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Survival skills

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Refurbishing your house is an acquired taste and requires some nerve, writes Lee Mallett .Surviving the process,with your bank account and marriage reasonably intact, never mind your regard for architects and other construction professionals,is,like many things, considerably improved by the rapid acquisition of pertinent knowledge.Barbara Weiss and Louis Hellman's book Do it with an Architect provides useful advice for people who have decided to take the plunge.Hellman's cartoons make light of the underlying relationship between client and professional while Weiss's words,which read easily,adroitly avoid a patronising tone and usefully promote the role of an architect without sounding fanatically protectionist.

The section on choosing an architect quickly reveals the dearth of sources for sifting through the considerable talent that is on offer from the profession (the Clients' Advisory Service, and the Architecture Foundation's book, New Architects ,are the only two real sources mentioned).Perhaps more could be made of the enjoyment and education to be had from going to see and interviewing a series of firms.

The sad fact remains that most people have no idea where to find an architect and that commissions still rely heavily on word of mouth.

Hopefully the Web will change that.

The thorny subject of fees is a little weighted towards how the profession would like things to be,but the arguments are fair and I for one would accept that small domestic work is definitely one area of architects'work that is hard to make profitable,and where scale fees seem reasonable.My own advice about signing up with an architect on an hourly basis,however,having had some experience of lawyers,is never,ever do that unless you know exactly what you are doing.For a domestic job,an open-ended arrangement if all you have to spend is,say,£60,000,could prove financially lethal.There is not much discussion either about what to do if the project cost soars past the agreed budget.I recognised the psychological symptoms ascribed to clients at certain stages of a project,having been through it myself and know that a double-headed, emotionally unstable client can be trying - the obsession with detail as the project nears completion can be particularly absorbing.

The on-site section has some handy advice:'Skirts and kilts should be avoided if you are climbing ladders'.Indeed.An important point I didn't spot mentioned was the need for all concerned to bring up problems and to iron them out as soon as they arise.

Troubleshooting solutions is a key part of what you pay our architect for.Then you won't have to read the chapter on adjudication,which if you need to means your bank account and marriage are definitely looking rocky.One might survive,but the other will probably not.

The sample schemes at the end of the book look very nice,but how much did they cost? Guide prices would have been helpful.Graphically the book has a rather pragmatic feel, which doesn't quite do justice to the potentially tranformative subject it deals with,but at the price,it is well worth it for any prospective client.I recommend small practices buy in bulk and hand them out free as useful marketing aids.As for doing it with an architect,the only contraceptive I can recommend is withdrawal before you start laying bricks.Do it with an Architect:How to Survive Refur- bishing Your Home.Barbara Weiss,Louis Hell- man.Mitchell Beazley in association with RIBA Publications,120pp £12.99

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