Legally speaking, you may or may not need one—many residential projects don’t require an Architect’s involvement by law. Any project over a certain size, or that includes any zoning analysis, does require one. But we encourage people to think of this question differently. Your house is likely the most valuable thing you own, and you and your family spend your life there. Or for business owners—your space is a critical piece of infrastructure, and deserves proper consideration to maximize output, profits, and employee retention.
Rather than ask what the bare minimum by law you can get away with, we encourage clients to ask a different question: “Do I need help thinking about how to use my space better?” If the answer is “yes,” then you can use an Architect!
Strictly speaking, an Architect produces [in-house, and with a team of consultants] the necessary documents to communicate all aspects of the building’s design and engineering, such that a General Contractor can build it, and an Owner can know exactly what they’re getting for the money they’re paying for construction. Those documents are called “Contract Documents,” and include drawings, specifications, details, selections of all finishes, engineering information, etc. Think of the Architect as the one writing the contract between the Owner and the General Contractor – normally, we use words to write contracts, but imagine how many words would be needed to explain how a building goes together [“place the 36″ door 1′ to the north of the west wall such that the door aligns with the door on the south wall…”] – it would be a nightmare! So we use drawings as a shorthand, and those drawings are legal documents.
But before we dive into that rabbit hole – let’s talk about the fun part of what we do – Architects translate all the dull stuff [code, zoning, budget] and all the engineering stuff and all the visionary stuff into an actual space! We listen very carefully to our you, reading between the lines, to understand what you need and what you want, and we work hard to figure out how to get you there. We do everything from think through the nuts and bolts of construction to choosing paint colors, fixtures, and finishes. We layout the tile in the exact pattern for the tile setter, we design all the cabinetry down to the knobs and pulls, we think through where the vacuum cleaner, the stroller, the book collection, the TV, the holiday decorations, the dog food, and the camping supplies are stored, we think through what a busy morning before school on a Wednesday will look like, and how a Thanksgiving dinner will work, and how the light will move through the space all year long. We want you to feel inspired every day in your space, and we want it to be practical, hard-working, and reflective of you and your family, or you and your business. We bring you a curated list of decisions so you’re not overwhelmed, but we invite you to participate as much as you’d like. It’s a fully custom experience, while also keeping a close eye on efficiency, time, and budget. And we love it!
Ok, back to the legal stuff. Since our drawings are legal documents, and they form the basis of the expectations [both in terms of scope and in terms of cost of the project] between the Owner and the General Contractor, it is vital that they are correct. It is technically on the shoulders of the Owner to ensure their whole project meets code, aka, is legal – and code is thousands and thousands of pages long, it changes yearly, and it changes depending on which state or even which town you’re in. Enter the Architect: after preparing the contract documents, they will “stamp,” or certify, them, which means they take on that responsibility on the Owner’s behalf. If something the Architect drew isn’t up to code, it’s on the Architect, not the Owner – and that’s a huge relief to Owners! It’s why the value of an Architect is not just the fact that we “draw stuff,” it’s that we take on significant liability on behalf of our clients.
We also handle all interactions with the local jurisdiction, such as zoning variances [or how to avoid them], code questions and reviews, historic district applications, community processes, and other regulatory processes. This requires a mix of people skills and expertise around local codes and regulations; even if we haven’t worked in a particular jurisdiction before, we know generally how processes like these work.
Additionally, many projects require consultants – engineers such as structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, civil, acoustical; other specialty designers such as interiors, lighting, commercial kitchen, labs, equipment, exterior envelope, landscape architecture; other specialists focused on sustainability, code, zoning, community engagement, building management and commissioning, etc; these consultants are hired and managed by the Architect on an as-needed basis to execute projects. The Owner may also have an Owner’s rep, lawyer, surveyor, project manager, and other team members; the General Contractor will have subcontractors. As you can see from this diagram, that means that all decisions flow through the Owner; there is no contractual relationship between the General Contractor and the Architect. For large projects with experienced Owners, this isn’t a problem. For smaller projects and/or those with inexperienced Owners, this can be very overwhelming. We as the Architect marshal the project, we advise the Owner, and we review progress, changes, updates, and the budget. It’s a big job, even on a small project!
