At one point in the past almost all timber frame companies did their frame designs in-house. Over the years what was once a rarity has now become almost commonplace. But since we now have timber frame companies who farm out the “carving” of their timber frames to CNC machine companies, it shouldn’t surprise me that many also farm out the frame design. A few years ago I joked that the next step for such broker companies would be to farm out the frame erection, also. There are now companies that farm out all three aspects. So now we have situations where the company who signs up the client neither designs the frame, nor carves the frame, nor erects the frame. So, what’s wrong with this picture? Quite a bit.
Recently, when we needed to add another designer, I placed an ad in the two Timber Framers Guild periodicals. Although the ad was clear that we wanted a full time in-house designer, I received fully one dozen phone calls from third part designers who asked if I would be open to using their services long distance. This query was immediately followed by a recitation of the other timber frame companies for whom they do design. Almost to a person, before I could voice my position, they began to tout the advantages of such an arrangement. We would not have to hire a new employee which would free us from a lot of paper work, nor would we have to be concerned about health insurance, vacation pay, and other such employee benefits. I could simply call them when I needed them and just pay for the hours needed. I could see their logic – it just wasn’t my logic.
Before we design a timber frame for a client we try to get a clear sense of their dreams and desires and tastes and budget. Do they want a frame that is severe and simple, or do their tastes run towards the intricate and complicated? Do they want a frame that is massive and stately, or one that is flowing and graceful? Do they want their frame to be subtle, or do they want it to dominate? It’s important that we get such insights first hand and face to face, because it is not only their words that help us shape the environment but also their inflections, their emphasis, their pauses and their body language. If I were to attempt to relay this input and insight via emails or phone calls to a third party designer it is highly likely that some things would be lost in the translation.
Our designers all have experience working in our shop and are well-versed in our methodology and processes. They know what is of high consequence; they know, first hand, what the benchmarks are. Furthermore, our designers participate in the raising of the frames they design. In this manner, they see the consequences of their decisions. I might mention that a goodly number of years ago I acknowledged to one of our designers that I felt a little bad about the amount of time he was spending at raisings rather that at his computer designing. His response was, “Tony, don’t feel bad, that’s why I’m still here.” Well, that was about eight years ago and he’s still here. My logic is this: for a designer to reach full potential he or she must be involved in all the aspects of the creation of a frame. And the only way I can ensure that is if they are here working with us, working alongside of us.