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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"When & Why" to engage an Interior Architect

Hello again! It's been a while since I posted anything as I have been really busy lately (thankfully of course), but I am back to give some observations which have been troubling me.

It seems to me that generally individuals who are building houses want to have more say in the finished product of their home and this is why I would put forward that there has been an increase in the amount of direct labour house building occuring in Ireland as opposed to main contractor appointments. In my opinion there are advantages and disadvantages to both scenarios.

In the first instance on the direct labour side of the fence, the individual feels they have achieved something almost primal in building a home for the family and saving themselves money to boot. The costs can be enormous on your mental health if you are not familiar with the construction industry and managing or co-ordinating alot of trades especially if you are working at the same time is almost impossible as you need to be there to supervise what is happening and sign off on the work being done. I am not saying that building a home is a black art, not at all everything can be learned all be it the hard way in alot of cases...

My point is, if you are relatively inexperienced in construction then it can be a mine field unless you know exactly what you are building. You will need to know in advance how you want each room completely finished and this needs to be decided before you turn a sod..."Impossible" I hear you it is not, there is no earthly reason why you cannot select and design the interior details for your entire house before you begin the build...Imagine deciding what your needs were and building your house around it, its a no brainer really...There-in lies the problem for most clients, they actually dont know what they want or more likely they dont know what their wife/partner/children want...

When you engage a main contractor to build your home, again he/she will need to know exactly what you want to build and the finish level required, how else are they going to acurately tender for the build. I feel the main gap in client understanding is not realising that most contractors are pricing for a builders finish with standard services design/location and a few PC sums thrown in to cover fireplaces/kitchen/sanitary ware which are usually painfully inadequate, which keeps the pricing low to get the project...Beware of unusually low tenders....You see the home owners needs and tastes have become much more sophisticated, through the medium of tv and glossy design magazines nearly everyones idea of home has morphed into a spa like hotel style, luxury imagining of some sort...

I have found that both selfbuilders and contract clients alike think that there is such a thing as "ELASTIC PRICING" This is the term I use when the client assumes there is some grey area for changes in the price they get for whats indicated on the tender drawings...this is especially critical to keep in mind when examining tenders, clients often assume that they will get the finish that is in their head from the price on the page...Guess what? there is no such thing as "ELASTIC PRICING" the builders contingency sum covers his omissions/mistakes NOT YOURS!!! Here-in lies the priciple of "EXTRAS" which all trades/contractors love...when you make a change outside your original drawings you must pay for the change...EVERYTIME!!!

This phenomenon is exacerbated by the fact that the trades/contractor is usually pricing off a set of planning drawings (with limited finishing detail and little or no interior/architectural specifications) unless you have engaged an Architect to produce construction drawings/specifications of course, which I might add usually contain very sketchy standard services layouts, furniture layouts which have no client input with often miss scaled furniture/generic kitchens & bathrooms/storage which are less than adequate for a families needs and little or no detail on the design features you may have in your head...usually because you haven't thought of them yet....

Here is the "GOLDEN RULE" if its not on a drawing or in a specification document it is not included in the price....

This is why I am writting this blog I am frustrated at the shear volume of people I talk to who do not realise that there are design professionals like myself available to help you in this area. You are spending alot of money on something you will hopefully live in for along time, dont you think a little extra planning might help you to develop the space you can really live in, instead of adjusting to a space which you feel is inadequate for you or your families needs.

I recently met up with some previous clients of mine with whom I worked for 4 months prior to tendering their project. In that 4 months together, we put down on paper all the things they wanted from their home into a set of technical drawings, room by room. They knew exactly what each space would look like, most importantly that the furniture they required would fit and that their family would be able to get the best from their new home. As with most of my clients, in the begining of course they did not have a clear idea of what they wanted and (not wanting to be sexist, just stating the facts as I have encountered them) often the male comes with the planning drawings in hand and the female comes with a million magazine clippings of all the wonderful spaces their new home will provide for them...

You will forgive this gender typecasting as there is science behind it, the function of 3D visualisation is highly likely in the male brain and less likely in the female brain, so in many instances the husband can read the plan easily and see the space in 3D or have a good idea of what it will look like but the wife may not be able to read the plan in this way, and will have no idea what that space looks like or the volume of it. Therefore the couple end up speaking two completely different lanuages and understand the space in very different ways and their expectations of the spaces are usually very different....

