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Should You Pick Your Architect Based on Style or Service? – Board & Vellum Designs in Many Styles to Suit the Context and Client

As a service firm, we design projects of varying styles because we feel the site and context are unique enough to call for distinct solutions like these.

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Should You Pick Your Architect Based on Style or Service?

When searching for an architect, should you pick one based on the architect's style or base on the type of service they provide? As it so often happens: it depends! But, not to worry, Jeff Pelletier breaks it down into pros and cons for each scenario so you can start off your search well-informed.

February 13, 2017

Are Architects Hired for Their Style of Design, or to Perform a Service?

This is a question that gets asked in many variants and everyone has a different answer. I hadn't thought too much about it as a topic worth discussing until I saw the latest ArchiTalks blog post topic, style. I'll be honest that it initially had my hands frozen above my keyboard thinking about what to write. I'm not one known for not having an opinion, so this was an odd feeling.

I realized, though, when having another discussion about "service" or "design" firms, that it pairs nicely with a discussion around "style." That's basically the crux of the issue. Do you come to an architect wanting a project built in a style that the architect is known for, which likely includes buying into their vision? Or, conversely, do you know you have a design challenge and come to an architect with some ideas of your own about aesthetics, but look for them to provide a solution to the problem that, in their opinion, best suits the context?

Let's review the pros and cons of each. And, for the impatient ones, the answer to this is perhaps not what you want to hear. It is, as I likely say too often: "It depends."

Hiring for Style

Likely Scenario:

You have a project that you've been wanting to build for a few years, and have spent hours pouring over blogs and articles finding images you love. You keep finding yourself coming to the projects of a few architects in particular, and realize you want them to design you a project as awesome as what you've seen online. You're flexible with the program, don't have confidence in your own likes and dislikes, and are ready to be guided by a professional to get something you love with surprises you didn't even imagine. As long as you "click" with them, you're fairly certain they should be the right fit.


  • You are likely going to get a beautiful project that ends up being something you couldn't have imagined.
  • You have confidence that the architect you are working with understands your preferred aesthetics.
  • This can work really well with ground-up new construction projects.


  • The style of the projects you have seen may not so easily translate onto your site, making it an awkward fit.
  • You may have to give up some control over the program and have faith and trust in someone else.
  • This approach may not always work best with remodels.

Hiring for Service

Likely Scenario:

You're a client looking to do a large-scale remodel on your home. You've lived there for a decade, and are aware of the things you love and hate about the home, and feel you have an excellent grasp on what you want. You don't necessarily love the current style of your home, but aren't so sure about a giant shift in style. You are sure you want to not rock the boat too much with your neighbors. You've found numerous images online and they're a bit all over the map, even though you do feel confident that elements of them could work in the remodel you have in mind. You, therefore, interview numerous architects with a variety of project types and styles and seem to be looking for a good fit more than someone who has a particular style.


  • If you're open to styles, you might find that a mid-century or even a Craftsman approach might work for your project. Sometimes, being open to the style can allow for not only the greatest surprise, but also a better project.
  • You can select an architect based on personality and process (rather than a particular style) ensuring you get along and work well together.
  • You will likely have a greater voice in how the program gets met in the design. There's a good chance it will be more of a team approach.


  • This can be a leap of faith decision, as you may not have a specific visual of similar work done by the architect that is comparable to what you are thinking.
  • The end product may have less cachet. This is debatable, of course, but it isn't unheard of for people to hire architects much like they would commission an artist.
  • If you love the design process, this may end up on a path that is a little more streamlined in the interest of providing it as a service. (This may actually be a pro for some and a con for others.)

So, Who Wins in the Style vs. Service Debate?

Of course, it would be easier if things were so clearly black or white. There are rarely firms that fall cleanly into one of these categories. While I like to think of Board & Vellum as a service-oriented firm (which may honestly be a result of design A.D.D., where I find exciting things about pretty much every design style out there), the reality is that many clients hire us for a very specific look they've found on our portfolio. In fact, some of what I would consider my biggest missteps have been when I didn't fully realize that clients didn't really want our collaborative process, but wanted me to wow them with awesome images and to sell them on the concept. We now know better, and ask those questions early on to determine if should wear all black turtlenecks those days, or come in as I normally do. (That's an attempt at a bad joke, although I do often kid that I should have a black cape on for when I want to be an extra serious architect that day.)

The lesson is to ask the right questions of the architect(s) you're considering. There's no wrong path except the path where you're not honest with yourself about what you want.

My parting advice around style is something I love to tell all my clients (and this is obviously rooted in the fact that my house has a giant LEGO room in it): this is your project, your money, and in the end, it should be your decision. Go forward in a way that feels authentically you and let's you imprint your personality on what gets built. Let others worry about what they think and focus on what feels right for you. When you're in your last days, I can promise you that you won't care that your neighbors didn't love your crazy castle home, but you'll regret it if you didn't build the place that felt the most authentically you.

(Just please don't call me to design a crazy castle home, I'm sure there are people for that...)

This post is part of the ArchiTalk series organized by Bob Borson of Life of an Architect. Historically, he had selected a theme and a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s blogs. This year the themes have been selected by a variety of contributors. This month’s theme is “style,” as selected by Brian Paletz of The Emerging Architect. To read how others interpreted the theme, please click the links below.

Bob Borson - Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
Style, Do I Have Any?

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
style...final words

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
The AREsketches Style

Collier Ward - One More Story (@BuildingContent)
Good Artists Copy; Great Artists Steal

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Name That Stile!

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)

Meghana Joshi - IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Architalks : Style

Michael LaValley - Evolving Architect (@archivalley)
Defining an Architect's Style

Brady Ernst - Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA)
What Style Do You Build In?

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
You do you

Michael LaValley - Evolving Architect (@archivalley)
Defining an Architect's Style

Jarod Hall - di'velept (@divelept)
What's Your Style?

Greg Croft - Sage Leaf Group (@croft_gregory)
Architectural Style

Jeffrey Pelletier - Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Should You Pick Your Architect Based on Style or Service?

Samantha R. Markham - The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
5 Styles of an Aspiring Architect

Kyu Young Kim - J&K Architects Atelier (@sokokyu)
Loaded With Style

Nisha Kandiah - ArchiDragon (@SKRIBBLES_INC)
Regression or Evolution : Style

Keith Palma - Architect's Trace (@cogitatedesign)
Stylized Hatred

Jim Mehaffey - Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
What's in a Style?

Mark Stephens - Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
Architectalks 23 - Style

Would you like to read more from the team?

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