BUILDER/DESIGNER OF THE MONTH – FEBRUARY 2011
Paul Harlof, Registered Architect
David C. Bos Homes
Q: Do you have a favorite type of architecture?
Paul: I don’t have a certain bent. I just like to create something that gives the home a “wow” aspect…something that makes the person walking in pause and say “Wow, that’s cool!” Whether it be a view from the stairway landing that makes you stop and just look or an unexpected wall form…every home needs something like that to make it interesting. My favorite living space to design is the central core…where the family spends most of their time. I like to make sure those spaces fit them.
Q: What’s your job with Bos Homes?
P: I’m the only architect Bos Homes has in house. They did, in the past, contract with other architects, but for the last 13 years, it’s just been me. We usually have 8-12 projects going at a time, all in various stages of conversation, design or construction.
Q: How do you like working for one company as opposed to being independent?
P: Well, I’ve never been what you would call independent. I worked for about 9 years in some custom residential firms in the east side of the state. We moved to Grand Rapids for a family life style change and I worked for a few firms in GR. One of the firms I worked with, M.C. Smith and Associates of East Grand Rapids, was involved in recreational architecture also and I was able to be a part of designing Old Kent Park, now known as Fifth Third Park. That was exciting. It was a year and a half of my life totally immersed in the planning of that project. It was almost 3 years from first plan on paper to opening day.
Q: Why should anyone hire an architect? Aren’t there pre-printed plans? What’s the advantage?
P: It’s all about the quality. I totally believe to have a quality home built you need to know, going in, the entire, well thought out plan. There are many home designers, and others who aren’t credentialed drawing up plans. I have to think that the quality is better with someone who has the schooling and experience. The CAD programs, etc. are design tools but they won’t do the work themselves. The builder, the client and myself sit down together, as a team, several times. We interview the clients, really get to know them and find out how they want to live. Then we design congruent, well-proportioned rooms that reflect back to them what they’ve told us. We also have to bring in a dose of reality so that we’re all on the same page as far as time constraints, design constraints and cost, of course. There are horror stories out there where the design or construction turns out to be $20, 30 or 40K over the stated budget. We feel that tying the architect and the builder in together from the beginning circumvents that kind of thing happening. They tell us what they want and we design and build under the framework of what they believe they can afford…no surprises or disappointments that way in the end. Hopefully, only the delight in what they end up with for the money they’ve spent.
Q: Do you do any work “on the side”?
P: Occasionally, I will do projects for some of our client’s families if they’re looking to do an addition or a renovation. I really like to challenge the client to look at something completely different. Of course, they always have the veto power but I like to help them think outside the box. More often than not, they’ll like what they see.
Q: How has business been in this present economic climate?
P: It has been challenging but that doesn’t mean it’s not active. For instance, we have a wide range of markets that we try to address…it’s anything from a move-up buyer, one who is needing a bigger home for a growing family, to someone wanting to build a second home or cottage. Our growing price point is the $150-200K home and there are a lot of different types of homes that fit into that range.
Q: In your perfect world, what would your job be?
P: It would probably have a design emphasis but I would get out on the jobs, get my hands dirty on the job sites. I would still like to be out there with the framing crews or the trim crews and be able to swing a hammer. That would be ideal for me. Maybe I’d have fewer projects but would be able to be involved with each one all the way through to the end. I never get to see them completely finished with furniture and all; to be able to see how the family I’ve designed the house for actually fit into their home. I’d like to be able to go back in a year and see if the house really works for them, really reflects what they told me they wanted and that they still love it. Some of the best comments I get are the ones where maybe a friend of the family tells me that the home really looks like them, really fits that family. That’s the best compliment I can get.
Q: What has been your biggest challenge to date?
P. The bigger the challenge the more fun it is, I think. A lot of times it’s the restraints that are placed on you while you’re trying to plan, whether it be code requirements or client constraints. It’s sometimes a challenge to make everyone happy, but I’ve patterned my career towards residential because I do love the interactions with the families I’m designing for. I like the relationships with the people, the friendships that are created. In the commercial world, it’s more about the numbers. In residential work, it’s about the people. Bos Homes works mostly in the residential area. Many of the commercial projects we do are from those people for whom they’ve built homes who now want them to construct their offices. We are very client oriented. We don’t operate from ego…it’s their home. We just try to enhance their lifestyle and how they see themselves living in it.
Q: What is your relationship with Rivershores?
P. Bos Homes has worked together with Rivershores in many of their projects. Jim Fongers is our salesman and we’ve had a long, productive history with him. I’ve been personally involved designing some projects for Steve Vander Weide, the owner. I also designed one of his daughter’s homes and have done work for another daughter. The new showroom in their Grand Rapids location and the proposed “face-lift” for that office is also my design. We use many of the Rivershores building products in and on our homes and are very happy with them.