Really in many instances it is only when the house frame is up, that the couple slowly realise that the fabulous kitchen in the picture does not fit into the room they have built for it (and it always makes me sad to see the long faces when the couple realise they have made a boo boo) or that they cannot have the island in their heads. At this stage it can be too late, the space exists and to make changes without drawing extra costs upon yourself is impossible and here-in lies the secret of engaging an Interior Architect.

What if there was someone who could speak both languages and extract what was in the wife/husbands head and make sure your drawings contained the correct information/room sizes before you went for planning and before you had signed any binding contracts which may prevent you from making changes to YOUR new home during the build. It is too late to make changes when you are on site, changes are cheap on paper and with the correct detailed drawings, exact costs can be acheived for the finish you require before you start and at least have the design and services sorted so provisions can be made to install at a later date if you cannot afford to finish it all at once....

I cannot stress enough that the time costs you incur with an Interior Architect (which is usually a very small percentage of your build cost or flat a Sq Ft rate) will produce detailed drawings on every feature and service you require in your new home and most importantly clear away any doubt during the build. You could price for a set of drawing only or take a package which gives you site supervision and a professional to liaise with your main finishes suppliers/contractor on the critical areas such as services/bathrooms/kitchens/tiling/architectural elements etc.

I had one client who came to me very late in her project and it was because she had finished two bathrooms and then did'nt like them, unfortunately she had also spent €12,000 on tiles which she did not like when they arrived on site, the suppliers would not give her the money back but exchanged the tiles for timber flooring which she was now again not sure about....It was the fear of costing herself another €12,000 that brought her to me, you know the sad part about it is, this particular client admitted that she had been given my card by the tile suppliers before she started building and did'nt see the value in my service...she does now!

The above client opted for a late design package and supervision....

The couple I mentioned earlier in the blog opted for an early design package only and were delighted they did because they feel they are having a "stress free build" and in their words "because we know where everything was going, what it looks like and that it will fit" this couple were pregnant when we were planning their home and the new arrival is nearly a year old now but mommy was delighted not to be stressed as she was managing two other siblings "we dont get any urgent phone calls from site as everyone knows what needs to be done and I know I made all my informed decisions early"

Getting back to the core reason for this blog entry, so WHEN do you need to speak to an interior Architect. Ideally during the design process before the planning application is submitted, in this case you have more freedom to tweak window/door positions and room sizes without having the planning authorities after you.

If you already have planning permission, changes to the exterior are a no, no but you can still achieve so much internally with the right help and you will still want the services and room designs clarified...

For further information contact details for Geraldine O' Brien are available on her website:

Friday, February 26, 2010


I wrote this article for the 'Decorate Extend & Renovate' Magazine which was published last spring and feel that it holds many helpfull design guidelines for anyone contemplating restyling an exisitng kitchen or designing a kitchen for a new build.

Good kitchen design ultimately revolves around the end user’s requirements and family lifestyle. What’s the point of having a breakfast bar if no one sits at it, or if you have many floor cabinets but not enough space to put appliances? In the next few paragraphs I have singled out what I feel are important issues to consider when planning your new kitchen layout.

The Work Triangle
There are three primary work zones in a kitchen:
1.Food storage (refrigerator)
2.Cooking (cooker/oven)
3.Clean-up (sink and dishwasher)

It is widely accepted that the kitchen is the heart of the home, so if you plan its layout around your family’s lifestyle, you should end up with a successful, functional space. Today’s kitchens must facilitate many functions from food preparation, storage and eating to working and entertaining. Your might have a home office space here, family computer or watch tv. Professional design advice could save time now and money later.

Style & Equipment
Kitchen style is important and will influence the type of appliances and accessories you choose, as well as the amount of space required to accommodate them. For example an Aga Range will look great in a traditional kitchen but may look slightly out of place in a contemporary kitchen, unless it is a modern cross over style, like gas or electric. Another consideration is plumbing and electrics. Many American style fridge freezers require connection to mains water for ice and filtered water, so they also need to be accessible for replacing the filter. Many modern appliances like these tend to be wider so make sure there are no obstacles to prevent doors opening comfortably and safely. Some average around 1000mm wide while more traditional appliances are approximately 600mm. Accessories, such as door knobs, sinks and taps need to be considered as part of the overall look of the kitchen, while ‘built-in’ luxury accessories like microwave, coffee machine, steamer etc must have their place in the space plan too.

