Whether you’re thinking of renovating your home or starting a new build from scratch, launching a home design project can be quite an undertaking. Knowing where to begin is the first hurdle, which is often a sticking point for many. Who exactly do you need to call? Who’s best qualified to help with your project - and how can you tell?

Today, we’re setting out to answer those questions. By clarifying the difference between home designers and architects, we’ll help you discover which one is most suitable for handling your renovation or custom home endeavor. You’ll be able to confidently choose a team that’s ready to meet your needs and make your home design project a success. 

What is a Home Designer?

The title of Home Designer is fairly self-descriptive. These individuals work to design homes as per their clients’ wishes. Also known as Residential Designers, they specialize in planning houses and often have a focus, such as kitchen design or spatial planning. Some designers go beyond residential properties and into other building types. These are known generally as Building Designers.

Professional licensing is not mandatory to become a Home Designer (or a Building Designer) in most states. Anyone may establish a business drafting designs for homes or buildings, and even refer to themselves as “experts” in the craft. However, there is no prevailing authority whose standards they must meet. 

That being said, it is possible for them to have certifications from the American Institute of Building Design (AIBD) and/or the National Council of Building Designer Certification (NCBDC). If an individual is certified with more than six years of work experience, they are permitted to use the title of Certified Professional Building Designer (CPBD). Having this accolade can bring great peace of mind to you as a client, because you’ll know for certain that the Designer has been doing this type of work for quite some time. 

What Does a Home Designer Do?

Home Designers help clients like you create an ideal home design and draft the construction drawings needed to build it. They will work with you to understand your design requirements and help you complete the design stage of your project. Since they often have network connections with contractors, engineers, and architects, they may be able to refer you to professionals whose expertise is needed. 

* Note: Since Home Designers may not have the credentials or knowledge necessary for certain aspects of drafting, their plans should always be checked by a consulting Structural Engineer. These professionals are qualified to assess the safety and regulatory compliance of design plans and drawings. 

In summary, a Home Designer’s scope of work pertains mainly to the design stage of work. While complete project management services aren’t typically offered, you can expect the following:

  • Consultations, discussion of proposals, budget and home size
  • Creating draft design plans (including interior and exterior building elevations)
  • Developing and finalizing designs with your input
  • Liaising with structural engineers and architects as appropriate
  • Advice on hiring tradespeople and construction companies

What is an Architect?

Architects have all of the same capabilities as a Home Designer, and typically, so much more. While it’s possible for each to have the same level of education and experience, an Architect will have have passed licensing examinations, completed a bachelor’s degree in architecture (including courses on the structural properties of materials), spent at least three years working in a registered architect’s practice – and importantly, registered themselves as an architect in good standing with their state’s board. 

Only by meeting all of these requirements are they legally entitled to call themselves “Architects”. They may be accredited by various professional associations throughout the country, the most popular being NCARB and the AIA. Additionally, Architects are legally accountable for all of the work they perform, requiring insurance coverage for general and professional liability. 

Here, the difference is made clear: becoming a professional Architect requires an extensive level of training, experience, and professional responsibility that many Home Designers do not have. 

What Does an Architect Do?

Architects will fulfill all tasks in the design stage of your project, drafting construction-ready plans, as well as documenting the scope of work required to complete your build. They also offer project management services, overseeing the construction phase to confirm that the contractor builds your home according to the design plans. 

You can expect the following from an Architect when you hire them to take on your project:

  • Consulting with you and drawing up plans/designs to bring your ideas into reality
  • Providing initial evaluations of costs, work required, and time schedules
  • Performing all work to secure permits to build your project
  • Working closely with your construction firm on project responsibilities
  • Visiting your project site throughout construction to ensure the build is on track
  • Bear professional responsibility for designs, as well as creative vision for the project

Do I Need a Home Designer or an Architect?

Deciding between the two will depend on the scope and requirements of your project. Below, we break down the most suitable scenarios for each type. 

Choose a Home Designer if…

  • You’re Exploring Design Possibilities

If you’re not ready to commit to an entire design and construction project, there’s the option of consulting with a Home Designer first. They’ll be able to help you run through ideas and understand your options, providing advice and insight, as well as concept drawings and design drafts. You’ll be able to work through multiple design concepts before committing to anything. Once you’ve decided on your final design, you can then have it finalized by an Architect, who will be able to verify feasibility, code compliance, structural integrity, and budget adherence before moving on to managing construction.

