Should I Work with a Designer or an Architect?

Should I Work with a Designer or an Architect?
  • Opening Intro -

    When someone is planning on modifying or expanding their home, one of the first questions that comes up is: should I work with an architect or a designer?

    The answer depends on the type of project you have in mind.


When someone is planning on modifying or expanding their home, one of the first questions that comes up is: should I work with an architect or a designer? The answer depends on the type of project you have in mind. The scope of the project also affects the answer.


If you simply want to replace the bushes in front of your home, you can work with a designer and a landscaper. You need to consult with an architect if you are:

  • planning on installing a retaining wall,
  • altering the ground around your foundation,
  • dramatically altering the drainage around your home and similar large projects.

This may or may not be a landscape “architect”. Some landscapers call themselves landscape architects. But only architects and civil engineers understand how removing three feet of dirt to create a terrace will potentially affect your home’s foundation.

Internal Renovations

If you are planning on replacing your cabinets or ripping out the existing plumbing, you can typically work with an interior designer and handymen with experience for these types of home renovations. However, if you want to move walls or remove them entirely, talk to an architect.

Home renovations that only make a usable space family friendly like finishing a basement don’t require an architect unless you’re going to install sump pumps or bathroom plumbing that has to flush upward. But if you want the finished basement to meet code to be rented out as a mortgage helper, consult with an architect.

External Renovations

One example of an external renovation that should involve an architect is adding on a balcony. Putting a balcony on an existing home puts stresses on its various members they weren’t designed to handle; you risk destroying the second floor of your home if it is installed incorrectly. While someone may build it structurally correct, if the rest of the home’s structure cannot handle the load or strain, it will cause damage to the rest of the building.

Another mistake that pops up is when someone tries to put a deck on top of a carport or porch. If the supporting members aren’t designed for the load, it will likely collapse and could damage the walls and beams in your home in the process. You should always consult with an architect before you assume the existing structure can handle another floor.

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New Construction

If you’re installing a pre-made building like a shed or playhouse, you don’t need an architect. If you’re looking to build a mother-in-law suite per existing plans, you can rely on a designer and contractor.

But if you are designing a custom exterior office, residential suite or free standing structure that blends in with the surrounding buildings and fits all of the amenities you need in a small space, you need to work with an architect. Consult with an architect if you want to build a new secondary kitchen or install an extra bathroom, since this impacts the performance of the plumbing, wastewater and electrical systems.

If you’re looking at small renovation projects that don’t impact the structure of the home, then a home designer is ideal. But for major home renovation that affects the load bearing walls, roof, foundation and floors or new construction on site, you should consider working with an architect. It’s all about understanding your needs and the scope of the project and hiring the person with the skill set more suitable for the job.

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