The vision of what you want your home or commercial space to be might seem incredibly simple. The process required to get from this simple vision to a built reality, however, may require more steps than you may have expected. Is there such a thing as a simple renovation? As with most things, knowing the steps to get from A to B – whether it is how to buy a property, how to valuate a piece of art or how to bake a cake – helps to make sure that what should be simple, remains simple.
The foremost question to ask is can a builder do the work themselves without the need for drawings or Planning approval? If you ring one up to describe your project, ask them this very same question. An affirmation that they can proceed straight away will lead to one decision-making path. Inability to proceed will lead you to another.
In the case where a builder doesn’t need any more information but your description of the works, the next consideration for you is to gauge your own comfort with the risk of the project being over-budget or turning out differently from what you imagined. Anyone who has done any renovation work will tell you that once you peel back the wallpaper, you never know what you might find. Working without a plan of action – i.e. drawings of the proposed works – requires spot decision making at every unexpected event. These decisions generally have one of two outcomes: greater cost or greater deviation from what you initially imagined. The best way to mitigate this risk is to engage an architect who will be able to produce the requisite drawings which will offer both you and the builder a clearer idea of what the final outcome should be.
On the other hand, when it becomes clear that you will need more than a builder to do the works, your next port of call would be to ring up an architect. And while it may be tempting to dive right into discussions about what you want to achieve and the potential of improving your current space, ask them to outline the next steps of the process. Whether your project requires a Planning Application, needs the input of other consultants and engineers, or assurances of cost control, an architect can talk you through these in greater detail as applicable to your project. While ignorance may be bliss, if you find yourself sitting in the cockpit, flying blind isn’t necessarily the best approach either.
Before formally instructing a project to begin, you should have an idea of just how many steps are necessary to get from A to B. Knowing this will help you appreciate that for a project to run in an orderly, methodical manner, there are well-established stages to follow. The RIBA Plan of Work is just one outline of these steps. And while an architect can paraphrase these work stages for you in more conventional language, it is important to recognise that there is a common process used to realise most projects.
Where projects can easily go awry is when clients are either ill-informed about the normal steps between A to B, or perhaps worse still when they try to take a shortcut along the way. Shortcuts in the design process are like shortcuts anywhere else in life: they come with a greater degree of risk. Some may be acceptable whereas others might push you beyond your comfort zone. One of our cost consultants, Martyn Bone, summarised this quite well: designing a project costs money and whether a client pays for it up front to designers or pays for it in cost overruns and builders fees when the project is on site, the client will still pay for it.
The merits of a design team are numerous. But one of their most valuable roles to a client is to help the very complex and multifaceted nature of construction seem simple and straightforward.