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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Hull, RID

Navigating the Process from Space Plan to Move In!

Leasing new office space is an exciting but also daunting task. For individuals and businesses who have never navigated the design-to-construction process, it is imperative to have the right partners to help guide the process. As Interior Designers we understand the business operations, design style, and imagine the future of each end user to successfully curate every valuable inch of Real Estate. This inherently places the role of build-out ambassador squarely on the shoulders of the Interior Designer. After 41 years of introducing and leading end users through the process and construction we have developed a basic road map for our clients to assist in navigating their transition.

Who’s on First?

Knowing each player’s role in the design process can alleviate some of the initial wave of apprehension. End users will commonly engage a Broker or Leasing Agent – often both – to assist in locating the right property for their needs and budget. The Broker acts solely on behalf of the end user. When a Broker identifies a potential build-out location, they will engage the Leasing Agent for the property. Larger commercial properties will typically have a Designer of Record who maintains building files and BOMA calculations for the Landlord. The Leasing Agent can engage this partner to assist with test fits for the end user.

Oftentimes, once a lease is signed the Designer of Record remains on the project as a knowledgeable asset for both parties - having familiarity with the building and local codes for the end user as well as keeping the property abreast of unique conditions and timeline estimates for Construction Documents. Leases are routinely structured for the property (in lieu of the tenant) to hold the contract with the Design Firm, thus alleviating some of the administration responsibility for the Tenant. While not all companies have the same structure there are industry consistencies for most stages of the leasing/design process.

The Starting Line

Programming is the most crucial component to any project. Are you forecasting your staffing needs? Does your vision for your new space reflect core values or company mission statement? How does a core value impact your office design? All important questions to address while tallying offices and workstations counts. Not all end users will need to completely reimagine their offices for a successful build out - and that’s fine! But those seeking to retain talent or attract new hires can tap into invaluable Industry Insights and trend awareness by involving an Interior Designer at this early stage.

Landlords will very commonly absorb the cost for an initial space plan or test-fit to determine basic feasibility. This step may take a few endeavors of reconfiguration to find the right fit. At this phase the room adjacencies and sizes are the main focus. If there are specifics such as uncommon furniture pieces or large equipment, ensure these have been accounted for in your plan. It may be necessary to inventory items for relocation and coordinate with the Interior Designer.

Locking Down the Deal

Beyond the initial space plan, developing the personality of the space through finishes and key design elements can be the most fun part of the process. The design partner will help pull the vision for company identity and culture into your office space.

For intricate design concepts or for accurate construction estimates a pricing plan may be requested. This document will provide not just graphic but written descriptions of the work for a General Contractor to price the build-out.

While not as detailed as Construction Documents, Pricing Plans can provide a more accurate accounting of the project scope. Not all leases assimilate the cost of construction but having a more precise cost analysis will provide a detailed purview for all parties. A Pricing Plan can also be necessary when leases are structured as “turn-key” deals. This structure is intended to minimize the up-front out of pocket cost for an end user. While potentially beneficial to some, tenants looking for more flexibility in the design process should expect added fees and increased construction costs for any deviations from the pricing plans. This varies from the tenant improvement (or TI) allowance structure because the Landlord has agreed to cover costs up to a pre-determined amount. Any costs exceeding this amount become an out-of-pocket expense for the end user. One method to control additional expenses is in the Construction Document process through alternates - creating an a-la-carte system with specific General Contractor provided dollar figures attached to each.

The layout, location, and financials should influence your final lease decision. Brokers are skilled negotiators and understand market trends. Lease negotiations can take weeks and even months to conclude. Not all efforts will be successful. Material and labor availability or costs may impact the bottom line - influencing deal financials and timelines. Any number of factors can not only ruin a lease deal but can send end users back to the starting line. Informed, realistic discussions at the onset can delineate the path to success in negotiations.

Detail Immersion

Once you’ve signed your lease the clock starts ticking! The entire team supporting your project is now focused on accuracy and managing the timeline. There will be crucial coordination and meetings as well as fixed deadlines that when missed can create day-for-day delays. Establishing milestones is a great approach to outline roles and expectations as a group. Early integration of each discipline can help identify trouble areas and potentially avoid some issues all together.

Construction Documents require a rigorous attention to detail but having a good project team can make it fun, too. Not everyone has the opportunity to formulate their own work environment. Taking time to admire a beautiful material or daydream about your wish list items is part of the process! Share your collection of Pinterest boards and images from treasured vacation stays with your design team. Hopefully there are elements that can be brought in from your best-loved spaces in creative, cost-effective ways.

Race to the Finish

The process through Construction Documentation can feel crazed and hurried. Once the drawings are approved for bid, a palpable change of pace can be felt by the end user. General Contractors rush behind the scenes to prepare bids and timelines. Construction Managers crunch numbers and compare bids. This is the time when trades are scheduled, and materials ordered for construction. Drawings are submitted to cities for permitting- sometimes taking months before receiving approval for construction. While not all parties are directly observing this phase, the meticulous preparation for construction sets the tone for the entire build-out.

Once the permit is in hand the initial construction work involves demo and the behind-the-scenes work like ducting and wiring. The jobsite will look unchanging to a day-to-day observer in the early phase of construction. Again, important prep-work is happening, but it appears to have minimal progress for weeks on end. This is all normal! The final weeks of construction will make up for it. Floors are installed, walls are painted, and the final aesthetic for the space begins to emerge.

Innumerable bumps and delays are possible at any point along the course of a project. Having creativity in the face of adversity takes composure, confidence, and trust in your teammates to execute their roles. Choose partners that fit your comfort level of communication and experience and allow trade professionals to guide you with their expertise. Navigating the arduous road of construction and design offers rewards of new beginnings for those willing to take on the journey of transformation. At the end, you are in your new home!



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