Should I hire a builder, designer, or architect?

Should I hire a builder, designer, or architect?

You’re ready to build a custom home! If it’s your first time taking on this type of project, the excitement (and perhaps fear) is often followed by some necessary research. Where do we begin? What should we plan for in terms of budget and timelines? And most importantly… which professional should we hire?

I’ll lay it out “Frankly.” In my 20 years of experience in this industry, I have acted as a builder/project manager, a designer, and now, a lead architect. I am able to offer some insight on the different approach each professional would take if hired as a prime consultant.

I have been a builder, a designer, and now an architect. Here I am building the formwork and foundations for my own home several years ago.

A builder is often the first point of contact for clients embarking upon a residential project. Between the noise, construction debris, street traffic, site signage, and a finished “product” that stands as a monument to “their” work, a builder stays top of mind because of their presence in a neighborhood.  A builder, however, is just a piece of the puzzle. A builder’s role is to execute on the decisions and plans put forward by a designer or architect.

Operating with the project timeline as their main priority, builders will often work off an existing/pre-purchased set of plans. Their ability to meet project timelines and budgets comes from building the same project over and over again until the process is efficient and repeatable. The drawback, however, is that not every building site will suit a standard set of plans. Between site conditions (grading, trees, access, etc.) and municipal requirements (allowable heights, setbacks, etc.) standardized plans may require significant modification to suit the project requirements. If you’re working with a unique lot, have a defined set of requirements, or desire an elevated level of detail for your design project, starting with a builder will become restrictive. Some builders may have an in-house “designer/draftsman”, which is often the least expensive option (as design fees may get rolled in to the construction cost.) However, it is my duty to be “Frank” so I’ll go ahead and say it: if you’re embarking upon the process of building your dream home, “cheap” is not a good enough reason to hire someone.


The lead professional you should consult prior to deciding on a builder is either a designer or an architect. (As a side note, a good architect will often align themselves with a good builder and work hand in hand to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship for both themselves and the client.) I have been both a qualified designer and an architect. To give you some background… early in my career, I obtained my credentials as a BCIN  designer and operated under those qualifications for many years. However, given that I had already achieved the academic training and experience required of a licensed architect, I decided to get back on track to achieving licensure, and wrote and passed the final qualifying exams. I am now a fully license architect.

Back to what we were talking about… I’ll break it down simply: A qualified/BCIN designer is equipped with the knowledge to apply municipal by-laws and building codes to a drawing in order to obtain a permit. In terms of design, you will be presented with option “A” or “B”, but don’t expect “Aa” “Ba” “Bba” “ABc” (as in, endless iterations.) The work is straightforward and defined, and the fees reflect accordingly.

Understanding construction and speaking the language of the site have been solid foundations for my career as an architect.

An architect, on the other hand, has years of formal training which brings a level of depth required of any unique and noteworthy building project. Beyond drawing a plan, an architect understands how to craft a space, manipulate light and material, engrain narratives and capture emotions. The resulting work is more thoughtful and often poetic, though that is not to suggest that an architect is only interested in architecture as an “art.” Architects are also highly training in technical detailing and have a thorough construction understanding. Along with ensuring that the projects design intent is maintained through the course of construction, an architect will also ensure that best practices for construction are implemented, and that budget and timelines are maintained. Though an architect’s fees are generally higher than that of a designer (expect 7%-15% of construction cost, depending on where you’re located) the level of service received will be superior.

My drafting table set up at a project site, allowing me to address site issues quickly and seamlessly.

To summarize; if you’re content building from a standardized set of plans, with minimal modifications to suit your specific site or project needs, a builder or qualified designer will be able to assist you. If you’re looking for premium architectural services, are considering a unique site, or hoping to achieve an elevated level of project completeness, consider hiring an architect.  Not unlike buying a car, a watch, or a handbag – there are many types that will satisfy your needs. If you’re looking for originality, lasting quality, and unique design, go with the better product. Simply put: you get what you pay for.

If you’re interested in working with an architect for your next building project, connect with us via phone (647.749.0557) or email ( – we would love to hear from you.

Contact us

Call us for a no-obligation consultation to discuss what you have in mind.