Real life reno': The planning stage

DAVID WALLACE: A bit of serendipity in action saw our columnist Adam meet this top architect when picking up a TradeMe bargain.
DAVID WALLACE: A bit of serendipity in action saw our columnist Adam meet this top architect when picking up a TradeMe bargain.
AN ARCHITECT'S TOUCH: David's concept drawings.
AN ARCHITECT'S TOUCH: David's concept drawings.
BEFORE: The ground floor as it is now.
BEFORE: The ground floor as it is now.
AFTER: The ground floor alteration plans.
AFTER: The ground floor alteration plans.

Our new columnist, Adam Hicks, is taking on renovating his 'big blue house' but under a seriously tight budget. Last week he introduced his family and his project, this week he talks through getting the plans drawn up ... 

What's the plan, Stan?

Every renovator needs an in-law who's a builder. A close friend will do in a pinch, but I find the family connection makes them much more likely to take pity, be patient and get involved for free.

In my case, it's the brother-in-law. We corner him at every roast night, birthday party and barbecue to tap him for advice on everything building related. (He loves it, really, he does.)

We're not asking him to do any work on the tools, but his knowledge and contacts are invaluable. 

His planning, pricing and project management skills are absolute gold. 

Like this little gem: 'A good build starts with good drawings' 

That's what he tells me when I start to question why we can't go cheap on the planning stage. 

Because, he says: "Your plans are the seed of the job. They provide a blueprint for your builder to follow, defining the layout, structure and materials of the job. It's also compulsory to have a comprehensive set of plans detailing how the work will comply with the building code in order to get Council consent and compliance."

The key here is that when you ask for advice from contacts with specialist knowledge, you should heed their advice.

I didn't want my seed to shrivel so I shrugged aside my cheapness to call in several building design professionals. 

Ironically, it was my cheapness that revealed a quality solution. I was trying save a few dollars by sourcing some cheap desks from TradeMe for The Inside's showroom (a business we run).

They were fashioned from recycled doors and were a bargain $50 each. As fate would have it, pick up was from renowned architect firm Arthouse, and its founder David Wallace was on hand to help me carry our new character pieces down the stairs. 

It was then, while standing around my trailer (read: my brother-in-law's) in the Arthouse carpark that David volunteered to come to our house and discuss our renovation plans.

Rebekah and I had bounced around plenty of ideas over the past year, but it was talking it through with an expert with 20 years' practical experience that crystallised the big picture.


It is really important that the creative you engage shares your vision and it was clear David was on the same wavelength.

We would've loved to have David manage the whole design process, but with our budget it simply wasn't feasible to contract an architect as they operate on a project-management-like basis.

Where a standard draftsman's service will deliver a functional set of plans and you can expect to pay around $80/hour, the architect will go through multiple design stages, include things like joinery, lighting and colour schemes, and the fee schedule is based around a percentage of your build cost.

While this will cost significantly more, there is a way to get an architecturally inspired build at a much lower rate.

We were lucky enough to be able to get David to create some hand-drawn concepts. Much more than delivering a set of sketches, David led us through a process and helped us realise a balance between what we desired, what we needed, what we could afford, how to maximise existing space and how best to tailor it to our needs. The concept, while seemingly simple, manages to maximise the views, and bring them into the home, while improving the flow and family living.

He was also very clever at using existing walls and window openings to minimise cost.

With projects like these, you have to choose where you spend your money (and where you don't) so at $1368 (GST inc), this work with David was over 1.3% of our budget - and a big call.

At the beginning, it's impossible to see around all of the corners ahead, but David has helped deliver clarity and focus and a sense that we are heading on the right path in our home's renovation.

I think we'll look back on it as money well spent, as it has already saved us money.

We took David's concepts to our draftsman, Jeremy at Gowan's Walters, who turned them into (the above) working drawings. By having a clearly defined concept to begin with, we saved significant amounts of alterations during the drafting process and the work came to $2867.35 (GST inc).

In the end, the total cost of developing our plans was $4235.85 - plus we can say that we have an architecturally-designed reno....


So, this is the plan, Stan. We are going to convert our two bedroom 1970's retirement home into a modern four-bedroom, reverse living home for a young family.

The rabbit warren that is our existing bottom level, will be turned into our main sleeping quarters with three bedrooms, a master bathroom and plenty of storage.

The over-80s couples-retreat that is our top level will be transformed in a large open-plan space with kitchen, dinning and lounge with a separate guest bedroom/playroom with an ensuite.

We're going to replace the conservatory with a new deck to create a good indoor-outdoor flow, and bring the great views into our main living quarters by putting in as much glass as possible.

We're talking all new windows, a new staircase, new kitchen, new bathroom, levelling floors, new log burner, re-insulating all walls, and re-jibbing.

Next week I'll talk budgets and costs, but already I'm having heart palpitations at the thought of the mortgage... (breathe Ads, just breathe.)

Tip of the week: Maximise your planning spend by getting an architect to create design concepts and a draftsman to turn them into working drawings.

Budget Update:

Total spent to date: $4235.85

Total remaining: $95,764.15