May 19, 2021


Some homeowners preparing for renovations interview and hire an architect and a contractor, while others opt to partner with a design-build firm. What’s the difference between these two approaches, and how do you know which strategy is right for you? To answer that question, we first need to explain what exactly an architect does. 

What Does an Architect Do?

Architects are designers. They use their knowledge of aesthetic form and construction practices to design beautiful spaces, whether new buildings or remodels. Technically speaking, the difference between an architect and a builder is that an architect is a legal term: architects are licensed in a certain state or states after having graduated from an accredited architecture school, apprenticing under a licensed professional (an established architect as well as potentially an engineer or a general contractor), passing a multi-part exam, and registering with their state for licensure. More details on this process may be found here.  

Oftentimes, geographic areas will also have their own architecture societies. Boston, for example, is home to the Boston Society for Architecture, which “keeps its 4,500 professionals working at the top of their fields.” 

Why Homeowners Hire Architects for Their Renovations

There are several reasons homeowners opt to work with architects. They may feel drawn to and inspired by a particular architect’s aesthetics, and they may also feel more confident and secure in making a significant monetary investment for their home, knowing that their decisions are supported by an architect who has garnered awards. 

Beyond this, architects are also bound to uphold certain standards. They are responsible for their design work and must ensure that it meets certain building codes and construction practices. This often bolsters a homeowner’s confidence in the end result of their home renovation, particularly if they are making major structural changes to weight-bearing walls and other high-impact areas.

Potential Pitfalls of Working with an Architect 

Homeowners who decide to work with a separate architect and builder for their home renovation project typically hire the architect first and, after the designs are finalized, they onboard a builder. However, there can be major issues with this approach. 

The biggest issue is that, while architects are expert designers, they aren’t closely connected to the building process. This means they don’t have a specific understanding of how their designs will impact the practical details of your renovation, including major considerations like the pricing and availability of materials as well as the complexity of the building process, both of which affect the schedule of the renovation. So for you as a client, you’re left approving a design without crucial information on what it means for you.

Because of this disconnect, there’s a strong possibility that there will need to be some back and forth between the architect and the builder, even after designs are “finalized.” Ultimately, this incurs more costs for the client and also puts them in the position of having to be in the middle of two professionals, coordinating their schedules, and making potentially stressful decisions. 

How to Avoid a Stressful Remodel

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to avoid this situation. If you do decide to hire an architect, be sure to hire your builder at the same time. This way, both parties can give their input from the beginning and create a home renovation plan that is aesthetically rich and logistically practical. Beginning this collaboration on day one will give you peace of mind and prevent a potentially adversarial relationship from developing between your architect and your builder, with you in the middle as the arbitrator. 

The Best of Both Worlds: Design-Build 

Design-build firms bring the best of both worlds. They unite the expertise of the architect and the builder under one roof, meaning that you as the client don’t have to hire and coordinate between two separate entities. This model has incredible ramifications for your project: not only will you alleviate the stress of miscommunications and disconnected ideas, but you’ll also enjoy more accurate cost estimates for the entire project upfront– alongside a realistic timeline for the completion of your remodel. 

Because both professionals are under the same roof, they’re experienced and incentivized to work closely together to provide you with a successful remodel. 

It’s worth noting that this model of designing and building is actually more traditional than working with a separate architect and builder. Historically, architects were builders. Up until about 150 years ago, architects were master builders, meaning that they both designed and built their own projects. So design-build today is the architect of old. 

Why the Boston Market is Suited for a Design-Build Firm

Clients choose to work with architects because they want stunning designs. With their own in-house architects, design-build firms offer this same level of design expertise alongside a clear understanding of the cost ramifications of each architectural decision. Not only do they obtain this information in the very first stages of the project, but they also get it at strategic checkpoints along the way. Boston homeowners are choosing design-build firms because of these benefits.  Additionally, when renovating an older home, a strong understanding of the build process is essential to success. 

How NEDC’s Design Process Works

At NEDC, we adhere to the same process a stand-alone architect follows, but with the added information about the cost and scheduling implications of every design decision as our artisan building teams are hardwired into our Architectural Design Department.. Our architects and builders collaborate closely from day one and proactively schedule check-ins with the client to communicate and make recommendations on decisions. We also have interior designers on staff, enabling your entire renovation to be seamlessly managed in-house. 

In fact, NEDC Founder and Chief Executive Officer David Supple is well versed in both worlds of designing and building. After graduating with a degree in architecture from Tufts University, he designed and directed renovations in an architectural office before founding his own design and construction company to offer a more seamless, holistic, and educational experience for his clients. Today, NEDC has many successful examples of whole home remodels in Cambridge, Summerville, Brookline, Chestnut Hill, Newton, The South End, Bay Bay, and beyond.


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Published May 19, 2021 | By

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