Anyone building a custom home will be told it’s easier and cheaper to change the design while it’s still in the drawing stage, rather than changing your mind when construction is already underway.
It’s sound advice, but it’s also a gross oversimplification. The reality for many new home owners is that connecting the dots between design, budget and actual construction costs can be frustrating, time-consuming, and expensive.
“The usual way of doing things is that you give the designer or architect your budget and your wish list, they draw something up, and then you get builders to quote on it,” says Sam Hisey, a partner at Lischkoff Build Design.
All too often, though, the designer’s cost estimate and the builder’s quote don’t align. “The designer draws up something the client loves, but then the builder has to tell them that the cost to build it will far exceed their budget,” says Sam. “It’s frustrating for the client, and a waste of time and money.”
The flaws in this process led Sam and his partners to rethink the entire process. Their commitment to doing things differently even led them to invert the usual naming convention, calling their company Lischkoff Build Design rather than Design Build.
For starters, the company has an enormous design team – 18 people on staff, including an Ontario Architecture Association-certified architect and two more designers who are working on their OAA certifications. They work on projects across the country. “It’s not just me and my partners, trying to design and build everything and spreading ourselves thin,” says Sam. “We’ve focused on building a team of highly-qualified experts with a great deal of experience.”
Having the entire design team in-house allows for all kinds of efficiencies and collaboration, all of which makes the building process more efficient, cost-effective, and more enjoyable for the client.
“When a new client comes onboard, they’re partnered with a senior designer,” says architectural designer Julie Chapman. “That person is their touch point – their advocate – through the entire process, from the first conversations right up until they move in to their new home.”
The designer spends time with the client, learning about their goals, dreams, and visions for their new home. “We take the time to go through the pros and cons of what they want,” say senior designer Chris Lischkoff, “and help them understand where the budget is being spent. They can then make decisions about the design with tremendous confidence.”
“It’s easy to overbuild and blow the budget on things that don’t matter all that much, but wind up sacrificing elements the client really wants. This process lets us avoid that.”
There’s a particular focus on how the house or cottage will be used rather than just what it will look like. “What we design and build needs to be beautiful and within budget, but most importantly it needs to function properly for the family,” says Sam.
Long before the plans are drawn up, the designer and clients will meet on-site with key members of the construction team, a vital step to ensure that the design can be built within the allotted budget and also meets the clients’ needs.
Team members with specific technical skills may become involved, ranging from architectural steel work to interior design – Lischkoff’s full-service approach even extends to fully furnishing the new home, if the client desires.
“Every element of the build needs to be accounted for in the design and the budget,” says Chris. “to do that, you need to see the property, to take account of the contours of the land, and build efficiently on the lot. You don’t just draw something nice and then blast to make it fit.”
Not that the firm is afraid of blasting where necessary. A current build underway on Mary Lake is a case in point. “We had numerous discussions about how close to the water we wanted to be, or whether to position the home farther back and higher up to take advantage of the expansive views,” says Chris, who was lead designer on the home.
In the end, extensive blasting allowed the team to take full advantage of the views, and incorporate a large boathouse with ready access to the water.
Unlike most of the company’s projects, this is a spec home, and will be going on the market this summer. “This will be the most stunning home on Mary Lake, with views that are unequalled anywhere else in Muskoka,” says Sam.
TEXT A. WAGNER-CHAZALON
PHOTOS SCOTT TURNBULL