Steve Baczek is keeping craft alive by moving beyond the conventional boundaries of modern building. A high-level understanding of construction, design, and energy efficiency is what makes Architect Steve Baczek a triple threat of modern residential building. After spending much of his career with the reputable Building Science Corp., Baczek struck out on his own. Despite being a one-man operation, he worked on an astounding 65 projects last year, ranging from traditionally styled remodels to ground-up net-zero and Passive House builds. Always lighthearted and boisterous, Steve is the kind of designer that every builder dreams of working with. He counters the typical day-to-day hurdles of working on the cutting edge of residential construction by providing builders with deeply detailed printed plans and making frequent site visits to give tradesmen walkthroughs of his intended assemblies, where he excels at making even an inexperienced team feel comfortable pushing the envelope of modern building.
Fine Homebuilding: How has residential design changed the most over the years?
Steve Baczek: In general, it is education and information, and this is broken down into two areas–the client, and the industry. With the Internet readily available to provide an opinion on almost anything asked, clients have access to vast amounts of information and opinions. It’s good and bad. With emerging websites like Houzz and Pinterest, clients can easily communicate the feel or desired feel for a space. This aides in aligning with the clients thoughts and dreams a little easier. The bad side is that with a plethora of information available, bad information is also available. Sometimes I find myself having to educate a client as to why that idea won’t work for their project or why it is simply a bad idea.
FHB: What are some of the key points designers need to know about building and what do builders need to know about design?
SB: For me, design and building are inextricably linked. While maintaining the expectations of my client are very important, I place the same importance on the expectations of the builder. Both, the builder and I need to communicate and thoroughly understand “our” plan to ensure we both meet the expectations of the client. While I may design, and the builder builds, we both manage the clients expectations, and it becomes a harder job when the builder and I aren’t on the same page.
FHB: With so much work being done on computers, how has technology helped or hurt craftsmanship in home building?
SB: I think with the information out there, our industry has the potential to be the “smartest” it has ever been. But like all education, we need to sift through all the information available to each of us and utilize the aspects that can make each of us better at what we do. Whether it’s communication, organizing, designing, or crafting a detail, seeking out the information we can adapt to personal success is the key.
FHB: How do you see old school craft-based building working with a modern building techniques and materials?
SB: Old school – new school, I take no part in the argument. I see my role in the industry as an evolutionary process. I will never stop learning! With a new project, if there are details I have done 20 times already, I still take a moment to ensure their relevance to the new project. Many times I find the need to seek a new level to satisfy the new project and find that the evolutionary process still at work.
FHB: What advice would you give to someone interested in a career in residential home design?
SB: Understand two things: one, although you believe you are the designer and that is your job, your real task is managing the expectations of your client, and that isn’t limited to the confines of your drafting table or your computer screen. Two, the industry moves faster than you, and it doesn’t stop for you, you need to understand that your career is an evolutionary process. Be prepared and open minded, listen more, speak less.