Niche Interiors

Why Hire a Designer Early? San Francisco Architects Weigh In

Benefits of Building Your Team Early

As a high-end residential interior designer, we find that many of our clients are unsure about which stage of the architectural process to engage a design firm. We thought it was the perfect opportunity to open up a dialogue with two local San Francisco architects who we’re currently collaborating with. We spoke with Jim Westover, Partner and Principal of WDA | William Duff Architects, and Ari Gessler of Ariel Gessler Architects to get their insights into the benefits of assembling your team early and the pitfalls of waiting too long to engage an interior designer for your Bay Area home projects.

Modern Bay Area home designed by San Francisco Architect William Duff
Butterfly House by William Duff Architects | Photo by Matthew Millman
Jim Westover Residential Architect San Francisco
Partner and Principal, Residential Practice Manager
WDA | William Duff Architects specializes in thoughtful, innovative architecture across the San Francisco Bay Area and throughout California. Its elegant design solutions respond to their context with an artist’s understanding of when to use restraint or expression. With capabilities in multiple sectors, WDA is known for its award-winning and diverse portfolio of residential, workplace, hospitality and retail environments.


With a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of California at Berkeley, Jim Westover is a California state licensed architect, a LEED accredited professional, and has over 30 years of experience in architecture and interiors. Jim provides direct oversight on all of WDA’s residential projects, preparing a strategy to achieve each of their client’s unique goals, and personally manages select high-end residential projects.
Modern Peninsula Home designed by San Francisco architect William Duff

NI: When do you think is an ideal time to involve an interior designer on a ground up project? Why?

JW: It’s usually beneficial to involve the interior designer once the conceptual/schematic design is set.  At that point it’s really helpful to have furniture plans from the designer to confirm that the plans work well and so that we can start thinking about lighting, AV and how they relate to the furniture layout.

NI: Does having a complete team (Architect, General Contractor, Interior Designer, and Landscape Architect) assembled during the early stages of a project prevent mistakes and missteps down the line?

JW: Definitely.  Since the architecture, interior design and the landscape design all need to work in concert, it only makes sense that we work somewhat in parallel.  We don’t want to be wandering off in different directions, so we like to establish the overall design first and then involve the other consultants shortly thereafter. Waiting too long to get valuable input from the Interior Designer, Landscape Designer and others (AV, MEP, etc ) can result in costly design changes and delays.

NI: Can you think of an example of an issue that arose on a project where a designer didn’t join until later in the project?

JW: The classic headaches are floor outlets that are not located in ideal locations, downlight locations that don’t work with the furniture layout or art locations, blocking not being provided for heavy artwork or decorative light fixture support.  In a broader sense, you may end up with separate design visions that do not relate to one another.

Bay Area architect
Ari Gessler is founding principal of Ariel Gessler Architects: a full-service architectural firm specializing in custom homes and residential estates. Ari is passionate about design that addresses how we live and share space with our family and friends.  His substantial and varied body of work embodies his beliefs that architecture must respect its context.  As a LEED Accredited Professional, Ari designs buildings that are beautiful and built responsibly.  He and his team are very skilled at navigating the approvals process and they have a reputation for design excellence and successful management of highly complex projects.  When he’s not in studio, Ari enjoys sailing the San Francisco Bay, and traveling with his wife and two children.

“Teams that are brought together earlier tend to be more cohesive and maintain better communication and stronger bonds throughout the process”. – Ari Gessler

Kitchen remodel in San Francisco home

NI: When do you think is an ideal time to involve an interior designer on a ground up project? Why?

AGAt AGA, we like to engage Interior Designers at the very beginning during Schematic Design. This is the time when we define the significant aspects of the project, and we look to understand the relationships that individual spaces have to each other and to the site.  Ideally, we want all of the initial input from the primary design decision-makers on the project during this phase.  Since all of our work is custom tailored toward our clients, a good Interior Designer helps clarify their overall design direction, which we integrate as the process unfolds.

NI: What advice would you give to a client who is just starting to plan their ground up project or major remodel?

AG: In my 20+ years of practice, what I have found useful, is to promote the understanding that there are three critical elements that every project must face: speed, cost, and quality.  Of course, we strive to provide the best of all three, but these three inherently conflict with each other.  Rank them in order the importance to you, and communicate this clearly to your design and construction team early on.  A good team will respect and respond to the owner’s project goals, and focus their efforts collectively to meet and exceed these prioritized expectations.

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