For more information, visit houzz.com.

Fun Fact: Levittown, NY

I grew-up on Long Island and my recent visit sparked a desire to highlight the first suburban mass-produced housing development in the country, Levittown. Built between 1947-1951, the identical houses would become a symbol of the "American Dream" as it allowed thousands of families to become home owners.

The building firm, Levitt & Sons, began before WW II, however, during the war, William "Bill" Levitt served in the Navy and developed expertise in the mass-produced building of military housing using uniform and interchangeable parts.

After the war, with his architect-brother, Alfred, he designed a small one-floor house with an unfinished "expansion attic" that could be rapidly constructed and as rapidly rented to returning GIs and their young families.

Levitt & Sons built the community based on speed, efficiency, and cost-effective construction. They used pre-cut lumber and nails and built on concrete slabs. The building of every house was reduced to 26 steps, with sub-contractors responsible for each step. His mass production of thousands of houses at virtually the same time allowed Levitt to sell them for as little as $8,000 each.

The Cape Cod model: The 750-square-foot Cape Cods featured two bedrooms, one bath, a kitchen, a living room and a staircase to an unfinished attic. There were slight external differences. Homebuyers could choose from one of five colors and one of five window-arrangement patterns.

The Rancher model: Larger, 32 by 25 feet, and more modern then the Cape Cod. The ranch homes built on concrete slabs, included an expandable attic but no garage, and were heated with hot-water radiant heating pipes. This model was altered in 1950 to include a carport and a built-in television. In 1951, a partially finished attic was added to the design.

In all, 17,447 homes were constructed in Levittown between 1947 and 1951. Levittown has become so ingrained in American culture that the Smithsonian Institution in Washington would like to put on display an entire Levittown house.

Above Images of Levittown NY by Others

A Fee Based Expertise

There was a time when The American Institute of Architects (AIA) actually published a recommended fee schedule.  However, in 1990, the Department of Justice won a lawsuit where the AIA was to withdraw these recommendations and could in no way, directly or indirectly, restrain the way architects charge for services. Therefore, no real standard drives Architectural pricing which can pose a challenge for both Clients and Architects.  For Clients, it is common to select the lowest bidder and that can have costly downsides.  For Architects, it can be hard to successfully convey the value of their expertise.  

Rather than being paid for expertise, as some doctors or lawyers are, Architects are thought to be compensated for an object – a Drawing Set.  As mentioned in Beyond the Drawings, services provided by an Architect are so much more than just a set of drawings.  According to the National Council of Architectural Review Board (NCARB), it takes about 13 years for the average architect to complete school, solidify practice hours (Intern Development Program), and pass the seven required exams to secure their license.  After completing such steps, it is assumed they have developed skills and knowledge of great value to clients and should charge accordingly for professional services.  This expertise is what it comes down to thus a client pays an Architect for the hours it takes to design and document each unique project created for each individual client. 

While an architects' fees are an additional project cost, hiring an architect can actually save you money in many ways. Beyond the value of their expert professional knowledge of the industry, codes, and local by-laws (that fuel an in-depth and successful design project) Architects can monitor your budget, propose designs that reduce energy costs, and provide design and planning solutions that function efficiently. They can turn a difficult lot into a successful building site, and fully develop a project to avoid changes once construction is underway.

An architect's compensation can be based on time and/or a fixed fee.  It is typical to perform architectural services on an hourly basis, with estimated costs depending on client’s requested levels of service, anticipated project scope of work, and town/city requirements.  A hybrid fee that combines both an hourly fee and a fixed fee based on the individual phases throughout the entire project typically works best for both the Client and the Architect. 

It is best for an Architect to understand the scope of a project and the Client's budget in order to create a fee that makes the most sense for each specific project.  There should be a clear understanding of the scope of the work and a custom fee created to reflect that work.  It is reasonable that fees have a proportionate relationship to the cost of the project.  It is common in residential projects, especially additions or renovations, for fees to reflect a baseline of work.  This is due to the fact that there is a minimum amount of time required to document, design, permit, and coordinate the project; whether the project is a 300 SF mudroom or a 1,000 SF master bedroom and bath. 

A Registered Architect who believes in providing a high quality of service is able to keep fees in proportion to the project scope while working with the Client to meet the standard requirements that comes with every design project.  An Architect brings a valuable expertise to every project that strengthens the success of that project. 

FEASIBILITY STUDY

My previous blog post Working with an Architect touched upon the various steps and processes that define the services of an Architect.  After working with a Client in Cambridge MA to determine the viability of a project on a unique lot with many zoning restrictions, I thought it beneficial to discuss yet another aspect of service that benefits dimensionally challenged sites in towns with restrictive zoning - a Feasibility Study.

Most often an Architect will get hired to perform a feasibility study in towns that are known to have multiple lots/properties which don’t conform to typical zoning laws.  The benefit of a feasibility study is to determine the viability of a client’s anticipated project prior to engaging in full-blown design services.  The study will establish if the project is possible or what the potential problem(s) may be.  

A Feasibility Study investigates in detail the requirements for the Client’s project as well as the constraints, resulting in a written and graphic documentation of the Client’s project’s potential. This service is performed in combination with Phase One: Existing Condition Documentation and Code/By-Law Research yet results in a more robust gathering of information related to challenging sites.   

The process begins with an initial meeting to discuss the requirements of the project and to establish the overall scope and preliminary budget. A thorough investigation of the existing house, in conjunction with a zoning code review, and a site analysis is performed. It is important to have an accurate and up-to-date Plot Plan generated by a licensed surveyor prior to beginning the study. Meetings with town inspections personnel such as the Building Inspector, Zoning Specialist, and Conservation Administrator are imperative to the accurate completion of the study.  The end result from this phase is the establishment of the overall parameters that will affect the design and determine any/all viable options to support zoning code compliance.

