Home Renovation 101: When to Bring in an Architect 

By Kristin Boza 

Among the missions of the recently revamped BAPA Housing and Preservation Committee is to offer design and construction advice while acting as a community resource. Mike Messerle, of Messerle Architects, is one committee member who has deep knowledge of the ins and outs of Beverly/Morgan Park architecture; in fact, he has designed countless projects over the last few decades for local homeowners. 

“We are here to give guidance to homeowners and make people aware that we have resources available to help them with their home improvement projects,” Messerle said. “BAPA has a contractor referral list, which lets the community know who is out there in the neighborhood.”  

Like many local homeowners, Messerle and his family moved to Beverly/Morgan Park because they were attracted to the unique character and great architecture. “Beverly is one of those communities where every house is different. I saw a lot of renovations going on in the neighborhood and wanted to get involved in these projects to preserve the look and feel of the neighborhood, and also because I realized that many homeowners were not using the services of an architect,” he said. 

Many homeowners feel that architects are a luxury and that their project is too small to recruit such experts. Not so, says Messerle. In fact, he advises anyone looking to do a renovation — no matter how large or small — to consult with an architect first.  

“Architects can help homeowners preserve the character of their home, but they also bring a vast expertise to the table,” he said. “Architects will plan and develop how things will go together, and they look at things in a different way than homeowners and contractors will. Beverly/Morgan Park is a prime example of utilizing the services of architects to establish our unique and rich community. 

Architects can act as a liaison between homeowners and contractors, and they can also help with choosing fixtures and tile. “I work with homeowners to understand what their needs are and what they want to get out of the project. Architects can also be on hand to communicate the homeowner’s wishes to the contractor, and help the homeowner interpret what the contractor is saying,” Messerle said. “Sometimes, homeowners have preconceived notions of what they want, but that’s not necessarily the best way to go. I help homeowners explore their options, and then provide them a visual drawing of what it could look like.” 

A surprising use of an architect is having help understanding the project budget and zoning and building codes. “Chicago is changing their building code to better align with national building codes; there will be a learning process for everyone that will help us be more efficient with building materials and increased energy performance,” Messerle said.  

The level of architectural expertise needed can vary, as will the architect’s fees. Architects can help with historic renovations, new construction, structural engineer and interior design — or smaller projects like determining if a wall is loadbearing, attaining permit documents, or providing construction oversight and observation. 

Messerle states that a homeowner’s best bet is to always reach out to an architect for any project, and to interview a handful before making a decision. “Ask about their expertise, project approach, as well as fees and billing structure,” he said. “Be sure to also check their references from past clients and also contractors they’ve worked with.” 

Preserving the beauty and feel of the homes in Beverly/Morgan Park is important to property values and the overall look of the community. “Just because a house is old doesn’t mean that it’s old. We can still enhance the property, identify and capitalize on the good things in the building while bringing it up to current standards and requirements,” Messerle said. “Architects can help homeowners improve the home they live in based on the homeowner’s technology, energy, and entertainment needs and styles.”