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The following is some practical advice and "homework" I give to potential clients.

If you have any other "project advice" or "homework" questions you think that I've missed, please contact MASTRIDICASA Architecture + Design, and I'll add it to the list.

  • Don't you need to be a licensed architect to do this type of work?
    No. The State of California (as do many other jurisdictions throughout the United States) permits unlicensed designers the following: Per California Business & Professions Code Sections 5537 & 6737, these four groups of structures may be designed by any person provided the wood frame structures substantially comply with current California Building Code conventional framing requirements: Single-family dwellings of wood frame construction not more than two stories* and basement in height.** Multiple dwellings containing no more than four dwelling units of wood frame construction not more than two stories* and basement in height. However, this paragraph shall not be construed as allowing an unlicensed person to design multiple clusters of up to four dwelling units each to form apartment or condominium complexes where the total exceeds four units on any lawfully divided lot. Garages or other structures appurtenant to buildings described under subdivision (a), of wood frame construction not more than two stories* and basement in height. ** Agricultural and ranch buildings of wood frame construction, unless the building official having jurisdiction deems that an undue risk to the public health, safety or welfare is involved. Per California Business & Professions Code Sections 5538 & 6745***, the following may also be designed by any person: Nonstructural or non-seismic storefronts, interior alterations or additions, fixtures, cabinetwork, furniture, or other appliances or equipment including any nonstructural or non-seismic work necessary to provide for their installation, so long as those alterations do not change or affect the structural system or safety of the building. Unlicensed persons may not design any building or structure component that changes or affects the safety of any building, including but not limited to, structural or seismic components.** NOTE: Unlicensed designers must sign all plans (Architect’s Practice Act). * Definitions per 2022 California Residential Code BASEMENT. A story that is not a story above grade plane (see "Story above grade plane"). GRADE. The finished ground level adjoining the building at all exterior walls. GRADE PLANE. A reference plane representing the average of the finished ground level adjoining the building at all exterior walls. Where the finished ground level slopes away from the exterior walls, the reference plane shall be established by the lowest points within the area between the building and the lot line or, where the lot line is more than 6 feet (1829 mm) from the building between the structure and a point 6 feet (1829 mm) from the building. STORY. That portion of a building included between the upper surface of a floor and the upper surface of the floor or roof next above. STORY ABOVE GRADE PLANE. Any story having its finished floor surface entirely above grade plane, or in which the finished surface of the floor next above is either of the following: More than 6 feet (1829 mm) above grade plane. More than 12 feet (3658 mm) above the finished ground level at any point. * For single-family dwellings more than two stories and basement in height, I can prepare the layout plans, and under the supervision of a licensed architect or engineer, or a General "B" Contractor, can have them sign off on the plans if necessary. It's never been an issue, and I don't foresee one. ** This does not mean I can not design the layout. I always employ a structural engineer to handle all aspects of structural design. *** For commercial occupancies
  • Why should someone hire MASTRIDICASA ?
    Many reasons... You want to save time As a small business, MASTRIDICASA is more nimble and can switch gears more quickly than most. You want to save money MASTRIDICASA is run on a tight budget, and that cost savings gets passed on to you. You want someone responsive and timely MASTRIDICASA responds to all emails and return phone calls, usually within an hour or two, and certainly within 24 hours. You want a designer that has your best interest in mind, not their own MASTRIDICASA does not spend endless hours racking up "billable" time for invoicing to keep the doors open, exhausting design options that don't need exploring - you get what YOU want designed and what works for YOU, with YOUR aesthetic as the priority. You want complete honesty, transparency and accountability Honest to a fault, and perhaps to my detriment, but you'll never be lied to. If mistakes are made, I own them upfront, and we move on. No excuse making or blame shifting. You'd like to have fun during the process This process should be fun, to a large extent. Yes, there may be some stress, and there may be some hard decisions to make, but all in all, designing your ultimate space should have an underlying element of FUN involved. You want to support a small business owner and a daring entrepreneur The money you pay MASTRIDICASA goes directly back into the local economy. Compared to larger AEC firms with burdensome overhead and expenditures, the operational structure of MASTRIDICASA keeps more money stimulating the local economy and contributing to the local tax base. You want a personalized experience Being a micro sized operation translates into having more time to engage with you, with more than a strictly "project goals only" mentality. While it's all about your project, that doesn't mean the experience has to be all stuffy and stern because "we're burning daylight" and need to get onto things that pay the bills. I love chatting with and listening to my clients, and making sure they feel well taken care of, attended to, appreciated, and that their project goals are a top priority for me. We all answer to the same review agencies Whether you hire MASTRIDICASA or a mega-design-haus AEC firm, we all answer to the same reviewing agencies, and have to prepare our building plans that comply with the same rules and regulations. MASTRIDICASA building permit plans are second to almost none (leaving room for improvement there), and get through the same plan check, often with zero to very few comments that need addressing. The reviewing agencies are put to work for your project - every jurisdiction having authority is called for every project with an explanation of the scope of work and queries posed for what exactly needs to be presented in order to have a seamless design review, achieve compliance, and a building permit issued as efficiently as possible. MASTRIDICASA can design what you want for less If you can find a picture of it, MASTRIDICASA can design it, or something similar, for much less money than most AEC firms. It's simple math - I operate with less overhead and major expenses. As far as designing goes, the design development process is an evolution of concepts (ideas) and truth (constraints/parameters) - every designer goes through the same process when formulating their solution for the project and it's challenges. Sometimes the design hinges around the budget, sometimes it's the slope or topography of the property, sometimes it's the view corridor, sometimes it's the geology and fauna, sometimes it's all of the above and more. Regardless, the process is the same for all of us, and as a lower cost operation, the design development / construction document process with MASTRIDICASA is much more cost-effective than with a large or expensive AEC firm.