Performing a feasibility study is the ideal way to thoroughly evaluate a site in towns that are known to have strict building constraints, non-conforming lots, and dense by-law requirements.  It is important to engage the services of a Registered Architect to assess the viability of an anticipated project.

The non-conforming lot

My first blog post Do I need an Architect touched upon some of the factors that make building or remodeling a house overwhelming. Factors like budgeting, permitting, phasing, and construction are in themselves complex and multi-faceted. Today I am going to cover yet another confusing aspect of the design process - the non-conforming lot.

Many homeowners are justifiably surprised to learn that their property does not meet the city or town’s zoning code and that it is classified as "non-conforming". A non-conforming designation can result from a house occupying too much of the lot (known as Floor Area Ratio), or having improper distance(s) from the street or neighboring lot.  While a non-conforming lot is not uncommon and is not necessarily problematic, it helps to have an architect to explain and work through the intricacies of working with local officials to make sure all of the requirements are accounted for and met.

Zoning is complicated; each town has its own set of by-laws that are written and enforced differently.  Some towns have extensive regulations and dozens of pages with diagrams, charts, and tables.  Others are the opposite and have vague and poorly recorded requirements. To make things more complicated; the application process (be it a for a Special Permit, Variance, or Certificate) varies from town to town.  Regardless, in all instances town officials require supporting documentation from a registered professional, whether it be an Architect, Engineer, or Land Surveyor.

It is important to engage the services of a Registered Architect to navigate the complexities of zoning regulations and to guide you through the process of building on a non-conforming lot.  The key to successfully bringing your design project to life is working with someone who has an understanding of the nuances of local zoning laws and who can marry vision with the demands of local vernacular.

Continue to follow my blog to learn about each specific permit as well as the various city and town boards that grant permits and certificates.

Beyond the Drawings: Construction Administration (CA)

My previous blog post: Working with an Architect explained the design process and professional services performed by an architect.  Those services continue beyond completion of the drawing set, where the Architect performs Construction Administration (CA).

The construction process is just as important to the finished product as the initial design process.  It is the Architects’ role to assist the client in navigating the complexities of Construction; and plays an important administrative role during construction of the project.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) sets standards for services and activities performed during construction.  These services include assisting the Client with bidding the project by way of distributing drawings to contractors and providing answers and clarifications throughout the bidding process.  

Once a Contractor is selected and construction begins, the Architect will:

-Answer questions or provide clarification as issues arise in the field; and produce additional drawings or supplemental information to support the design. 

-Perform periodic site visits to observe the work and its compliance with the construction drawings and design intent. 

-Approve or deny (after careful review with the Owner) any change orders issued by the Contractor.

-Review the project for completeness and create a punch list of any outstanding work to be completed prior to final payment.

The above doesn’t highlight every activity performed by an Architect during CA but it identifies the majority of what is done to ensure a quality house is built.  It is important to note that the Architect does not control means or methods of construction; that is solely the responsibility of the Contractor.  What the Architect is expected to do is spend time working with the contractor to ensure they understand the design intent.  Expectations for quality are communicated to those performing the work and ongoing communication ensures the work performed results in the best finished product.

Involvement by the Architect has a direct bearing on the quality of the finished product.  If not actively involved, the final result may not meet expectations.  Direct involvement ensures the Clients’ desires, Architects’ vision, and Contractors’ concerns are all addressed and coordinated to result in the successful completion of the house. 

Continue to follow my blog to learn about the phase before all phases: The Feasibility Study.

Working with an Architect

Chances are you haven’t worked with an Architect before.  This is a new relationship and your understanding of how it unfolds is unclear.  Below I will describe how Architects go about designing your project and the various steps and processes that define their services.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) defines industry standards for professional services by an architect.  The AIA formalizes the design process in three parts: schematic design (SD), design development (DD) and construction documents (CD).  These are followed by two construction related activities where the Architect has an administrative role: bidding and negotiations (with contractors) and construction administration.

For all residential projects preliminary research is a necessary part of the process therefore some studios begin their services with a Pre-Design phase and combine SD and DD into one Design Development phase.

PRE-DESIGN: This is when all of the fact finding begins.  A very personal relationship between the Client and the Architect begins to form. Meetings are set to discuss design objectives, program needs, aesthetic desires, and construction budget.  Additionally, the Architect becomes familiar with the existing house, or plot of land, to gain an understanding of both the site and structure.  To develop this understanding, the Architect performs existing conditions documentation, extensive code research, and town by-law analysis.  This phase concludes with a set of existing conditions drawings to be used during the following phases.

DESIGN DEVELOPMENT:  This is when design begins and the exploration of preliminary spatial concepts and layout options unfolds. Design Development is typically the longest of the three phases.  A good Architect will provide the necessary guidance to keep the project on track while effectively meetings design objectives.   Multiple meetings with the Client contribute to the evolution of the design while any obstacles or constraints are address.  Ideas flow from Client to Architect and back again in an involved, imaginative process. Based on these ongoing conversations, two or three design options consisting of plans, elevations, and 3D vignettes are presented and a final design selected.

CONSTRUCTION DOCUMENTS:  Typically the Client is less involved in this phase since the design has been finalized and agreed upon. Now the Architect will create a technical set that conveys construction methods which are permit and code compliant.  Once the Construction Documents are complete the Architect will take on an administrative role to assist with construction efforts.  

The process of designing a home - from incorporating spatial quality, program, and building code requirements- is actually a formal, defined process.  Working with an Architect is a creative and exciting process that is ever evolving within a defined framework of service.  My next blog with discuss the administrative role an Architect plays during the construction phase.