11 Nov 2022

More Detail at the Start, the Fewer Headaches Down the Line

For design and construction specialist Dan Grimshaw, Founder and Principal at Beam Development, good planning is all about going deeper into the details.


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When it comes to getting a home-building project off the ground, detailing such things as where the light switches are going to go or what kind of flooring you want in the kitchen all feel like jobs to think about at some point down the line.

However, put off such decisions at your peril. Failing to specify what you want and where it is to go before you start work on site is likely to lead to frayed tempers and an out-of-control budget. It may even put you off construction for life.

‘Spec’ing as you go’ can be overwhelming, with the whole construction timespan involving making thousands of decisions on the hoof, from bedroom storage options to picture lights, and leave you feeling like tearing your hair out.

It will also, inevitably, involve frequent consultations with the site manager, which is a drain on resources and diverts funds from the efficient running of the site.

Many would-be clients, influenced by TV shows or aspirational images on social media sites, have an image of the finished home of their dreams and assume the process will be as simple as going into a shop and walking out with a product.

They may skip ahead to their fantasy of what the project is going to look like but with little understanding of the actual process of how to get there. They may not exactly know what architects or interior designers do, and why should they?

So, for me, the key is helping make potential clients aware of what I call the ‘design gap’ – the gap between working from ‘planning’ drawings rather than ‘detailed’ drawings.

While planning drawings are the principal output from the briefing, the sketching, designing and developing stages, detailed drawings go further and specify how a building is to be constructed and the fit-out of the project.

A good detail-level plan will show how specific elements of the build will be constructed: the exact layout of lighting, units, fixtures and fittings and which materials, products and finishes are to be used. It will save time and prevent unexpected costs.

However, too often, to save money or perhaps through failure to understand the whole construction process, people often opt to go without detailed drawings at all.

Bathrooms are a case in point. You may have commissioned a design in principle without appreciating that a fully-designed bathroom is a huge amount of work.

For instance, you might want a niche in your shower room or for the shower to be at a certain height or the valves to line up with the tiles. However, none of these may be possible because the structure might be in the way.

All this can be designed in, but opportunities fall off one by one as the building work progresses, and the opportunity to do things easily is lost, meaning materials may end up being installed where they work rather than where they are necessarily wanted.

Hiring a professional interior designer can help you to avoid costly mistakes and, in addition, increase the value of your home.

A good designer will consider all aspects – from space planning, architectural details, lighting and electrical plans and hard surfaces – right through to the final furniture, soft furnishings, art and accessories.

Working alongside an architect and main contractor, a designer can provide a full set of schedules and CAD drawings and design and manage the full interior design process, including timelines, budgeting and procurement.

The more specifics provided at the start, the fewer headaches further down the line. Almost always, you could have avoided disputes, misunderstandings and problems had detailed drawings been in place from the beginning.

Having said that, the distinction between planning and detailed drawings is not always clear cut. Architects are not always paid to design at this level of detail, while clients, particularly those on more modest budgets, may not even be aware there is a ‘design gap’ at all.

But there is a gap nonetheless, and unless this is addressed before work commences, it will put a drain on resources and divert energy from the efficient running of the site.

So, what can be done? As an industry, we must do more to help people to understand the process, how to engage in it and to respect it and value it.

Construction companies could bring attention to the design gap at the tender stage and either provide costings should they wish to carry out that work themselves or else volunteer their own recommended architect or interior designer.

Either way, it is about finding the right fit in both directions. If we can find a way to make the building process work better and work well, that befits everybody.

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