Considering remodeling in Portland? What Process Works Best?

All remodeling starts the same. Clients get the itch. You purchase a new home and imagine what the space could be. Or you have lived in a space for years and it no longer meets the demands of how you live. Your kitchen layout and amenities aren’t up to par. You may look at outdated surfaces on fireplaces, kitchen cabinets, bathroom fixtures, counters and floors and think, “This has got to go.” You might look at a wall closing off a kitchen and imagine an open space. You may imagine a larger bathroom, a bigger closet, a screened in porch, a work out room, or a home office.

You move into a mindset. You almost can’t stand it any longer! Then you call an architect, an interior designer, or a remodeling professional. How do you know who to call first and what is the best process you might ask? I might suggest starting by calling one of these professionals you trust and consider having them introduce you to a team.

I would like to introduce you to three main build processes. The first is called ‘Design-Bid-Build’. The second, I call ‘Build-Avoid-Design’, and the third is called ‘Design-Build’.


This process sounds a lot like it sounds. You start with an architect or an interior designer. They learn about your wishes, your dreams for your project, and they begin laying out the spaces you envision. Once the design is completed, you ask a general contractor to provide a bid. Once the general contractor is selected you begin to build. I don’t prefer this method in most residential projects for one BIG reason. Most clients, even those that are affluent and prefer luxury items, have an investment range they don’t want to exceed. If a general contractor isn’t consulted until all design decisions are made, how can we be sure we are on target with our selections? Design time gets wasted drawing up ideas and concepts and selecting materials that may not be relevant. Let’s say you have $200k to invest in your project. Your wish list may include a new expanded kitchen and great room, an addition for your master suite, and remodeling a powder bathrooms in your home.

While design materials like cabinetry, tile, flooring, counters, millwork and doors, plumbing and fixtures, and appliances can be purchased at many investment levels – the actual build out – including what it takes to structurally build the walls, bring in or modify the electrical, HVAC and plumbing will be somewhat fixed costs. What if your project scope as designed can’t be done for 200K with your vision, even when your interior designer selects moderately priced materials? If this is the case, you would have invested unnecessary design dollars from your remodeling budget. For me, consulting with a general contractor during the early design process with our clients always make sense. (I will talk about this in more detail in the ‘design-build’ model.)

The Design-Bid-Build process is best used for large elite commercial projects and those residential projects when clients want what they want, and the investment isn’t really much of a consideration. Simply stated, use this process when the design is more important than what it costs.


If you don’t think you need an interior designer, I want to thank you for being open minded enough to read this blog. Your misconception might be because some people are unaware of what an interior designer’s role is in a remodeling or build project. The best metaphor I ever heard came from general contractor, Greg Olson of Olson & Jones Construction. He said the design build relationship is like that of a symphony. Interior designers draw documents and specification in the language of construction for contractors to read and implement. Interior designers write the sheet music after understanding the music their client’s want. A client may know the design melody, but probably doesn’t know how to provide drawings and documentation to a contractor. Some people mistakenly think an interior designer only selects colors, textiles, fittings, millwork and finishes. While that is part of the role of an interior designer, documenting the design is also the designers responsibility, and without a designer or someone taking on all aspects of this job – details fall short on the job and it suffers. Without this essential piece, assumptions are made by both the homeowner and the contractor about the finished project.

The design vision of the client can be compromised, well, actually it is always compromised to some extend. (You know what they say about assume?) There are literally thousands of decisions you have to make on a single remodel. Someone has to keep track of all of those details and have them documented and carried out. As a designer I am in charge of making sure my client’s vision is exactly what gets executed. I explain the plan to the contractor with detailed drawings and specifications so he and his subcontractors can follow the sheet music.

We receive many calls from clients and contractors already involved in a project without an interior designer. This usually happens when one or both parties realize they need some assistance. While I feel I can impact the job significantly even with my late arrival to the project, in most cases I could have done a better job had I been involved from the beginning. Sometimes our design impact could have included cost saving measures and other times it is completely aesthetic. We have all been in homes when the lighting isn’t intuitive or in the right place, when a door opens the wrong way, when the materials don’t speak to one another, or when the remodeled space doesn’t speak to the architecture of the home. A designer sees the finished vision and pays attention to every small detail.

Clients involved in a remodeling project without an interior designer generally unknowingly push out the building schedule, and can expect delays. Contractors who work without interior designers generally find themselves waiting for design details to be selected by the client. Clients may find they receive last minute calls to go pick out items for their remodel, or questions from the job site about grout color, edging detail, tile layout, lighting, bath accessories and hardware placement, and so on.

Last, no matter how good your taste, unless you have gone through numerous remodeling projects you likely don’t know where to find resources. You likely aren’t up on the latest and greatest in building projects at different price points, and there are undoubtedly building materials and ideas you haven’t considered that would be beneficial for your project. Starting early with an interior designer ALWAYS makes a better finished project.


When I first started designing, I ignorantly almost exclusively worked on projects that were Design-Bid-Build and Build-Avoid-Design. Budgets and schedules were frequently out of control, and I felt bad for my clients. It wasn’t as fun being the interior designer on those jobs as my projects today!

I was introduced to a design-build model by being part of a few local organizations with professional contractors with sound business philosophies, like the Professional Remodeling Organization, (PRO), a remodeling council of the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland, (HBA). Simply stated, in the design-build model there are three main steps to a project.

  • First, the designer and contractor work together to understand your desires and the project scope. Let’s say you are looking to remodel your kitchen. In the initial phase we discuss the styles you like and that you want to expand your kitchen footprint, install bifold doors that open to the outside deck, you want a new window over the sink, solid surface countertops, a tile floor, custom cabinetry, and new appliances. Overall our scope is painted with a very broad brush.
  • Second, from that information the contractor offers an initial estimate offering a range of price based on these desires. Your kitchen remodel might be quoted as between $75k and $95k. While it is possible to go higher or lower, it isn’t likely based on our initial interview with you on your desires. If price range is outside of your comfort zone, we would look at decreasing the scope or changing some of the wish list. For example, maybe some of your cabinetry can be modular, but made to look custom.
  • Third, you enter the design phase and work with your interior designer to begin making selections. A good general contractor and interior designer work together sharing the budget for materials, so selections are made by the designer that fall within the intended investment range for the client. In this phase you may meet with your designer at showrooms, their studio, or your home to review materials. Piece by piece you narrow them down to final selections. Floor plans, renderings and elevated walls are drafted for the building phase.
  • Fourth, the general contractor puts together a finalized bid with an finalized price and scheduled based on the finalized design vision and materials selected. Then the build begins exactly as you designed it!
Our clients hope for a design that will be tailored, timeless and last for years to come. In my experience, clients are concerned their project will exceed their intended investment, and that the outcome will not be consistent with their original design vision. The Design Build model inherently addresses these concerns.
A reputable general contracting and interior design firm take on the responsibility of making sure their clients stay within budget, provide an error free streamlined process, and help their client’s create the home of their dreams. This is a huge responsibility, but also the most rewarding work I have found. It is my personal honor and privilege to walk families through this exciting process.
Are you thinking of adding an interior designer to your remodeling or build team? We would love to help be part of your team.
Angela Todd Studios For Custom Furnishings

Angela Todd

Owner & Principal Designer

Angela is the principal designer at her boutique interior design firm in Portland, Oregon. She is known for creating memorable backdrops that tell the story of fascinating and intricate lives.

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