When asked to explain the advantages of hiring in-house designers, remodeler Michael Mc-Cutcheon doesn't hesitate. “It's all about control,” he says.
But control over what, exactly?
“There's more control over the design, more control over the budget, the work flow, everything,” he explains.
Michael McCutcheon, owner of McCutcheon Construction, in Berkeley, Calif., has both an architect and an interior designer on staff.“This combination [of designers] has the best chance to succeed in terms of chemistry with each other and with the client,” he says. For more on this topic, see “Double Team,” [at end of article]. Photo: Max Whittaker | WpN McCutcheon, owner of McCutcheon Construction, in Berkeley, Calif., is speaking from experience. For years his company outsourced design to a single architect. But when that architect suddenly decided to get out of the business, McCutcheon was left with no design capabilities and no one to turn to.
“We didn't have their source documentation, hand-drawn plans, design software, their printer. We were left stranded,” he says. So, to keep from getting burned again, McCutcheon decided it was time to hire a full-time in-house designer.
During the last decade, especially as public awareness of the design/build model has continued to grow, many remodelers have finally decided to make design a major part of their company's service offering. And for many remodelers, control is just the beginning.
As his company's design needs grew, Bob Fleming, of Classic Remodeling, in Johns Island, S.C., began subbing out some drafting and design work. But he found it was consistently difficult to get drawings back in a timely manner. So two years ago, he hired two designers to do the work for him. The decision has had a ripple effect within the company. “Because of our increased design capabilities, our job sizes have grown. Now we're not chasing the $50,000 jobs, we're getting $500,000 jobs. Our designers have enabled us to grow from [a $2 million company] to $7 million,” he says. “Clients come to us because they know we can produce quality plans and understand them.”
For remodeler Denny Conner, president of Conner Remodeling and Design, in Seattle, the move was simply a response to increased demand in the marketplace. “In the '90s, we had to educate people about the benefits of design/build,” he says. “We find more people today actually looking for design/build, and having an architect on our staff adds a significant amount of confidence in the minds of our clients.”
Like Fleming, Conner has also seen a shift in the types of projects coming his way. “Today we're focusing on larger projects — whole-house renovations and room additions — and the architect is a key player in those,” Conner says. “We were doing some of [those projects] before, but [our designers] have allowed us to do more of them and design them more quickly.”
Sometimes, the benefits are less tangible. “We brought [design] in-house to better serve our client base and to increase our professionalism,” says Jim Strite, owner of Strite Design + Remodel, in Boise, Idaho. “We wanted to make design a part of our company culture so that clients receive a more unified experience.”
Whatever the reason for bringing design in-house, the challenge remains the same: preparing your company for a dramatic shift in its business model while generating enough new revenue to cover the added costs of design labor.