Transcript of Episode 18
David Supple: All right. Welcome to the Design Build Show. We on a boat on a stranded Island in Mexico. We do the Design Build Show anywhere.
Tim Fiorillo: That’s right.
David Supple: We’re not in Mexico. We’re in Florida, but we are on a boat, pretty much on an island to get away from our kids to do this. This is Tim Fiorillo, my great friend and amazing a builder, design builder. Definitely, I’ve been wanting to get him on the show for awhile. I could go on and on. I could just talk for the whole show about you. Tim, I’ve known Tim for, I don’t know how long, over 20 years I’d say.
Tim Fiorillo: Oh yeah.
David Supple: I worked as an architect at his studio. While I was there, I realized I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I’d never built before. I felt extremely deficient in that. I was doing that in LA. I moved back to the East coast. I wanted to fill that void. And Tim was one of the guys who was dumb enough to hire me as a carpenter. I wasn’t a great carpenter, but I have some of my best stories from Tim’s job sites. I fell off a roof, but I survived very well. I’ve messed up a whole shingle siding. Tim left me on my own for too long.
Tim Fiorillo: Didn’t work out.
David Supple: Tim’s got a … I’m going to let him talk in a minute. He’s got a civil engineering background. He is in terms of carpentry skills, one of the greatest. There’s guys who who can do things extremely high, at a high level, but then the greats, the greatest carpenters I’ve seen has have that, but they also have a speed. They can mix it. They can look at what the job is at hand. It’s an art form. I don’t know if you still have that, those skills.
Tim Fiorillo: I’m getting older now.
David Supple: What is your background? Tell me about your background in terms of how you got into this business and what have you.
Tim Fiorillo: Okay. Well, I went to a trade school for my high school for carpentry. That’s where I started to learn carpentry.
David Supple: That was a decision, right?
Tim Fiorillo: Yeah. Well yeah, it was a decision. I mean, my parents didn’t want me to go to it with a particular local high school. They said, “You can go to this strict all boys school or there’s this trade school and you could go there.” So I said, “I’ll do the trade school.” It was a great experience. I got to work with a remodeling contractor quite a bit, who taught me a lot. Then I kept doing, I liked doing carpentry work when I was going to college. I did small jobs on the weekends for money and did design work for awhile for a engineering firm, but just liked being out into the field. Then I worked for a big contractor doing high rise buildings type thing as a field engineer. Ultimately decided to go off on my own.
David Supple: You worked on the Big Dig right?
Tim Fiorillo: Did work on the big dig for a little while. I was an intern. That was fascinating.
Learned a lot. I met some cool people.
David Supple: Logan Terminal.
Tim Fiorillo: Yeah, we did. That was my last assignment was I was a field engineer on a foundation for a new terminal at the airport. Went off on my own and mainly just doing carpentry work. We slowly evolved into doing general contracting work. We got larger and larger and ultimately got into doing these larger scale renovation projects. My goal, I really wanted to do design, bid, build. I wanted people to come to me with plans. I give them a price, build it. That was really my goal all along. I resisted getting involved with design work.
David Supple: Why is that? Why?
Tim Fiorillo: It was just what I was into. I mean, that’s …
David Supple: You just wanted to build.
Tim Fiorillo: I just wanted to build, I mean, I’m into the architecture and that stuff, but I just wanted to do the building. I’m into the building science of it and just the excitement of building. We experimented with that for awhile. Ultimately, it just became a problem for us because what we noticed is four out of five sets of plans that came across my desk were never built.
David Supple: Wow, wow. That’s an amazing statistic.
Tim Fiorillo: Yeah, so obviously we were only getting a proportion, a percentage of those, of the 20% that were going to help ultimately be built. Now we’re only able to secure a certain percentage of those. I felt that I was spending an enormous time on estimating and sales.
David Supple: What happened at the four that didn’t go into construction? Why didn’t they happen?
Tim Fiorillo: Almost all of them, I would say were for budget reasons. They were just designed over budget.
David Supple: Wow. Yeah, I feel like your market too, the client you serve, it’s not the uber rich, money is no option client, but it is a client who does, it’s a significant project. They’ve been educated to think, “Okay, I need to hire an architect.” And so they go down that route. But then money is a factor. I think about the design bid, build model. Architects today aren’t, they’re not trained like me. I didn’t know how to build, so I didn’t know what buildings cost. While I’m designing, that’s a component that I was not able to think with, which is actually crazy to actually do that. Tim, that’s what he’s talking about. Those four out of five got to bid, found out what it cost, and we’re like …
Tim Fiorillo: Better off moving.
David Supple: The project blew up then. Yeah. Where was I going with this? Yeah. I mean it’s crazy. It’s just crazy.
