Building a home takes everything from planning to patience, says Arabella Ewens.
Choose an architect
The process can start with a little desktop research – and the annual Country Life Top 100 is a good place to start. Browse the work of top UK architects and check out the most compelling practices. “You want to play to their strengths, so it doesn’t make much sense to commission a modern masterpiece from a practice that usually works with traditional projects,” recommends Rupert Cunningham, director of Ben Pentreat’s architectural practice. “Then meet with the director or one of the directors to see if they are a good fit.”
If there is a plan to sell the house in the future, be careful designing something too outlandish, adds Ross Sharp of Yiangou Architects. “The lofty architectural designs that we like as architects may only have a limited following among buyers, so it’s worth asking real estate agents for planning and design advice.”
While the temptation is to focus on the needs of today, there is a certain amount of crystal ball to consider when building a new family home. For example, think carefully about the location, recommends Jonathan Dinnewell of Smallwood Architects. “Does it provide easy access to infrastructure and nearby facilities? A secluded location may seem ideal for raising young children, but be prepared for the fact that you have to drive them miles to and from school or extracurricular activities.
“Design should be like a Rubik’s Cube, where everything should fit together,” suggests Philippa Thorp, founder of Thorp Design. By doing this well, you will avoid leaving unused rooms or large empty hallways that need to be heated. “You want to avoid having to walk around the kitchen and connect spaces that allow people of all ages to live together but apart. This is an art, and it requires a lot of attention and thought.”
After years of open planning, houses are becoming more cellular in design and the function of each room must be carefully considered. “The future of dining rooms is far from certain,” adds Hugh Petter of ADAM Architecture. “While there was once a formal and familial side to the home, that distinction is now diminishing.”
In the post-COVID world, the need for quiet spaces to work from home – for parents and children alike – has become even greater. Movie theaters are on the rise, as are gyms or yoga studios. “Recently, we have designed several indoor pools with moving floors on electric jacks so they can be lifted up and turned into party spaces,” adds Mr. Petter. “The premises are being used more intensively than ever before.”
It’s also smart to have ground-level space to spend time in, Mr. Dinnewell said. “It could start out as a playroom but could become a spare bedroom if someone breaks a leg or if access needs to be changed.”
Develop a master plan that shows the house in the context of its lot and any ancillary buildings, pools, and landscaping. “While all areas may not be reachable in one step, it helps to design future development with the right strategy right from the start,” says Tim Molding of R. Molding & Co, one of the UK’s top builders. Outbuildings — which transform between grandma’s apartment, boomerang kids, or country house — are another consideration. “We are increasingly seeing customers rent out these spaces on Airbnb when not in use, but then take them back when extended family or friends visit for Christmas and birthdays,” says Mr. Petter.
Order a scheme
This project, usually done with CAD (computer-aided design that creates 2D drawings and 3D models), will allow you to view the position of the house, interior layout and exterior facades, as well as plan all the details, such as the location of outlets and doors. “This money is well spent,” Mr. Cunningham says. “A lot of people have a hard time reading architectural drawings, but it really gives a visual representation of the house and eliminates any initial hassle – the most expensive thing to do is to make changes midway through construction.”
Another tip is not to start construction until all architectural drawings and schedules have been completed and all costs have been accounted for. “Many want to start too early, but that puts the cart before the horse and the costs only increase,” says Ms Thorp.
Building a new country house is not a quick process, it will take years. The same is true for the reconstruction of a monument of architecture, adds Mr. Sharp. One of the most serious delays at present is the provision of planning, especially in England. What before the pandemic took eight weeks, and sometimes a little more, is now being stretched out over several months and even years.
“The path of least resistance is the tear and rebuild path,” Mr. Cunningham explains. “But even when you present a project that is within the policy of the respective local government, the planning system is now in decline. We have projects that have been waiting for the green light for more than a year, and our hands are completely tied.
“My advice to anyone who needs to be in the house for two years is this is not the way; it is much more profitable for you to buy something already built.
A significant number of projects will go down the path of ensuring planning (eventually) and then fall apart due to costs. Architects aren’t always good at predicting construction costs: “If there’s an optimistic bias in the world, it’s backed by clients and then by architects in that order,” Pentreat says. It is essential to consult with the Quantity Inspector in order to develop a plan for the total cost of the project.
Building a new country house is not cheap, especially in the current conditions. “Be realistic about costs and then add a little more,” Mr. Cunningham recommends. Big builders, even those in “executive homes”, can build for between £250 and £350 a square foot, Mr Sharp said, but a new custom home will cost significantly more.
Control your budget
There are two ways to control the cost of a building: size and specification, including materials and interior finishes. “It’s like buying a suit. They all look almost the same from the outside, but the cut, preparation, amount of handwork, and degree of craftsmanship have a big impact on the price,” adds Mr. Pentreet.
From electric vehicle chargers installed right from the start, to photovoltaic panels and ground source heat pumps, figuring out how power supply and source should work from day one. “This would not have been in my top three tips 10 years ago, and it shows how much has changed,” Mr. Molding says. “But at the moment, you need to develop an energy strategy for the entire site that includes renewable energy solutions.”
Green solutions are expensive and have a long payback period, warns Ms. Thorp. “My experience to date is that most people don’t choose this path after they’ve done the math unless they’re going to live in a house for a long time.”
If you have the desire and the means to design a new home, few will ever regret taking on such a project, Mr. Cunningham says. “The result will be a bespoke, beautiful home that will delight the family for years to come.”