Identify Your “What And Why” You’re Building A Custom Home

Identify why you’re building a custom home and what kind of features it would require to satisfy your needs. Do you have a multi-generational family with a need for numerous bedrooms and living spaces? Do you entertain often and need a large space to host guests? Or perhaps you’re looking to build yourself a quiet retreat out in the woods. In any case, before you begin interviewing potential architects, create your home “wish list”. Browse the web, books, and magazines to identify your aesthetic style. Finally, determine your construction budget. Once you’re equipped with these basic things, you can seek out architects with experience in projects of similar scope.

We dive into a few more details about why one might choose to build a custom home in our “Ultimate Guide to Building a Custom Home.

A rendering image of a beautiful custom home designed by FrankFranco Architects on their Woodland Ridge house project.
Rendering of Woodland Ridge house by Frankfranco Architects

Determine What Services You Need From The Architect

Perhaps you’re looking for an architect that can provide numerous design services; often our clients come to us seeking a complete package which includes: permit and construction drawings, interior design, furniture selection, landscape master planning, etc. A firm that specializes in a multi-disciplinary approach will allow for a seamless transition between each scale of design, ultimately creating a cohesive end product. Further, if you’re looking for someone to assist you with both the design and construction, look for firms that offer design-build or in-house construction management services.

Alternately, you may already have a strong sense of what you want and simply need assistance in obtaining a building permit. If you’re intent is to duplicate a design that you’ve seen before, or already have a set of plans sketched out, look for an architect (or qualified designer*) that specializes specifically in permit drawings. The turn-around time may be faster and the fees will likely be reduced. The trade-off is that this process doesn’t typically allow time for customizations or design revisions that would make the home “custom” to you.

The floor plan of a courtyard house designed by FrankFranco Architects.
Courtyard House Plans by FrankFranco Architects

To read more about hiring an architect versus a qualified designer, read more in our blog post “Should I hire an architect, designer, or contractor?

Research The Architect’s Specialization

The architectural profession covers a broad range of building types. Perhaps you’ve mentioned that you intend on building a custom home only to have a friend suggest “Oh I know an architect; I’ll connect you two.” While all architects are “qualified” to design residential buildings, most will have a specialization with which they are most experienced. Schools, hospitals, or warehouses, for example, must satisfy a different set of requirements and go through a different permitting process than a custom home. Further, architects specializing in larger building types may be less interested in taking on residential work. How to choose a good architect for your home build? Hire an architect that has substantial experience in residential design to ensure that they are familiar with the building and construction type, and how to navigate the required municipal processes.

A beautiful proposed house design with large glass to ceiling windows designed by FrankFranco Architects. Are you looking for an architect to build your dream home? Here's how to choose one.
Proposed House Design by FrankFranco Architects

Pay Attention To Their Geographic Region

One aspect to note when considering how to choose a good architect is that their specialization may also be concentrated to a geographic region. Often Architect’s become the go-to in a certain neighbourhood (through word of mouth and consistent visibility through project signage) and will know how to seamlessly navigate specific municipal processes in that area – for example, some areas are governed under architectural or heritage controls, etc. you want to look for an architect who is familiar with those processes and has experience in the area you are looking to build.

Additionally, if you have a unique building lot (ie. urban laneway or TRCA regulated lot) or have specific goals relating to environmentally-conscious design (sustainability, off-grid, etc.), ensure that the architects you’re short-listing feature these types of projects in their portfolio.

The sunset view featuring cotton candy clouds from a third floor balcony in Toronto of the Modern Victorian House designed by FrankFranco Architects.
View of Toronto from the third-floor balcony of the Modern Victorian House by FrankFranco Architects. Photo by Bob Gundu

Review The Architect’s Portfolio

If you’re interested in building a custom home, you’ve likely spent a fair amount of time driving around your neighbourhood, browsing images of homes, or researching how to choose a good architect. By now, you can hopefully identify a style that you gravitate towards. While architects specializing in residential design can satisfy a range of styles, most will have an aesthetic that they feel strongly about. For example, at FrankFranco architects we have a team of people passionate about modern design, though we don’t shy away from working with clients that prefer a more traditional approach. Browse the architect’s website and ensure that their aesthetic is aligned with yours. Additionally, look for projects on similar building sites to your property, whether it be a tight urban lot, a suburban infill, or a sprawling country property.

Gorgeous modern victorian home designed by architects FrankFranco in Little Italy Toronto. Are you searching for an architect for your custom home build? Here's how to choose the right architect.
Modern Victorian in the heart of Little Italy by Frankfranco Architects. Photo by Bob Gundu

Request References

A flashy website makes a great first impression, but references and testimonials will give you a more accurate indication of what it’s like working with that particular architect. They are a firsthand account from those who have had positive or negative experiences working with the architect and their team. If they’re not readily available online, ask the architect to connect you with a previous client or two.

Meet With The Architect

The process of designing and building your dream home can often last 2+ years. You will have several meetings with your architect – sometimes weekly – and you will get to know one another fairly well. As architects specializing in residential design, we recognize how personal each project is to our clients and want to ensure that we cater to their lifestyle and engrain their personal narrative into their home. In order to do so, we want to get to know you and your family. In your initial meeting, the architect should be asking questions, but more importantly, he or she should sit back and listen to your wants and needs (remember to have that list ready).

The working relationships we build with our clients are critical to the success of the project, both from a design perspective but also for effective communication throughout the process. There will be exciting moments but also stressful ones, and you want to ensure that the person you’re working with has your best interest in mind.

The interior of a custom built home designed by FrankFranco architects featuring wood millwork and brown leather sofas. Are you looking for an architect for your new home build. Here's how to choose the right architect.
Deja View Residence by FrankFranco Architects. Photo by Bob Gundu

Understand Their Architectural Fee Proposal

Depending on the location, size, scope, and complexity of the project, an architect’s fees can range anywhere from 5-15% of the construction cost. Fees for a larger, more complex project will be reflected as a percentage of construction cost, while smaller projects may be charged at an hourly rate. Read through the proposal and understand what is included – permit drawings? Construction details? What are the extras?

Consider Additional Design Services

In addition to the architectural fees, some architects also offer additional design services such an interior design or landscape design. By selecting an architectural firm that offers a multi-disciplinary approach, you may benefit from some cost savings. The more services provided by one consultant (ie. the architect), the smoother the process will usually be. Note that in addition to an architect’s fee, there will also be fees associated with project consultants such as structural engineers, mechanical engineers, grading engineers, arborists, surveyors, etc.


Working with an architect on the design and build of your dream home is an exciting process. Go into the process well-researched both on what you hope to get out of the experience, and what your expectations are of the architect. Ask plenty of questions, and make sure that your architect is doing the same. Set clear lines of communication and be patient with one another, as the process is long but always worthwhile.

If you’re in the process of researching architects or wondering how to choose a good architect for the design of your home, give us a call. We’d be happy to discuss further.