If your project is a home renovation, the diagram below will look much simpler, and we can handle almost all of the engineering in-house!
First, ask your friends, family, colleagues, neighborhood groups, etc. Chances are, people you know and trust have worked with Architects or know people who have. Ask them who they worked with, whether they would recommend them, how the project went [both during design and construction phases], and what services the Architect provided. Think about when you need a new dentist or accountant – you ask your friends! Most of our work is through referrals like these – it works well for everyone, as the conversation starts out with a mutual, trusted referral.
Next – Google them! Do you like their work? Do they have a blog or Instagram, so you can see how they talk about their work, and where you can get a sense of their personality, values, and priorities? If you like what you see, then ask for an interview, and ask them about their process. They should include you in their process, and should have a proven track record with other clients—ask for references! [We have a document posted on our website under “Resources” that provides a list of questions you can ask potential architects, to make sure you’re covering your bases!]
And finally, you should choose someone you think you’ll be able to work well with. The Architect-Client relationship is intense during the project—think about your energy and theirs, about their demeanor and yours. You want to work with someone you’ll get along with, who’s good at helping you make decisions [there will be LOTS!], and who makes you feel confident, reassured, and inspired. It’s not enough that they know their stuff – they should be a good fit for you personality-wise as well!
We focus on three types of projects:
- Custom residential remodels, additions, and ground up construction: Representing about half of our work, this is where our construction experience and first-hand knowledge of old buildings combines with a hands-on design process to create fully custom, beautiful, practical spaces for our clients. We focus on projects that are transformative to the house, are full gut renovations, and/or are complicated. Need to lift your house in the air to create a full basement underneath, or need to gut your whole house inside and out? That’s us! We don’t generally take on smaller projects, though feel free to reach out to see if it might be a fit.
- Multifamily residential/mixed use projects: Steeped in the practical concerns of developers, we bring our deep knowledge of unit layout, egress optimization, care for the urban realm and neighborhood, and creative approaches to zoning, massing, and challenging lots. We often consult with developers in their pro-forma development stages, work behind the scenes with larger firms on multifamily projects, or team with other smaller firms to do this kind of work.
- Commercial/Industrial: Our commercial and industrial clients are passionate business owners who see our combination of creativity and practicality as an asset to their unique projects. From breweries, distilleries, and retail spaces to concepts for a drone delivery facility or vertical boat storage facilities, and from cannabis dispensaries to waste recycling plants, we love working with our clients to keep their work going, expand their production, amplify their vision, and marshal engineers and experts to get their projects done.
We are also active in our local Architecture schools teaching and sitting on reviews, have done in-house research related to building science and climate resilience, and consult on all kinds of topics. If you’re thinking we might be a good fit for you, just reach out and we’ll go from there!
Short answer, no. We want to be involved from day one of the project through the final day of construction because we know from years of experience that that’s the way to deliver the best product. We want our clients to be thrilled with the results; we want things to run smoothly, and we know how to make sure that happens. If you’re looking for less than full services, we’re not going to be a good fit!
We break the project down into phases:
Existing Conditions: We measure out the existing space, and create digital drawings [2D and sometimes 3D], mapping out everything we can see—including electrical, HVAC, and plumbing locations, structure, windows, doors, fixtures, etc. We do this ourselves, to learn about the building and get our heads into the project; not everyone does, but it’s integral to our process, and cuts down on surprises later.
Schematic Design: We work through several iterations of the project, figuring out the layout of all spaces, including kitchens and bathrooms, and create a set of schematic drawings that are detailed enough to get some “ballpark” pricing from contractors.
Bid Coordination: We provide a walkthrough for contractors to see the space and ask us questions, and then we help you review the bids that contractors submit. Our prior experience in contracting and as construction estimators really help here!