  • You’re on a Tight Budget

Budget limitations may make an Architect’s comprehensive services out of reach. Hiring a Home Designer and managing the construction contractors yourself would be the more affordable option. However, do keep in mind that this is a time-consuming task, and ensuring the contractors adhere to your design plans can be difficult on your own.

  • You’re Seeking a Small Renovation for Your Existing Home

Just planning a few surface-level changes? A Home Designer is great for remodels that don’t require major structural changes (These are best managed by an Architect). Your Home Designer will be able to plan out your renovation and consult with Structural Engineers if the need arises. 

Choose an Architect if…

  • You Need Building Department Approval

If you’re planning a major renovation, or a new home build, you’re going to need approval from the Building Department, and possibly other local authorities. Navigating this process is part of the package when you hire an Architect, who will file all necessary permit applications, submit required documentation, and liaise with local permitting offices to ensure your applications are approved in a timely manner. 

  • You Don’t Have the Time or Know-How to Manage Construction

Do you have a full time job, or other obligations that are keeping your plate full? Perhaps you don’t feel confident about managing a team of builders on your own? The full-service nature of an Architect’s work will help you avoid the extra stress and responsibility. They’ll take care of project management while keeping you in the loop, ensuring everything done by the contractors goes smoothly and according to plan. 

  • Your Project Requires Complex Architecture, or You Have a Complex Lot

Ambitious design goals require the skills of someone with proven expertise. The lengthy education and hands-on experience required of Architects makes them ideally qualified to turn your lofty design concept into a reality. They’re guaranteed to be trained in high-level solutions that can accommodate diverse terrain, as well as accomplish superior form and function. 

  • You Put Great Importance on Aesthetics

On the topic of form: there’s no one better equipped to create an artful design than a formally-trained architect. Their educational coursework includes mandatory study of design, visual art, and their application in buildings. Architects will have the expertise necessary to execute your vision and even offer innovative and complementary suggestions. 

How to Pick the Right Home Designer or Architect for Your Project

Once you’ve settled on what type of design professional is best for you, the next task is finding the right individual or firm. 

Proof is in the Portfolio

Start evaluating candidates by looking at their portfolios. Past projects are the best reference points for assessing whether or not someone will understand your sense of style and have the skills to achieve the results you seek. 

Find Your Communication Fit

The next step comes with first contact. You’ll meet with the Home Designer or Architect in a consultation, by phone or in person. Think of this as a getting-to-know-each-other session. As you discuss your goals and concerns, pay attention to their communication style. Do they listen well, or do they seem to want to take the reins? Is there any friction?

The ideal candidate will have a team-oriented mindset: they’ll be eager to learn about your wants and needs, and offer valuable solutions. You should feel comfortable talking to them, and get the sense that you’re both operating on the same frequency. A harmonious relationship with your chosen professional is essential for a project as big as this. If it doesn’t feel right, continue your search!

Checkmark Those Qualifications

Whether you’re hiring a Home Designer or an Architect, you’ll need to verify that they’re appropriately qualified to handle your project. Make sure that they are experienced, properly certified, licensed, or registered, as needed.

If you think you might be ready to hire an Architect or Home Designer, check out our Project Planning Pack first. It’s loaded with frequently asked questions, a list of qualifications, guidance on anticipated project costs, and much more! 

Find Comprehensive Service with One Team: Letter Four

Still unsure who to hire? Don’t fret. Planning your approach to a design and construction project can be overwhelming. When in doubt, the expertise of an Architect is the safest bet. These highly qualified professions can be trusted to deliver creative solutions while assisting you through the entire course of your project. From design conceptualization to construction completion, they’ll be there to guarantee you get the results you’ve been dreaming of. 

None do it better than Letter Four. We are a full-service, licensed architectural design and general contracting firm, specializing in the design and construction of stunning spaces throughout Los Angeles. Our approach combines this expertise with outstanding customer service, delivering an experience that exceeds all expectations.

In addition to complete project management, we also offer full standalone construction services. So whether you already have design drawings, or need help making your plans, we’re ready to help you create the perfect home.