Gaines Group Architects
harrisonburg farmhouse

Do You Want a Custom Home or Just a New Home?

If you have never built a new home, you most likely don’t know where to start. You have probably heard that you can find plans online. You have probably heard you should talk to a builder. You have probably heard you need to be careful because you might get taken advantage of in the process. There are a lot of questions and you really do have to trust a lot of people to give you good answers. So what questions should you ask when getting started? Who should you trust?

Custom home

Harrisonburg farmhouse

I realize I am biased in this, but you should talk to an architect first. Call or email me your questions, seriously. Everyday we guide people through the process in an organized fashion to help you know who to trust, what questions to ask, and how to protect yourself. The most basic and first question that you should ask is – do you want a custom home or just a new home?

Custom home

Soapstone kitchen

Your goals with a custom home should be different than just a new home. A new home is probably designed first with “re-sale value” in mind. A new home probably has a “few features you don’t need, maybe don’t want” but will be marketable in the future. A new home probably is not designed specifically for you with your life goals, habits, and preferences in mind. A custom home however, has specific features, room sizes, and layouts that you need to enhance your way of life. Rooms are right sized for how you live. Conversations during design for a custom home revolve around your life, not just how big, how much, what color. A custom home will cost you less to build per square-foot than a new home of equal quality. A custom home is adapted to your needs, budget, habits, goals, and future.

Custom home

Harrisonburg farmhouse

If you are thinking about building and you are searching online for a plan, perhaps take a step back and decide if you want just a new home or if you want a custom home. Don’t spend money on “less design” to save money, it only costs you more during construction. Spend time planning out exactly what you want, in other words – Design Matters.

Chesapeake and Western Depot

Check out this cool find inside a wall on a renovation project

Check out this cool find inside a wall on a renovation project

You never know what to expect in the walls of a renovation project. There are always things hiding from the construction process in the past. From coke bottles to beer bottles things get tossed inside of walls and sit there for years waiting to be exposed again. On a recent project in downtown Harrisonburg, this cool find was inside a wall. The date on the newspaper is April 18, 1973 about two months before I was born. The contractor found it as he was doing demo and it was just left on the floor in the pile of trash.


The biggest competition in the architectural profession is “no design.”

The architectural industry is an interesting one (and the only one I really know, so probably not unlike any others) in that as architects we compete for a very small pool of projects against each other, but we all rely on each other to promote the industry as a whole. The biggest competition for an architect is “no design” and boy does that happen a lot! Many don’t know what we (architects) do, don’t understand our value, or simply think they cannot afford to hire an architect.


I spend a lot of time promoting the idea of design. I know it brings me opportunities, because my clients have told me they want good design. I know it benefits our industry because it brings awareness to the idea of design and therefore it helps other architects. It is important to me that everyone understand the value added to having good design for the built environment as it impacts our community, our daily life, and our future. Here are some folks in our industry that are doing way more than I could ever do and having a tremendous impact on our world.

Studio MM promotes good design by promoting other architects. Marica posts a different architect’s work on her social media pages every week showing off design that she loves that is done by others. This is an incredibly generous gift to give that other architect, but also a wonderful way to share her love of design with her potential clients.


I am forever grateful to Cherise Schacter for her constant and overwhelming support of our industry on social media. Cherise is an incredible person / professional / Kraken that tirelessly promotes excellence in the design industry. I am not sure how she manages to keep up with all of the relationships she has built on SM and in person, but she does it with passion. Her work to promote the design industry is helping us all.


Joshua Lloyd works hard to teach others about sustainable residential design. This is a huge help to those of us focused on green design. First his work helps me know better the right solutions for my clients and second he is promoting a similar message so potential clients hear it from multiple sources. I have heard from many other design firms that don’t believe SM is important for our industry, I think Joshua is showing that it is very important.


Bob Borson created a series that is geared to show what we do as architects. The #ArchiTalks series includes some of the best architectural thinkers of our time! I know I have learned from these posts and it is certainly promoting our industry in a positive manner. Bob specifically brings the profession down to a human scale by showing the life of an architect from Christmas lists, to moving into a new office, to helping the next generation understand the industry.His approach to outreach is informal, fun, and inviting. This is how you promote an industry in a positive manner.


What are All Those Certifications, and Do They Add Value to Your Project?

In the construction industry, like many others, there are many certifications, professional designations, and credentials. So does it add value to you for your project? How do you know it shows added expertise? Should I hire someone who does not have a particular certification? Learning more about what the initials stand for will help you evaluate what matters to you. Looking for someone who has gone through the added training that will benefit your project is a key to selecting the right team.

