Balancing what you want and need in your new home is sometimes best left in the hands of experts.
What diplomacy your average architect or interior designer needs when meeting clients about to present their dream brief for the residential overhaul they’ve been planning for years! An architect I know opens the initial meeting with, ”So … let’s have a look at your plans for the Taj Mahal of your imagining.”
With limitless funds and the right site almost anything is possible. But with the average renovation budget worth $150,000 to $200,000, Archicentre’s David Hallett reckons ”it’s not uncommon that the brief is bigger than the budget”. Indeed, on larger projects, cost blowouts are the most common of all pitfalls.
Because of this, expert advice at the design concept stage is just one of the services Archicentre offers. Hallett says instead of shooting down the wildest ideas ”our approach is to look at two concepts – one for the budget and one for the brief”.
”What we ask is: ‘Do you want to find more money? Or do you want to lower your expectations?’ We don’t say they can’t have what they want. We’re more likely to show what they can do for the money they’ve got, and what else they can do if they find more money.”
Richmond architect Daniel Xuereb of DX Architects says he wishes psychology were taught in the architectural degree because ”the process of adjusting client expectations to line up with the budget is rarely straightforward”.
Sustainable design pioneer Andreas Sederof of Sunpower Design claims his practice generally attracts environmentally conscious clients. But in a firm voice he’ll hit them with a series of elements or features they most definitely can’t have at any cost: ”Products that have a negative effect on our environment!”
Although Sederof says it is difficult to avoid using PVC pipes in plumbing, he is vehemently against windows made from PVC plastic because ”it produces dioxins at the manufacture stage”. Windows and doors, he says, can be made from sustainable products. ”But not from timber that comes from rainforests!
”We also discourage big homes, which is a common issue we deal with. And, especially when a job is near the beach, we discourage swimming pools. Given our buildings are high-performing passive solar, we discourage airconditioning and appliances such as heating that use electricity when gas is available. We discourage quick-gratification thinking, and encourage [our clients] to have medium to long-term thinking in their housing decisions.”
Given that he works on so many houses in tight inner-city situations, Xuereb says ”the roof terrace is something that comes up early in the conversation, but inevitably ends up being the first thing we cut if the budget is tight”. While roof terraces can deliver wow views, in the architect’s logic they are not used enough to justify the cost or consumption of valuable space that can be used for stairways.
In small houses, Xuereb also deletes home theatres ”which are better accommodated in a well-designed main living space”. Hydronic heating has also been fashionable, but he says if money is tight it is more prudent to spend on double glazing and passive solar features to create comfortable living spaces.
Working a lot on the bayside where high housing equity can prompt ambitious renovation requests, interior designer Fiona Austin of Austin Design Associates has been asked for some strange features that she often has to tactfully eliminate from client priority lists: ”A secret door, like in a bookcase, into a secret room! Really big fridges, and huge TVs that are too big for the spaces they fit in. Huge walk-in wardrobes – they imagine Oprah’s wardrobe when the space allocated is tiny.”
She’s not a fan of freestanding baths that have become de rigueur in statement bathrooms, because ”you need quite a bit of room for them, too”. Space is also a reason for modifying the comprehensively appointed outdoor room ”with the dining table, barbecue, outdoor kitchen and casual seating area”.
Male clients, she observes, ”have a penchant for kitchen taps that light up, bars, and technologies such as sonos [wireless music systems] and C-Bus [electronic control circuitry], which can add a lot to a budget”. ”There is no point,” she says, ”in having a full C-Bus and then no money left over for furniture or landscaping.” Austin’s approach is to establish early a realistic ”hierarchy of need” based on the real budget.
Austin did have to talk one client out of wanting a fireman’s pole that would deliver him from the bedroom to the downstairs study and then the basement, and was spared the task of deleting the requests of an 18-year-old male who had been asked what he wanted in his bedroom. Fortunately, she says, ”his dad killed off his ideas for a bar, a massage chair and Versace sheets!”
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