Home Designer or Architect


In this essential guide, we’ll outline everything you need to know about these two professions and help you decide whether you need a home designer or architect for your project.

Home Designer or Architect? Know Who to Call and When

If you’re interested in starting construction on your home, whether renovating your existing space or building from scratch – you might wonder whether you need the services of a home designer or architect.

Home designers often have a wealth of experience in the field of residential design. Architects  are the true experts in the field and are typically more highly trained, but with that training and professional license comes additional cost.

So what exactly is the difference between the two and when do you really need an architect?

This comprehensive guide will provide you with all the necessary information to help you decide whether to engage in services from a residential design-build firm or an architectural firm in Los Angeles for your project.

Let’s get started…

What is a Home Designer?

Home Designers or Building Designers, as the name might suggest – design buildings!

But we assume you knew that already… So who exactly can call themselves a home designer? Theoretically, anyone can launch a business as a home designer as there are no licensing requirements for designers in most states.

You’ll be pleased to learn however, that there are recognized residential certification boards. These include the American Institute of Building Design (AIBD) and the National Council of Building Designer Certification (NCBDC) who ensure professional competencies.

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). Experience really is vital in this industry – as the job relies on a wealth of knowledge and experience.

Most home designers specialize in specific kinds of work (for instance, kitchens, spatial planners or retail design), although many create plans and drawings for entire buildings. They communicate with clients (you!) and transform your ideas into design drawings.

With this in mind, home designers should have a thorough knowledge of construction regulations and building industry standards, as well as drafting skills.

What does a Home Designer do?

Need some construction drawings or plans? A home designer can help with this. But they also do so much more. Some of their job responsibilities might include:

  • Client consultations, discussing proposals, budget and size of building
  • Creating draft design plans, including interior and exterior building elevations
  • Developing and finalizing designs in conjunction with clients
  • Liaising with structural engineers and architects as appropriate
  • Advising clients on hiring tradespeople and construction companies

Home designers’ plans should be checked by structural engineers for safety and building regulations. Whilst home designers will have many trade contacts and can advise accordingly, complete project management usually isn’t a service offered.

What is an Architect?

Put simply, an architect designs buildings. Sounds pretty similar to a home designer? Well, not exactly…

The key difference between architects and home designers revolves around accreditation. The only people that can call themselves architects are those that 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.

There are many architectural associations that advise on standard practice and legal matters, allow for reciprocal licensure in other states, and help architects to meet the continuing education requirements. These include NCARB and the AIA.

You get the picture… There’s a lot of learning and experience involved.

Architects liaise with clients, create plans and ensure the structural integrity of a building. As part of this process, they’ll collaborate with homeowners, designers, contractors, consultants, structural engineers and building regulations inspectors to ensure buildings are beautiful as well as up to code requirements.

Architects must also take full legal responsibility for their work, meaning that proper insurance and professional liability is required. Most architects also offer full project management services.

What does an Architect do?

If you need someone to help you through an entire project (especially if it’s a complex build), as well as draw-up plans – then seeking the expertise of an architectural design firm in Los Angeles could be the right fit for you.

Their work can include:

  • Liaising with clients and drawing up plans/designs to bring ideas into reality
  • Providing initial evaluations of costs, work required and time schedules
  • Working closely with construction firms on project responsibilities
  • Visiting project sites throughout construction, to ensure the build is on track
  • Bear professional responsibility for designs, as well as creative vision for the project

Architects have spent years training and working in the field – giving them a unique overview of creative and practical design solutions.

Do I need a Home Designer or an Architect?

Given that both trades involve certain skilled and specialist work, it can be difficult to know who’s help you need. So if you’re embarking on your own construction project… who should you call?

Let’s take a look at a few scenarios to clear things up…

1. You’re improving an existing structure

For small scale renovation projects, home designers will be able to assist.

If you don’t need major structural changes to your building, then a home designer can help draw up plans and liaise with structural engineers as appropriate.

Due to the levels of training and accreditation, an architect’s services are often more expensive – but do provide additional levels of confidence. If multiple walls are coming down and changes needed to rooflines and exterior facades, an architect will be more appropriate.

2. You require approval from the Building Department

Where changes require authorization from the Building Department, the help of a licensed architect is important.

They will streamline the planning process, file permit applications, submit plans, and secure necessary approvals for your contractor. As well ensuring that permissions are achieved, architects can also customize plans according to your needs along the way.

3. You’re exploring possibilities

If you are at the very early stages of a project, just exploring possibilities and options – you may like to hire a home designer to talk through your plans.

They can help you understand the various stylistic options and practical considerations (creating drawings as needed), working through several design concepts.

Once you’ve got a clear idea of your own goals, then you could look at hiring the additional services of an architect. They will ensure that plans are fully feasible, budgeted and structurally sound.

4. You’re juggling a construction project and full-time job

In this case, we’d definitely recommend the services of an architect. Architects often offer full project management services, liaising with contractors and managing budgets as needed.

Whilst this does come with additional costs, it will save you time and money in the long run to ensure the project is kept on track. Especially if you’re new to the world of construction, an architect will serve as a useful sounding board throughout the project.

If you’re on a very tight budget however, using a home designer and dealing with contractors yourself might be the best option.

5. Aesthetics are of primary importance

If you’re working on a particularly complex or design-led project, then you may wish to hire an architect from the get-go.

Whilst both home designers and architects are skilled at coming up with innovative solutions to design problems, architects have additional levels of training.

For instance, if you’re extending a historic building or working on a complex project with several intersecting rooflines – an architect’s unique vision and abilities will ensure aesthetics and functionality are married with confidence.

Ultimately, when deciding between a home designer or architect, look at your individual project to decide which professional’s skills best match your requirements. There is no “one-size-fits-all” answer, so do shop around, book initial meetings and discuss plans and budgets.

So often, it’s the individual professional you choose and their particular skills (including design, communication, planning and so much more) that can make or break a project.

How to choose a Home Designer or Architect

You now know exactly what professional help you need. Great!

But how can you ensure you’re hiring the right person for the job?

The proof of an individual’s work is in their past projects. So take a closer look at portfolios and the way your concerns are dealt with at meetings. Does their communication style match your own? Pay careful attention to whether you feel an individual will be able to see your goals through to completion – listening to, yet adding value to your plans.

Building is always a team effort, so you (the client), your designer or architect, and the builders need to be able to work in harmony. You’ll be together for a long time after all, so it needs to be a relationship that works!

As a final consideration (whoever’s services you hire), make sure your home designer or architect are experienced, properly certified, licensed, or registered.

Ready to kick-start your design project?

Architects and home designers both offer a wealth of practical, structural and design know-how.

For anyone planning a construction project, the number of approaches can be overwhelming. If you’re at all in doubt, the expert services of architects are always a safe bet – providing trusted, creative solutions and helping you through the entire build process.

Letter Four is a full-service, licensed architectural design and general contracting firm in Los Angeles that specializes in the design and construction of residential and commercial spaces.

As well as complete project management from design through to completion of the build, we also offer full construction services. So whether you’ve got designs ready, or need an architect to create inspiring, innovative solutions – we’ve got you covered.

Get in touch today to learn more and get your project off to the best possible start.

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