Designing one’s own home is a rare and exceptional challenge that presents the opportunity to create a living environment that acutely mirrors your personality, habits and aspirations. Before you get there however, you’ll undoubtedly be presented with innumerable decisions, each of which will come with the potential to impact you for many years, both in a positive way … and not so much. So what are the key things to consider when designing your own home?
Whether you're design-orientated with a well-developed set of ideas on what you want, or a relative newbie to the thought process, engagement of an architect or other design professional is a must, to frame your ideas into an optimised home. After a thorough briefing process, a good designer will intimately understand your goals and have shared loads of ideas they have collected throughout the years. Added to this is the ability of architects to visualise 3D Spaces and knowledge of Planning Policy and Building Regulations; skills which are central to the execution of high quality architecture.
In my experience, when a client goes it completely alone, the project ends up invariably more expensive, more time-consuming and less wonderful than it could have been. So either let your architect lead by having them produce the first sketches themselves, or follow by having them redraft yours, but don’t underestimate the benefits that training and experience can bring to a design.
What You Want
When deciding what you want, it doesn’t cost anything to dream. While recreating the Sistine Chapel might be a little overboard, it’s worth writing down all of the features you’ve been inspired by. If you’re coming in without a whole heap of ideas, it’s well worth getting inspired by diving into as many books, magazines and websites as you can. By doing this, you’ll not only come across looks, features and styles you love, but those you couldn’t bear to live with. Having a good idea of both will pay off.
Although it might sound obvious, write down the key elements you want to include in your new home, so nothing gets forgotten. How many people are you accommodating, or likely to accommodate? Where do you spend most of your time? Draw up a rough plan of how many bedrooms you’d like, their sizes and whether you’d like any specific design features, such as large windows to capture a view, or an ensuite with a bath.
Also, make sure to consider any special requirements you are likely to have in the future. Is it likely you’ll need space for children or grandchildren? Do you have elderly relatives that will need a downstairs bedroom or ease of access? Homes are long term projects and therefore, when designing your own from the ground up, future needs and circumstances should be kept front of mind.
What You Need
This is the tough part. Which of these ‘wants’ do you actually need? What can’t you do without? Be realistic about how many rooms you need, how they should be arranged and whether you should add or remove certain elements based on space and budget. Your designer will know how big the house can be to fit within budget, and it’s normal for a few items on the wishlist to be given the chop!
In conventional homes, there is often a shortfall in storage, so ensure your designs have included enough storage in all of the main bedrooms, as well as communal rooms. Appliances can take up considerable space, so be sure to factor them in. If you already have appliances in your existing home, measure them and use their sizes as a guide for your new design. It will also help you get a sense of what certain rooms will feel like and where you’ll need to expand, or nip and tuck.
In the innumerable new homes I’ve been involved with, dedicating rooms for utility and plant (heating and ventilation kit) has always proved wise!
What Others Want
Local planning authorities will have a big say in what you can and can’t do. They may dictate the siting and height of your self-build, and in many cases, the orientation and materials used too. All of this will have a great impact on the finished product, so clearing your design with your planning authority quickly will save wasting time on designs that are unlikely to come to fruition. Your architect should know the route through this process.
Your plot will also dictate your design. The neighbours will have their say, so trying to fit your design sympathetically into your local surroundings will stand you in good stead for approval. Also, if your plot is on a slope or a flood zone, you will need to adapt your overall design plans to accommodate these conditions. Your foundations will be affected by such environments, thus diverting more money away from the build itself and perhaps changing the orientation, size or shape of the finished product.
Building Regulations will also hold certain restrictions on your home, such as minimum door widths, or a step-free, disabled access. Make sure your designer is fully au-fait with these aspects.
Stay or Go?
Are you planning to stay in your new self-build for the foreseeable future, or are you intending to build the property for an eventual resale? A house that has been overly tailored to ‘quirky’ tastes will have restricted market down the line and be unquestionably harder to sell. Therefore, if there’s even a slim chance that the house being designed won’t be the last, it makes sense to ensure it has appeal for the widest possible audience by including features that are universally appreciated.
For those building the house they’ve always dreamed about to while out their days: enjoy! The canvas is blank.
Oliver Grimshaw, Head of UK Sales, Hanse Haus GmbH
Oliver Grimshaw is the Head of UK Sales for premium German supplier of pre-manufactured, high-efficiency homes. Founded back in 1929, Hanse Haus now erects some 400 homes annually Europe-wide and has been active in the UK since 2006.
With over 85 years’ experience in the construction industry and boasting more than 30,000 completed homes, the company is also a certified builder of the remarkable Passivhaus; a home that loses almost no heat through its walls, roof and windows, thanks to extremely high levels of thermal insulation.