When we started thinking about extending our house, Nigel and I drew up some potential plans. Mostly we added boxes onto the existing house, but we could not think of how to integrate any new building with our existing house, and we really did not want the house to look like any addition was just "bolted on".
We interviewed some architects, and then had a recommendation from a couple of people for Sara Lambert. She came to meet us and we hit it off immediately. She took our brief and produced some drawings for us. The thing that struck us was how well Sara 'got' how we lived in our house - we basically took these first drawings and they became the basis for our new house plan with some small changes.
So far during the project we have made no changes to the plan, and at each stage we just say to each other "this is so much better than I thought it would be". Sara has thought of things that we had not considered, nor noticed on the plan. Our contractors remark how complete the plans are, and how well they work (apparently this is not taken for granted).
For us, the investment in an architect has been invaluable; any design or usage decisions were worked out on paper, so no need for costly changes to the plan. The details of the contact with the builder are well defined - if it's in the plan, that's what's in the contract.
Typically architects fees work out between 5% and 20% of the building costs, depending on what you get the architect to do for you (manage the contract? handle the permit process? selecting doorknobs?), in our case the percentage was at the low end of this scale because we focussed on Sara doing the design and actual architecture, and us doing a lot of the leg work. It was a good way to keep costs down without compromising on the finished product of our new house. We were very focussed on the utility of the design, but are delighted we had someone to also focus on the appearance of the house and decorative details.
Sara did a great job on creating a design for us that met our needs, and still looks great. The new building is harmoniously integrated with the old house; the floor plan internally flows from old to new, we could not be more pleased. If anyone is looking for an architect - we can wholeheartedly recommend Sara.