July 16, 2018

Two keys to hiring the right architect for you

Welcome to another tip from the Key to a Successful Construction Project series, where Sebastian shares its advice and lessons learned from 70+ years of building high end residential estate homes.


“If you make listening and observation your occupation, you will gain much more than you can by talk.” –Robert Baden-Powell

Listening is one of the most important but least mentioned skills in architecture. It can be tempting to hire the architect with the most awards or the recent Architectural Digest feature, but if you meet with her or him and don’t feel rapport, you won’t be happy with the project.

A great architect will listen to your ideas, your wants and needs and will then ask questions to clarify that understanding. If your wish list can’t be accommodated, the great architect will offer alternative ideas to meet your goals.

Here’s another bit of advice from our Keys to Successful Construction projects, related to the architect-client relationship: Hire an architect who has designed several houses in the style you love.

Most experienced architects have developed a particular aesthetic and broad design style that they enjoy creating and have honed for years. Some excel at sleek modernism, while others are proud classicists.

Love Mediterranean? Tudor? Mid-Century Modern?

Make sure that you view your preferred architect’s portfolio to determine the level of experience in that design style. Having designed multiple homes in your preferred style helps the architect hone his or her skill in that particular style, knowing how to apply style-specific features to suit your unique space.


July 2, 2018

Independence Day

This Independence Day, we are taking a step back to cherish our life and the country we live in, while appreciating the sacrifices people made to give us independence today.

“Where liberty dwells, there is my country.” BENJAMIN FRANKLIN


May 21, 2018

Key to a Successful Project: Talk about Budget!

When it comes to executing successful construction projects, we’ve learned a thing or two over the past 70 years. The most successful construction projects all have one thing in common: excellent communication.

A 2016 report by consulting giant McKinsey found that “large projects take at least 20% longer to finish and are up to 80% over the budget.” (McKinsey, 2016)

How do these construction project budgets go so wrong? One common issue among project teams is avoiding the budget talk until it’s late in the process.

Our experience is that often the owner does not disclose a target budget until the architect or contractor offers a number. Perhaps they think the project team will spend the entire budget unnecessarily if they volunteer a number. This is one of the reasons it is important to talk about cost early and lay out the assumptions in detail.

At the end of 2017, we conducted a survey of over 300 architects, designing high end residential projects. What we found was surprising:

Over one third of the respondents answered that they establish the budget after the schematic design. Furthermore, 13% acknowledge a budget is established after design development, which is a shocking figure from our point of view.

Perhaps the wording of the question skewed the results. Did some equate ‘establishing a budget’ to bidding? The budget is always a factor on some level and the further into the design process one gets without an established budget risks rework and wasted time.

One of our core practices at Sebastian is to talk about the budget early and often. It’s even listed in our company goals and core values:

Build each project only after the proper groundwork has been laid. Insist on early involvement from the project’s inception. Develop realistic budgets and schedules very early on – even at the risk of initially losing a project. The ultimate goal is a delighted client at the end of the project.



April 23, 2018

Fallacy of Competitive Budgeting

Even when clients are building a high end estate home destined to be featured in Architectural Digest, they care about costs. It’s simple – no one wants to be taken advantage of.

But asking for competitive bids at the preliminary design phase is not the best way to ensure a cost effective selection process.

Using a competitive process at the preliminary design phase can be an ineffective and even dangerous method of selecting a contractor. The budgeting process will always result in a wide range of estimated hard construction costs by the contractors, because each firm uses interpretation and guesswork at this early stage.

Budgets at early design can vary widely – commonly, plus or minus 40%!

But those varying interpretations and guesswork can create a problem. The client wants to believe the lowest preliminary guesstimate (who wants to pay more than you have to, no matter what your means?) The client often selects a contractor based on what they perceive to be the same house at a lower cost.

[Want to download a PDF of the Fallacy of Competitive Budgeting? Click here.]

In reality, the lower estimate represents lower quality, craftsmanship or detail. Here’s the thing: once the information and drawings for the project are complete, the hard costs for all contractors will be within the same 3% to 5% range.

The bottom line is that you should select your contractor based on fee, general conditions and qualifications for the project, as the hard construction costs will be nearly the same once the design is complete.