  • What are your qualifications?
    Forty plus years of real world experience and hundreds of tailgate meetings... I've been immersed in the AEC world all of my life, and have been blessed to have worked under, and mentored by some absolutely amazing people - consummate professionals and true masters of their craft. Watching and learning from people that have been doing these things all of their lives is hands down superior to ANY classroom education. IMHO. My work experience is vast and varied. From decades of hands on experience in the field - laying out immense infrastructure systems, coordinating with global construction companies and regional government agencies, performing ultra-high-precision / high-liability location work, and ultimately following the natural progression to the position of project manager and corporate liaison. I've paid my dues in the trenches, literally, and was graduated to the office side in my early twenties to be groomed for a management track. I've been in responsible charge of many high profile projects involving IBM, Amerada Hess, Iroquois Gas, Vassar College, Culinary Institute of America, University of Nevada Reno, Hyatt Regency, Northstar at Tahoe, Palisades Tahoe, CALTRANS, NYSDOT, just to name a few. My extensive engineering and surveying background allows me to see a project in a different way than most architectural designers. There are many "moving parts" and variables to every project. Instead of being focused solely on the "architecture" of the project, I always take a 30,000 foot view, identify the various challenges that could impact the design, and formulate a strategy to create a solution that attempts to mitigate any and all of the issues any project may present. So, while I can't point to a wall full of framed certificates and accreditations, I wouldn't trade my real world experience and "education" gleaned from the numerous brilliant professionals I've worked with over the past forty years, for any piece of paper, no matter what it was framed with, or where it came from.
  • What styles of architecture can you design?
    Almost anything you want... almost. If you're looking for a pre-tensioned concrete slab cantilevered over a cliff and suspended with steel cables, I might point you to someone that specializes in those sorts of things. But honestly, I could do the design, and would hand it over to a structural engineer to handle the details of the assembly and connection requirements. If you show me pictures of the style and features you want, I'll give you an honest opinion of my comfort level with the project - I'm better at some styles than others, but the latest movements and trends in design are squarely in my comfort zone. To this date, I have not had to "pass" on a project because someone asked me to design something that was out of my wheelhouse or beyond my abilities. But there's always a first time, and I look forward to that day.
  • What is your fee schedule?
    Typically, I do all contracts as time and materials for an hourly rate. I will give a range that I think the project may cost based on similar past projects, with a "not to exceed dollar amount without prior authorization" clause. I am reticent to do lump sum contracts for a variety of reasons - mainly, I've seen what happens all too often at other places I've worked. You'll race through the first time trying to make as much profit margin as possible. Inevitably, in your haste, you'll miss several things. Then, you're going back in a second time, and usually a little frustrated that some things were missed, and you're not making what you thought you would. If you have to make a third foray, it potentially starts to become a loss, and the work quality always suffers. Lump sum contracts can get "sticky," and arguments will likely arise over the nuances of the contract language, what was considered an out of scope revision, a change order, or above and beyond what was originally agreed upon. Additionally, I feel lump sum contracts, usually written with stipulations for a set number of client revisions, forces the client into making decisions they may not have made otherwise, in order that they not incur anymore expenses. That's not the ideal atmosphere to have the best design organically manifest itself. I'd rather have a free and unencumbered design development process in order to design for a client exactly what they wanted, instead of constraining the project to a predisposed budget and neutering the design. It's never my goal to make a project cost as much as my maximum estimate. Quite the contrary - I strive to make every project more efficient and cost less than the last one like it. If I'm being paid a fair wage for fair and legitimate hours, that's all I ask. Most of the time, the project will never even come close to the maximum dollar amount I'll quote, unless something completely unexpected or unanticipated has arisen along the way. Allowances are always made for an almost unlimited amount of client revisions, minor corrections, and other things that are typical on every single project - those eventualities are always built in to the estimates. The maximum dollar amount stated is based on past experience with what could go awry during the project - what couldn't be reasonably anticipated or previously accounted for: design review committees being a roadblock to progress, a project team member not performing or needing to be replaced, a plan checker that is incorrect in their interpretation and/or application of the building codes, etc etc. I feel it necessary to quote high so there will be no "sticker shock" should the project require extra or unanticipated effort. I'd be a much richer man if I did lump sum contracts, and a much better capitalist, which I firmly believe in. However, it's not my goal to make as many dollars as I can, but to make as many satisfied clients as I can.
