Building the Dream Home

Building a house is probably the biggest financial undertaking most of us will take on in our lives. It can also be costly in terms of stress if the process does not go according to plan.

Horror stories abound of things going wrong during the build; prices escalating alarmingly, compromises being made and the dream home ending up well, not what you imagined in your dreams.

But building your own home should also be exciting and to help people better understand the whole process, architect Donal McGrath is holding a seminar called Designing Your Dream Home on Tuesday, 29 March, at Woods Showroom,that takes you through the stages involved in designing and planning the build.

McGrath says that nightmare scenarios do not have to happen if people do their homework first, know what they want, what their lifestyle needs are, realise the importance of the initial designs and make best use of their architect.

They are then more likely to feel empowered, have a pain-free process and a home they can delight in.

McGrath’s seminar is divided into different areas of design. Pre-design covers the nitty gritty; things such as area calculation, soils investigation and boundary surveys.

Schematic design looks at types of property such as inland, oceanfront and canal with the design challenges and opportunities.

The all important architectural style is also covered in this section, where you can work out what preferences you might have and how architectural style emerges from the composition and assembly of design elements such as windows, balconies porches and exterior spaces.

To get ideas about the type of architectural style you like, McGrath suggests, “looking at as many houses as you can, whether around the Island, online or in magazines”.

When it comes to choosing an architect, McGrath says that you should look at what work they have done previously to get an idea of their style. You can ask to look through their portfolio of designs or visit houses they have designed.

But a house is not just about how it looks; it is about what goes on inside.

The section devoted to internal design makes you think about the design of individual spaces such as living room, bedrooms, kitchens how they are going to be used and how life style influences should inform the way you design the interior.

McGrath thinks a lot of people do not make the best use of their architect in the consultation process, which should be a two-way process where you as the client use the architect’s expertise and knowledge to find out what can be done.

McGrath says, “I do not impose my views or style of architecture, you need to listen to people and get a sense of what they want.”

McGrath says he will try and accommodate people’s ideas but in certain areas there might have to be compromises because of safety issues.

For instance a client might want a large window to capitalize on a view, but as an architect he has to think of the overall safety of the building and take into account location and the implications of the elements; in particular hurricanes.

There is also a lot to consider in terms of what a client might want in layout, spatial requirements and what actually can be done within budgetary restraints.

He finds that giving clients a questionnaire helps them define what kind of living space needs they will have according to their lifestyles.

He explains, “It can be about things like how much they entertain and whether their entertaining is formal or more casual, whether they plan to work from home. If you are a family, storage is going to be important and where the laundry room is going to be.”

These are the kind of things that can be overlooked but not having enough cupboard space or a laundry room that is hard to access, can start to get really annoying over time and as McGrath points out, “once the house is built these things are more difficult to change.”

Another important issue is sustainability, with more people taking this into account when they are having houses designed, such as asking to ensure the house is well insulated so it cuts down on air conditioning costs, thinking of shade and taking advantage of natural breezes when positioning the house and making outdoor rooms that fit in with the garden and landscaping; all things, McGrath notes, that were naturally exploited when old time Caymanians were building their houses.

A good relationship with your architect is vital as he will be with you through the whole building process, which McGrath estimates takes about 18 months from starting discussions to actually moving into your new home.

It takes around one month for the design and cost estimates, one for planning approval and building permits, two months for the construction drawings, one month for tendering, then on average, 12 months for construction.

The seminar only deals with pre-construction, as its main purpose is “to teach people how to make best use of the architect, best use of the budget and show them how to take advantage of that design time with the architect.”

But, McGrath adds, “to get the best possible results, the client should do their homework by examining their lifestyle and what their needs might be so that the architect can work with them.”

Story by Jan Byrne | jan@cfp.ky
27 March, 2011- The Observer on Sunday

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