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The Builder-Architect Angle

Bethesda resident Paul Colborn has remodeled homes on four occasions, experiences that shaped his basic view that on projects of a certain size and design authority must be invested in an architect who answers directly to him, not in a builder.

By way of object lesson, Colborn refers to a nearby Tudor-style residence now for sale.

"Apparently the owner chose the materials for the interior details which are very different in quality and style. The house was taken off the market after 6 months. It's now back on at a lower price.

"When I see this, I'm very glad our addition was designed by someone who understood the architectural language of our existing house."

Adds Ken Thidodeau, who remodeled his close-in Dutch Colonial:

"I once worked with a builder who brought in a separate architect who then tried to sell me on ideas different from what I'd discussed with the builder. You get the sense in this situation that

everyone's working for themselves. So I was glad we found an architect and builder who are partners in the same firm."

Constrained by the "bean-counting" that dominates their old and respected profession, it

was probably inevitable that architects would rise up against the carpenter/entrepreneurs who have taken over home remodeling and offer

themselves as a competitive alternative.

As Bruce Wentworth, card-carrying member of the American Institute of Architects, sees it, the market is changing and he, for one, is glad. Exactly 15 years ago this spring, Wentworth concluded that if he was going to concentrate on his first love, residential remodeling, the only way to keep his talents from being marginalized was to form a general contacting firm with a builder. Hence, in 1987, after years of working together in arms-length arrangements, Wentworth joined builder Jerry Levine in forming Wentworth-Levine Architect/ Builder, Inc.

"This operation is really built on a growing popular awareness of the importance of style in residential remodeling," observes Wentworth,

whose firm has concentrated heavily in Montgomery County and NW D.C.

"Increasingly, homeowners are conscious of the core architectural language their home expresses, and they want to avoid the cookie-cutter look that results when the design process is largely confined to selecting pre-fab components from a catalogue."

Certainly Irene and Daniel Simpkins, owners of a Colonial in Bethesda fall into that category. Said Dan, "Like most homeowners in greater Washington, we have a considerable

investment in our house. We were concerned that adding space that was simply generic would dilute the integrity of the existing style. In this sense, having a registered architect in charge was critical and we were very pleased we found a partnership that features someone with Bruce Wentworth's professional credentials."

Ken Thibodeau also was comforted by the firm's emphasis on accurate design elaborations.

"What attracted us most was Wentworth's research-orientation," said Thibodeau. "There was some question as to whether it was historically accurate for a home with early Dutch influences to have a foyer on the side. Wentworth's research uncovered two instances of just such a floorplan—both from the 1600s. Coincidentally, the one closest to my heart was from the Hudson River Valley where I grew up."

"In the end, my professional experience is simply a value-added that home remodeling firms without an architect in the ownership cannot

provide at the same price. All things being equal, we're giving away a lot, but, at least, the architectural control is a competitive edge, and clients appreciate the level of value they receive for essentially the same money they would pay contractors who limited architectural input.

"And best of all, I get to work in a profession I love, and that makes it all worth while."

Bruce Wentworth may be reached at 301-585-4848.