Design by Committee Using Design Committees for Common Area Projects

Every member of a community association has a vested interest in the appearance of his or her property, both inside and out. Residents see the inside of their building every day, so it matters that it’s visually appealing. Equally importantly, they have a large financial stake in their unit, and the aesthetic quality of the surrounding common spaces adds value to the unit itself. 

But when it comes to making decisions about how those shared common spaces are to be decorated, there is such a thing as too many cooks spoiling the broth. For this reason – and to keep remodeling and renovation projects focused on time and within budget – some associations choose to establish a separate design committee to helm projects and guide them through completion. Design committees usually consist of members with some experience in the field, or who just have a keen eye for color, décor, and what makes a space appeal to a broad array of tastes. These committees work with the board, management, residents and outside vendors to make the design choices for the building, and can occasionally command a portion of the association budget. So it makes sense to establish a transparent process by which decisions are made, resources allocated, and experts consulted.

Managing a Committee 

While they may have a fair amount of latitude when making decisions, separate committees within an association are still under the supervision of the board and management. As such, managers can help steer a committee in the right direction, and jump in to pump the brakes if things start to drift out of bounds. 

“Using a committee – or a commission, as they’re often referred to in Chicago – is a very common way of considering interior decorating recommendations and holiday decorations,” says Richard Hiles, Regional Director with Lieberman Management Services, which has offices in Chicago and Elk Grove Village, Illinois. “It’s a great way to engage a small amount of owners to make recommendations outside of the board.”

“In my experience, the board may call their support groups ‘committees,’ but in reality they are commissions, which have no authority to disburse funds,” adds Claudia Oberthier, Regional Director with Associa Chicagoland in Schaumburg, Illinois. “The commission meets with vendors, basically doing all of the research, and then presents any proposals to the board for approval during a board meeting. The manager is the liaison between the commission and the board. I always recommend that the fewer people involved with choosing colors and themes, the better. And, should there be a designer on hand, the board should absolutely listen to that professional’s recommendations.”


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