Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the process like and how can I best prepare to get started?

Every Architect or Design-Builder has their own process, and they should be able to describe it clearly, both in terms of the big picture and the smaller details. They will also be able to issue clear directives on what actions you can take to get ready for planning.

At Letter Four, we start every project with a Due Diligence phase, during which we investigate your goals and assess their viability. Our team will advise you on what information they’ll need relating to your design preferences, priorities, and financial constraints. We’ll also gather information about existing conditions and code requirements relative to your specific location and project type.

We then move on to Conceptual Design and Preliminary Pricing to investigate design options and their associated
total project costs. Our goal here is to determine a design direction and required project budget before moving forward with the technical drawings, permits, and construction. This process eliminates unknowns and allows our clients to make the most informed decisions on how to move forward with their project. With our firm, these three phases are offered as an Action Plan - a package that does not require you to commit to the full project.

Once you’re ready to move past the preparatory work done as part of your action plan, we advance to Schematic Design and Design Development. This leads to the creation of Construction Documents, the drawings and documentation needed to build your project. While obtaining all required permits and approvals, we begin to zoom in on the details of your Interior Design, such as material and fixture selections and drawings of things like floor finish layouts and millwork particulars. While we build the project, our architectural team stays on board for the Construction Administration phase. This is when we coordinate with the field to answer questions with a “design eye” and make sure that what’s designed is what gets built. Turn the page to learn more about our CLEAR 4-Step Process.

How do I know if I’ve found the right team?

As you’re interviewing Architects or Design-Builders for your project, it’s important to look for a team that has proven success in your business sector. The right firm will have a portfolio that demonstrates excellent work on commercial spaces similar in type and scope. The design and construction quality of their projects should be functional, durable, and consistent with the branding of each business. Their work should have progressed smoothly, with little delay due to internal factors such as miscommunication or disorganization.

Furthermore, the right team will easily grasp your brand vision, culture, and goals. Understanding these elements of your project is essential to achieving a successful build that enhances your business, but not all teams are going to be able to perceive your brand’s unique character. Choose a team that can seamlessly communicate with your own, intuitively “getting it” as you and your stakeholders lay out wants and needs. In this guide, we’ve included a section called “Choosing the Right Team”. There, you’ll learn the hallmarks of a team with the level of professionalism you should be looking for, as well as a list of questions you can ask when interviewing candidates.

What if I don’t have a clear idea of what I want in my commercial space?

Ideally, you should be coming to your first consultation with a pretty good idea of what you’re looking to accomplish with your build. However, it’s common for many to need some expert advice on what features are worth the investment, and what elements might add value to your property or the services your business provides.

Your Architect or Design-Builder should be able to walk you through your options and discuss how they may contribute to your company’s performance and branding. A quality Architect or Design-Builder will be able to suggest ideas that you may not have even thought of. This is yet another reason why consulting with a seasoned professional is essential for getting the most out of your commercial build.

Just keep in mind that the more time you need to explore ideas, the longer your project will take. That’s why we strongly recommend completing the exercises
in this guide. In the section entitled “Figuring Out Your Real Needs,” we cover specific questions that should be asked, such as:

• Do you know your electrical, plumbing, and venting needs?
• Do you know how much back-of-house space is needed to receive and store new products or supplies?
• (For retailers) Do you know what and how many products should be displayed?
• (For restaurants) Do you have a kitchen equipment list?
Enlisting the pre-design services we offer before full project kickoff will help you determine the answers to these and other critical questions. Known as “Project Action Plans”, these packages cover the essential first steps of outlining your project scope and needs.

What about all of the “red tape”? (Building permits & other approvals)

The authorities that need to review and approve your project can be extensive depending on your project’s location and scope. These can include:

• Business Permits and Licenses. The type of business you plan to run out of your new facility, you will determine what permits and licenses you need to secure before beginning construction. Food service, liquor service, lodging, healthcare, childcare, gyms, and other commercial spaces all require different types of permits.
• Change of Use. Altering the function of your property can generate new requirements. For example, if your space was previously a retail store and you’re changing it to a restaurant, you need to be aware of the requirements for this change and what it triggers.
In this scenario, for instance, you may need to lease parking nearby in order to provide the necessary parking for the restaurant use.
• Design Review Boards. These committees are often made up of local citizens who act as representatives of the community and provide authorities with recommendations on project proposals. If you are in a jurisdiction that requires this, it can add several months to your project approvals.
Landlord Approvals. Malls and landlords will require that you submit your design to them prior to engaging with city agencies so that they can approve any changes you’re making to their building. The time required to secure approvals can vary significantly.
Disabled Access. All commercial spaces need to be accessible for the disabled by meeting or exceeding the standards of ADA compliance, often referred to
in Los Angeles as “disabled access”. Specific regulations vary by city. If
the space you choose to purchase or rent does not meet the requirements, you’ll need to show that you are making improvements to comply with ADA regulations.

• Los Angeles Department of Water andPower (LADWP). If you need to upgradeyour electrical panel or relocate it,
you will be required to secure LADWPapproval, which can take 4 months.

• This is by no means a complete list ofspecial approvals, but it should help
to give you a sense of what agenciesmight need to get involved and howthat can impact your schedule. If youhave a standard lot, without complexrequirements, we recommend planningfor at least 3-4 months of permittingand approvals. Of course, the best wayto know what you’re up against is toconsult with an experienced Architector Design-Build firm, like Letter Four. Ourteam of experts will be able to assessyour project’s unique variables and thepermitting requirements that apply.

How much time will I have to plan out my project, and how long can I expect my build to take?

We understand that most businesses want to kick off their projects with urgency. After all, a quick completion allows your company to begin operating and earning
as soon as possible. However, it’s important not to rush. Forming a smart plan and getting all of the details right will ensure that your facility not only perfectly meets your objectives, but will also prevent costly delays and save you on potential maintenance and repairs.

The project planning, design, and permitting required to start your build can vary significantly depending on your scope, site, decisiveness, and communication style. On average, we recommend allowing 4months to secure approvals for interiortenant improvements, and 8 to 10 monthsfor larger scale builds requiring morestructural work.

How much is it going to cost to build my commercial space?

The budget set for your commercial project will depend upon a number of variables, including the size of the property, design complexity, material selections, and code requirements for your type of venue. Even the surroundings of your business space will have an impact. An interior-only project for a unit in a pre-built commercial facility (such as a mall) will be far less costly than a stand- alone, streetfront location. The latter will usually need to accommodate facade updates, as well as other installations such as utilities, sidewalks, parking, and outdoor lighting.

At the lower end, commercial spaces with more basic scopes may cost about $175 per square foot for construction alone. More complex projects can run as high as $550+ per square foot.

That being said, determining the exact budget that should be set for your project is a complex task and will require some expert guidance. A Design-Builder will have all of the insights necessary to estimate your construction costs, as well as the “soft” costs (i.e. design, engineering, permitting, etc.) that will contribute to your project total. Contact us to get help from our experienced Architecture and Construction teams.

*Note: Keep in mind that negotiations with your landlord will affect your total costs. Predicting your expenses will require clear documentation of which amenities are provided by your landlord, and which are your own responsibility. For example, many commercial landlords require tenants to install their own HVAC systems - a significant addition to any project scope.