Client Comes First

Architect David Graham on putting client needs ahead of personal style

In MH+D’s continuing collaboration with AIA Maine, we present to you each month a design concept from an architect’s point of view.


In residential architecture, the client, architect, contractor, and subcontractors are partners all focused on a common goal. The architect is often the glue that holds all aspects of a project together. As such, the architect needs to be a listener, a designer, a collaborator, a communicator, and, first and foremost, a detail-oriented problem solver who puts client needs first. MH+D asked David Graham of Graham Architects to tell us more.


Q. Do an architect’s personal aesthetic preferences make their way into design for a client?

Some architects can find themselves in a “style rut” or “comfort zone,” or they try to steer their clients in a particular direction. I have a much broader approach with each unique client. Some are unsure of what their vision is for a design, and I patiently steer them in the direction of their dreams. Others know exactly what they want, and I help facilitate a pleasing end result. My approach is to view a project from each client’s individual perspective. Rather than imposing my ideas on them, I combine their ideas with my skills in design to develop a scheme that meets and often exceeds their expectations. My job is to delve into the heart of my clients’ priorities. We research and discover together what the client ultimately is searching for, then I work closely with them using as much or as little “hand holding” as is necessary to come up with the most aesthetically pleasing outcome.

Q. How does that process begin?

A. It begins with evaluating the project site. Each project site offers different opportunities for the design. There may be a beautiful tree that should be saved or a view that is important to highlight. These aspects become key components in the design process. Along with site considerations, individual clients come with different levels of understanding and ideas about what they want. The early design interaction with the client is the most exciting part of the process. Reviewing the loose schematic sketches is a rewarding experience, as the client sees their ideas begin to take shape and evolve into form. Volumes become real, habitable spaces. The focus then moves from the larger scale of the design to the smaller details of each space. The design should reflect the client’s desires while incorporating beauty, efficiency, and function both inside and out.

Q. What are some of the challenges?

A. Managing the design and the client expectations around a budget is a critical piece of the process. A successful outcome is achieved by providing the client the best version of their vision. I believe in providing a scalable service to my clients. Each project is assessed based on the required level of detail and documentation. I provide the same innovative solutions in a design regardless of the scope of the project or budget. Overcoming the challenges of zoning and building codes is a complicated process but necessary for a good outcome. The role of the architect does not stop when construction begins. It is important to stay engaged throughout the entire project to ensure that the design intention is met.