Happy Monday and thanks for joining us again for our Getting Started blog series. 

Over the next couple of months, we’ll be covering a variety of topics we think are vital to understand and consider when planning a renovation or new build.  Because the focus of our firm is custom residential work, the topics we will cover will use that typology as their prime example; however, many of the ideas and requirements are transferable to other types of projects including commercial and institutional. 

Today we’re continuing the discussion of timelines, this time exploring the design process. Unlike approvals, design can be less structured and more fluid, but it still involves certain steps that we go through in order to provide you with finalized drawings to build from. 

Let’s start by tackling one of the main misconceptions we believe exists about design: design is not a product, design is a service.  This misunderstanding is made very clear to us each time we are asked “How much will drawings cost?”. What you are paying for are not the drawings, but the time it takes to produce them and all of the knowledge and experience that allows your architect or designer to do their job.  This is an important fact to remember if you are aiming to hire someone for a custom home. 

If you would like to know more about what’s involved in designing a custom home or renovation, we’ve put together a simplified look into our firm’s design process for a typical residential project. For this example, let’s assume we already have a signed contract. 


Step 1: Required Approvals

Before we begin just about any of our projects, the first step is to check in with the relevant Authorities Having Jurisdiction to determine whether  what you want to do is possible within the existing zoning by-law or if it will require additional approvals. As this can have a huge impact on your timeline, it is an important factor to determine early. In many cases, we will ask that you get a zoning verification from the City, which will indicate if what you are proposing is permitted and whether there may be other implications for your site. The certificate is not exhaustive, but it’s a good place to start.  

Estimated timeline (not including approvals themselves): ½ day for research, 3-10 days to receive your zoning certificate.
(For a deeper dive into approvals, see our previous post here.)

Step 2A: Site Visit & Audit

The next crucial step is taking a look at your existing home/site. This may be an empty plot of land, or it may be an existing home that you want to renovate, add to, or demolish and rebuild.  Good design takes into consideration your site to create a space that functions to its fullest potential. For example, window placement can take into account prevailing winds to maximize passive ventilation or it may focus on highlighting certain views while protecting your privacy; we may also want to locate the kitchen somewhere that avoids the hot afternoon sun, which will likely enter your home at dinner time in the summer.  There are hundreds of decisions made for every project and our goal, as your architect, is to work with you to ensure you get the most out of your new build or renovation.

If you are renovating or adding to an existing home, this is when we will measure and draw up the relevant existing condition drawings. This means, we’ll spend a good portion of the day measuring rooms, ceiling heights, stair locations, window sizes and sill heights – all the information we need to draw up your existing home and ensure that the proposed design is appropriate for the existing space. 

Estimated timeline: up to 8 hrs 

Step 2B: Design Meeting

This often happens in tandem with Step 2A, and is best done on site, if possible. At this point, we would have already had an introductory conversation with you about your plans for your project discussing details such as the scope of work, size of the addition, types of rooms being added or renovated, etc.  Now, we want to hear what your vision, your plans, and your dreams are for your home. We want to know what your home life is like, what parts of your current home are your favourite, and which you wish you could change. We want to dive into the details. After all, we can design a beautiful and functional home, using best design practices and our experience; but, if we don’t know anything about you, your taste, or your life, that home may not be anything close to what you want or need.

Estimated timeline: +/-2 hrs

Step 3: Design

The design portion itself is composed of different phases: Schematic Design, Design Development, and Construction Drawings.  These phases will take us from hand-sketched space-planning principles and layout ideas, to final CAD drawings you can build from. 

The process is a conversation between our firm and you: our client. You are a crucial part of this exercise.  During this phase, one of the major aspects that determines the timeline, aside from the size and complexity of the design itself, is client decision-making.  When someone is unsure of what they want, and continues to ask for changes after design decisions have been made, the process can get very long and costly. But, with clear direction and timely responses, the process is both productive and exciting.  

Another factor that affects the timeline during this phase is coordination with other consultants required for the job.  For a typical residential job, they will usually consist of a Structural Engineer, Mechanical Designer/Engineer, and a Surveyor.  Surveyors, for example, usually have an eight week turnaround before they can provide you with a site survey of your property. 

Estimated timeline: 2-6 months+ / 100-400 hrs+ (Factors: size & complexity of project, decision making, changes, availability and timeline of sub-consultants)

Step 4: Permit 

Once the drawings are completed, you are ready to go in for permit!  In case you missed it, you can read more about the permitting and approvals process in our previous post, here.


We hope this has been helpful! Please let us know in the comments if you have any other questions or there are topics that you would like us to cover.   Have a great week! 

*** Disclaimer: The information in this post is based on our experiences and is solely our personal opinion.  It is to be used for educational purposes only.