Architects and interior designers often make carefully coordinated selections of products based solely on their appearance. Many of the products so thoughtfully selected have no equal – nothing else has quite the same appearance, and if a different product with all the same characteristics (except for color) were used, the carefully coordinated color scheme would be ruined.
In these cases, a sole-source product is specified, and no substitutions are allowed.
Is this important? Sometimes, yes, it’s important. Ask this question another way: Is this important to the Owner? Has the Owner actually charged the Architect with creating a unique look that is decided upon early in the project, and cannot be changed?
Why does this question matter? When only one product is specified, and no substitutions are allowed, the supplier of that product sometimes increases the price, and may decrease the level of service. This price increase is passed on to the Owner. A decreased level of service (due to a lack of incentive to keep people happy, since the deal is already done) may cause schedule problems during construction. The Owner may be paying a heavy premium for the luxury of selecting colors during design.
Sometimes only a very specific plastic laminate will be acceptable to the Owner, because of specific furniture finishes that they’ve contracted for separately. Sometimes only specific ceramic wall tiles and solid surface countertops will be acceptable to the Owner, because of a corporate identity they must maintain. In these cases, the direction not to allow competitive bidding has come from the Owner.
But sometimes, the Architect, for his own reasons, is trying to create a very specific look that can only be achieved with one manufacturer’s tinted glass color (although 2 others may make a similar color with the same performance characteristics). Does the Owner care about this extremely specific appearance? Maybe not. Has the Owner been notified that the choice of one specific manufacturer’s color of glass may increase his construction costs, for the benefit of the Architect’s portfolio? … [Crickets]… Probably not.
When the Owner doesn’t have product preferences, if we, as design professionals, are to best serve the interests of the Owner, we should encourage competitive bidding, by specifying several acceptable products.