Launch Slideshow

all's well that starts well

all's well that starts well

  • http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp229C%2Etmp_tcm48-243857.jpg

    true

    600

    Anne Troutman

    The author runs her pre-design consulting business, DesignSmart, out of the home office she designed in Santa Monica, Calif. Demand for her services has remained strong since she started in 2005.

  • http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp22A1%2Etmp_tcm48-243864.jpg

    true

    600

    Anne Troutman

    Troutman and her clients often gather at the dining table in her loft office (above). The curtained entrance to the master bedroom (right) lies just under her workspace.

  • http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp22A6%2Etmp_tcm48-243871.jpg

    true

    600

    Anne Troutman

    Troutman and her clients often gather at the dining table in her loft office (above). The curtained entrance to the master bedroom (right) lies just under her workspace.

I familiarize clients with design methods and procedures so they know what to expect, what the project will cost, and what kinds of professionals may best suit their needs. I've been asked to attend interviews, troubleshoot work already in progress, and help clients navigate the design and building process. I'll even facilitate communication between clients and their neighbors during construction. My consultancy is still defining itself and evolving with each referral, but the emphasis is on local community and personal contact.

personal reasons

Pre-design consulting would frustrate architects who are more object-oriented or who prefer to see a design through from beginning to end—the kind of architect I was for many years. It requires substantial design experience, sensitivity, and a light touch. And liking people is a must! But if you're communications-oriented, a good facilitator, enjoy teaching, and like the faster pace of project startups, then local consulting can make very satisfying use of your accumulated knowledge to benefit both your colleagues and your community.

The pleasure (and challenge) of the work, for me, lies in its variety, its shorter time frame, and the idea that I can help people avoid costly mistakes and come away with a good experience of our profession.

Many of the homeowners I'm referred to come to me because either they've had a bad experience they don't want to repeat or they need help envisioning their next step and don't know where to begin. They may be novices who don't know how the design business works, or what they want, or what they can afford, or how to find or select the right professionals. They're eager for information. They're aware their house is possibly their largest single investment and they recognize that having a strategy for its development and realization is both a lifestyle choice and a major financial decision in their lives.

For me, it's something of a relief after years of nerve-wracking salesmanship and self-promotion to concentrate on education. I truly enjoy providing perspective, time, information, and resources to help individuals envision their goals and begin to put them into action.

In a complex profession that can be mystifying even to its practitioners at times, I think informed clients make for a more successful project and can tap into the deep creativity and generosity possible in our field. Pre-design is an essential first step in that process—for everyone.

Anne Troutman is principal of DesignSmart (www.designsmartla.com), a pre-design and residential consulting firm in Santa Monica, Calif.