If you work in a creative business and are building a portfolio of work based on your talent
this may be of interest to you and your career.

There is an old proverb that says:
“A word to the wise: to be forewarned is to be forearmed.”

My name is John Williams, I’ve been an architectural designer for 50 years. I started my career doing commercial design, then became a developer, builder and finally settled on a boutique firm specializing in residential custom homes and stock designs.

With a commitment to the professionalism of the industry, I hold a masters degree in classical architecture
and truly believe in life long learning. All of this is supported by a membership in the
Institute of Classical Architecture and Art in Manhattan, New York.

I’ve always considered myself a “Journeyman Architect” but I’ve become known as a maverick in the industry,
pushing the envelope and creating unique details developing a transitional style that is easily recognizable.
I truly enjoy working with my clients and the most rewarding complement is through their referrals and recommendations.

Being recognized by your peers is both humbling and exhilarating and I’ve been very fortunate to have my designs win
House of the Year in Ontario and Canada many times
and also as a finalist in the United States.

The most notable award would be the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Architecture in Historical Restoration.
My work has been featured in Architectural Digest, Canadian Architecture and Design, House and Home and other designer publications. I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with some amazing craftsmen and industry professionals who collaborate, sharing their expertise to bring my designs to life.


                                     Architectural Designer: John Williams       Landscape Design: John Williams
                                      Builder: Kadlick and Williams                      Interior Design: Kadlick and Williams
                                      Photography: Ted Chamberlain 


I LOVE WHAT I DO….and I don’t plan on retiring anytime soon.

Historically, all designers are influenced by those who preceded them as inspiration. They then adapt and reinterpret styles, details and technologies to suit the clients program. This is the starting point for any design and as long as it is not easily recognizable as someone else’s work or considered a direct replica or copy it would comply with copyright.

As part of my ongoing business strategy, I decided now is the time for legacy planning. With over 1,000 residential homes in my portfolio, a published plan book and a soon to be on-line store, I needed to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.

I suppose one may say that a designers legacy will be in the bricks and mortar found in clients’ homes in residential neighbourhoods, however, that would only be one part of the equation.

What I’ve had to learn over the years is that there is a business side to the business of creativity.

As part of the process, I decided to meet with a copyright lawyer to gather information and become familiar
with the law as it pertains to the “business” of architecture.

When starting my career, I created a notice that appears in the title block on each page of every design and is considered  creative copyright.

“These design plans are protected by copyright and all design rights are reserved by John Williams, Architectural Designer. You have purchased the rights to use this design plan for one individual residence. No part of this design plan may be produced, distributed, transmitted or sold in any form or by any means without the prior
written permission of the designer.”

What does all that mean?

I exclusively own the copyright on everything I’ve designed and no one has the right to monetize, gift, transfer, inherit, copy, reproduce, or transmit my creative design work without my permission.

It would be my pleasure to meet and discuss my portfolio with anyone interested in building a new home and this will of course include paying a royalty and/or design fee for my work. 

Part of the business of the business.

Now, in keeping with ongoing education, I’ve learned something new.
The lawyer and expert introduced me to moral copyright.

As we live in a digital or technology age, by definition, this includes receiving recognition on every photo, floor plan, elevation, drawing or likeness of my work.

As the designer, when you see a visual representation of your work published anywhere –
your name must be included giving you credit for your creativity.

Interesting, don’t you think?

As the designer, you have the legal right to ask for your name to be included or removed from the source. As the lawyer would say: failure to comply will mean you may request damages for non compliance within the parameters of the law.
One may best see this in action within the music and film industries. Just refer to the credits.

So, it is interesting to note, if you see any social media posts, pictures in magazines, smartphone pictures, marketing materials for suppliers or perhaps even a decal on a truck for one of the trades or builders who worked on one of your projects –
Your name should appear “Designed by…” ensuring that you are recognized through both creative and moral copyright.


We provide credit to someone who builds a legacy over time through their creativity. I’m sure you’ll agree anyone who invents, creates, builds or develops a product or service that is unique should receive recognition and financial compensation. This also applies for any of your designs where another industry professional such as a builder, interior or landscape designer may have won an award. They would not have won that award if they didn’t have access to your design talent.

It is part of the business of the creative business.

Here is a great example:
In architecture, we also have technologists who take our design drawings and transfer them into plans for permit and construction. Some designers have the computer skill to complete these drawings as part of their design work. Others, like myself, hand draw their designs to scale and contract the services of other industry professionals to complete these dimensioned drawings on my behalf. Most often these drawings are completed under my company name but there may be times where they are found on a technologists title block. In order to comply with moral and creative copyright, the original designer’s name must be included on each page of the design. This complies with the law and recognizes the ongoing creative talent of the architectural designer who retains all of the rights and privileges for their work.


As they say: “A word to the wise: to be forewarned is to be forearmed.”

Sometimes, unfortunately, it is necessary to defend your creativity and uphold the law.
It is interesting to note, there are a number of court cases in recent years where the architectural designer has won damages
from those who have copied their work without receiving permission.

The awards have been substantial, up to seven figures.

Your creativity is your livelihood.

With a passion for my work, I have to remember, this too is part of the business of doing business.

As the lawyer politely said with a smile “pleading ignorance to the laws in your industry is not a defence.”
It simply means you’ve not done your homework and speaks to your integrity and professionalism.

Do you agree?

Now, this brings me to legacy and estate planning.

Each architectural designer in their last will and testament may gift their designs, transferring all of the same copyright protection for either one or their entire body of work to another individual or company at their discretion.

As an example, a spouse, colleague, school or foundation would then hold all of the exclusive rights. That person or business will be protected by the law for the duration of their lifetime or life of the business with all of the
same rights and privileges as the original designer.

It is a great way to ensure that your creativity will be protected in the future and that your legacy will live on under their care and guidance. We often choose someone we trust with our legacy.

A lot to think about isn’t it?

I know for certain, when I started my career none of these things were part of my business plan but as time moves at warp speed you may find that it won’t be long before you have built a business through your creative talent that is
noteworthy in your community, industry and market area.

My advice: “Do not be complacent, become familiar with your rights and ensure that you plan for the future.”

If I’ve learned anything in my 50 years in business it is that nothing is guaranteed and we all need to ensure that we make sound business decisions that are in the best interests of our clients, ourselves, family and friends.

I know for certain that I am passionate about design. I love what I do and architecture is a big part of my personal identity. What I’ve had to realize is that it is also a business.


As I reflect on my career, it is an honour and a privilege to be recognized by generations of clients
and their families who live in the homes I’ve designed.

It is my commitment to support the professionalism of the industry
and continue to catalogue a body of work that defines my professional legacy.

                                “Building your portfolio contributes to your legacy one design at a time”  JW




Williams Residential Design. A boutique firm with 50 years of experience.
“Designing houses is not only what I do for a living…it is what I love to do”
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