Tim Fiorillo: Yeah, it is. Ultimately, we started getting into … What we started doing, because I was resisting doing design, build, so we started referring architects to people and having some involvement in helping the architects budget. Then we just realized it just got to a point where that didn’t even make sense, so we started covering the architecture work as well. It’s just a much more, it’s so much more efficient for everybody.
David Supple: Yeah. We’re going to get into some specific stories. Tim’s told me some great stories. Yeah, just that, I mean for you though, it’s really like you’re control of a project if you were coming in on the back end was significantly lessened, right?
Tim Fiorillo: Yes, and this way, the other thing that would happen when I was coming in on a project, often there are problems, miscommunications, design errors, these kinds of things, misinterpretations that would turn into finger pointing and just made projects more difficult than they really seemed like they needed to be.
David Supple: Yeah, so now what do you do?
Tim Fiorillo: Now, our architect is just another subcontractor of ours. We come in right from the beginning. We establish a budget, first second meeting with the customer. Usually by the second meeting we have a budget. Then we just designed to that budget. The model works great.
David Supple: That’s cool. One thing that’s coming out, you may have heard of it or not, but there’s architect led design build and then contractor led design build. Have you ever heard of those?
Tim Fiorillo: No, but the a similar, I guess maybe this is where he was going with it, but we just had a similar conversation with somebody.
David Supple: A client or?
Tim Fiorillo: With an architects. I wasn’t really sure how to go about it. We’ve always led the process. It just seemed like by us leading it, we’re starting with the numbers at the beginning. It just seemed like a better way to control it.
David Supple: Yeah, so the thing for me on that is it defeats the purpose of design build.
Tim Fiorillo: Right.
David Supple: Because what all that’s getting back to is this separation. The whole point of design build is to have one source of accountability. That accountability needs to be, the ideal scene is have all those components. Because when you’re saying architect led design build, all somebody’s really saying it’s the design is the most important thing.
Tim Fiorillo: Right, good point.
David Supple: Then when it’s contract led design, it’s like the cost is the most important thing. But really, that’s bullshit. If you’re a true design builder, in my opinion, all those are tantamount and need to be at the highest level. Yeah, cost is a factor. I know what I was thinking with before, but that uber high rich person, I think the reason where that client really, I think, is more where the architect is best suited because the architect, if you’re talking generalities, has amazing ideas. That’s what they’re trained in today, is to design at a high level. Cost is not a factor. With that high end client, they don’t not care about costs, but they’re still able to do the project. I think that is the difference.
Tim Fiorillo: For sure, yep.
David Supple: Where it’s like you get to a certain net worth or whatever, and they’re like, “Oh, what the hell?” They can do it anyway.
Tim Fiorillo: Right, exactly.
David Supple: You hear me?
Tim Fiorillo: Exactly.
David Supple: Our clientele maybe is not like, at a certain point they’re like, “I can’t do this job and so I’m going to move.” It doesn’t make sense.
Tim Fiorillo: Right, right. Ultimately the projects that have been successful, because we’ve done many successful projects in this design, bid, build model, but those are projects where maybe the customer has a half a million dollars, and they’re looking to do $150,000 project. Budget comes in. It’s $200,000. They’re willing to go with it. Most of our clientele, the value of their property as a big concern of theirs. I mean, how much money they’re going to have ..
David Supple: They don’t want to over develop.
Tim Fiorillo: They don’t want to over develop the property.
David Supple: Yeah, exactly. Back to this architect led, contra- … Playing the devil’s advocate, I bet this … That’s the stigma there. How do you overcome that? Because you just said, we designed to a budget. How do you still ensure that it is great design and it is the right project and the best design for that project?
Tim Fiorillo: Well, we only hire great designers. Again, with the builder involved from the beginning, we can very clearly lay out options. Then the customer really has a good understanding of what their options are and what the cost benefit of his different options are. Maybe they really want, an extra 500 square feet and they see the value of that. They see what the cost of that is. They can weigh out with the architect while we’re all sitting at the table. They can make that decision. Is that worth the money for us or not? I mean, I have countless stories of people where I sit in on every meeting with the architects. Some of these meetings, I really don’t, some meetings, I don’t say much at all. My role is to be there.
The architects that we hire are good architects. They’re good designers. There’s a lot of good designers and artists out there. What’ll happen is you’ll be sitting talking the nitty gritty of a particular design or a particular aspect of a design, and then the architect throws out a brilliant idea. It’s a brilliant idea. The customer recognizes that. They say, “Yeah, that’s a great idea. Let’s do that.” I’m there to say, “Well, that that is a great idea, but just so you know, that’s a $20,000 item or a $30,000 item.” Oftentimes that conversation will end right then and there. If the budget’s already tight, the people say, “You know what? We’re not going to go down that road.”
David Supple: Leave it alone, yeah.
