It Takes a Team: Homebuilding in Santa Barbara

Architect Anthony Spann talks about the benefits of design/build.

Anthony Spann was the lead architect on Crocker Row #5 (pictured). The project won the city’s inaugural Edwards/Plunkett Award for exemplary design for the renovation, restoration, or rehabilitation of an historic structure, plus a prize from the American Institute of Architects. | Credit: harrisondesign.com

Anthony Spann was first turned on to building design by his draftsman father in his native Chicago, where he went on to earn a degree in architecture from the University of Illinois. About 15 years ago, he joined forces with Harrison Design in Santa Barbara, and he has since also served on the Montecito Board of Architectural Review and the City of Santa Barbara Historic Landmarks Commission.

Ask anybody in the industry: Homebuilding and remodeling in Santa Barbara can get complicated. Having a strong team throughout the design/build process can help immensely, says Spann. For more on that, we checked in with him about the benefits of getting owners, architects, and builders on the same page early on to ensure a successful project.

In terms of services, what’s different about building a home in Santa Barbara?  Here’s one example: In L.A., for instance, almost every general contractor we’ve worked with has an estimating department — two or three people, and all they do is estimate. In Santa Barbara, there are only a few contractors with estimating departments, and that’s where we try to steer our new clients.

What other guidance do you provide for new clients early on?  Clients always ask, “What’s it going to cost?” And architects can get in trouble when they talk about costs. We’d rather have a general contractor talk about that. They’re much better at it. We can give clients broad brushstrokes, but when it comes down to the specifics — especially when they’re on a tight budget — we really try to get them to bring in a contractor as soon as possible.

What are some characteristics of a successful design/build team?  The most successful design/build team includes the owner, so that he or she can learn how the process works. The three major factors in construction are schedule, quality, and price. A reduced price might expedite the schedule but reduce the quality, for example. And once you start having those conversations with the client on board, the project becomes very successful. When you have a client that doesn’t really understand what design/build is and thinks it’s just a way to save money, that’s when things tend to go south.

So you prefer a setting that keeps clients face to face with the process and the numbers.  Yes. Clients ask, “What can I do to the house, and how much will it cost?” We can answer the first part of that, and a contractor can answer the second part of that really quickly. And what we’ve seen is that whenever a client has a really tight budget, as a team we can tell them that their desires and budget are far apart and we can reconnect those concerns through design/build. Once you start educating the client on that, everything usually comes together.


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