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How an Architect Designs Your Home: An Interview with Melissa Hutchinson of MH Architect

By Melissa Hutchinson

Tell us a little bit about your firm and the services you offer.

I am a local architect, and have been registered in the State of Rhode Island for twelve years. I have a home studio office in Tiverton, RI and have worked in the Newport area for over 15 years. I specialize in residential architecture and I am also an Adjunct Faculty at the School of Architecture at Roger Williams University. Our firm offers personalized, full service architectural and interior design services for those who value elegant and efficient design, natural materials, environmental consciousness. I have designed a variety of project types including high-end single-family, multi-family, light commercial and historic renovation. I work with both new construction and renovation. Our firm provides a coastal New England aesthetic that is distinctly "Newport" in feel. I believe that projects are just as much about the journey and experience of the design and construction process, as they are about a lasting and meaningful final building product.

What are some of the first steps you take when you're starting a new project for a client's home?

I always meet at the home or site with the Owners to first hear their vision for the project and to get a sense for the existing conditions and the opportunities that are inherent with the site. Once I have a better understanding of the scope of work, I write a proposal and explain how my services will be rendered, to be sure that we're on the same page. It is important for the client to understand what services they will, or will not need and what exactly we can do for them in assisting with the project from Schematic Design, Permitting and Construction Administration.

How do you come up with a home design that matches what the client wants and improves on it at the same time?

Schematic Design is a process of iteration. I try to graphically convey what the client is verbally communicating, while at the same time adding value into the project by suggesting options that the Client may not have considered. We work back and forth, reviewing several layouts (and sometimes combining options from a few) until we can narrow it down to the most functional and efficient layout. The design becomes tailored specifically to the needs of their family. Main goal is not only to provide needed space, but to find joy in the way we function during our everyday routines.

Is there something that most people don't know about working with an architect that they should know?

A good architect can add value to your project. Through education and experience, the architect can offer sound advice that can facilitate the speed and cost of construction. Architects have the ability to recommend General Contractors that they have worked with in the past to be sure they are a "right-fit" match for the Client and the project type.

What are some of the biggest challenges that architects face when it comes to implementing their design during the construction phase?

Its all about communication. Communication between Owner and Architect, Architect and Contractor, and Owner and Contractor. It is imperative to have a "team" working together to make decisions and tackle issues as they arise (which they inevitably will.) It is important to understand that this is a fluid proceed, where we continue to make decisions and enhance the project as we move along so that we can continue to assess the design and make it the best it can be.

What advice do you have for people who have a strong vision for their home, but with some unrealistic expectations given what they're working with?

Each Client, each Site, and each Use presents its own unique set of challenges. There is no magic floor plan. Good building responds to the given site characteristics: solar orientation, views, access, landscape/grading, wind patterns, climate, etc. The Architect must also factor in the project "program", meaning the necessities that need to be accommodated for this particular project. The program tells us how large the building needs to be and how the spaces should relate to one other. If the budget can't support the entire "wish list" of program elements, then the scope of work must be reduced (or grouped into phases) to make the project economically feasible.

What's the best way for people to contact you and your firm?

To view Featured Projects by MH Architect, please visit our website at mharchitect.com or feel free to contact us at (401) 559-1957 or melissa@mharchitect.com

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I am a local architect, and have been registered in the State of Rhode Island for...

Phone: 401.559.1957

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