The Unique Role of the Craftsman in Design-Build Renovation

by Kevin Gilday & Tom Gilday

You are thinking about a home renovation, maybe updating the kitchen and dramatically improving the flow and sightlines throughout your downstairs. You’ve been watching HGTV  well into the night, and you are constantly finding bold ideas to add to your Pinterest boards. Your Houzz ideabooks are loaded and ready to go. 

But how do you turn those design concepts into reality? A skilled craftsman is integral to the renovation process. Of course, that level of skill—the kind of skill that brings ideas to life and makes something that lasts—doesn’t just happen. The craftsman has a unique role to play in a design-build renovation. Understanding that role will help you find the right fit for your renovation project.

The Role of the Craftsman in Design

What should you expect from the people whose job is bringing those architectural drawings to life? A highly skilled and experienced lead carpenter or foreman will typically get involved right away during a pre-construction meeting. They are there to review the plans, discuss logistics, ask questions, and follow that meeting with a tour of the job site. 

Why is it important to involve them at this early stage? A design-focused craftsman can notice a design detail that is not quite clear. They can speak with the architect or designer and get clarity on the intention of the design. With an integrated team of skilled people working from the drawing board to the job site, you know your dreams as a homeowner will be realized. 

A skilled craftsman is your primary point of contact in this process. From this early meeting, the foreman, the designer, and you as the client can all get on the same page. And a good craftsman will continue to keep an eye out for ways to make the path from design to completion as smooth as possible.

craftsman-archway-and-builtins

As an example: this 2005 specialty design project won a National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) CotY award for craftsmanship. The carpenters had to interpret the architectural ideas for custom crafted arched entryways that would serve as transition portals into new additions at the side and rear of the existing house. Then they had to invent a technique for bending, shaping, and piecing together the custom wood casings that would complete the entryways and gracefully knit the style of the old and new parts of the house together. The multi-stepped process was labor intensive, demanded accuracy, and required a high level of craftsmanship to finish. 

shaping-wood-for-archway

A Set of Unique Skills

Craftsmen come with different skill-sets and expertise. For installing one replacement window, you might choose a handyman. Residential new construction builders have crews and subcontractors who do their work according to codes and the developer’s designs and then head to the next house under construction. 

The craftsman in a design-build renovation has a unique role that requires unique skills. They have to solve problems on the fly. They need to be self-motivated and collaborative. They need to be excellent communicators, so you as the client know what is happening with the project, and they understand exactly what you want as the outcome of the renovation.

The craftsman who comes to your home for a multi-week project needs not just expertise in construction, but people skills. Work-site protocols are different in private homes versus a development job site. The craftsmen also work to minimize the disruption in your daily life while ensuring your family’s health, safety and comfort during the project.

archway-craftsman-result

To this end, a skilled craftsman serving as foreman will provide a point of communication between you as the client, the architect, the designer, and other members of the design-build team. In conversation with you, they will gain a clear understanding of your design vision, the plans the architect has made, and connect all these ideas into beautifully realized real-world implementation in your home.

When you start interviewing builders, you might wonder, is the expertise of a skilled craftsman worth it? But when you take a step back and think about the standards you hold for your home, you can understand a builder who also holds high standards. Their design and build team will deliver the results you are expecting. 

Asking the Right Questions

So a craftsman skilled and experienced in residential renovation is who you are looking for. Now how do you choose among those options? Just like you are collecting design ideas, you are probably also collecting ideas about who to hire. It’s tough. Just like all those ideas on Houzz, the companies you research look beautiful. They have amazing portfolios.  So how can you be sure that beauty isn't just skin deep? 

One place to start is by getting referrals and understanding the company's reputation. Here is what you should expect and be looking for from a craftsman working on your home renovation:

  • They must have the ability to run the job efficiently and with respect for your family and property. 
  • An ability to communicate clearly with both the designer and the homeowner.
  • An understanding of the scope of work, local building codes, and architectural specifications so every phase of the project from excavation, electric, plumbing, HVAC, audio/video, drywall & painting, etc. are all done properly.
  • They communicate with subcontractors regularly and are in attendance for all inspections at each stage of construction. 

From start to finish on your remodeling project, a master craftsman is needed to make sure your vision and the architect’s interpretation are realized in a beautiful, strong, functional addition or refurbishing of space in your home. 

To learn more about the role of the craftsman in the renovation process, or to consult about designing a new space in your home, download our 6 Things to Ask Yourself Before You Remodel guide.

six questions to ask before calling a home remodeler