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Chicken or Egg, Architect or Contractor?

One South Pasadena firm has effectively bridged the architect/contractor chasm with successful results

Published on Thursday, December 8, 2011 | 11:47 am

It turns out home construction is a bit like the proverbial chicken and egg. The only difference is the question is “Which comes first, the architect or the contractor?”

Architects often create magnificent blueprints that contractors cannot build and homeowners cannot afford. But without architects, nothing can be built. So who really should come first?

One South Pasadena firm has resolved this conundrum effectively by pairing a veteran and talented architect (Tom Nott) with a seasoned contractor (Tom’s son, Jeffrey Nott).

“In that way we’re quite unique and quite different,” says Tom Nott. “Very few firms actually have a contractor and an architect under the same roof and working as equals –  you know, as a team effort.”

As Nott sees it, the problem with the traditional method of developing home construction projects is the separation of the designing from the craftspeople who have to actually buy the materials and build the project to spec.

“One of the big downfalls with so many architectural projects is they all finished a beautiful set of drawings and let it out for bid, but the cost is out of scope with what the people anticipated,” Nott says. So “the job stops and stalls and that’s the end of it –  or else radical redesign.”

“That’s not the way we work and as a result, our end designs are usually quite successful. With other people, quite often the thing dies, sad to say,” he notes.  At his firm, Nott and Associates, the father and son team work organically to create effective designs that incorporate budget conforming construction planning along the way.

“Now what we do, as the design develops, Jeffrey’s going to do cost input based on the design that we come up with,” Nott says.

The end result? Designs which inventively satisfy clients’ visions and budgets.

It’s important for Nott that the construction be do-able on his clients’ budgets. In today’s world – with  balking banks on one hand and rigid building requirements on the other –  this isn’t always an easy feat.  The skills required to walk that money-vs-great-architecture tightrope become manifest when Nott starts to talk about his passion: design.

“We’re a pretty unique part of the world” he says enthusiastically, pointing out that the Pasadena region is home to some of the best Craftsman architecture in the nation.

“There’s something unique about our brand of Craftsman, as opposed to the rest of the nation’s. The detailing, designs, proportions, everything is quite different.  A lot of the Craftsman period work in the East has classic lines, a leftover from the Victorian age. Not in California! Here it’s natural and there are no preconceived classical motives. They came up with their own ideas,” says Nott.

Clearly Nott’s admiration of local architecture and the architects who created the original homes fuels his attention to detail in his designs.

“I love the area, I love the styles and I love the characteristics,” he says. His work focuses on his client’s needs, keeping his designs true to the historical context of the home and enhancing “the original style of the house.”

“By virtue of the fact that we do structural engineering we get a good control of the economy of the project, and also the configuration and so on. We’ve done in the South Pasadena area, I’d say, about 170 projects,” Nott says.

With more than 35 years of operations, the company has won numerous awards and partners with clients to design and build custom homes and remodeling projects within budget and on schedule.

Tom’s son Jeffrey (the construction side of the firm) says “When you look at one of our signs, underneath the logo we have our motto: ‘When quality counts.’ When people think about us, I want them to remember that.”

Tom Nott Architect, 1508 Mission Street, South Pasadena. Call (626) 403-0844 or visit or .

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