We started this journey with little knowledge of the complete process of self-building, yes, we had completed a few major renovations before, but nothing like this! So when we set out to try and find an architect to work with, we obviously had some criteria, but that aside, we went mainly on gut feeling.
One of the most important relationships during the process of building your own home, will be the one you have with your architect – so make sure you find the right one for you. You have to be able to speak openly and communicate clearly with your architect, as this process will last a while and you need to both share the vision of your new home.
We interviewed three quite different architects, who we found in various ways, one was a recommendation, another was through online research for architects specializing in small builds, and the third was from an advert in Grand Designs magazine. They were all really good and perfectly nice, but I just didn’t feel a connection with two of them, and the third – that I did feel a connection with – we simply couldn’t afford!
So we took a little break and then went back to the drawing board.
Then, one Wednesday, both my husband and I came home from work with the same torn out page of the Evening Standard (a free newspaper available at tube stations in London). It was a page from the paper’s property section, where they feature stories of new builds or renovated makeovers, along with the details of the project owners, builders and architects.
The story this week was about architect, Stephen Blowers, who’d built his own house on a small hemmed-in plot in South London for £370,000, and at the end of the article, were the details of business partners, Stephen and Mark’s practice, DesignCubed. We contacted them the next day and set up a meeting with Mark.
When first we met, we just felt that we were on the same page, Mark understood that we weren’t after anything ‘fancy’. We were practical people and had a strong idea of what we wanted – a simple, modern, well-designed home with some eco features. And admittedly, all things considered, had quite small budget! DesignCubed’s approach is that a home should bring joy and comfort, be affordable but feel of high quality, and we really liked this ethos. It didn’t take us long to decide to go with them. It was a really good decision, as Mark and Stephen have been great – they have worked with us through many, many tricky stages throughout the process and provide us with so much advice, help and support when we need it. They are a pleasure to deal with and, we feel, quite a rare find!
Having a design background, I absolutely loved working through the design process with Mark, it’s very exciting seeing the ideas come to life in 3D – and we are really excited about the next stages and seeing the building starting to take shape in reality!
Here are some tips to help you find your perfect architect:
- Spend some time talking to friends or even knocking on doors of homes that have inspired you.
- Visit www.ribafind.org/dom.asp. It's the search engine of the Royal Institute of British Architects and a brilliant resource for finding architects in your area, for your budget, and the type of work you want done.
- Meet, in person with at least three different architects before you make your decision
- Make sure you choose an architect that you can communicate with easily, this will be very important for getting your vision across.
- Check they are registered with the Architect's Registration Board (ARB, www.arb.org.uk) and industry body The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA, www.architecture.com)
- Choose an architect with experience of your type of property and check how many houses they've actually built. Check their contacts with local planners and their track record of approvals, including for controversial or difficult schemes. Follow up their references too.
How Architects can help your project run more smoothly:
- They are good at seeing the ‘bigger picture’
- They will help maximise a property's potential – reconfiguring rooms or overcoming a building's constraints
- Architects help you navigate the tricky planning process and building regulations.