Tim Fiorillo: “Thank you. Leave it alone.” Then we continue down the right path. Or they say, sometimes we’ve had them say … We’ve thrown $30,000 items out at people, and then right then and there the husband and wife will look at each other and they say, “Yeah, I think that would be worth that money.”
David Supple: Yeah, but they have the information there to make a decision.
Tim Fiorillo: Exactly.
David Supple: They’re not blindly going to like develop that design, invest time in that design, be committed and fall in love with that design only to find out the costs later, and it potentially be a problem. You have a design build team. You’ve isolated, “Hey dude, I just want to build, I know what things cost.” But that is needed to get a real product in the design process. You have your designer, your architect who has that roll, but you are collaborating at the right point to enable this client to have all the information to make a decision on the right project for them, right?
Tim Fiorillo: Right. You see it all the time where people do fall in love with the plan. They work with an architect for months and months and spend tens of thousands of dollars and they fall in love with this beautiful plan. Then they bring contractors out there, and they’re just heartbroken. A lot of times, it starts with disbelief that they just think the first contractor they talked to, “Oh, he was just an expensive contractor.” So they call another one and he’s an expensive contractor. They call another one. By the fourth or fifth contractor, they realize, “Okay, I guess there’s something wrong with our plans here.”
David Supple: Yeah. So next time somebody has this architect led contract, I want to say,
“Listen man, we do it all at the highest level.” That’s what we’re going for. We’re going for … There’s an optimal project out there for this client and that’s what we’re looking to achieve. I think the thing about design, bid, build and design build, buildings go up all the time. You freaking did however many buildings you did, design, did build. It’s a workable system, right?
Tim Fiorillo: As long as the budget’s there. We still do a fair amount of design, bid, build work. It’s just that does happen to be projects where the people have budget to afford it.
David Supple: Yep, yep. But even for those folks, I bet if you asked them they might do that bigger project. I bet if you asked them, they would have liked to had more determinism, have more say in it as opposed to have found out later down the road.
Tim Fiorillo: For sure.
David Supple: It’s just a misnomer, I think, to have this, what we’re looking to achieve. It’s just a more efficient way to do it. The end product can actually be the same, but I think a big thing about design build, it’s just a much more efficient way to achieve maybe the same product. You look at, there’s different ways to bake a cake. I can freaking cut things. It probably takes me, compared to a chef who’s a professional and he’s like … You know?
Tim Fiorillo: Right.
David Supple: The end product maybe is very similar, but there’s also how much time did it take, what was the experience, what was the back and forth and the freaking like …
Tim Fiorillo: Well, I can tell you for sure in our model, the homeowner ultimately saves money. The architect makes more money. The builder makes more money. Everybody’s happy at the end of the day. David Supple: It’s a win-win, dude. This adversarial relationship is you’re a team.
Tim Fiorillo: Right.
David Supple: Yeah.
Tim Fiorillo: Right.
David Supple: So your big thing about me in this design build movement is finding the truth of how the hell did we even get here? That was a big thing for me. I went to school. I remember in high school I was like, I saw these pictures of these amazing buildings. I was like, “I want to do that. What do I do?” They’re like, “You’ve got to go to school, be architect.” I was like, “All right, I’m going to go to school to be an architect.” I got to school. I’m like, “I can’t, I don’t even know what the fuck …” I don’t even know how to … I couldn’t even like build it with sticks, you know what I mean? I was so deficient. It was like, how did we get here where the training of an architect … I’ve done extensive research. I’ve done … Okay, we’re go and get interrupted.
Speaker 3: [inaudible 00:17:28].
Tim Fiorillo: I don’t know. There’s fish swimming around here.
David Supple: All right, all right. I think this is like, people want us back in the party now, so we’re going to wrap it up a little bit. If you look at how this adversarial relationship got … I’m going to do a history lesson real quick. I think it was 1564. This dude John Shoot, architect, he wrote this book. It was the first time architect was word in the English language. It came from Italy and France. They had like similar words, but they’re in French in Italy. It was towards the end of the Renaissance. The word was rediscovered in the Renaissance because they found Vitruvius’ 10 Books of Architecture. That was the craze was the discovery of this book and the style from Gothic medieval cathedrals to like back to the Roman green at times, right?
Tim Fiorillo: Yeah.
David Supple: With that came, this word architect came back into discovered in fashion. He wrote this book. He said in it, I’m paraphrasing, but how can the architect be a builder or be part of the building thing and still serve the client? Basically the suggested today is that is there’s a conflict, because to really serve the client, you have to be separate from the builder.
Tim Fiorillo: Interesting.
David Supple: But you know what? If you look back at that time, the word builder today means a certain thing. It means general contractor, right? Tim Fiorello: Yeah.
David Supple: There was no such thing. What he was saying, the general contractor was not invented until the end of 1800s, mid 1800s. He was talking about subcontractors. He was just saying that somebody’s got to control of all these trades.
