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How an Architect Designs Your Home: An Interview with Dawn Zuber of Studio Z Architecture

By Dawn Zuber

Tell us a little bit about your firm and the services you offer.

I started Studio Z Architecture in 1997 to serve homeowners. Many architects don't like designing residential projects, and if they do any residential work, they do it only occasionally and don't fully understand how homes should function and how much assistance a homeowner will need to get through the process. I am a licensed architect and I truly enjoy residential remodeling and custom home projects. It's very rewarding for me to with my clients to create homes that they feel truly fit their needs and lifestyles.

What are some of the first steps you take when you're starting a new project for a client's home?

The very first step for any project is to spend some time talking to the homeowner so that I have a very clear idea of their needs, wants, goals, time frame, budget, etc. This can be done on the phone, but it's really best to meet in person so that I can really get to know my client and see their existing home.

After that, the next step depends on the project. If I am designing an addition or reworking the interior of an older home so that it works for 21st century living, then I start by measuring and photographing the existing home and making detailed drawings to scale. If I am designing a custom home, it's important to visit the site (if possible) and research any zoning limitations.

How do you come up with a home design that matches what the client wants and improves on it at the same time?

That's a great question. Many clients come to me thinking that they know exactly what they want, but what they really have is a sketch that's not to scale and won't work out if it's built as drawn. I typically will start with the client's ideas in a case like this, but will flesh it out with realistic details and show it drawn to scale, then will show them a couple of alternatives to that design. These alternatives might be simply variations on a theme. When we meet to discuss the designs, I'll point out the pros and cons of each plan and let the homeowner decide.

Is there something that most people don't know about working with an architect that they should know?

Architects work on all kinds of projects, from skyscrapers and shopping malls to bathroom reconfigurations and porch additions. The trick is finding an architect who specializes in your kind of project.

What are some of the biggest challenges that architects face when it comes to implementing their design during the construction phase?

This hasn't been a big challenge for me because I've been fortunate to have worked with contractors who respect the fact that the client has paid for a good design and the contractor's job is to build that design. Some people come to me with a contractor they have already chosen, and some will ask me for referrals. Either way, it's in everyone's best interest to work together as a team to make the client happy.

What advice do you have for people who have a strong vision for their home, but with some unrealistic expectations given what they're working with?

This is a common problem, but most commonly, the unrealistic expectations have to do with construction costs and schedules. When someone first contacts me about a potential project, one of the first questions I ask is about their budget and time frame. If the client's budget or scheduling expectation seems unrealistic, I tell them (gently) that the project is likely to cost more or take longer than they would like.

There are so many TV shows about remodeling and decorating that give the impression that remodeling is cheap and fast. It's hard to have to be the one to explain that those shows gloss over a lot of the costs and stages of work to make an entertaining hour-long show.

The reality, as I explain often, is that homeowners will need more time than they realize to make all the decisions that they will need to make before ground can be broken.

What's the best way for people to contact you and your firm?

Dawn Zuber, AIA
Studio Z Architecture
(734) 394-9400

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