As you know we are in the thick of a home renovation at the moment and it is going really smoothly. You hear horror stories about projects going wrong and I think the reason we are having such a great experience is because we hired an expert! Barbora Vokac Taylor, our architect, designer and friend kindly agreed to answer some questions about what being an architect entails and when and why it is important to involve one.
When you started University you were considering Medicine? What made you decide to switch tracks so drastically and become an architect?
I just kept searching for ways to be creative in what I was doing. I was studying to ultimately go into Biomedical Engineering for prosthetics design and it hit me: what I wanted to do was design.
I really enjoyed first year in the Science programme because it was a mix of all of the core sciences and maths but when I had to choose just one as my major, I got stuck. The more I tried to answer that question, the closer I got to realizing that what I really wanted was to work creatively but with purpose and function. That’s how I came around to architecture. My father is an architect, so I had an idea of what the profession entailed. I love what I do.
What exactly does an architect do?
In an abstract sense: What our firm strives to do is to work as our client’s advisor throughout the design and construction process. I recently had a client meeting and our client said “What we want is to work collaboratively to achieve a vision … but we don’t know what our vision is – so we need you to help us with that too.” I thought that was perfect. It’s exactly what we do and it’s what we excel in. We help our clients define a vision based on their needs and desires. We then problem solve to help realize that vision to it’s full potential.
Formally, Architects are trained professionals who are qualified to design and provide advice – both aesthetic and technical – on built forms. We help define the overall priorities and vision for the space and describe it graphically. We prepare the necessary construction drawings, source key materials, assist in applying for the necessary permits, provide general review during the construction process and work with the general contractor to manage unexpected issues, delays and choices along the way.
When is an architect required?
It depends on the project type and size. I would recommend reaching out to an architect to discuss your specific project and have them advise you. Most architects will meet with you for a free consultation. You may even be able to determine this over the phone.
In terms of small residential renovations/additions – I advise my clients to get professional help for budgets in excess of $25 000. It’s a big investment – it’s worth it to have someone knowledgeable to advise you.
How much education is required to become an accredited architect and designer, as you are?
To become a licensed architect in Ontario you need to have successfully completed specific educational requirements, several years of supervised experience, and extensive examinations.
I completed a BSc(Arch) and a Masters in Architecture in five and a half years. I interned for seven years prior to earning my licence and I wrote the ARE (Architect Registration Examination), which, in total, was about thirty five hours long – but not in one sitting!
What type of architecture work do you specialize in?
Most of our projects, in terns of volume, is single family residential – renovations and new build. We also have extensive experience in hospitality, interiors, multi-unit residential, small scale institutional and large scale institutional. We really work on a wide range of occupancies. We’ve completed or, are currently in the process of completing: a yoga studio, an office interior, a new build single-family home and a couple of residential renovations. We enjoy working on projects where our clients are the end users the most.
What do you look for in vendors that you work with on projects, such as contractors?
Referrals go a long way, particularly from peers that share the same standard of quality that we do. We strongly recommend working with contractors that have successful experience in the style that we work in with good references and we prefer to work with ones that we have successful experience with in the past. Construction is highly collaborative and you really want a team that wants to work together, is experienced, professional, fair and has the motivation to do great work.
One of the most common renovations that people want to do are kitchens, bathrooms and extensions? What tips do you have for people to help them get a handle on the scope of the work they want to do?
Start gathering data.
1. Start love/loathe files : clip Magazine and newspaper stories and now it’s so easy with Pinterest and Houzz. Just get on there and start hunting around for spaces that appeal to you. If you like someone’s style, start following them – those posts can then lead you to more options and so on.
2. Be critical about your space – What do you like about it? What don’t you like about it? What works? What doesn’t? Quite honestly, sometimes we consult with clients and we just move some furniture around, get rid of stuff they don’t use and we’re halfway there.
3. Be open to suggestions but have a single vision. Just because your sister has good taste and she likes something, doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily the best option for you. Design isn’t about making stuff look cool – it’s about planning space so that it enhances your life. Although … if you wanted your sister to come over and cook more often, you could take her pointers on her preferences in the kitchen :)
4. Research. Ask around – who has done renovations in a style that you like? How long did it take? What was the approximate cost/square foot? What was their experience? What lessons could they pass on to you?
In any project, unexpected issues come up, such as time delays, extra work requirements. How do you prepare your clients for the unexpected?
You have to plan for the unexpected. We try to prepare our clients for tough decisions that need to be made quickly and advise them to put aside approximately 10% of their construction budget as a contingency fund. We are there to advise our clients, to weigh the pros and cons and help them make informed decisions. Renovations tend to have more surprises, but you always have a choice. For example, on your project, we opened something up and found something we didn’t expect. We had the opportunity to improve it – and it was your choice to do so or not. Your contingency fund meant that you had some funds available to do this. Or alternatively, you realize that you wish to add something to the project that at first, you didn’t think was important. There’s some money set aside for those late-in-the-process realizations/opportunities.
What are your favourite design stores?
I adore the Conran Shop in London. I think Terence Conran is the bomb. He makes great design feel easy. There is also a very inspiring lifestyle/concept store in Paris called ‘Merci‘ that I quite enjoy visiting.
In Toronto (and I am strictly speaking in stock – I can’t say that I vouch for service here) but there are loads of great stores now with great, accessible design.
I like to mix high and low – so I’m not above suggesting IKEA. I think that Quasi Modo and Klaus by Nienkamper have very nice collections as does Kiosk. Design within Reach is also great for classics. On the more affordable side, I’ve also found some great pieces at EQ3, Crate&Barrel and West Elm recently. In terms of high-end showrooms, B&B Italia, ItalInteriors and PlanB are wonderful options.
What inspires you on a daily basis in your life and work?
I would say people. I like to people watch. That sounded creepy – but it wasn’t meant to! I like to observe how people use and interact with spaces – both designed and everyday. I read a lot – both periodicals and on the web.
I also make a very strong effort to seek out and study successful spaces, both in the city and abroad. I try to travel at least once a year on a ‘Design Pilgrimage’ – I make it a point to research projects and visit them. I was in Montreal for a week in May and came back totally refreshed and inspired. My husband often travels for work – so my and son and I get a few opportunities as stowaways and go exploring that way.
What makes a project successful?
In a line: clear expectations and good communication. And right them down! (Ok. that was three things in two lines.)
Having clear agreements so that everyone knows their roles in the process is key. My husband has a saying “Good fences make good neighbours” and I have found that to be the case.
Ask questions and participate. No one expects you to be the expert and we know that you may have probably not done this before – but if you’re not sure, ask.
What makes a great project?
A great client.
What make s great client?
A great client has a vision – not necessarily an idea of what the project will look like – but as in a goal and/or aspirations that help define the project. They are honest and timely in their communication. They also respect the the skills and expertise of their team, they are flexible, open-minded and have high expectations for success in the final outcome.