So let me define some of the more common letters you see after the names of prominent architects:

RA (often not used if a member of AIA) – Registered Architect – this means you are legally empowered to practice architecture. You can start your own firm, seal, stamp, or sign your own drawings, and turn your client’s ideas into reality. For a design project this is the base level designation that shows the person has achieved a certain level of education, experience, and knowledge. Without it, you have no way of knowing if the ‘designer’ has achieved any level of competence in design as measured by testing. Architects are responsible for protecting the public’s health, safety, and welfare, so earning the license is not an easy task. Hiring someone to design your home or business with this designation will give you peace of mind. This is the designation that holds an architect accountable for their actions.


Certifications demonstrate knowledge of the construction process, contractual relationships, and construction contract administration procedures.

AIA – indicates you are an RA and a member in good standing with the American Institute of Architects. You can be an “Assoc. AIA” without being an RA. Certifications

CSI – indicates you are a member in good standing with the Construction Specifications Institute.

NCARB – indicates you hold a National Council of Architectural Review Board certificate which speeds the reciprocity process. Most don’t add this to their signature unless soliciting work that might require licensure in another State in the future.

CDT – The Construction Documents Technology (CDT) Program provides a comprehensive overview for anyone who writes, interprets, enforces, or manages construction documents. By being able to understand and interpret written construction documents, CDTs perform their jobs more effectively. By understanding the roles and relationships of all participants, CDTs improve communication among all members of the construction team.

CCS – A Certified Construction Specifier (CCS) is a skilled product researcher who knows how to investigate and identify cost-effective, efficient solutions, and then communicate those solutions through the specifications. CCS certifications demonstrate advanced knowledge in all aspects of specifications development, including contractual relationships, organization, preparation and enforcement.

CCCA – Certified Construction Contract Administration (CCCA) certification teaches you to develop, administer and enforce construction documentation. CCCA c

LEED AP – The LEED AP credential affirms your advanced knowledge in green building as well as expertise in a particular LEED rating system. The LEED AP BD+C credential suits professionals with expertise in the design and construction phases of green buildings serving the commercial, residential, education and healthcare sectors.

LEED GA – This in an entry-level certification that is required to achieve the LEED AP once you have more experience in green building. The LEED Green Associate credential demonstrates a solid and current foundation in green building principles and practices. From marketers to lawyers, landscape architects to education professionals, and product manufacturers to policymakers, LEED Green Associates enjoy a broad understanding of sustainability that bolsters their careers.Certifications

CAPS – The Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) designation program teaches the technical, business management, and customer service skills essential to competing in the fastest growing segment of the residential remodeling industry: home modifications for the aging-in-place. CAPS professionals have the answers to your questions. They have been taught the strategies and techniques for designing and building aesthetically enriching, barrier-free living environments. The CAPS program goes beyond design to address the codes and standards, common remodeling expenditures and projects, product ideas, and resources needed to provide comprehensive and practical aging-in-place solutions. CAPS graduates pledge to uphold a code of ethics and are required to maintain their designation by attending continuing education programs and participating in community service.

CGP – The Certified Green Professional designation recognizes builders, remodelers and other industry professionals who incorporate green building principles into homes— without driving up the cost of construction. Classwork leading to the designation provides a solid background in green building methods, as well as the tools to reach consumers, from the organization leading the charge to provide market-driven green building solutions to the home building industry.

What other certifications do you think add value to your architect? Let me know – I am always looking for a new challenge. Next up for me is the CCCA.

Your health depends on it – Healthy Indoor Air Quality

As we learn more about building science homes are being built tighter through good construction details. This is a GOOD thing. The new worry is that many products used in homes off gas chemicals known in the industry at Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s). These chemicals have adverse short and long term health impacts on the people living in your home. While we are still learning a lot about what chemicals are safe – if any – you should be sure to use those proven products that are available with a NO-VOC option. Paints, caulks, adhesives, stains, and joint compounds are just the starting point. Discuss with your architect the options, which products seem to be working and which have durability issues, and make wise decisions for your family. Product selection along with a appropriate ventilation system in your home will lead to better health for everyone living there.

Triple C Camp - NEST Rebuild, 2010

Design Matters – finding solutions.


Architects design a variety of building types. Some are big, some are small, and they all have great meaning to the client and to the architect. Architecture is an interesting profession. You wear your heart on your sleeve and your work is often reviewed, and analyzed. Sometimes you specialize in a certain type of design – like residential:

Sometimes within that specialty you might only do renovations

or  energy-efficient:

or commercial:

or agricultural:

or multi-family:

or Historic Renovation:

some try to push the envelope of what is accepted and expected:

sometimes form is given to you (garden apartment)

sometimes size is the rule (1000 sf)

sometimes you are the first (EarthCraft Light Commercial)

sometimes you give your time to high school students:

sometimes you design big open spaces:

sometimes you design big interior spaces:

sometimes you design high density:


But no matter what the project, as an architect, the one thing that remains constant is you design solutions!

