We just finished a spectacular custom home project in McLean, VA and we are so very grateful to Seth Ballard and his team! If you are considering hiring his firm, look no further. There can be no better architect in the DC/VA/MD area – and his pricing is more than fair. We first picked Seth because we loved his architectural style and heard that he had a reputation for ensuring that his plans are executed with impeccable precision and attention to quality. Also, his references were stellar….without exception, his former clients offered glowing praise for his talent, diligence, and follow-through. And now that we are former clients, we understand why. We always knew we were going to have a gem of a home with Seth at the helm. What we did not fully appreciate at the beginning was his proven ability to help us STAY ON BUDGET and his deep bench of connections with first-rate contractors and subcontractors who were prepared to bend over backward to meet Seth’s exacting standards. Here are just a few highlights from our experience: CONCEPT PHASE: During the initial meetings at our home, Seth went the extra mile to learn all about our lifestyle, future needs, architectural likes/dislikes, and budget. During this stage of the process, he would effortlessly make freehand drawings to help us visualize potential styles and layouts. We ultimately elected to go with a craftsman design, with lots of wood features inside and out. PICKING THE RIGHT PROPERTY: Seth joined us for car rides through the local neighborhoods, helping us to scout out the property that was best suited for our construction plans – free of any potential HOA or permitting snafus. DESIGN: With Seth’s guidance, we iterated on different design options. The design phase was high-tech and highly visual. Lots of 2D and 3D elevations, plus 360-degree videos. At each step, Seth clearly identified the estimated construction cost, and we would make decisions about what to dial-up and what to dial-down. For example, we elected to go with a cheaper asphalt roof (rather than slate), but with a more premium window. There were literally dozens of choices like that, and Seth did a superb job of helping us to make the right trade-offs and to “value engineer” the house. PICKING THE RIGHT CONTRACTOR AND SUBS: One of the things that distinguishes Seth from the competition is that he works closely with a handful of contractors and subcontractors who have already been “pre-screened” for excellence. Seth connected us with a general contractor who was not only honest and diligent, but whose carpentry was truly “artisan grade.” Seth also drew upon a stable of outstanding subcontractors – in areas such as HVAC/plumbing, electrical/lighting, structural engineering, cabinetry, tile, drywall/paint, countertops, hardwood flooring, landscaping, etc. It was perfectly clear that these subs were striving to deliver the highest quality and exemplary service. Why? Because Seth was an important source of repeat business for them. This made them extremely responsive. BUDGETING: Seth developed detailed spreadsheets estimating costs for every aspect of the project, as well as options for “enhancements.” Once we made our choices, he was instrumental in securing a FLAT FEE CONTRACT with the builder (inclusive of subs) for everything we wanted. To provide even more control over the cost, the agreement specified that certain items would be “owner provided, contractor installed.” This meant that, regardless of whether we bought pricey appliances or tile or flooring, it would have no impact of the builder’s fees. To his credit, Seth’s estimates were quite accurate, and the project stayed on budget. ARCHITECT FEES: We negotiated a flat fee for Seth’s architectural services, and got way more than we bargained for. We had no idea Seth would stay so engaged throughout the project -- micromanaging every detail, and even offering interior design suggestions (e.g., stains and paints, cabinet and window designs, furniture layouts, etc.). It became clear that, regardless of how much we had agreed to pay in fees, Seth was “all in,” and was committed to ensuring that the end result was perfection. To be sure, in any large construction project, there will be some hiccups. But this was yet another area where Seth shined. Rather than being indifferent, or pointing the finger at those who were actually at fault, he would step up to “own the problem” and take charge until the issue was resolved. In one such case, he developed a design tweak that saved us money and produced a more beautiful result in the process. We never had to stress too much, because we knew Seth was 100% engaged and we could trust that the final work product would be a treasure of a home. One final thought. While Seth’s tremendous talent is obviously perfect for large custom projects, we have no doubt that he can deliver outstanding value for smaller home renovations too. When we did kitchen/bath renovations in our prior home, we naively thought that a “design-and-build” firm would deliver the best solution. With the benefit of hindsight, we could have done so much better hiring Seth as the independent architect and separately hiring a builder who would be accountable to the architect. The result would have been better quality construction, a better value, and far less stress. So whether you are about to embark on a modest remodel or getting ready to “dream big” with a new custom home, look no further than Ballard Mensua Architecture.