The True Value of Full-Service Architecture

Full Service Architecture

We are a full-service architecture firm. While this has a great deal of meaning to us, it’s surprising that there isn’t a commonly recognized definition among architects. An essence of shared meaning can be easily deduced, but we gravitate toward a definition that illustrates the qualities of our design process more than the stages of design. In this article we focus on custom homes, but the process is not all that different for our non-residential work.

The essence of full-service architecture is that we serve and guide each client from the beginning of the architectural design process to the end of construction. This might sound obvious, but as you read on you’ll see that other options exist.

We break this work into seven phases: (Learn more about these phases in our guide, “Working with an Architect for the First Time”.)

1  Discovery
2  Schematic Design
3  Contractor Selection
4  Design Development
5  Interior Architecture
6  Construction Documents
7  Construction Observation

That’s a dry and bare-bones definition of full-service architecture. Keep reading because this Studio’s definition is not dry at all!

Here’s a look at what is less than full-service architecture.



From time to time we get calls from potential clients who have a home layout well in mind, or are working on a simple remodel, and they want someone to “draw it up” for them. A draftsman may be what they are looking for – someone who will draw the plan that is given to them with the minimum amount of detail necessary to get a building permit. The owner can then work with their builder to construct it without additional involvement from the draftsman.

Draftsmen typically cost less per hour than architects, so you can see the appeal. Draftsmen also have far less rigorous education and training, and are not licensed as architects. (See “The Seasoning of an Architect” to read two staff stories about what it takes to become an architect.)

There is nothing wrong with hiring a draftsman to draw something up. Sometimes projects are very small or the needs are very simple and obvious.

But custom homes are rarely that.

Experienced architects look at all aspects of the home – energy efficiency, building integration to site and microclimate, planning and zoning code, lighting, longevity of materials  – and they know how to stretch a budget for the short and long term. For a custom home or a significant remodel and/or addition, you’ll see the best return on your investment when you hire an architect.


Architects sometimes provide partial services, meaning a menu of options is offered and the client chooses what their budget or interest allows. Maybe the owner wants a super speedy design done, or wants to save costs anywhere they can, so the standard phases of design are abbreviated in some way.

We do not promote this approach, and offer these examples to illustrate the problems that can occur:

  • The initial Discovery phase is not very thorough, so the house doesn’t meet the needs of the owner’s lifestyle. Unfortunately this is discovered after moving in, or during construction which drives up costs because of changes made so late in the game.
  • The design phases happened so quickly that the owners didn’t really “get” the plan. They never saw a 3D model (either physical or an on-screen visualization) so parts of the plan were left to their imagination. They couldn’t really picture themselves in the house with furnishings for a sense of scale, so when the house is built some spaces feel too small, others just not right.
  • The design phases are not very inspired, so there is nothing very special about the home, no creative problem solving that gives the feeling of “this place was built for me.”
  • We work diligently to create complete and coordinated drawings, but questions, changes and ongoing decision making are an inevitable part of most projects. If the architect is left out of the Construction Phase (to save money), the builder and the owner have to figure things out on the spot during construction. Delays cost money (picture the construction crew waiting around), and ill-conceived solutions can be costly mistakes, sometimes leading to legal battles between the owner and the builder.
  • The builder, even if experienced and reputable, doesn’t champion the architectural design. Their job is to construct, but they don’t have all the background that the architect does. Without the architect’s involvement in the Construction Phase, there is no design oversight for the original vision to manifest as it was truly intended.

We don’t like to get involved in these unfortunate scenarios because it’s unnecessary suffering. In the end, it may not really save money and it adds stress to the experience of building a home, which should be joyful. We want people to be fulfilled in their home for years to come, starting with the moment they walk into our Studio.

Moving on to what Barrett Studio means by full-service architecture.

Barrett Studio Staff

Full-Service Architecture: The co-creative, comprehensive and dynamic dance of designing and building a truly custom home, in which a living architectural vision manifests to creatively fulfill the deeper longings of the homeowners.

That’s a mouthful so let’s break it down:

The co-creative, comprehensive and dynamic dance of designing…

All seven phases of the process take place in the depth that is needed to accomplish the goal – nothing more and nothing less. It is a co-creative process between the architect and the client, not to mention the builder, engineer, landscaper, and everyone else hired to bring the project to fruition. In a dynamic, iterative process, feedback loops with all team members during design are essential. We bring technical and design expertise, the homeowners bring their dreams, the builder brings craftsmanship and cost control, and together we dance. In a way, the role of architect is more like a conductor or weaver – drawing the various threads together into a beautiful tapestry.

… and building a truly custom home,

When the design begins to manifest in actual walls, windows, floors, colors and materials, at times it is incredibly exciting and fun, yet sometimes issues arise. Our role is to represent the homeowner in the construction process, so that the home designed is the one built. We go to the site to observe progress, we answer the builder’s questions, we answer the owner’s questions, and we help the owner make decisions during construction. Here we are in the role of facilitator, problem solver and design resource.

… in which a living architectural vision manifests

Living! Your home lives on a site, in a place, in a climate, in a neighborhood, in a community. And you will be living in it, creating memories, working and playing. The architecture should be alive in a multitude of ways, unfolding in service to the client’s changing lives.

… to creatively fulfill the deeper longings of the homeowners.

New clients often bring us magazine pages and online photos of homes and spaces they like. You know what we give them? A questionnaire. We ask questions to get to the heart of living, activities, play, relaxation, entertainment, family and friends. In meetings and conversations with you we push, pull, poke and and prod to get at the intangibles that will make the house a home. We get personal so that the home created is very, very personal.

That wraps up our definition of full-service architecture and we hope it has inspired you in some way.

We often hear from our past clients that they could have never anticipated how many ways the home enriches their life over time. Our homes are designed with nature in mind, a sensual lens that takes in the spectacular and subtle aspects that each day brings. The homeowners live in a piece of art that is intimately personal to them and to their place. There are memories and love in the walls. This is priceless, and we are strong believers that full-service architecture is what it takes to get there.