Architecture is not just about being Sexy!

When you pick up a magazine about architecture the cover is most likely an oasis of proportion, grace, and detail. The work that we as a profession celebrate most often is beautiful, skillfully done, and probably touched up just a little with Photoshop.… This is not unique to the architectural industry of course, we are a society that loves the book cover before reading the book. We are trained to go see a movie based on 5 seconds of action in the trailer. We are drawn to purchase a car by the smooth lines and sleek curves. We are a society that loves aesthetically beautiful, sexy, dynamic solutions.

Architecture schools spend countless hours teaching design based on drawing hypothesis of connections and focusing of the spatiality of modernity while the functionality of the dynamics are metamorphosised into a instatiation of visualization. OK I just started putting random words together there at the end, but we spend a lot of time training aesthetic thinkers and not much time training functional problem solvers. I am not condemning the profession or academia by any means. I see that successful architects have learned the functional problem solving skills, they simply learn it on the job. The problem that I see is that society gives little value to this functional problem solving side of the equation with so much of the focus in magazines, schools, television on the sexy side of the solutions equation.

There is a lot that goes into the process of design. Architects have to understand the sexy side of the design process and I believe they get that completely. What is eroding the profession is that too many only focus on that part and that part is being taken by others that are not trained in the functional solution part of the design process. The majority of the buildings built in a community are not going to be earth-shaking architectural creations. They are going to be nice looking buildings that hopefully meet the program needs. I see in this community so many people who are not asking for or demanding someone who fully understands design to help them through the process of creating the building. Rather they are relying on someone who can make the building look good and the program fit in the square footage allowed. There is little attention paid to the flow from space to space, the proportions of the spaces, the light coming in, the comfort of the space, the efficiency of the framing, the quality of the indoor air……….. I could go on. We have to raise the bar for the architectural profession and start talking about the not so sexy parts of design that we bring to the table. A high level of understanding of building science should be demanded. We have to stop making partial solutions that lead to big problems. For example, there is a project I ran by yesterday in our mixed humid climate that I am sure will have granite countertops and an incredible front facade, but also has a vapor barrier in the wall system and a vented crawl space. This owner paid good money for a design that is not energy-efficient and will have poor indoor air quality. They are getting an impressive house that will look good from the street, but it will not be durable and long-lasting – if for nothing else the energy bills will be outrageous compared to a well designed efficient home.

Architects should be the leading voice in design solutions, not sexy solutions, design solutions. I don’t believe that any of us have all the answers, in fact I know enough now to know that there are no perfect solutions and many more questions than answers. We need architects that are willing to listen and stop talking. We need to be open to learning new ways and techniques every day. We need this profession to step forward and lead, not just be being loud, but by being examples in the community. Architecture will always be celebrated for being Sexy, we just need to add some practical problem solving specification writing building science efficiency to the equation!

Local Architectural Firm Named Best of Houzz 2012

For Immediate Release: May 1, 2012

Press Inquiries:        Charles Hendricks, AIA, CSI, CDT, LEED AP


The Gaines Group, PLC Architecture and Design of Harrisonburg, Virginia Receives

Houzz’s 2012 ‘Best Of Remodeling’ Award


First-Ever Survey & Analysis of More than 1.2 Million Members Reveals Top-Rated Professionals and Current Design Trends from Across the Country

Harrisonburg, VA  —  May 1, 2012 – The Gaines Group, PLC Architecture and Design of Harrisonburg, Va has been awarded  “Best Of Remodeling” 2012 by Houzz, the leading online platform for residential remodeling and design.  The 25 year old Architecture and Interior Design firm was chosen by the more than 1.2 million registered members of the Houzz community.


The Houzz “Best Of Remodeling” award for 2012 is given in two categories: Customer Satisfaction and Design. Customer Satisfaction award winners are based on homeowner members who rated their experience working with remodeling professionals in 12 categories ranging from architects, and interior designers to contractors and other residential remodeling professionalsDesign award winners’ work was the most popular among the 1.2 million members, also known as “Houzzers,” who saved more than 16.5 million professional images to their personal ideabooks via the Houzz site and iPad/iPhone app.

The Gaines Group, PLC is thrilled to be included in this elite list of Houzz “Best of Remodeling” 2012 Design Award winners. Principal, Charles Hendricks states: “Our projects are a direct result of working with great clients that want creative, energy efficient, healthy, and durable design solutions.”

“With 3.5 million monthly unique users and 80 million monthly page views, Houzz has rapidly become the largest community of active remodelers, providing homeowners and design enthusiasts with first-hand advice from Houzzers who have been through the renovating and decorating process,” said Liza Hausman, vice president of marketing for Houzz. “This is a real stamp of approval for The Gaines Group, PLC Architecture and Design from the Houzz community and we’re thrilled to welcome them to this elite group of ‘Best Of’ winners.”


