How to build a house

Start with your dreams

It's handy to know what you want when you're asking someone to pull a house design together. Building a home is a massive project, with a bunch of emotions thrown in for good measure. The clearer you can be about what you want, the better.

A brief brief

Take the time to write down what you think you want.

Our brief started with a bit about us (two adults and two 'destructathon' boys). How we like to live (outdoors). What we love and how to utilise in the site to achieve what was important to us (northern light, southern view, space, green things).

We also wanted an open kitchen/dining/living area, three bedrooms - with ours being separated somehow from the boys - a space for James' tools, an office for me (that we could build separately if budget dictated) a bathroom and two toilets, and a mixed-use space that could be converted from rumpus to spare bedroom when needed for our two sets of parents.

Big on our list too was that we wanted the house to fit into the site rather than being something that stuck out and dominated the landscape, and we wanted to use smart environmental ideas (but realised we couldn't afford to go full monty on a passivhaus).

Form versus functionality

To work out whether our design felt right we headed to the beach with plans in hand.

Drawing it out on the sand let us physically walk through the design and get a feel for the sizes and relationships of the rooms. By doing this we were able to work out whether we could live with that bedroom being a little smaller and the staircase being narrower, because every scrap of space costs in a new build.

We also pegged out the design on the site. Because it is sloping, it was harder to get a feel for the sizes, but we could see what each room would look at, and where the sun would hit at what times of the day


For me, this is where I most wanted architectural input. I can see where the sun rises and sets, but I can't visualise the full implication of how the dipping winter rays might fill, or not fill, my lounge.

There are computer programs that will show how the sunlight hits and when you are thinking about maximising sunlight for passive solar design, you want all the advice you can get.

I am a little nervous about our bedroom being effectively underground, but when I stand on site with the windows planned out in front of me, I can see that the place will actually have plenty of light when we want it.

That's the key of course, everyone wants light, but you don't necessarily need it all the time and not always in every space. What you want in the bedrooms might be very different to what you want in general living areas.

Trust thyself

If you engage an architect then you want to use their expertise, it's what you're paying them for. But you also have to trust yourself.

Architects have spent years training and then more years bringing their vision to life. Having someone design your home needs to be a melding of your dreams and their vision. If you've got a good fit with your architect or designer, this should be the fun part!

Of course if you have a budget of $300,000 and want an architecturally designed home with six bedrooms, a lift and a swimming pool you might be pushing it a little. But your architect should be able to guide you on this. A big part of their job is to scale your dreams to your financial reality.

Sometimes reality and dreams may not match up. You do, however, need to have dreams to start with.

claus ejlertsen