Tim Fiorillo: Gotcha.
David Supple: That’s all he was saying. If you like look at it today … Tell this story about your experience with this job that you are now taking over design build. That’s what that architect’s viewpoint was?
Tim Fiorillo: This particular architects, when we first started doing design build work, I proposed to this particular architect to team up to do design build projects together.
David Supple: This was somebody you had been referring?
Tim Fiorillo: Yes, someone had referred, they’d referred us work in the past. We’d referred work to them. I said, “Hey, maybe we can work together.” Their viewpoint was the client should never talk directly to the contractor. That was a little surprising to hear, especially considering that I was offering a business opportunity. Anyway, so now years go by. This particular architect is still referring us work. A customer came to us, had been working with the architect for about a year and a half or so. They were over $60,000 into design at this point. The project goes way over budget.
David Supple: How big a project?
Tim Fiorillo: At the time, the original set of plans were about it probably an $800,000 project. The customer was really looking to be around $500, well with fixtures and everything, maybe around $650, so he still had a good ways to go to get there. Unfortunately, at this point the customer was in love with the design. It was a brilliant. The design was amazing. It looked fantastic. They kept hanging on, working with the architect and paying for more iterations and more versions and more plans. Ultimately, I suggested the design build model to them. Ultimately, they came back to us, and we threw the plans in the trash and started over. Now we have a project that will probably be $650.
At this point, they had been working with the architect for probably over two years, maybe two and a half years at this point. From the time we took over, it’s probably been four months now. We’re creating our final drawings now. We have a project within budget. We will be under $20,000. We will have done the same product in a quarter of the time for close to a quarter of the price.
David Supple: Awesome. Yeah, and I bet conversely, I bet on the flip side, Tim’s a builder who’s now really just to make service clients is gone to design build. Should’ve listened to me freaking years ago.
Tim Fiorillo: Maybe.
David Supple: How about the architect who’s having issues? I guess I’m like, that issue is probably just shitty contractors who underbid a job. That whole setup, it actually lends itself to that, because you have this amazing project where budget wasn’t necessarily thought with or really like even if it was thought with, there was no like full accountability for it. Then it goes out to bid. Then there is the urge to have a low bidder there and just freaking make it happen. Give the guy a chance.
Tim Fiorillo: For sure.
David Supple: On the architect side, going design build allows, that’s a freaking headache man. Then you get into like finger pointing and all this sort of thing during the construction. it’s not a good … Man, you talk about effort and even if the end product turns out well, it’s like, “Man, what did it take to get that?” You know?
Tim Fiorillo: Right. Yeah, I’m often surprised at this, but again, I think, the architecture community has done a good job. You’ve got to hand it to them in getting people to believe that that’s the way it needs to be done. Yeah. Like that particular story I was telling you about, they were paying the architect by the hour, so it didn’t matter how many design.
David Supple: Yeah, it’s an incredible PR job by the architect to make society believe and feel like it’s always been separated. That’s the thing that society’s been duped on. We’re completely like, it’s forever. It’s always been separate. I know why too. Do you want to know why?
Tim Fiorillo: I do.
David Supple: All right. When the AI was formed in the mid 1800s, builders formed it. They just did it as a way to raise their social status and have a monopoly over the best projects by saying, “Hey, only we can call ourselves architects.” Previous to that, anybody could call themselves an architect. That’s not really where it got messed up and the PR. Where the PRS stuff came in is it then got into universities. Universities commission history books on the history of the architect. Look at this, we’re on the video.
If you look in what’s taught, what I was taught on the history of the architect, you’re looking who commissioned the book. It’s the universities. These books took the past and would take quotes from Roman Greek times. Here’s an actual example where like Cicero, he’s some Roman orator, he wrote the architect, in one of his things, the architect did not do manual labor. In the history book they’d be like, “You see. It was separate then as it is now.” But if you actually go back and read what the hell Cicero was talking about, which I have, he was saying the architect is the boss. He’s the top builder, and so he’s just directing. It’s not just actual general society, even in our industry I am so surprised by the people that don’t even know the derivation of the word architect is master builder. It was just never meant to be this way. It actually is asinine, does not make any sense. We bring in the truth here, man. That’s what we do.
Tim Fiorillo: I appreciate the work you’re doing.
David Supple: Yeah. Thank you brother. Well, I appreciate your work. I appreciate you taking me on and helping me fill that void I had.
Tim Fiorillo: Pleasure.
David Supple: Yeah, you want to say anything [inaudible 00:26:03], Laney? Say bye, bye.
Laney: Bye, bye.
David Supple: All right. Do you want any say any parting words?
Tim Fiorillo: I guess that’s it. Thank you.
David Supple: All right. Peace out.