What happens when pros traditionally ensconced in different worlds work together under the same roof? Architect Rick Nelson and construction manager Steve Berger of Portland and Boothbay-based Knickerbocker Group hash out the advantages of the design-build process.
In 2008 Rick Nelson and Steve Berger turned a primitive stone cabin perched on a remote island floodplain into a comfortable summer home — complete with a shingled addition set atop stone piers and an expanded kitchen with wheeled cabinets, appliances, and tables that can be rolled away if water comes lapping at the windows. Despite the complexities of running power to the island, ferrying materials in and out, and shoring up a house that is steps from the shoreline, the team completed the project within the clients’ budget and time frame. Nelson and Berger say they owe this success, and many others, to Knickerbocker’s design-build model, where architects and construction managers work collaboratively within the same company. Here’s how the setup can benefit you.
Q: How does the design-build concept differ from conventional homebuilding?
Nelson: The tradition in our industry is the design-bid-build model: an architect creates a set of plans, revises them with the clients over a period of months, and then brings in builders to bid on the project. At this point, the clients may learn that the house they have fallen in love with is out of their price range and the process starts all over again. This is happening a lot less now because architects are involving builders much earlier on. But a design-build firm can streamline things further. We do constant check-ins with our construction managers during the design phase and get them to weigh in on cost and functionality before we ever show a set of plans to clients.
Berger: On the building side, we certainly don’t like the design side talking about cost! It also used to be common for a builder to receive plans with details that looked nice but didn’t necessarily work in the field. Having our voices heard at the outset means less time standing around at the job site problem solving.
Q: In what other ways does your collaboration benefit the homeowner?
Nelson: We have what we call the Knickerbocker Standards, which are levels of quality that are expected in just about every project. Our standard insulation package is a combination of dense-pack cellulose and spray-foam with ZIP System sheathing; we use 5/8-inch thick drywall, 1 ¾-inch solid doors, and so on. Because Steve and his crew build to the Knickerbocker Standards, I can hand him a far less detailed set of drawings than I could if I was designing for an outside builder, which cuts down on my hourly design fee.
Berger: On the flip side, when we need to get more detailed with a set of plans, our team approach helps facilitate that. We are currently doing a project on a slab foundation and we needed to map out the plumbing, electrical, and heating before we could pour the concrete. So I brought in the various subs to meet with the architect and come up with a strategy, saving her the time of drawing things that may not work in practice. We have at our fingertips a vast network of experts we can call on for things like this at no cost to the client.
Q: How does this streamlining affect the overall timing of a project?
Nelson: Because of the relationship we have with the construction team, we’ll often break ground on a project after the first round of plans have been priced and approved and provide the final details while they’re at the job site. This enables us to take what would maybe be an 18-month process for a 2,500 to 3,500- square-foot house and turn it into a nine to 12-month one.
Berger: As a matter of convenience, our clients also like that they can come to one place for design and building services, as well as their interior decorating and caretaking needs. If they’re from out of state, their time in Maine is precious so they like to get everything done quickly — and always by Memorial Day.