Hiring an architect - Mid-century mod.


I am interested in making a few changes to my house but need professional guidance.  I don't know how to "ballpark" an architect's fee.  Nor do I know how to find an architect that really understands the architecture of my house.  It is a true mid-century mod house in the vein of the "case study houses" from LA:  flat roof, cool curvy brick walls, walls of glass, etc.   The mods I have in mind would have to be done correctly to keep the design consistent with the house.   Is there a way for me to get at least a rough estimate of the cost for design work?  And how do I find an architect that understands the "vibe" I want?  It will likely have to be done via the net since the architecture is so unusual for this area that a local architect might not be my best choice.  Any pointers are appreciated!

Jan 26, 13 5:13 pm

dillinger - i'm not sure where you're located, but it sounds like you have a couple of concerns: one, will someone understand my house and be able to do an empathetic set of modifications? two, how do i go about this whole process?


if you can disclose where you're located, it might help get some specific names or recommendations, but generally speaking there's a few places you can check out. one would be your local aia chapter. if you look through their website (try typing in 'aia georgia' or 'aia atlanta' for example to get the specific site) and locate the executive director, you might ping them for a few recommendations. or you could see if there's a set of profiles on there that have some images. another resource is archinect's very own "Firms" page - just look in the "Community" tab in the upper left. Type in your location and see what kinds of firms are there. If one looks interesting to talk to, just reach out to them.


as for the process itself: first, most architects would be willing to do an initial meeting with you to see what your project requirements are and help give you an overview of the process. some may charge a small fee for the time; some may not. 

in determining fees, the two ingredients that drive most architects are: time and expertise. we're charging for both in the meta sense, the same as every other professional services company. as a ballpark, fees can run from 6% to 15 or 20% of the construction costs (that's a really, really, really rough guide. personally, i hate trying assign fees as a percentage of construction costs, but it's a norm that helps ballpark it). for a renovation, the fee is largely going to be driven by the scope of work, the amount of detail that needs to be conveyed by the drawings and how much involvement you, as the owner, would like for them to have in the whole process.


i'd be happy to share names (if i can - depending on your location). you can email me offline if you don't feel comfortable going through the forum.


good luck... sounds like the kind of project a lot of people on this board would love to have a crack at....

Jan 26, 13 5:33 pm

Just east of Knoxville, TN.  The architect that designed the house moved here from Los Angeles in 1963 and built this house high on a ridge here for his own family.  I really appreciate the input. 

Jan 26, 13 6:04 pm
vado retro

Sanders Pace

Jan 27, 13 10:07 am

Screw the AIA. They will recommend their old boys with a good "reputation". Find someone younger and more on their feet.

Jan 27, 13 12:45 pm

sanders pace looks like an interesting firm. They do some nice work.

Jan 27, 13 1:02 pm

Dillinger - I do have a couple of contacts in Chattanooga which might be a good match - can you click on my profile and email me offline? Thanks -

Jan 27, 13 1:25 pm
led signal light

AIA architect might turn your mid century house looking like a municipal library and will scare your contractor with overblown budget. Go with an independently registered architect who will cut out a lot of unnecessary red tape for a small project.

Jan 27, 13 2:17 pm

Dillinger, given your location in Knoxville, checking out some of the local faculty members at UT's College of Architecture would be a great start.  A few you may want to contact:

-Sanders Pace (as previously mentioned by several others)

-CURB (Tricia Stuth and Ted Shelton)

-James Rose

-Hansjorg Goritz

Jan 27, 13 2:42 pm

sameolddoctor I think you're right - the OP is *far* better off going with someone who has a terrible "reputation"!

Seriously, you guys.  Not everyone in the AIA is a bad architect anymore than everyone who is not in the AIA is super talented.  The AIA is a good place to start for someone who has never done this before, because in addition to lists of firms they also have lots of resources on how to hire and how to work with an architect - it's all stuff that seems unnecessary to us, but is very helpful to a homeowner.

Jan 27, 13 4:00 pm
led signal light

To the OP, AIA membership does not necessarily provide architects with extra skills or know how. It is a membership based private organization which aggressively taunts itself as the only authority in the field with trustworthy group of architects in its membership ranks.

Its members often use their membership to gain a competitive edge over non AIA member architects who has completed the necessary requirements to be eligible for registration same as AIA member architects.

That said, good luck with your search with AIA member architects and other non AIA member architects. Just so you know knowledge and the professionalism of architects are not gauged by AIA but respective state regulators and national agencies. It is a highly regulated profession. AIA member or not, each architect in this country must meet minimum requirements of these agencies by qualifying and passing series of exams in order to practice architecture.

Talent and experience is whole other discussion.

