Renovating an apartment in NYC is a big deal and starts with selecting the right team for your project. You will need a competent team of experienced professionals, including a good general contractor and a residential architect. NYC apartment renovations require permits, quality design, coordination, and planning.
I am Jorge Fontan, an architect in New York and owner of Manhattan-based architecture firm Fontan Architecture. At our office, we work on various project types, especially apartment renovations in NYC. In this post, I will show you a few apartments we renovated while discussing apartment remodeling architectural services and a general overview of the process.
Apartment Architects NYC
When you are ready to renovate, one of the first steps will be to hire an architect. Always make sure to hire licensed and insured professionals who have experience working in New York City. It is beneficial if the architect is accustomed to working with Manhattan Condo and Co-Op boards, as they can be incredibly fastidious.
We are a full-service architecture firm, and architectural services can be complicated. It is important to note that not all architects in New York offer the same services.
What Do Residential Architects Include in Their Design Fees?
We aren’t getting into the fee structure here but will discuss some basics on architectural services. I always tell people: Don’t only ask what is included in someone’s price. Always ask them what isn’t included in their proposal. Architects can have some strange ways of pricing jobs, and this can make your head spin. Some architects charge hourly, some on a percentage of construction, and some charge flat rates.
If you want to read more, you can see another post we wrote on Architect Fees.
First, you may only need some of these design services, especially if you are doing a small job. These are just a few of the services an architect may provide when renovating your apartment.
Residential Architectural Services
- Existing Conditions Assessment
- Architectural Design Options
- Interior Design Services & Interior Decorating
- 3D Renderings
- Engineering Consultants
- Architectural Plans
- Board and Building Management Review
- Permit Filing “Expediting”
- Bidding / Interviewing Contractors
- Product Sourcing and Procurement
- Construction Site Visits & Administration
- Sign-offs, Certificate of Occupancy, Letters of Completion
Assessing the Existing Conditions of the Apartment
On day one of starting an apartment renovation, we go to the apartment and take measurements of the existing conditions. We will subsequently produce a current conditions plan. At this time, we are generally assessing the apartment’s condition, establishing a scope of work, and setting project goals.
During the assessment, we can talk to the building super, review the Alteration Agreement, and generally figure out what we have to work with. Additionally, during this time, we are having conversations with our clients to understand their needs.
Apartment Renovation Architectural Design Options
Design is a process and takes time. I have had clients for whom we sent our first draft; they loved it and never made a single change, and others for whom we provided countless options. Sometimes your architect can spend months working on the design. You need to find the right architect and ensure you are on the same page.
At our architecture firm in NYC:Fontan Architecture, we usually look at multiple options initially and assume a few rounds of revisions. After that, there will still be some fussing around. This is typically the best-case scenario for a gut renovation. We cannot predict how long this process will take because we may need to know exactly what you want. Communication is critical during design. Don’t be scared to critique your architect in a constructive manner. Ask your architect how many options and revisions are included before you sign a proposal. It’s ok to ask, “What if I don’t like your design.”
When talking to architects about your apartment renovation, you need to know what is and isn’t included in the preliminary design phase. In our office, all our work is done in 3D Building Information Modeling on all of our projects, even the small ones.
You may be interested in getting 3D color renderings. Or even a 3D animated walk-through or a physical model. These may not be included in your architect’s fees. Also, 100 different design options aren’t either. Discuss that with your architect. Remember to consider that if the architect finishes the design and moves on to technical production, they could charge extra if you want to make changes after they produce the more technical documentation.
At our office, we often do full-service projects where we work with the clients on everything from changing the apartment’s layout to picking grout for the bathroom tiles. Some architects do full-service, and some do not. Interior design can be an incredibly time-consuming part of the job. Understanding the services provided by your architect and design team is essential
Interior design services can include designing custom cabinets and selecting bathroom tiles. Make sure to discuss what is included when interviewing architects.
Not everyone is comfortable looking at architectural plans and details. We produce all our projects in 3D, even if it is a small job. On most of our projects, we will provide the clients with 3D perspectives and renderings to help them visualize the design.
One crucial point about 3D Renderings is that you should select materials based on samples, not the rendering. The digital 3D views are an artistic rendition to give you an idea. As close as they may get to represent the space, they are not a 100% accurate depiction.
Depending on what you are doing you may need consultants or engineers beyond the architect’s in-house staff. If there is structural work, you will need a structural engineer. Replacing your HVAC systems may require a mechanical engineer. Make sure you know who is paying for these engineers. One architect might come in a lot cheaper, but if he doesn’t include an engineer you need, you aren’t comparing the prices fairly.
On our projects, we usually provide engineers and lighting designers if needed. Every engineer is responsible for their work, but someone has to coordinate it. Make sure you know who will take responsibility for that. It should be the architect.
The Department of Buildings filing drawings for approval are only part of the services. The DOB does not care about many details, but you and the contractor will. Ask your architect if full “construction documents” or “CDs” are included, and ask about finish and electrical plans. Not everyone includes those automatically. Finish and electrical drawings are very fussy and time-consuming. They can also make a big difference in how smoothly the job goes and how good it comes out. Plumbing drawings and paperwork are also essential. In my opinion, Plumbing causes the most problems on a job and is most likely the work to fail inspections and hold up sign-offs.
