From Base Camp to the Summit - Creating a Dream Home from Scratch
Updated: Jan 13, 2020
At Fisch Design, we create spaces that bring the client's vision to life. Our most recent project, an ambitious home rebuild, was an incredible opportunity to embrace a new challenge. With an increasing interest in self-build homes, we wanted to shed some light on our unexpected journey, to provide enlightenment for wannabe self-builders or designers trying their hand at something new.
Adapting to change
Over the course of eighteen months, we completed the architectural design and project management for a luxury private home. The project started out in January 2017, as a downsize to a fairly modest bungalow requiring some remodelling. However, this quickly evolved into a full demolition and rebuild - resulting in a stunning new home. Fisch guided the client and project through every step of the process, gaining early Planning approval, and navigating the complex process for demolition works in a Conservation Area on the edge of the Derwent Valley World Heritage site.
Faced with the daunting prospect of rebuilding from scratch, the essence of our original refurbishment and extension scheme was retained, but the design was tweaked for better positioning on the site and to create a technically superior building. Most importantly, this project was always about delivering an emotive change in lifestyle rather than the physical bricks and mortar. Fundamentally we’re interior architects and designers, not pure architects, so our charge was to create spaces to facilitate the client's vision of how they would like to live. It then became a challenge to deal with the practical matter of delivering that dream.
The details behind our creation
Fast-forward to present day, and the client has moved into the brand new three bedroom retreat, featuring relaxing living spaces fitted out to the very highest of standards. Restraint being the byword, the building envelope is finished in locally quarried Birchover stone with Staffordshire blue clay roof tiles. Rear elevations and dormers are clad in vertical larch weatherboarding, which will season silvery grey to blend into the woodland backdrop of the site. The premium specification extends to triple glazed Internorm windows and Kastrup entrance screen, whilst the roof is punctuated by skylights which flood the interior with natural light. The Alutec rainwater systems finish the precise cut of the external facades in anthracite grey to match the windows.
A recipe for success
Switching from a refurbishment to a complete rebuild was like base camp staring up a very steep learning curve when it came to matters like foundations, tanking, wind posts and trusses. We had to embrace the challenge, and learnt many valuable lessons throughout the process. Here are some gems of advice cherry-picked from our unexpected journey:
Stick to a clearly defined brief or wishlist, even if the circumstances change. Use all the tools at your disposal. Share Pinterest boards to galvanise the brief when words won’t do.
Listen and learn quickly what makes your client tick. Listen. You are going to be partners on a long, and sometimes testing, journey. Appreciate their investment and most of all, trust your clients’ judgement - after all, they’re the experts in their project!
Pay for three dimensional computer models of the building, key spaces and the surrounding plot. Don’t presume the client can visualise off plan or sense scale. It may cost more initially, but it’s cheaper in the long run to change a computer model than it is to change a building. It eliminates nasty surprises.
Research. Investigate. Visit showrooms. Read. Learn. Research some more. Become the fountain of all knowledge. Obtain and agree samples. Don’t just settle for one quote and don’t leave anything to chance. Be the conduit through which all information flows.
Set budgets early and monitor costs constantly, particularly where the project is budget driven. Treat the clients purse as if it was your own. Many projects break down over costs, so avoid any unwanted surprises by having a clear cost plan and address any implications of changes as quickly as possible.
Allow sensible contingencies within the overall budget so compromises on specification, for example, can be made if necessary.
Place orders in a timely manner. For example, the glazing units are of the highest quality from an Austrian supplier on a sixteen week delivery from placing the order. Before ordering specification, sizes and cost needed to be agreed, so realistically the windows needed to be sourced five to six months prior to install. They were the long-lead item that shaped the ‘critical path’ - the delivery timeline for the project.
Know when you are out of your depth. We employed our trusted friends at Peak Engineers for the ground bearing design, and Pilkington Architecture to guide us through some of the more technical detailing and regulations. Always draft in expertise for those tasks beyond your own capabilities.
It helps to have a Builder of the highest quality. Turner Construction prefer the challenge of a premium build over making a fast buck. Research your builder, visit examples of their handiwork and ask lots of questions, and be patient- wait for the right builder, rather than getting started with another simply because they are available sooner.
Listen to a skilled tradesman and admire their craftsmanship, like our joiners Graham and Paul Thorpe. Embrace all their experience.
Repay the faith the client has bestowed in you. Make them your number one priority, no matter how busy you may be. Be there morning, noon or night. Keep your client informed daily and meet tough decisions head on. Don’t let problems fester or accumulate - things could quickly spiral out of control, as sequenced tasks can be interdependent on one another.
Monitor progress against a carefully planned timeline chart so that tasks can be prioritised and any delays can be addressed. Be realistic in setting timescales.
Be confident in your own instincts and judgement. Hold your nerve. Don’t be rushed to make snap decisions that may have consequences later. Never be afraid to seek a second opinion.
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