Not every architect is created equal. Some are utter stars that come up with great ideas, give great plans and really deliver a top-notch service. Others are, for want of a better word, a bit shit. On the other hand, if like us you like to do a lot of the planning yourself you may feel you only need an architect to put your thoughts on paper and thus opt for a sort of ‘Architect lite’ option. This means you can save money but it also means you may not get the same kind of bells and whistles that come with the big bucks. If you take this route or if you find yourself with a bit of a crap architect, you need to take the details into your own hands and be sure you’ve thought about EVERYTHING.
So, when you get all excited looking at drawings of your home-to-be and the little girl inside you is crying and waving her arms about with glee at the thought of designing her own home take a step back, and let the big girl be more considered. To be fair even if you do have a great architect it’s always best to give a good bit of thought to how YOU want your place.
So what’s worth checking and thinking about? Here’s the list we go through:
Storage: Where is it? Is there any? Can you make any more? Storage is a massive selling point if you’re planning a swift turn around but it’s just as vital if you’re planning a forever home. And I don’t mean a nice walk in wardrobe. I mean the kind of storage you use for a forevers worth of keepsakes, Christmas decorations, family heirlooms, that ski outfit you bought and haven’t used for 3 years, the paddling pool, the kid’s toys you can’t bear to part with… etc. Where’s all that shit going to go? Exactly…
Seek out empty space that can be used for storage – in eaves, under stairs, above cupboards… be clever with how you use every inch of space.
Scale: Learn how to read the plan scale. I am terribly numerically dyslexic so I rely on my husband for help here. But basically, a scale of 1:50 on a drawing that uses millimetres means that for every 1mm you measure on the drawing you can equate that to 50mm in real life. If it’s in cm then 1cm in the drawing equates to 50cm in real life etc. Measure things out on the floor to give you an idea of real-life scale. Map it out in sticky tape if you need to. This is important when it comes to door opening ability, corridors, the space you will have either side of a bed etc. Look up the size of the average double/kingsize bed and draw it in to scale – do you have space to have side tables? Does the door open onto the bed etc. Think about what furniture you’re hoping to have or already have – your architect has no knowledge of this. Can it fit through a door, up the stairs, where you want it to go?
Materials & design specs: If these are not listed or haven’t been discussed ahead of engineers drawings you need to think about them now. Roofs, dormers, door & window frame materials/types all need to be stipulated on the engineers drawing. If not you’ll end up with your builder’s idea of design or with a builder standing in front of you mid-build asking what he should be buying! Your architect probably won’t be around by that point. Remember, not all materials are created equal and some are very pricey so do your homework even if materials have been suggested for you. It’s not always the most expensive materials that look the best but if you’re going for a pricier option never let a large quote put you off until you have spoken to at least 6 other companies.
You may want tiles on your dorma, maybe cladding, maybe sheet metal. You may want sky lights that open, or that are frameless picture windows, a lantern frame etc… If this hasn’t been decided and clearly stipulated in your drawings then give it some serious thought and voice your preference while you can.
Skylight positioning: If it’s an extension you’re doing then pay attention to your skylight positioning. Like the look of hanging lights over a kitchen island? If there’s a window above it, it’ll be very tricky to hang lights there. Similarly, if you want a dining table right under a skylight this might make for uncomfortably hot lunches in the summer months. No one likes to sweat onto their sandwiches or have melting cupcakes!
Loft Conversions: Think about the width of the stairs and subsequent hallway. Also, think about how you can bring some light in – possibly with a skylight in the roof or a side windows. Don’t scrimp too much on the space here, hallways and stairs that are suddenly small and steep make a loft feel like an attic add-on rather than part of the house. You want guests and children (who seem to be the main users of loft rooms) to feel part of the house when they come up here, not like they might be locked up, only to be let out to scrub the floors!
Get your pens out and engage: They may be the architect but you are the one living in the house and you are the one employing them. You should be surprised if they don’t offer you at least two revisions within the agreed price although it’s always a good idea to confirm revision numbers before starting. If you’re not happy with something or you have a different idea – scribble it on the plan, draw over it, change it, experiment. Print it out ten times. Have a good argument with your partner. Visualise layouts and how they will work in practice. Let your eyes go square looking through Pinterest. You know how your life and family work so take this into account.
If you often have people over you want wide space to mingle and pass one another in the hallway. If you have kids you want somewhere you can easily keep them (and their toys!) contained, yet in view when needed. If you work from home you need a quiet nook or study area etc. Only you know how a space will best fit your life.
Feel smug (for a bit): Once you’ve done the perfect edit covering all the above and demolished a good few packets of biscuits and cups of tea whilst doing so (or maybe a few wines and packets of crisps!) sit back and admire your work. Then take it to your friends and family and let them point out everything you’ve missed and all the flaws in your plans! Don’t worry, this is fine, and necessary. It’s always good to have a devil’s advocate. If you find you have good reasons for what you are doing and you’re un waivered then great, that’s the test. Although keep an open mind incase you have missed a trick – 5/6/7 heads are always better than one and fresh eyes spot things that overdosed biscuit and wine eyes don’t!