Perfecting the design of your new home is one of the hardest parts of carrying out your own self build project. Your project is going to require a massive investment, both emotionally & financially, so it is important to take your time at this stage & get it right! 

Taking your time & being certain you are happy with the design at this stage will save you time & money in the long term, as changes made later in the process will be more costly. Changes made on site during construction have the potential to result in massively disproportionate costs & delays, so beware.

There are benefits to getting to grips with the design early on. A carefully well planned design can result in a cost effective solution that amplifies the sense of space. Good design will also ensure a coherent beautiful end product that will maximise its financial value.

House design, being a new build, an extension or a renovation, can be split into three phases:

a. The spatial & aesthetic design of your home, including considerations of access & external materials. 

b. Submission of drawings for planning approval, the design of the structural watertight shell of your home, its compliance with the building regulations & submission of drawings for the necessary building regulation approvals.

c. Secondary design items/fixtures & fittings such as doors, ironmongery kitchens, bathrooms & lighting

1. Spatial & Aesthetic Design

What do you want? – You probably have a wish list of items that you want to incorporate in your design. Organise these into a design brief, this is will help you to prioritise your requirements. Don’t be shy about producing your own sketches, these are an excellent way to communicate your ideas & are an extremely useful thing to give to your Architect.

Next you will need a site level survey. This plots the positions of adjacent structures, features on site & the site's boundaries, as well as mapping the ground levels or 'topography'. An accurate plan of the plot is produced in order to start the design process & your Architect will arrange this to be done for you.

Your Architect will now work closely with you to produce sketches based on your design brief, until you are both happy with the design.

2. Submission for Planning Permission & Building Regulation Approvals

When you've reached a point where you've got what you want on paper your Architect will produce a set of formal planning permission drawings & supporting documents & submit your planning application.

Assuming approval is granted; another set of more technical drawings must be produced & submitted for building regulations approval. At this stage you will also require the services of structural engineer to produce the necessary structural calculations & it is usual for Architects to arrange this.

3. Secondary Design Items 

This phase of the design process covers all the items that follow the construction of the main structural shell of the building.

Items in this phase may include:

Lighting Design

Kitchen Designs

Bathroom Designs

Landscape Design (Some aspects of this will be required for planning approval, including, access, parking, turning, retaining walls etc.)

If you are doing it yourself, or are using a separate company for each section, then you may want to just get the build underway & worry about it later. However, it is worth investigating as many design issues as possible before you get underway. They are all interconnected. Secondary design item choices may affect your earlier designs.

The more issues you iron out on paper before you get started, the less chance there is for changes & expense. 

Whichever method you choose, keep your eyes & ears open for things you like. There are plenty of magazines & books available for inspiration!

If you are looking for an Architect in Exeter, Exmouth, Plymouth, Dartmouth, Southams or anywhere else in Devon contact me.

Jonathan Braddick – RIBA Chartered Architects & Chairman of the Plymouth Branch of the Royal Institute of British Architects ( RIBA)

twitter: @jb_riba