Jason Olbres

A design/build project can often have a downside--you can't build until you have a design, and sometimes the ideas just aren't flowing. Those at design/build firms can often end up with an "island effect", where they aren't collaborating with outside architects or builders for new and fresh ideas for a project.

Remodeling contributor Bruce D. Snider presents three methods for refreshing your brain, as told by design/build pros:

Get Lost, Then Come Home: Mix up your home and away time by getting to know your market, but taking trips for other design ideas. Design/build remodeler Jason Olbres says he keeps in touch with other building professionals by staying active in the Nantucket Builders Association, where he is based, but he and his wife and design partner travel internationally for a change of scenery.

"We’ve gone to Morocco, where they do a lot of wood details on their ceilings and exposed rafters, and we brought that idea back with us for one of our projects. We kind of Nantucket-ized it by painting it white, rather than the bright blues, yellows, and reds we saw in Morocco, and we got some Moroccan-inspired tile for the mudroom,” he says.

Get a Lift from Clients and Crew: Chevy Chase, Md.-based design/build architect Bruce Wentworth says that hiring young people is key. “Hiring young people helps, because they’re eager to learn, and they bring new ideas,” he says. “Experience is indispensable, but you need a mix. When a problem comes up, I can say, ‘Well, this is how I’ve dealt with this in the past.’ Young people don’t have that experience, but they often can point out a new technology that will help solve the problem, or present a new way of looking at it.”

Broaden your Market and Capabilities: Though your firm may only specialize in residential work, there is a lot to be gained from professionals in the commercial industry. Designer/builder Christian Harper says that commercial clients approach their projects with an agenda that’s refreshingly different from that of his residential clients. “In commercial, the owners want you to be super-creative, unique, and to help them build a brand,” he says, and they’re accepting of creative risk. Compared with a typical residential project, that allows “a much broader perspective on design.”

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