Why designing a home is a high-stress job

With so many elements, how can one ensure satisfaction?

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Richard Rivin is a forensic architect. For more than 20 years he has analyzed building failures to determine what went wrong. In a recent interview from his Norfolk, Va., home, I asked him to shift his thinking 180 degrees and talk about what makes a project go right. What can homeowners do to help ensure a happy ending, with all parties congratulating themselves for a job well done? With residential work, Rivin said, two factors that contribute to success are often overlooked. The first is that the homeowners handled stress well. The second is that the architect structured the decision-making process so that the homeowners felt confident with their choices. Coping with stress is not usually addressed in discussions about home building, but Rivin said it's really critical because the way that you handle stress will color your interactions with everyone involved in the project. Before you start looking for land and hire an architect, spend some time reflecting on how well you tolerat...