07 Apr 2021

How to Ask for Your Dream Home: An architect’s guide to coming up with the design brief for your project

Verity Lovelock of BBD Architects, a renowned Hampshire practice that specialises in bespoke residential design, provides a step-by-step guide to get you started on your self-build or renovation.


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Whatever your reasons for wanting to renovate or build your own home, one thing is certain – you want to do it right. That means ending up with a quality build that comes in on time, within budget and gives you the home you imagined and works perfectly for you.

Making sure you get exactly what you want starts with a great design brief. But for a first-timer, thinking through all the aspects you need to consider can feel a bit overwhelming.

But, help is at hand! I’ve come up with an easy guide that will help you through the process and equip you with all the knowledge you need to begin your home-building and renovating journey with confidence.

First, understand what’s not working

This is vital if you’re undertaking an extension or renovation project, in particular, but even if you’re beginning a new build, understanding what didn’t work in previous homes you’ve lived in can help you avoid recreating those problems.

Take a walk through your home, paying attention to how you transition through each room, how it feels, the degree of natural light and whether there are any level changes. Look out for what you don’t enjoy about this walk – making a list of these points for each room.

Keep an eye out for the darkest spaces; areas left unused or places that feel too busy, if it’s too hot or cold and how things change through the seasons. Consider access out into the garden and your views and any blockages. Take a moment to write down what it would mean to you to have these pains solved.

Then, get inspired

This is a really enjoyable part of the process – and no less important for being good fun. You need to start thinking about exactly what you want in a home, so you need to think about what you love, how you want your new home to feel, and how you want to live in your new space.

Think about other spaces and homes that you have visited or lived in – what aspects did you enjoy? Consider everything from the materials to the feeling – and then make a list.

Ask yourself how important natural light is to you. Which spaces do you feel are enhanced by it? This will impact everything from how you use each room to the orientation of the building.

Then, think about function. Don’t make the mistake of opting for a ‘standard’ list of rooms – dining room, living room, etc. It is so crucial to think about how your family lives. Have you turned your dining table over to table tennis? Perhaps a games room will serve you better than a formal dining room? Is your hobby lacking a dedicated space? Write out all the spaces you think will benefit your family based on function alone – you may be surprised at what makes the list and what doesn’t.

The most important question in my view is, how do you want to feel in your home? Be as honest and as full as you can because further down the line, your architect is going to work to translate those feelings into your home.

Finally, think about the aesthetics and style. Gather images from magazines and online, search for examples from architects in your area, and bring together your favourites to paint a picture of your new home. Pinterest and Houzz are useful online tools, and a physical moodboard including samples of materials can help bring your ideas to life.

Next up, understand your site

Before embarking on a self-build or renovation journey, you need to know what planning restrictions and considerations you’ll need to take into account.

Are there planning policy constraints? Nearby protected sites? Is the building listed? Or subject to conservation area controls? Are you in the greenbelt, an area of outstanding natural beauty or near a site of special scientific interest? Is this land that will need consideration towards ecology or trees? Is the site subject to any covenants or easements? Take a look at your local authority’s development plan and what falls under permitted development.

Think about services to site and access – the journey to the site as well as the immediate access – which could have an impact on your construction choices.

Start managing your budget early on

The key to working out an accurate budget is actually to work backwards. Know what funds you have available, and before you work out your construction budget, take off all the other costs you need to cover.

These include:

•  VAT at 20% if you’re extending, unless it’s a new build or listed building

•  Professional fees, which will likely include an architect, planning consultant, structural engineer, ecologist, quantity surveyor and energy consultant – and possibly an arboriculturalist, interior designer and landscape designer. Make some calls and do a bit of homework to get realistic figures

•  Statutory fees – planning, Building Regulations, insurances, etc.

•  Purchase of land (if applicable)

•  Rent if you need to live elsewhere for a period

•  A 5 to 10% contingency.

Then, factor in your must-haves, which might be anything from materials and windows to types of structures and interiors. This will ensure you don’t stray from your home’s vision in a mire of fees and costs and end up diluting the essence of what you want.

It’s an excellent time to explore construction methods, from traditional cavity walls to prefabricated insulated blocks, making a note of times and costs to help you consider your choices.

Hand in hand with budget planning comes a methodical programme. Set out a flow chart of key phases – design, planning, detailed drawings, final pricing, build – noting the professionals you’ll need to engage and the practical and legal requirements of each phase. Overlapping planning with design and construction is a high-risk and potentially costly approach.

Then define your energy goals

How far you want to go in creating a sustainable and energy-efficient home is something you need to factor in early on. Your goals here will be based on meeting or exceeding Building Regulations, installation or running cost economies, and your carbon footprint. You may want to achieve recognised green building certification standards, such as Passivhaus, or maybe even move towards RIBA 2030 climate challenge goals.

This is a good point to do your homework and research some of the renewable energy systems which could help you achieve your goals. Some – such as air source heat pumps – must be included in any planning application. In contrast, others, such as photovoltaics or solar hot water, depend on orientation and shadow and need to be addressed early in the design phase.

Insulation is another key factor, and there are many options – from internal to external – which will impact your design.

The end goal

A well-designed building should enhance the way you live. What you get down on paper in those early stages will become your home, so it’s vital you put in the homework and thinking time early on. With this handy guide to help you define your vision and goals, you’ll be ready to task an architect with translating them into the beautiful and life-enhancing home of your dreams.

No project goes without a hitch, but if you’re methodical in your planning and preparation, hire a great team and have faith in the process, you will end up with a home that you love and that works perfectly for you.

Further information....

Verity Lovelock

is an Architect at BBD Architects


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