Achieving Greatness: The Creative Triangle

We are not looking for clients asking for a mediocre house, something that will just get them by, or even a home that is a duplicate of something they saw in Dwell or on Houzz.

What floats our boat are clients who want a home that is custom designed for their unique lifestyle and living patterns, a home that fits the land and makes them feel good about their impact on the land and neighborhood. Our clients want a home they can be proud of that brings joy daily and that they can appreciate for years to come. We want that too. It’s why we are still in this business after 40 years of practice.

Who makes it great?

If we could point to one thing that makes greatness in a custom home, we would love to point the finger at ourselves (cue to laugh.) But simply having a great architect does not a great house make.

Okay then, what about the client and their ideas and motivations? They really are the driver of the project and if they are in tune with their desires and make the best decisions along the way, surely they will end up with a great house.

Not necessarily. A third party is essential to producing a great house: the builder.

To us, the key to achieving greatness is a strong and solid team of Client-Architect-Builder. That’s the Creative Triangle that has the client singing for joy in the end. We are team players through and through and there is good reason: a stronger product results from a team than an individual.

Builders are welcome to the table

We bring the builder into our design process earlier than many other architects, thereby establishing the Creative Triangle early on.

We recently started a new modern home project in Nederland, CO with a builder with decades of experience in residential construction. When we invited Bill into our conversations in the early phases of design and engineering he was surprised and thrilled. He provided invaluable insights that balanced the budget with design goals and best practices in construction. Rather than demanding solutions, Bill approached our project challenges by bringing great ideas and options into the Creative Triangle. In each situation we are able to weigh the pros and cons and decide the right solutions together as a team.

Barrett Studio Architects-Buildwell

Builder Ryan Wither meets with Architect Rich Keilman to review plans for a Boulder renovation.

Our basic philosophy is that each party should work with mutual respect of the other’s knowledge and experience. You don’t want a builder who is a frustrated architect, and you don’t want a know-it-all architect with no feet on the ground. We have great respect for builders because we are not builders. Nobody has all the good ideas, so if each team member brings their best ideas to the table, there is added strength.

Still in the design phase, builder Paul Inge (on sidewalk) gives advice to our clients on exterior materials.

Some builders rock

Here at Barrett Studio there are certain qualities that we look for in a builder. Over time we have developed a list of a several excellent builders that we can recommend to our clients. The client decides who the builder will be, not us, so we are just an advisor. But we improve our client’s odds by bringing people to the table we’ve already worked with, where the nuances of the design and construction interface has been established with success.

What we look for in a builder…

  • How was their communication with the client and the architect?
  • Did they respect the final design of the home and not cut corners because it would save the builder money?
  • Did they call on the architect for clarification when they needed it, or did they make a poor decision on their own?
  • Do they blame others for the obstacles they run into in construction, or do they want to collectively find the best solution?
  • Do they have a network of subcontractors who have the attitude and skill sets to pull off architecture…not just a building.
  • Is there joy in the co-creative process of making?

Usually we suggest three builders to interview for a job and do a preliminary pricing estimate of the schematic design (the plan that is submitted for Site Plan Review with the city or county.) We rarely just take the lowest bid because there is so much involved in pricing – it takes a thorough and experienced analysis to be able to compare apples to apples. Once the builder is selected, they complete the Creative Triangle and get engaged right away with the team.

The bottom line is that we want to do really good work and come away with a beautiful creation and have a happy client. It’s not about fee, or about getting our great idea built, it’s about people working together. We want to be around people that we have common ground with. It’s so personal and each party puts a lot into the relationship. In a way it is a very intimate triangle. There is great synergy when these parts align.

David often says, “Life is short and time is precious. The opportunity to create something we are all proud of should never be wasted.”