How to Get a House Designed

6 June 2018 Sean Adams, Self Build Consultant

Making sure your self-build home meets expectations

Image of a CAD house

Building your own home is a big project – and one that is likely to take up a lot of your time, energy (and money) during its course.

With that in mind, you had better make sure that the home you’re ending up with meets your expectations.

Good house design is at the heart of a successful self-build project, and because it provides your project with such key early direction, making the right choices - and having a clear understanding of the process and what you should expect of the process itself - is critical.

‘Good’ house design isn’t just the drawing of a house that looks amazing – it is about the process itself, and the channel it establishes for the whole project.

Good vs Bad House Designs

It might help to have an idea of what a ‘bad’ house design process looks like. Leaving aside the end result for a minute, the more potentially disastrous impact of a bad house design is on the process itself – and even the viability of the project.

Far too many self-builders go straight to an architect who is unable to sufficiently ‘ground’ the project in the context placed on them by the self-builder/client.

For instance, they might design a house that is inappropriate for the site, or that might never gain planning consent, or, more commonly, is unachievable for the build budget of the client.

The architect might bring too much of their own vision into the project, ignoring the brief; or they might not bring enough, simply mimicking the simple sketches that the self-builders have produced.

Either way, the result is often that the clients decide to start the whole process again – and this time, think more carefully about who is best placed to produce viable drawings.
And that’s just the outcome; a common complaint is the process itself. At the start, of course, it’s exciting and new: full of sharing ideas, and briefs, and energy. But while many architects provide an excellent standard of customer service, some don’t – they start taking their sweet time returning your emails, and it might take them many weeks to produce revisions.

You start becoming a burden to them and, potentially with £1,000s spent in fees, the self-builder will end up resentful. And all of this isn’t to mention whether the self-builder ends up being happy with the final plans: do they get you excited about building? Whilst it might not be your dream house, is it maximising the ‘wow’ for you as a customer?

How to avoid self-build design mistakes

Potton contemporary timber clad home CGI
So how do you avoid this all-too-common scenario? It’s worth pointing out that just as hiring an Architect has never been a way to guarantee a successful design process (just as hiring an accredited builder has never been a way to guarantee a successful build process), there are many Architects who specialise in working day in, day out with self-build clients.

They provide an excellent customer-focussed service, at good value fees, with successful outcomes in terms of both project viability and high-level house design.
Let’s be clear with job titles. An Architect (capital ‘A’) is a house designer who has been through the formal seven years of training and is currently registered with the Architect’s Registration Board (ARB).

This training gives them both a broad overview of design (from residential to commercial and all the aspects of construction in-between) and, just like doctors, they will begin to specialise in certain areas.

Ultimately what self-builders need is someone who is a brilliant house designer, who understands your motivations, and is able to create a plan for a home that can be built within your constraints; Architects can of course be brilliant house designers; but so can almost anyone with skill, talent and experience.

Many of the best-renowned award-winning individual homes created in the UK have been designed by house designers without a formal qualification to their name. House designers can be architectural technologists, surveyors, engineers, or anyone with the skills required.
Because, as we have established, a key role for the house designer is in providing a connector between all the different elements of the house construction process (from build cost, to planning consent and even construction choice), it is critical to choose wisely.

When you talk to potential house designers, ask them not just about their design ideas for your new house, but to provide examples of projects that they have previously been involved with.
White rendered self build house in Dorset


At the 2017 Build It Awards, Potton Designer Sean Adams was shortlisted in the ‘Best Self-Build Designer’ category for this contemporary Potton design in Dorset.

The house met the clients design brief perfectly and has received numerous compliments from local residents.

Questions to ask your house designer/Architect:

  • How long did the design process take?
  • Did it get through planning easily?
  • Were there any revisions of the design scheme during the construction process?
  • Does the designer have favoured builders locally (and, if so, make sure you talk to the builders about the designer – they more than anyone will have a view on how clear and comprehensive the quality of the drawings themselves is).
  • Did the projects overrun for time and/or cost, and if so, why?
  • What were the build costs of the projects?

Choosing a designer/Architect

Potton Architect drawing self build home
Your choice of designer will be critical to the success of the project and as such it should reflect your own priorities.

If money isn’t an issue, and you really are after a genuine one-off that has unique design merits, then the attitude of the designer to practicalities will be less of an issue.

If you want a house that isn’t necessarily totally unique, but has everything you want but within a very well-organised and budget-focussed context, then your designer should share these concerns (and talk about costs with you a lot).
One way to have the best of both – mixing the individual design flair of the best architects with ‘buildable’ practical engineering skill and an ingrained understanding of the unique design priorities of self-builders – is to use the in-house designers at companies such as Potton.

We provide design and build services for our customers. Marrying these two elements together ensures that the designs remain buildable, but also include all of the exciting things that self-builders want from their own individual home.
Why choose package companies: Because these designers work within a context of delivery, using them avoids the common problem of spending £1,000s on designs that never end up getting built. A package company doesn’t make money unless you build the house – therefore they have a genuine interest in ensuring they design a home that you end up building.

A Bespoke Home in Peterborough

Self-builders Pip and Steve Gunn worked with Potton Architect Vicky Corbett, to design this bold and bespoke new home in Peterborough. The couple took design inspiration from homes they'd seen in New Zealand and worked with Potton to get the design just right for their plot, lifestyle and budget.

←Watch their story



Get in touch to see how we can help
design your bespoke home

There’s no doubt that the house designer is absolutely pivotal to the self-build process. Think about your own priorities, and ensure that your designer, and the design process you embark on, reflects them. If you'd like to discuss your project with a Potton designer or Architect please contact us via the online form or call 01767 676400 and we will be happy to help.

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