1. Employ an architect (and a good one at that), who shares your view of the world. Don’t try to design your home yourself, it’s not what you were trained to do, nor will you be any good at it. I’ve had all sorts of design training and I would still employ an architect, and on a full service contract at that. A good architect will give you back your dream fully wrought and magnificently detailed - providing you choose the right one.
2. Contain your budget and contain your ambition, allowing yourself up to 20% contingency fee on the project. If you don’t spend it on the house you can spend it on sofas and a holiday at the end!
3. Spend three years planning your project and putting everything in place in advance, and chances are you’ll be on site six to eight months (which is the very expensive bit). Spend six months planning and chances are you’ll be on site for three years (which, to remind you, is the very expensive bit).
4. Employ as many professionals as you can afford, especially a good project manager or builder. Getting the build costed by a professional Quantity Surveyor is also absolutely necessary. Never rely on a costing produced by your builder or your architect: the entire construction industry is populated by optimists.
5. Do write everything down. Everything. Keep records, delivery notes, invoices and ensure that you have signed contracts with all the players involved. And keep a build diary to record progress and bore your grandchildren with.
6. Do remember that building a house is not a sophisticated piece of DIY, nor is it an extended piece of interior design. The inside of your home is private and your personal realm of expression. The outside is public property and part of other people’s lives. Architecture has a public responsibility and your home will become part of a landscape or townscape, so stand back from the design process and give your architect, landscape designer and planner room for manoeuvre here. As the French planner and building colourist Jean-Philippe Lenclos said: “If you want to paint your front door, get your neighbour to choose the colour”.