Board and Building Management Review
I am not going deep into this subject, but we have another blog post on Alteration Agreements discussing Co-Op Board and Condo Board requirements. The basic gist is that your board must review the work, and the building may have specific rules you must follow. They may also have a third-party architect or engineer review the project in most cases. Certainly, when renovating an apartment in Manhattan, almost every building we work in has a reviewing architect.
Permitting Filing, Also Known as Expediting
Expediting means doing paperwork and filing with the Department of Buildings. At Fontan Architecture, we do this in-house.
We never include city agency fees in our proposal.You will pay those fees, or the architect will send you an invoice for reimbursement.
Bidding & Interviewing Contractors
You may bid the job out to multiple contractors or hire one directly. Either way, the architect can assist and provide valuable advice. As an architect, I have worked with many contractors over the years, but I only recommend a few. I have more to say below on contractor selection; this section will focus more on the architect’s services.
During the bidding process, as the architect for your renovation, I can provide contractors to bid on the job, or you can find them yourself. We then send out the drawings / RFP and have walkthroughs with the potential GCs. The GCs submit RFIs, which are requests for information if they have questions, and we respond.
Once the GCs have submitted their proposals, we review them all to see what is included and what is not in each to ensure every GC includes the same scope of work. Upon completion of the bidding process, our client selects their contractor. It is essential to point out that we provide our opinion on this matter, but it is your decision in the end.
The architect can prepare an AIA Document if the client so chooses. The AIA Contract is a standard format contract from the American Institute of Architects.
Choosing a Contractor for your Apartment Renovation
Choosing a contractor takes work. This is a big decision. Here are a few things I have learned.
Hire the contractor you trust. I put a good amount of faith in how I feel about a person. If the contractor seems sleazy, then maybe you shouldn’t hire him. At the end of the day, the final decision is yours.
In my experience as an architect, a direct relationship exists between how much a contractor charges and how good they are. The cheapest contractors I have worked with always provided lower-quality services. The best contractors I have worked with are also the most expensive contractors I have worked with.
Make sure your contractor and architect work well together. I hear horror stories about conflicts between architects and contractors. Mutual respect, teamwork, and communication between the architect and contractor are crucial to a smooth job. My father was a contractor (I worked for him part-time when I was in architecture school), and I think I have good insight on how to work with contractors.
The most important thing to know is that choosing a contractor is up to you. You have the final say on the choice of contractor.
Product Sourcing and Procurement
The design process includes selecting appliances, fixtures, and finish materials like bathroom tiles. Ordering these items is a separate matter. Someone has to be responsible for sourcing, coordinating deliveries, and dealing with returns and exchanges. The contractor can do this, or the architect can do this, but someone has to do it. Whoever does it will charge extra, whether hourly or a percentage markup. It may seem like not a big deal, but this is tremendous work and coordination.
Jobsite visits and construction administration are a significant portion of the work. Some projects require more site visits and supervision than others. For example, we do many more site visits if you are doing a high-end renovation with custom cabinets and complicated detailing. There is a great need for quality control and dealing with the thousands of little issues during an apartment renovation.
Sign-offs, Inspections, Certificate of Occupancy
At the end of the job, there are a lot of sign-offs and close-out bureaucracy to contend with when renovating an apartment in NYC. The architect and their team must submit technical reports to DOB. You may need sign-offs on Energy Code Compliance or Landmarks. We coordinate all these issues and make sure to obtain Letters of Completion from the Department of Buildings or a Certificate of Occupancy, whichever is relevant to your project.
Apartment Design Research
I recommend you do some research. Many of my clients are very hands-on and involved. There are many websites or apps like Pinterest and Instagram where you can get ideas and share them with your clients. Ask your architect to put together some images they think might help you. You can put together some pictures for your architect. That would be helpful as well. It is good to see something you like before we start. You can also go to showrooms; NYC has many showrooms you can check out.
Mental Preparation for Your Apartment Renovation
Renovating can be stressful. It can be fun and exciting as well. I have been in people’s apartments where a husband and wife yell at each other, with me and the contractor standing around like what happened. So please take a deep breath and prepare yourself. Communicate with your loved ones so you don’t drive each other crazy throughout the process.
I don’t want to scare you. I want to prepare you. Some clients enjoy the process and get involved; others find it overwhelming. Make sure you are on the same page with your partner.
Apartment Renovation NYC
Renovating in NYC is more complicated than anywhere else in the world. Apartment renovations are significant investments and time-consuming, so try to be prepared. Talk to your team and ask them questions. Don’t be shy to admit you need a little explanation of how the process works and what you need to know. Find a good apartment architect and renovation contractor, and you will be fine. Make sure to voice your opinions and ask questions.
NYC Residential Architects and Architectural Services
In this post, we covered some issues many want to know about Residential Architectural services in NYC. This is meant to give a general overview and does not assume to cover every possible situation. We wish you the best of luck with your project.
Thank You for Reading Our Post on Apartment Renovation Architectural Services in New York.
If you want to speak with an NYC Residential Architect about a specific project you are planning, please contact us at Fontan Architecture directly.
This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 20 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.