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Contractors, Designers and Architects

Contractors, Designers and Architects

White house from side view.
Written by Holly Thompson

Thinking about building your dream home, or want to renovate your current home to fit the bill? Great! But who do you need to hire? And what really is the difference between contractors, designers and architects? Do you need all three?

But before you start looking for contractors, designers and architects, I have a little date-night activity for you that will greatly help in the process. It’s kind of an ice-breaker game that will get the conversation rolling and prevent conflict later. It’s a lot of fun. Here’s what you do.

White kitchen with black-framed windows
Courtesy of STUDIO MCGEE

Dream Big

Write down your dream features in your dream farmhouse. Don’t hold back. Anything you think would be beautiful, convenient, whatever. Have your spouse do the same. Add specific needs or wants, like black-framed windows that open out or a main-floor master bath with a clawfoot tub. Add in that dream of a woodshop out back or a dog shower in the laundry room. Everything you can think of.  

Next, write down what you don’t want. Maybe there’s an exterior style you don’t like. Maybe you don’t like having a main-floor laundry. Then, separate your dream-feature list into needs and wants (and really-don’t-wants and just plain don’t-wants). You’re going to need to have a very clear idea of what you want in order to find the best contractors, designers and architects for your needs.

Master bath with clawfoot tub
Design by Holly Thompson; photo by Ashel Parsons

Making a Budget

Now this is the hard part. You’re going to need to nail down a budget before you start talking with contractors, designers and architects. This determines how customizable your home will be. It’ll also help you determine if your home will include separate spaces for the items on your wishlist or if you’re combining them into multi-purpose rooms. 

You may also need to talk to a good realtor if you are buying the land yourself rather than buying a lot from a builder. Check for zoning restrictions, neighborhood restrictions and if the value of the area supports what you intend to build. 

Hiring Contractors, Designers and Architects

Your budget also determines which experts you will hire. The more experts you hire, the more of your budget you will use. However, not hiring the appropriate experts at the beginning can cost you more by the end.

Farmhouse plans that contractors, designers and architects will use
Photo by Architectural Designs

Hiring an Architect

If you are building a custom farmhouse or doing a large remodel, hire an architect. This expert will take into account lot features like views, hills, big trees and sun exposure and build your home “into” the lot.

If you’re building on a flat piece of land or a builder’s lot, you may be able to use pre-made home plans to save money. However, making structural or footprint changes to pre-made plans will require an architect or structural engineer anyway, so it may be worth it to start from scratch with an architect.  

If you see a house around town that you love, you can look up the architect by searching the address and looking up the permits. Otherwise, just ask around for recommendations or search local architects online for reviews and pictures of their work.

Hiring a Contractor or Builder

A builder will work alongside the architect to make the vision and plans become a reality. Contractors will be on the job site and put up the house itself, or implement the renovation.

Your architect will likely have builders they already have a working relationship with and can direct you. If you don’t have an architect, you have several options to find a good builder. Check out this post for more details.

See Also

Feel free to ask a builder for references. Call people who have worked with them and ask how it went. You want to know how easy they were to communicate with, and how they resolved problems. You can also ask a designer for recommendations on good builders and contractors.

Hiring a Designer

As a designer myself, I am very much for hiring a designer ASAP in the process of a build or renovation. Designers will often catch interior function problems that architects and contractors miss. Often architects and contractors are so focused on the “whole” that they miss important details like a well-planned kitchen or bath. Designers are worth the money if you’re going to build a home. It’s too much of an investment not to make sure you have a cohesive design plan.

White house from side view.
Home by Steve Powell Homes. Photo courtesy of One Kindesign

Beware of the Lowest Bidder

When a builder gives a potential client an estimate, they allot you a certain amount of money for finishes (cabinets, countertops, flooring, lighting, etc). Often to produce a cheaper bid for you, they allot you less to spend on finishes. This directly affects how much you’ll be enjoying your finished home. Make sure you know if the builder is allotting you builder-grade finishes or nicer ones in your estimate.

A kitchen remodel with white marble
Design and styling by Holly Thompson Homes; photo by Leslie Brown, @visiblestyle

What Everyone Wants to Know

Every client asks how to make sure their new design won’t go out of style. While no one can predict the future, there is one way to guarantee your home won’t go out of style: Keep it timeless. When you’re building your dream farmhouse, choose a style that makes it difficult to tell whether the house is old or new. Likely this will mean a home with simpler rooflines, quality materials and authentic-looking architectural details. This way your house will always be a mix of classic and up-to-date.


Still unsure if a designer is right for your dream home? Holly explains when to hire a designer. Of course, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest to get your daily dose of farmhouse inspiration!

Dave and Holly Thompson of Holly Thompson Homes
Dave and Holly Thompson of Holly Thompson Homes; Photo by Shara Katerberg-Hsu

Holly Thompson is a designer in the Nashville area. She and her husband Dave own Holly Thompson Homes, a kitchen/bath showroom/interior design studio in a 200-year-old building in Historic downtown Franklin. They are a husband-and-wife design and renovation team, partnering with local contractors and builders to make Holly’s designs come to life. Their home was featured in American Farmhouse Style in Fall 2017. They also have three kids and two kitties. Follow along with Holly and Dave on Instagram and Facebook and on their blog.

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