1. Understand Your Goals & Priorities
Having an initial understanding of what your home will be used for is essential before designing. Is it a house that will accommodate a large family, is it for financial gain, are you a builder or developer, should this home be designed purely for resale, does the wish-list take priority or the budget, do you work from home, are you an entertainer or a couch potato. There are no right or wrong answers here and definitely no judgement. I’ve designed homes with secret rooms, a slide for the kids as an alternative to stairs and even a room for miniature army battles—and that one was for dad. The only person who knows what you want is ultimately you, so it's worth some reflection and writing a list of priorities. And as Mick Jagger famously sang, you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.
2. Orientation of the Site
Here in the Southern Hemisphere, consideration should always be placed on where the site is orientated in relation to north. In winter, when the sun is lower in the sky, the sun resides in the north for a good portion of the day. A well designed home—with living and outdoor areas oriented towards the north—will receive more sun when you need it the most. You should also contemplate the best place for covered outdoor areas too, because if placed on the northern side of a living area, the space can become quite dark. There's a lot of research suggesting health benefits from a bright sunlit home and it's good for the environment too. And a tip, when people start the design process in the summer months, they tend to be far more concerned with keeping the sun out, especially if their current home is not well designed or insulated. But remember, winter is coming... a home really should be liveable all throughout the year and easily adapt between summer and winter.
3. Site Access
This one's not too sexy, but how cars and people access a site is a major consideration. Determining the location of a garage or carport can be tricky. Of course, it is best to locate car accommodation in a position which does not impede solar access into the home, does not increase the slope of the driveway (especially on sloping sites with a cross-fall) and does not dominate the appearance of the home. You want to be able to leave the house with minimum turning circles.
4. Preferred Style
Now if you're anything like me, you like many different styles of homes. What draws you to one may be different to what draws you to another. You might like the detail of a traditional Queenslander but also the clean lines of a more minimalist-styled home and there's no reason you can't mix styles. I often ask clients to consider how they currently live, are they big entertainers or do they prefer a good book. Are they naturally ordered and organised or are they more 'free range'. There's often a tension between who we are and who we aspire to be and I've always found that somewhere in-between is more realistic. I like to keep this in mind when choosing a home style for myself. I resonate with a more relaxed, homey architectural style with natural materials and a connection to the outdoors. Understanding yourself is essential in finding a style that fits both in form and function and reflects your personality.
5. Council Requirements
I have designed thousands of homes all over Australia and it never ceases to amaze me just how diverse and complicated planning requirements are from one place to another. There are bushfire regulations, setbacks, height limits, stepped 3D building envelopes, minimum yard sizes, overlooking, site coverage, floor space ratio etc... and they keep changing from one week to the next. The important thing here is to do your research and aim for a design response which increases the likelihood of achieving a permit. Know what things are "no-go zones" like a maximum height limit (which cannot be varied with a permit), as is the case with many areas on the Mornington Peninsula from Mt Martha to Portsea. This is where professional advice is a must.
6. Existing Vegetation
Trees take a long time to grow, so it's worth carefully assessing the quality, lifespan and suitability of existing vegetation when planning your design project. Solar access should always be a consideration, not to mention council requirements which may limit the removal of certain species. Bushfire regulations also need to be taken into account particularly on the Mornington Peninsula, with many areas designated 'bushfire prone' or located in a BMO (Bushfire Management Overlay).
7. Building Materials
These days there are so many choices when it comes to selecting materials for your home. Native timbers, local stone, masonry, lightweight, low maintenance cement sheet products, aluminium, Cor-ten. It is worth considering cost, suitability, availability and maintenance when weighing up your preferences. Heavyweight masonry might be low maintenance but could be very costly on a sloping site. This is where a bit of research is invaluable and the internet is a great place to start.
8. Get Expert Advice
No man or woman is an island and we all need help from time to time. It's crucial that when designing and planning out a home you educate yourself and seek the advice of trained professionals. I have always found that most people love sharing their knowledge. If you have a tiling question, you'll never get any better advice than speaking with a tiler, it is their speciality. The same applies to building designers, all we do day in and day out is design homes.
9. Focus on Function Not Room Size
If I had a dollar for every time a client gave me minimum room sizes in their wish list... While this can be helpful in some instances, it's often more about the function of a space and it's three dimensional quality than simply its 2D size. The location of windows and doors, whether or not the space is a thoroughfare, open to another room or has a high ceiling can all change the dynamics of an area and a smaller room might actually work better if designed with all these considerations in mind.
10. Floor Plans Don't Tell the Whole Story
Floor plans are just one tool used by home designers to convey information, they may help with room relationships but lack a more spacial quality. Why not view your design in 3D so you have a good three-dimensional understanding of your project. Consider trying Virtual Reality, this can be a great tool if you find it difficult to visualise or understand working drawings and floor plans and there's nothing like getting up close and personal with your home at the early stages.