Ensure your self-build or renovation is a stress-free success with this advice from leading architects. 

rendering of a modern self-build home with large garden - grand designs

Image: Designed by PAD Studio, this £600,000 home is orientated to capture light and views, with provision for using renewable energy sources.

1. Don’t rush in 

Committing to a new project is exciting and most people can’t wait to get started, but Oliver Margison, founder and designer at Starbuck & James cautions against rushing any decisions. ‘If you’re renovating, live in the property for at least a year before you decide what to do,’ he says. ‘In this time you’ll discover the peculiarities of a house, such as a sunny spot that’s perfect for sitting in with a morning coffee, a framed view that only becomes apparent when the trees lose their leaves, and so on.’

Share these observations with your architect, as it will help them gain an understanding of the potential for improvement. The same applies to building a home from scratch, so consider your requirements carefully before committing to a design.

2. Seek similarity

You must be able to trust your architect and have confidence in their judgement, advice and ability to deliver a great end product,’ says Nick Silcock at Townscape Architects. Ask plenty of questions but don’t close yourself off to new ideas. 

Take a good look at an architect’s portfolio before you call them. ‘It will be more straightforward and less expensive if you choose a firm that is already doing the type of work you want,’ says Melanie Clear at Clear Architects. Keep searching until you find an architect that speaks to you personally.

3. Provide a detailed brief

Your brief will be unique and an architect will spend time working with you to develop it. ‘It could comprise of ideas noted down, sketches or pages from magazines,’ says Nick Silcock. He suggests it should include your likes and dislikes, what your preferred style is, the essentials and what’s ‘nice to have’, budget and timescale. Exploring design ideas is always welcome, and presenting a defined stylistic theme will provide a well-defined direction for your architect to follow.

resi london home extension design - self build homes - grand designs

Image: A £55,000 extension in London by RESI, featuring a glass roof and internal steelwork, provided valuable extra living space for this family home

4. Be clear about your budget 

Most experts agree that you must indicate how much you have to spend from the outset. When assessing just how far your money will stretch, consider all the various costs including professional fees, VAT and other statutory charges. You should also have funding such as a mortgage or bridging loan in place.

Forward-thinking practitioners provide greater transparency when it comes to the cost of architectural services. ‘There has been a lack of understanding around pricing,’ says Alex Depledge, co-founder and CEO at online architectural platform RESI. ‘The fees can be calculated in three ways: on a percentage basis, lump sum or time charged by agreement. Expenses may come within this or separately, so make sure you’re clear on all the costs and have a written agreement so there’s no chance of being caught out by hidden extras.’

5. Invest in detailed drawings

Have a set of drawings and specifications drawn up. ‘It helps guarantee that everything will be built correctly and finished to a high standard,’ explains Paul Testa of Paul Testa Architecture. ‘It also means you’re more likely to get what you’ve paid for. A quantity surveyor can work from them, either before or just after planning, to give you an opportunity to revise the budget, project scope or outline specification before you sign off the final design.’

6. Prepare for planning

‘Planning can be a challenge,’ says Wendy Perring at Pad Studio. ‘In particular, give your architect flexibility with time and money if you present them with an unusual brief.’ Pad Studio undertakes a lot of work in situations where obtaining permission can be quite difficult. Such projects will require an architect to spend longer at the design stages and it’s important to appreciate that a tricky build won’t be achieved in a short amount of time.


You can read this full article, with even more tips for working with an architect, in the July 2020 issue of Grand Designs magazine. Read digitally for free now by registering your details



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