Jan 27, 13 6:39 pm

Donna, I did not mean that everyone in the AIA is a bad architect. It is just that I think they are an antiquated association that does its best to keep people out. You are right, I do not have better options in Chattanooga, TN, so that might be one of the best ways.

Jan 27, 13 6:54 pm

I find it hard to believe that the AIA does its best to keep people out when my bosses and other Tulane alumni I've met have told me to join as soon as I can.

I wonder if that opinion is still based off the post 1968 stick it to the man ideology that was prevalent for a very long time in schools. I had a couple of professors who felt the same way as you do, sameolddoctor. I guess I just don't see it, and see how much of a valuable resource it is.

Jan 27, 13 7:02 pm

does its best to keep people out

This makes no sense.  All it is is a professional organization.  There is no barrier to entry other than yearly fees, and acceptance of a code of conduct which are the same ethics you should already be practicing.  Not only that, but it offers a ton of ways to connect people, plus a lot of free resources to every architect - not just their members.  I was able to study for and pass every one of my exams entirely using the AIA's completely free study materials, and I wasn't even a member.  They offer a lot, including many free resources for clients as Donna mentioned.

Original Poster, I agree that the AIA would be a great place to start.  Besides talking to them regarding what to expect in a home renovation and how to go about finding an architect, I also recommend (if you haven't already) trying to learn a bit about what went into your own home's construction - learning about the principles of modernism that produced the style of your home, and even about your home's specific architect if possible.  I love it when my residential renovation clients know the why and the how behind what they love (and don't love!) in their home - it really helps us arrive at a satisfactory renovation together.

For residential remodels within a tight footprint - which is likely the case with a mid-century home - I like to encourage my clients to look at Sarah Susanka's books on the Not So Big House.  While the original books are a little bit dated stylistically at this point, the ideas contained within are still great and are a good starting point for home owners thinking about how to reconfigure their existing space to take better advantage of it.

I also recommend checking out Bob Borson's blog, Life of An Architect.  He's an architect in Texas and his blog, apart from simply being entertaining reading, really can help home owners understand what an architect does and why.  He is also renovating his own home, which is documented on his blog, and shares some similarities with mid-century mod style.

Jan 27, 13 7:43 pm

In terms of pricing - it is hard to tell you what the architect's fees may run on your particular project.  A lot depends on how big it is, how much detail / trickiness there is to work out, and what the prevailing rate in your area is.  You can decide to contract with your architect on an hourly basis, or on a percentage-of-total-construction-cost basis; there are advantages and disadvantages to each.  There are some great pamphlets at the AIA that explain these options. 

Generally, architects are some of the cheapest professionals (unfortunately for us) you can hire* - and the amazing thing is, you get a lifetime of return on your investment.  Not only do you get to enjoy life in a house designed just the way you want it, but chances are you are also improving the value of your home in the event you may decide to sell.  (Of course, if you decide you want to do something crazy like turn your house into a re-creation of the Addams Family mansion, it's on you if you can't sell it afterward!)


*Just to offer a sad comparison, in the city I work in, the typical attorney charges about 4x as much per hour as the typical architect. (!)  And we leave you with a house to enjoy at the end!

Jan 27, 13 7:49 pm

look, not to throw this off topic but, there is a difference in advocating for a profession, and advocating for a membership. and, i find that the biggest issue most non-members of this profession have with the AIA is that the association to often does more of the latter, than of the former. i know we've all seen the advertising.

Jan 27, 13 10:04 pm


You came here looking for information and assistance. Instead, you find yourself in the middle of a knife fight between the Sharks and the Jets over turf. I'm sorry you had to witness that lack of professionalism - you deserve better.

Greg gives you some good advice above. However, there also are many good architects who do not belong to AIA - they're just a bit harder to find. If you're not in too big of a hurry, you might want to spend some time doing a Google search on keywords relevant to you specific situation. That should expand your universe of potential candidates.

Whatever you do, take plenty of time investigating potential architects for your project. Your home obviously is important to you and you want to select the "right" architect - not just the first one with a "good reputation" who quotes you a fee you can live with.

There aren't a lot of practicing architects today with recent and relevant 'mid-century modern' experience. Hold out for someone who does and who is sympathetic to your concerns.

Don't fall for 'assertions' - go see completed work. Talk to references. Determine SPECIFICALLY who in the firm worked on projects you like and make sure they're available for yours.

Spend enough time with the architects on your 'short list' to understand their personalities and communication skills. What you're undertaking can be a long and stressful process. Be sure the architect you hire will be both 'attentive' and 'user-friendly' throughout the process.

Best wishes for your interesting project. You deserve a positive experience and professional results.