  • Are you insured?
    Yes - I carry a very hefty and very expensive General Liability / Errors & Omissions Insurance policy.
  • Where's your picture gallery? Everyone else has one...
    Yes... I know. I just don't have time to go to projects when they're finished and take showcase photos - I wish did! Many of my projects are several hours away, if not in different states and times zones, and it just isn't feasible to make those kinds of journeys to take pictures. By the time I have a break in my schedule and time to go take pictures, the client is usually full on living in their new space, and the last thing I want to do is go bother them with "I want some photos for my website, can you tidy up the place so I can come over and take pictures?" Professional photographers cost quite pretty penny, and they're totally worth it, but I just haven't been able to justify the expense if I'm going to stay a great value. For 2023 I'm planning (fingers crossed) to get some quality photography gear, and dedicate some time to learning how to use it, and going to projects when they're complete and taking the photos everyone wants to see.
  • Why shouldn't I just buy house plans from an online retailer?
    Believe it or not, I'm not against anyone looking online at those floor plan websites, but whole heartedly recommend against purchasing those plans. Looking online at the "house plans" websites and getting an idea of what you think you like, what will work for you, etc can be an immense time saver, or it can be a rather dismal waste of time. This will depend on the many variables that your particular site and project constraints dictate. Most of the time those plans are fine for a starting point on flat lots, but generally may not be very well suited for your particular topography, setbacks, etc. I would NOT recommend purchasing any plans from those sites, regardless of how "complete" or appealing they make it sound. Unless you live in a jurisdiction that doesn't have building codes, building inspections and the like, they just aren't generally suitable or thorough enough to make use of in jurisdictions with a building department that has a comprehensive checklist of required items that need to be on the construction documents. If you live in a non-regulated area, i.e. no building department or inspectors, then have at it, and best of luck. Make sure you have the best contractor available, with the most experience you can find. Most of the time I can reproduce the layout and elevations of the plans in a 3D model for about the same money, and that 3D model can then serve as the base drawings for all of the other design professionals that will need to be involved in order to produce a complete set of approvable construction documents for your jurisdiction. This will save all of the other consultants time and resources by not having to reproduce those plans and start their work from scratch, which in turn, will save you time, money and resources in the long run.
  • Can I design my own house and have you make the construction documents for the building department?
    Yes, of course. Most of the time... I would give you this advice - familiarize yourself with the part of the building code that deals with "Building Planning," generally Chapter 3 of most residential codes. For example, in California, this is where you would start: While there are lots of variables to take into account, designing your own house can be an extremely rewarding experience, as well as give you an appreciation for the effort that goes into designing a usable, functioning, enjoyable living space. No guarantees that what you design will actually work for your site and in your jurisdiction, but if you're resourceful and not afraid to ask questions of your local building officials, you may well be on the road to a successful DIY design project you can be proud of. I'd love to help you through it!
  • Where did you get the name of your business "MASTRIDICASA" from?
    That is a derivation of our original family surname. The story is, when Grandpa Mastrodicasa arrived on Ellis Island from Italy, and got himself settled, he couldn't fit "Mastrodicasa" on the side of his dump truck, so he shortened it. There was already a "Mastro" and a "Mastra" where he lived, so, he went with "Mastri. I have wanted to pay homage to the original family name for quite awhile. It seemed like a natural fit, as the translation literally means "master of the house." As an architectural designer, mainly of "houses", I thought it was a no-brainer, pretty unique, and a proud family legacy to live up to.
  • Why doesn't MASTRIDCASA have a social media presence?
    I've never had a Facebook, Twitter, or any kind of social media account, and I don't plan on starting now. I know it would be better for business, but I'm not desperate for work. My reputation and word of mouth has carried me thus far. I may start an Instagram to showcase the renderings I'm starting to produce with the dedicated software and 3DS Max, but that's not a priority right now. Besides not having a real interest in that type of thing, I just see it as "something else" that will take away from my family time, recreation time, and real professional development. There's only so many hours in the day, and I can think of fifty things I'd rather do than go down the social media rabbit hole. I totally understand why people enjoy it, and I love seeing the posts from our friends and family that my wife will show me, but, I just can't afford the distraction right now.
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