20 September, 2015

The Renovation Roadtrip



When you make the decision to renovate, the first question you usually ask is, who do I need? An architect, designer or decorator? The common misconception around who to employ for you project is why we wrote The Facts on our website. We could see similarities in the kinds of questions clients asked time and time again. So lets try and clear that up.

You will need an architect for adding an extension or another floor, or for a tear down and re-build. Makes sense right? On the flip-side, if you’re only looking to repaint, change out the furniture or add some accents and throw pillows, a decorator, who’s most at home with soft furnishings and minor cosmetic work will do just fine. This is also where a good interior designer comes in. Any studio worth it’s salt will have the technical chops and visual artistry to completely redo an existing house or apartment. And we often do.

There’s one further question as to when you can use a draftsman. The truth is, we work with both depending on what the project calls for. When we work with a draftsman, we normally drive the design. When we work with an architect, they do.


Gather an image file together either on Pinterest or an old school manilla folder full of magazine tear sheets of ideas and things you love. Use this as your testing ground to help you eliminate concepts or finishes you liked early on but grow tired of as you train you eye.

Designers appreciate a thoughtfully involved client. So that means doing some homework before you embark on the project. What are the things you love that you have always dreamed about having? Don’t worry about ‘how’ it might come to life. It may not actually be possible, but just the idea alone can give a designer a spark to another great idea. Or at least provide some insight into your personality. We love being able to colour outside the lines.

Occasionally we have clients who barely have any possessions that describe how they want to live as they have been gifted with hand me downs or bought ‘it’ll do’ pieces until they do the big number. Without a vision of what the future might be, we are left to glean a narrative from our conversations and interpretation of your life and new roots.


Once you’ve worked out what design styles you keep coming back to, use that to assist choosing your design team. Whose work and values align closely with your vision? Designers and architects aren’t as interested in clients who just want someone to help them with the project. We prefer it if there’s a synergy between what we do and what you are looking for. A kind of simpatico makes for a more successful project on every level.

Once you’ve selected your people, get prepared to pay good money for them. Experience at this level doesn’t come cheap. Consider the impact on your prosperity of not choosing well or cutting corners on your designer or architect when you are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s an investment you will make once, twice, three times if you are lucky in your life. It’s a long relationship (often 1-2yrs) and one that you will want to enjoy. So choose wisely. Don’t haggle on fees; focus on retracting the scope instead.

An interested designer should be asking you how you want to live? How do you cook or entertain? What do you do on Sunday mornings? Do you have a big family? Or plan on having any more kids? All of these kinds of questions help frame not only what you will need from your future house, but also how you want to feel in it. This is key. And if you aren’t being asked these questions, ask why not? How is my designer gauging the information they need to give me a truly fabulous design response to my brief? Be conscious.

The second part of this point is to choose your team early. Often an interior designer can be brought in at the masterplan stage before all the room planning is signed off. Admittedly this is when we get called the most; when there are a few areas that haven’t quite fallen into place. We find having another set of eyes that come from an interior perspective to be the secret sauce to unlocking the plan. It will also mean that furniture arrangement will mostly likely be considered for the first time. Sounds crazy? Happens all the time. So call early. Don’t wait to think about your interior until after you’ve broken ground.


Be prepared to have your ideas challenged and to be pushed. Giving your designers some leeway on ideas will bring in the big guns and what I call the ‘push’ ideas early on in the piece. Getting clear on a concept from the start will make all the other millions of decisions much easier to make, as they will all reference back to the original idea.


Now its time to talk about contracts and money.
A few tips….
Number one, take your budget then double it. Sneeze and you’ve spent a hundred grand. Just doing a new kitchen will mean remedial works to adjacent areas, so painting, fixing the floors, new lighting and new joinery will all add to your budget. In our work, we can’t really look at anything under $150K and know that it’s going to be worthwhile for the client having a designer involved. Always come to the costing conversation with full disclosure. It makes no sense to play your cards close to your chest as that will help us advocate or advise in your best interests. We’re not here to spend all your money, we’re here to help you lift to that next level the best way you can!

Ballparking the job. There are two ways to do this. Either working with a trusted builder to provide an estimate of the project will normally happen after the concept or master plan phase. This is not a tender process; there is no sense in asking multiple builders for their estimates of the project. The purpose of the exercise is essentially feasibility, to establish a ballpark costing for the project, are we going ahead? You also must understand, there are many variables that have not yet been determined that will still impact the price. The other way is to engage a quantity surveyor who will need a lot of information to determine an estimate of the project’s cost. They will need to know things like, what finishes are required on all the joinery, whether tiling is full height, extent of new electrical etc. You might appreciate then that a good deal of design work has to be done in order for the QS price to be accurate. Sometime this can defeat the purpose. For us, it’s a case-by-case scenario and we normally work with out trusted builders who know our work and know the outcome our clients and ourselves are looking for.

Then it comes to tendering. In theory you receive three prices, but generally one price is too low, a median price, and one that’s far too high or they don’t want the job (could be both). In that case, it’s a good idea to have a fourth builder on hand. Alternatively, for smaller projects, we will negotiate a contract price with a nominated builder where it makes no sense to tender. Fixed price contracts are advised with critical information like a completion date, penalties for going over and a clear indication of variation cost percentages are all needed for smooth running of a building project. A final option of cost-plus is also an option if your builder is open to it. This essentially means it’s the cost of works plus the builder’s margin in an open-ended arrangement, the pitfalls of which are if it takes longer, it costs more. For any option it’s a good idea to have your designer project manage it, fielding the many questions that come from site. Normally, if it’s a large job requiring an architect, they will naturally include administration of the contract as part of their full service.

So there you have it, common pitfalls and insights from the front line.

All in all, consider your designer and architect as your partner or advocate.
The more you can trust and build that relationship with full disclosure, trust and belief, the better for all.

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