Jan 27, 13 11:12 pm

Thanks beta, for articulating my thoughts, and sorry for diverting the discussion away from the main topic.

Jan 27, 13 11:29 pm
led signal light

"The mods I have in mind"

 "ballpark" an architect's fee. 


"walls of glass"

architect that understands the "vibe" I want

Sir/Madame, are you sure you want an expert mod architect to carefully and faithfully preserve the architectural value of your mod, or some candy ass to draw up some plans of your ideas?

Jan 28, 13 1:22 am
led signal light

Why not post a picture of your house so we can be even more helpful?

Jan 28, 13 1:30 am

led signal light - To be sure I want an Architect.  I'll also expect some level of professionalism and common courtesy. 

Jan 28, 13 7:19 pm

All, I will try to get some good pics of the house.  I have read Susanka's work and love it but this house really is a child of the "case study houses" and remarkably is fully intact.  I am the second owner.  The house is right at 4000sf.  I don't want to touch the main body of the house but want to add a glass garage and some studio space.  The materials used today are likely different than those in the early '60s (this house has bridge steel in the roof and steel posts disguised in wood framing, etc) but I want the added sections to look original to the design. 

Jan 28, 13 7:28 pm

did somebody say 'glass garage'?!?

Jan 28, 13 7:37 pm


Jan 28, 13 7:39 pm

This sounds like a very fun project.  I wish I lived in TN!

Just to be clear - the reason I mentioned Susanka was not because of any stylistic relationship to your home but more to give ideas for living within a constrained footprint, which is typically the case with the case study type / mid-century homes.  Given the glass expanses and lack of walls, you may need to think outside of the box in terms of stuff storage.  Those homes are clean and crisp and I presume they require a disciplined and thoughtful approach to renovations.  You definitely sound different, but most home-owners one meets are still in the "I need more space" mindset - rather than thinking about how they might creatively get more out of the space they already have.  Good to hear you're already past that point.

Also, speaking of material language, if you're ok with the idea of an out-of-state architect, I recommend speaking to the Chicago AIA.  There are quite a few practitioners in Chicago who still know a thing or two about the "glass house" construction type.  (The house above is in the Chicago suburbs.)  Many of the firms here do work out of state as a routine; it's a fairly common instance, especially for high-quality residential work.  I might actually have some names for you... if you are still on the hunt, feel free to email me, at my user name + an "m" on the end at gmail.

Jan 30, 13 8:46 am

Well to renovate your house you must rely on the architect completely. Because its he who will transform your entire house and give it a new look. I would suggest you to just find out from your friends or relatives if they would know such an architect. You know even if they cost more you will be on a safer side because you know him through your friends.

Also you can just browse through Google to find such an architect or a home renovation company.  Renovating a house is a big thing and you cannot renovate your house every year so just be careful while making decisions. bamboo rugs

Feb 25, 13 1:17 am
I'd ask around at UT, if you haven't already. A CA who moved to Knoxville likely connected with the school. There might be people there who know the house - or even who have archival information.
Feb 25, 13 6:06 am

I live in Knoxville, TN. The sources Andrew mentioned are all great and I'm sure any of them would be interested in a project like yours. Sanders Pace is a great firm and they have that midcentury sensibility that would be very detail-oriented. Although they don't mainly specialize in residential, they have done several residential renovations and projects, which is on their web site ( I'm not sure about an exact "ballpark" figure myself, as it really depends on what you specifically would like done and which firm or individial you decide to go with. Tricia and Ted of Curb Architecture also did some really wonderful renovations on older homes (in the 4th and Gill area of north Knoxville)-- I think they were called "the ghost houses."  Also, as the above poster said, feel free to contact the University of Tennessee's Architecture department. If they don't know about the house specifically, they may be able to make recommendations of faculty or recent graduates/alumni that specialize in midcentury design (whether for service or information.) The renovations and additions you speak of sound feasible and I'm glad you are planning on going with an architect to assist you. Case study-style houses are very rare in this area, and I admire anyone that takes upon themselves the sometimes daunting task of preservation!

Also, as far as traditional pieces go, there is a place called Nostalgia that specializes in midcentury furniture/art/etc in the area. If you are planning on furnishing or renovating woodwork or fixtures, feel free to shoot me a message and I'll send you a list of local (and not as local) sources for this. I am currently renovating my own home and I know that info is somewhat hard to come by in this area.

If I was practicing at the moment ( a couple more years!), I would love to work on a project like this. It sounds fantastic! (DO post photos, please!) I live in a partially-renovated architect-designed midcentury home that was built in 1957 in Knoxville and find the style fascinating.

I hope that helps. Good luck!


Mar 28, 13 6:23 pm

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