That poster symbolizes the Pontiac, Ill., lumberyard manager's membership in a relatively small group: construction supply people who design homes. You'll find most of them in the Midwest, particularly in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. Because of their work, lumberyard-based designers like Swanson have a special view of what consumers want in a new home these days. They've found that customers still will shell out money for certain high-quality design features, but they're pinching every penny. In addition, sustainable development and green building ideas have set down deep roots, but these designers' customers aren't out to save the Earth. Rather, these homeowners are looking to save money over the long term.
Designers often arrive at yards by a different route than their coworkers. Ron Chekouras, an architectural designer for Wisconsin Building Supply in Green Bay, Wis., has an associate's degree in architecture from Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. Swanson worked for years as a draftsman for a designer and home builder.
Most states permit a person to design homes without an architectural license; it's only for plans involving huge homes and commercial buildings that officials demand an architect's stamp. For lumberyards, lacking an architect's license is no constraint, because one purpose of having designers on staff is to help market the products that their facilities supply to builders.
The process to design a home starts with a meeting at the lumberyard, often beginning with a simple freehand sketch. Then the customer gets a look at some of the materials that could be used to turn that sketch into reality. "They get a kind of personal tour of the store," Swanson says.
Later on, design software can help clients visualize how a plan will look in practice. "Sometime I sit with a customer for 20 or 30 minutes at the computer," Chekouras says. "I call it real-time drafting."
The plans these designers draw are relatively traditional and inexpensive. A plan for a 1,800 square foot ranch house runs about $750. Drawings for a two-story, 2,400 square-foot colonial might cost $1,000. And many lumberyard designers forgive their design fees provided the customer buys from the lumberyard.
"We draft the plan so that we can supply the product," says Chekouras.