Melissa Collison

In the studio

renovating: happiness or hell?

I have to admit, this topic isn't glamorous or beautiful (and is therefore going against everything I thought I would do with this blog).  But, I have about what inspires me too.  I decided to pen my thoughts on this after meeting a really nice couple who have embarked on their renovating adventure. They came to me with fully drawn DA plans that had already been lodged at Council.

(before you read further, if all of this is too boring, skip it and scroll straight down to our 'i love lucite' story)

When I was shown the plans and advised of the budget, alarm bells rang.  While I was being bought in to design the interiors such as kitchen, bathrooms, laundry, study, joinery, outdoor areas, etc, I had one look at the plans and had a feeling their budget wasn't going to cover the build.  And they were already in Council awaiting approval.

My first suggestion to the client was to bring in a Quantity Surveyor immediately.  The QS can look at the plans and price the project.  Incidentally, I've had the QS we use come in within $800 of a builders quote and this was within .1% of the Cost of Works.

When my studio works on both the architecture and interior design and decor of a project we get the QS involved at the concept design stage.  And, for those who are new to the whole design process, that is the first stage of the project.  We have the client give us a bullet-point written brief and a budget, and this is after we have had a lengthy face-to-face meeting.  We contact Council and any other relevant bodies to check if the house is heritage listed (or for many of the other items and issues that may need to be considered) before we even put pencil to paper.  This will help guide what we are dealing with.  We then survey the existing property.  That means we measure every last nook of the home and photograph it.  This can take most of a day.  Only after that do we start designing.

At the early stage of the design process we can see any issues that may come up and consider how we may have to resolve these.  We try to include all of the clients' wish-list and I can at times be ruthless if a client's expectations exceed their budget.  At the same time, the client need to be very realistic and honest with the designer/architect about their budget.  There is no point in inflating or deflating it.

A good and experienced designer will be able to design to the best of their ability a home/project that comes within the realms of the budget.  We are NOT however, Quantity Surveyors.  That's why, in my studio, we bring the QS in early. The document produced by the QS is also used as a benchmark to compare builders prices and check if any items seem way too high or too low.  Apples with apples.  It's money well spent.   A good designer will be able be to hold your hand through this process, ease some of the pain and take your project to WOW.

With the overall concept design, plus existing plans and a brief schedule, the QS can put a price to the project. Of course this won't include rooms, and rooms of detailed joinery that has yet to be drawn, but it will give a price.  Then, with this price, the client can add or delete according to their budget and needs without having spent months in the design process and wasted money in design fees - should they need to reduce the scope. Then we fully design and document the project, meet with all of the relevant consultants such as engineers, and lodge the Development Application with Council.  

To already have all of the drawings complete and them lodged with Council, almost out of DA is heartbreaking if it is way beyond your budget and you didn't get a QS in early.

All too often I have sat through meetings where clients have said that their neighbour's builder, brother's builder, Aunty May just renovated, afriend from 20 years ago did this and that, and Council said this and that.  Everyone is an 'expert' if you get my drift. It's meaningless. It's irrelevant.  Also, a builder can, with the best of intentions, tell you it will only be 'cost plus', but if you don't have a real idea of the real value of the build, then it's cost plus what? Perhaps it's way out of your budget? I know from experience that each project is individual and needs to be addressed in that way.  It's a process and it's not very glamorous. But taking these measures early on will save you in the long term.