Construction Documents and Interior Design: Now that we know the basic layout of the project and we have assurance that we’re in your budget ballpark, we create in-depth construction documents [plans, sections, interior and exterior elevations, electrical/HVAC plans, fixture schedules, etc] which also include all fixture and finish selections—everything from paint colors, kitchen cabinets, tile, grout, sinks, faucets, floor materials, and everything in between! We’ll even help you with furniture selections and arranging your new space. These drawings are called the “construction set”, and they are also what we’ll use to apply for building permits, zoning variances if needed, and the like.
Depending on the size and type of project, engineers may be engaged to help with structure, mechanical, plumbing, facade, etc.; generally, residential projects don’t require much engineering, while commercial and industrial projects do require an engineering team.
Construction Administration: During construction, we’re there through every phase, from demo through finishes. We attend meetings with the contractor, answer questions that come up along the way, and deal with all the surprises that come up.
We also review the contractor’s invoices, suggest substitutions for materials and fixtures if needed, and help resolve all issues that come up during construction. Contractor calls you saying the tile we chose is suddenly not available and they need a new selection right now? We’re on it. Contractor opens a wall and discovers a bunch of pipes that can’t be moved, and the design needs to change, but the cabinets have already been ordered? Been there, done that – we’ve got it!
At the end of the project, we prepare a punchlist of items for the contractor to correct before they receive their final payment. In short, we’re your agent onsite, answering 95% of the questions that come up day-to-day, while only bringing you the ones we know you’ll want to weigh in on. And then, the building is yours!
The drawings show intent, yes, but as soon as we open up walls, things change! When problems are discovered along the way—large and small—we’re there to solve them, working in collaboration with the contractor.
Many times, you may not even know the hundreds of little decisions we make during your project to keep things running smoothly. We make sure to bring you the things we know you’ll want to weigh in on, and just take care of the rest. Chances are, you have a full-time job, and you’re not in the architecture or construction industry – you won’t have time to simultaneously learn a whole new industry AND work full time in your job.
Think of it this way: most of us can cook well enough to feed ourselves [instant ramen, anyone?!] but when we go to a restaurant, we don’t go into the kitchen and tell the chef what to do. We trust them, we let them work their magic, and we sit back and enjoy being in the capable hands of a professional—same goes for architecture and construction. We’ve done this many, many times. Let our experience guide you and your project to success.
We can’t wait to meet you and learn more about your goals for your project. Use this form to get the process started, and we’ll be in touch! Our first step will be setting up an initial consultation, where we’ll discuss the three pillars of every project:
Scope, or what you want to do
Budget, or what you want to spend on the project
Timeline, or when you want to get the project done, any deadlines you might have, etc
Be prepared to discuss these things – you may not have everything figured out perfectly—again, that’s where we come in, to help you strategize. After our initial consultation, if it feels like a good fit on both sides, we’ll prepare a proposal for you to review. Once we have a signed proposal and deposit, we get started!
Yes, we do! We have to know if what you want to do is realistic, given your budget. If you’re talking about a full gut renovation, new kitchen, all new bathrooms, and a master suite addition, and your budget is $75k…well, that won’t work.
Don’t be embarrassed, or worry that we’ll want to spend all your money. Generally, our approach is to [within reason] put everything you want into an initial design, get it priced by a contractor, and then cut if we need to.
We understand that cost and budgeting is a moving target—you might be willing to spend more if you could get something you really, really want, but everyone always has a price ceiling! Don’t forget that contractors tell you costs based on construction budget—that doesn’t include architectural fees, permitting fees, furnishings, surveying, and other things like that.
Budgeting is complex, and we’re here to help you figure that out too. Remember, our job is about more than just drawings. We’re your partners in getting this project done, and that includes all the nuances of budget management.
Awesome! That’s when we can really help out. You don’t have to have things figured out—that’s our job. We listen to what you have to say, what your dreams and wishlist include, and learn how your family or your business operates and what’s important to you. And then we find a way to juggle all the factors—time, budget, code, zoning, structure, aesthetics, etc.—to bring you the best options.