With Houzz, homeowners can identify not only the top-rated professionals like The Gaines Group, PLC Architecture and Design, but also those whose work visually aligns with their own design goals. Homeowners can also evaluate professionals by contacting them directly on the Houzz platform, asking questions about their work and evaluating their responses to questions from others in the Houzz community.


About The Gaines Group, PLC

The Gaines Group, PLC is a Virginia based architecture firm with offices in Charlottesville and Harrisonburg. Established in 1987, the firm has a dedication to strong ideas, ecological stewardship, and client satisfaction. As an award winning design firm, The Gaines Group, PLC has established a strong reputation of sophisticated design through addressing the specific needs and place for which a project is to be built. The firm’s work does not espouse any singular architectural style, but strives to find that which is unique and important whithin a given project and to express it architecturally. The firm offers a comprehensive range of integrated design services including architecture, LEED Consulting, Specification Consulting, Interior Design, Landscape planning, Master Planning, Site Planning, Graphic Design, and Marketing Design.


About Houzz

Houzz ( is the leading online platform for home remodeling, providing inspiration, information, advice and support for homeowners and home improvement professionals through its website and mobile applications. Houzz features the largest residential design database in the world, articles written by design experts, product recommendations, a vibrant community powered by social tools, and information on more than 1.2 million remodeling and design professionals worldwide who can help turn ideas into reality. @houzz_inc





Is your house custom or just new construction?

For those looking to build a new home, what is your motivation? Do you want a house that is new or do you want a new home that is specific for your needs? A custom home should be designed around the way you live, work, and play. It should work with your site and not simply sit on your site. It should reflect your values, your history, and your future. A house that is built for you should not be a compromise found in a magazine. It should be the idea thought through and developed based on your goals and passions. I am always competing against the $600 plan that we found – we just need to change this, this, and that to make it right. Oh by the way, the structural design is efficient and building this will cost a premium to get it to work. Why not skip this step and simply have someone trained to think through these issues, take your goals, and make a custom house for you that is not just new construction?

prarie style

For more thoughts on saving money, protecting the environment, and on architectural design visit my websites:

The Gaines Group, PLC Celebrates 25 years of service to the community!

Charlottesville Architect


The Gaines Group, PLC Architecture and Interior Design is celebrating 25 years of success in creating an energy-efficient, durable, healthy, and well designed portfolio of projects. The firm which began in February 1987 when founding partner, Raymond E. Gaines, AIA, FCSI, CCS emerged from a now defunct design build firm as an expert  in senior care facility design in Central Virginia. The firm quickly grew from their first design project, a horse barn, to add partner Roger Bryant, CSI in 1989 and began developing a long list of satisfied custom residential clients in some of the most prestigious neighborhoods in the area. The Gaines Group’s creativity, technical ability, exceptional service, and business focus have made it the go-to firm for Central Virginia’s developers and builders. “We are dedicated to making our community a better place, one project at a time” says Mr. Gaines, “We understand how to meet a client’s budget, aesthetic goals, and to be stewards of our resources along the way”. The firm’s multiple awards and recognitions demonstrate their importance to the Central Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley communities.

The Gaines Group, PLC is built on a family history. Mr. Gaines’ Grandfather, Elmer E. Burruss, was also a practicing architect in Virginia, although he was also an active developer, contractor, and building material supplier. His prominent non-residential projects include the Albemarle County Clerk’s office, Monticello Dairy, Hill & Wood Funeral Home, and the IX Complex. This heritage carries on with the firm culture with Ray’s sister in-law working as the administrative assistant in the office and Ray’s daughter Emily working summers as an intern interior designer. Ray does not stop the family definition at blood relatives as Roger has been with the firm for 23 years, Charles for 12, Carla for 12, Paul for 10, Adrienne for 6, and the newest addition, Amy has been with us for 1 year, which he also considers family. This family first approach is seen in the client relationships, the work culture, and the community investment for which the firm is known.

The Gaines Group’s survival and even expansion of services to include interior design through the rough economy grows from their family first approach as they forge long-term client relationships. Upon joining the firm in 1999, partner Charles Hendricks’, AIA, CSI, CDT, LEED AP passion for building science helped build the firm’s reputation as a leader in the green movement in Virginia. Named the “best green designers” by the Virginia Sustainable Building Network in 2008 and being presented the Virginia Governor’s Excellence in Environmental Design Gold medal in 2008 and the bronze medal in 2009 are among the many recognitions that have been given for their work. Their design of the First LEED certified project in Central Virginia, the design for the first EarthCraft Light Commercial project outside the state of Georgia, and their dedication to educating the building industry on building science issues has left a lasting mark on the community.