Below is an outline of the steps we’ll be taking together as we design your home or commercial project. This process is meant to be fun, engaging, and democratic.  It will involve sketches, drawings, computer models, lots of ideas – both good + bad – materials, thorough analysis and good humor. The best outcomes are the result of following each of the steps below to completion.

Good design is the synthesis of many disparate ideas into a thoughtful whole, and while the steps listed below represent a linear path, the way we arrive at the final design isn’t always linear. It’s an iterative process, which leads to a product; it’s not a known product from the beginning. The product is the result of following the design process to its logical endpoint. This is what makes personalized design so exciting and memorable – we create it together based on your specific situation and needs. At the end of the process, you’ll have a thoughtfully designed home, or commercial project, and the shared experience of designing it.

Architects, for the most part, all use a similar series of steps to arrive at a finished project. The phases are sequential and they build on the work completed and agreed to in each preceding phase. We start with the general and refine the design to the very specific. There’s a lot of decisions along the way and this gradation organizes those decisions into manageable portions.

There are six general phases:



This is essentially an information gathering and processing phase – what we do before we start design. We collect all of the information about the project to use in schematic design. This includes information about the site, any existing structure(s), codes, deed restrictions, septic information, site utilities, access, budget, and schedule.



This is where the rough shape of the building and the ideas are formed. We’ll generate a couple of different design options to consider – two at a minimum (sometimes more) – using all of the information gathered in the previous step. We begin by drafting a narrative for the project, called a ‘parti’ or concept design, which we’ll reference throughout the project.  This seed idea is used to help us make decisions as the project becomes more detailed and better defined. It’s a rulebook of sorts.

We’ll meet and discuss the designs with the goal of narrowing the field to one preferred design concept; something we can move forward with. Often this design will borrow features from other schemes and become a hybridized solution. The phase concludes with your selection of a scheme to further develop.

At the end of this phase we’ll usually have the following:

  • Schematic Site Plan
  • Schematic Floor Plans
  • Sketch Elevations / 3D Model
  • Preliminary Cost Estimate



Taking the schematic plan developed in the previous phase, Burkholder Design Collaborative will begin to create the drawings digitally.  We will locate the project precisely on your site and think about how it will relate to the existing contours and consider how that will shape the building.  The project will become more real when the floor plan is drawn – the walls, windows, + doors, and stairs. The exact sizes and relationships of the rooms will be defined, and the overall volume of the building and the initial set of exterior elevations. We will also begin thinking about materials, inside and out.  Eventually we’ll know what every finish in every room is, but here we’ll conceptualize the framework for the material palette. The buildings systems will be developed in this phase as well – structural, mechanical, heating, lighting, and specialty controls.

At phase completion you’ll have a set of drawings for what looks like a house, but not quite enough to build from:

  • Site / Grading Plan
  • Floor Plans ¼”
  • Exterior Elevations ¼”
  • Sections
  • Interior Elevations
  • Outline Specification
  • Structural Concept
  • Lighting Concept
  • Mechanical Systems Concept
  • Updated Cost Estimate



This phase fixes all of the information about the project into a detailed set of drawings and specifications that will be used by the Contractor for pricing and construction.  Think of it as an instruction manual. Before beginning we’ll discuss whether you’d like to pursue a bid price contract or a negotiated contract and we’ll craft the drawings and level of detail in those drawings based on that decision.  For a typical project, we generate the following drawings:

  • Site Plan
  • Floor Plan(s)
  • Foundation Plan
  • Exterior Elevations
  • Building Section/Wall Sections
  • Door + Window Details
  • Interior Elevations
  • Details (interior/exterior)
  • Electrical/Lighting Plans
  • Building Specifications
  • Scheduled (Door/Window/Hardware/Plumbing/Lighting/Finish/Appliances, etc.)
  • Structural Plans
  • Updated Cost Estimate (at 50% and 75%)

Burkholder Design Collaborative will submit the project for local permitting near the beginning of this phase to ensure any necessary changes can be folded in before the drawings are finalized.

The construction documents phase will require less input from you as most of the decisions will have already been made. If there are outstanding finish selections or cabinetry design decisions we’ll meet to confirm those.



This is a separate phase but it typically occurs alongside other phases of the work, especially if the contractor you’re seeking is in high demand. There are typically two means of selecting a contractor – by competitive bidding or by negotiated contract.

Bid Contract:

We agree on two (or more) contractors to competitively price the construction documents. This results in a fixed bid price for construction based on the drawings and specifications, what we refer to as the contract documents.  The bidders must be of equal quality because high-end custom builders and production builders will naturally arrive at different numbers and make the process less useful.

Bidding requires a tight set of drawings with no room for confusion or interpretation. Any undefined scope of work is an opportunity for a bidder to make an assumption (which is always based on cost) and that’s an opportunity for a change order during construction. As you might imagine, these detailed coordinated drawings take more time to develop and will increase the design fee.

With a tight set of drawings, the materials are known quantities (windows, doors, finishes) and the only real differences between bids should be the individual builder’s varying overhead and profit percentages. This number is typically a negotiated percentage.

The bidders will submit their prices and list of subcontractors to you and together we’ll evaluate the bids and award the contract to the contractor of your choice. This does not have to be the low bidder.

Negotiated Contract:

Also known as a T&M (time & materials) or Cost-Plus contract, this arrangement bills for the actual cost of the work plus an agreed upon (negotiated) fee. It’s a collaborative process that involves the Contractor in the design process helping to develop and refine pricing along the way. It guarantees them the contract at the end of construction documents phase and builds trust between all parties.

The contract can be structured either with or without a guaranteed maximum price and incentivized in different ways.



After the contract is awarded and construction begins, Burkholder Design Collaborative acts as your agent on-site, monitor progress, review applications for payment, and ensure conformance with the contract documents. We don’t tell the contractor how to do his work; we just make sure he’s doing the things he’s contractually promised to do.

Invariably, there are things that we’re just not able to draw or anticipate during the Construction Documents phase.  Involving us in the Construction Administration phase allows the project design vision to be integrated into the details of the project seamlessly. Architects and Contractors think very differently – which is good – but not every Contractor’s decision balances function and aesthetics.



Contractor’s are required to guarantee their work for a period of one-year. We will schedule final consultation 10 months out from date of completion just to check in and make sure there aren’t any issues that need to be addressed before the one-year mark. If anything also occurs before then, we will be your advocate with the contractor and work with them to get any issues resolved.