Remember that processes like these take iteration and time, and all the answers are not clearly spelled out all the time. There are many, many factors, some of which are out of our control [weather, anyone?!], but we always do our best to identify the variables and help you navigate them.
Generally, full architectural services for custom residential projects run from 15-20% of construction costs. We’re usually closer to the 15-17% side of things. There are definitely cheaper options, some of which might work for you—but just remember, less money means fewer services. For commercial, multifamily, and industrial projects, costs vary widely according to what the project entails, though they are always lower than custom residential – believe it or not, custom residential projects are the most complicated of all the project types. For a comprehensive look at how architecture fees work, check out this website.
Be sure to compare “apples to apples” when you’re comparing costs. If a contractor says they can “give” you design services for free if you work with them on the construction, be very wary. Design and drawings require a lot of work, and there’s no such thing as getting something for nothing… are they planning on providing you an inferior product, or on not letting you make any choices about finishes, design, etc? Remember, real life isn’t HGTV…!
We work primarily in the metro Boston area, and southeast Pennsylvania from Lancaster to Philadelphia, and we currently have offices in Cambridge, MA and Lancaster, PA. We’ve worked on projects all over New England, consulted on projects nationally, and enjoy strong relationships with architecture firms all over the country. Our full architectural services are best utilized in areas we can regularly meet with our clients and regularly visit the construction site, to get the full benefit of our expertise and attention.
Architects are licensed by state, and Marilyn is currently licensed in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Maine; she also holds a certificate that makes getting reciprocal licensure in other states fairly easy.
We enjoy strong relationships with several contractors, and Marilyn’s background as a contractor helps us cultivate and maintain those relationships. We consistently help our clients navigate the contractor selection process, and even help them review quotes, compare contracts, and guide them through the contractor interview process.
Yes! We are not realtors, but we have worked with many clients to define what they are looking for and evaluate potential properties before purchase. It’s often better to bring in an architect early, before you buy a property. We can help you understand historical requirements, analyze complex zoning, or identify potential structural issues before you sign on the dotted line.
Yes, absolutely. We have a strong network of designers, partner firms and consultants that allow us to service projects of all types and sizes, from large-scale multi-family residential developments to specialty commercial and industrial spaces.
We’re always interested in hearing from people who are interested in working with us! We’re small but growing, and looking for people who are ready not only to do cool projects, but also to build a great place to work. Please contact us and tell us a bit more about yourself and what you’re interested in.
Runcible Studios is an Equal Opportunity Employer.
We can’t wait to hear it! Hop on over to our Contact page and send us a note. We’ll be in touch soon.
- You’re an architecture firm…with retail products?
- Yep! We love retail, and Marilyn grew up behind the cash register at her mom’s store. We normally channel that energy and experience into projects for our retail clients, but when COVID hit, Marilyn began sewing masks – at first for donation, then for sale at Hourglass Boston, then for sale on a fledgling retail site we whipped up right here at Runcible. One thing led to another, and we started putting together a series of products with our own original designs!
- Where do you ship from?
- Some of our products, like masks, greeting cards, stickers, and some apparel items, are shipped right here from Runcible HQ. Some are shipped from our dropship partners, based in other parts of the country. As a result, your order may come in a couple different shipments.
- What’s the deal with shipping?
- Shipping is a real expense, as is the time it takes to pack orders, and the cost of shipping supplies. We would LOVE to offer free shipping, but in reality, we don’t have the resources to do that – and we’d rather not raise prices on our goods – so we offer a flat rate of $10 to cover shipping. Most of our orders will ship out within a day or two, and then should only be a few days til it’s in your hands! Some of our dropship partners have longer lead times, depending on availability, COVID related delays, etc. You will get shipping tracking info so you can stay on top of your order, and you can always drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org to check on your order!
- What’s your return policy?
- We hope you love everything you ordered! But if something isn’t right, please get in touch, and we’ll figure something out. We are not able to accept returns or exchanges at this time, unless the item is defective.