Gary Zygmont and Chelsea Scharbach
By Hannah J. Phillips
Portraits by Andrew Bennett
Gary Zygmont has been building custom homes in Austin for over 22 years. As the founder, owner, project manager and superintendent of Urban Home Builders, he oversees all details of a project, completing one to three homes per year. Zygmont sat down with architect Chelsea Scharbach, who has practiced architecture for over 10 years and started her own firm, Scharbach Workshop, two years ago. Scharbach works on a wide variety of projects but loves the challenge of a remodel, working within the parameters of an older home.
Gary Zygmont: Have you ever had a client wanting to live in the house during the remodel?
Chelsea Scharbach: Yes, and I always say it’s going to take longer, but sometimes there’s no way around it. Have you?
GZ: Yes. I think a lot of people think they can do it, but they underestimate the noise and the dust. Dust is just so penetrating, and the cleanup is so intense. So what are some typical questions you get from potential clients?
CS: A lot of clients don’t know what an architect does or how the process works. I like to explain my role as a designer, where I take in the design problem and communicate the functional requirements of what the owner wants to you. I’ve also noticed a hesitation to hand over what their wishes are: Most people have mood boards saved, but they hesitate to show me until I ask.
GZ: If you project a little bit, do you think it’s because they’re scared of what their vision might be?
CS: I think if you’re talking to an expert, you want to hear what they think first, but it’s best when a client openly communicates what they want because otherwise it’s a guess. What about you? What are the top questions you get?
GZ: Mine are almost always the same: How much is it going to cost? How long is it going to take? And tell us more about you. We only bid homes at a fixed price, so the cost won’t change unless the client or architect changes something. We have a lot of experience to be able to do that. As for timelines, the typical two-story, 2,500-square-foot home takes seven months, and it goes up from there. We use a lot of software and manpower to keep everything lined up. As for me, I tell clients about my experience, give them other clients to talk to and other houses to see.
CS: What are your suggestions to help clients build that relationship?
GZ: Communication and commitment: This is your home, so if I lay out the next 14 months, don’t go on vacation during the critical period I’ve outlined. How about yourself?
CS: I think communication is top for me, and organization. One of my favorite clients to date started by sending an email for a remodel of everything she wanted to do by the room. It’s amazing because you’ve done the first part of my research and I have everything in one spot.
GZ: I left that out. You’re right! So what are things you wish builders did to benefit you, the architect?
CS: I think getting input from builders early in the design phase can help me stay on budget and see where we need to make adjustments. During construction, I wish builders would be open to calling me if there’s a question. And I really like it when builders propose solutions, because you have experience with the materials, so it’s good to get your expertise in those different stages. What would you say?
GZ: I am a big fan of information, so I like a complete set of plans with lots of pages. I’ve gotten plans for multimillion-dollar houses that are eight pages. I also seem to come against architects drawing beyond what the client can afford, and then I’m inheriting the client who’s mad because I’ve put a number on something that’s way over budget. So I like what you’ve mentioned; I have a saying in our office that two brains are better than one, and I like getting that architect in as quickly as possible.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.