Plan your Kitchen
A kitchen ‘space plan’ needs to accurately represent the dimensions of the kitchen, the position of windows and doors, and all available wall space before you can start to plot cabinets. If you are extending or remodelling your kitchen, be realistic about the space you actually require for the kitchen you want to have. An empty space will always look impressive but once you start fitting cabinets and appliances, it can quickly shrink. It is therefore advisable to plan your kitchen design/layout at the same time as drawing plans for your new extension – this will help you achieve exactly what you want.

Plan your kitchen layout on graph paper, using one square to represent 0.5m. Plot doors, windows and other fixtures such as radiators, then, position appliances, wall and floor cabinets as well as freestanding items like bins, to get a preliminary impression of what your kitchen could look like. Remember kitchen cabinets vary in width (500mm & 600mm) so until you decide on a kitchen style with your chosen showroom, your plan won’t be accurate.

Budget, Budget, Budget!
If your builder has allocated a PC sum for the kitchen then you are restricted to where you can shop, but that doesn’t mean your design should suffer. Look at your wish list, your space plan, and all information gathered from showrooms – this will help you set your budget. This will help you evaluate the quantity of cabinets and appliances you need. You can then take this to a kitchen showroom for pricing. Style of units, grade of material and cabinet accessories, such as swing or corner racks and wine storage, will impact on cost. Appliances can vary in price depending on the brand you chose so visit review websites to see how other purchasers rated them. You will need to budget for appliances, cabinetry, worktop, accessories, plumber, electrician and of course kitchen fitting.

Make a Wish List
Start to make a scrapbook of looks and styles you like from magazines, such as granite work tops, water filter, wine storage, island unit or integrated appliances.

5 Tips for Successful Design Layout....
1.Evaluate the pros & cons of your existing layout.
2.Make a list of items you need to find space for in the kitchen – food, cooking utensils & equipment, appliances, dining table etc
3.Section your kitchen into essential / required work zones / task areas.
4.Prioritise your must-have items (in case your budget can’t afford them all)
5.Choose a kitchen style – that won’t date.

10 Tips for Successful Positioning...
1.Make sure you find a place for everything in your kitchen – cross check item list with plan.
2.Don’t clutter all walls with cabinets; consider open shelving to help give the illusion of more space.
3.How many appliances do you require? Do you want them integrated or can you position any on top of each other to save floor space? Wet appliances ideally should be near mains water for ease of fitting.
4.Do you need full height larder cupboards or will top and bottom cabinets suffice?
5.Consider the ‘work triangle’ when positioning appliances. According to the principles of Feng Shui, the cook should be able to see the door from the hob without turning her back.
6.Consider power/fuel/drainage lines all appliances, especially if integrated onto an island.
7.Plan an extractor fan/hood above the hob. If on an island, these are usually 90cm as opposed to 60cm.
8.Where will your bin live?
9.Where do you require electric point/sockets/switches and lighting systems?
10.If space is limited, consider a dining table top attachment which folds away or an integrated island/work station.

Good luck with your new kitchen and dont forget if you would prefer to export the headache to a professional you can always call on Design Sense!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Interior Design Sense - Importance of Planning Ahead

Hello everyone!

This is the first time I have ever posted a blog, hopefully I will get the hang of it fairly fast...and keep things interesting for you! I am looking forward to posting my take on the coming interior trends of 2010 & sharing my tips on the best places to shop on line & on the ground....

The reason behind this blog is to post my views on the in's & out's of contemporary interiors in Ireland, which have become increasingly popular in the last 10 to 15 years. More and more people are opting for a clean contemporary look now, as opposed to the softer more traditional interiors previously adorning our Irish homes. Also I am of course introducing myself, my business and hoping get feed back on any issues that you have experienced during your own building projects. You know...the kind of things that may have compromised your final result because a duct was omitted or a power cable didn’t appear where expected! I am interested in hearing comments from all the self builders, renovators, new home owners or existing home owners out there. Well, really just about any one who is making the most of the space they live in...I am in contact with clients everyday who come to me for advice when trying to create their perfect interior spaces for their homes.

So what exactly is interior architecture you may ask?

It basically refers to the design and coordination of the interior fabric of the building at a deeper level than an interior decorator would be involved, interior decorators mainly deal with an existing space applying a look to the room, where as many Interior Architects would be involved in the project from the begining shaping the room around a design concept. Interior Architecture can influence the interior structure of the room/building, positions of walls/doors/nibs etc. So working in conjunction with the project architect prior to commencement on site is extremely important. It is very easy to change door positions or nib walls on paper, moving them on site after they are built is far more expensive and time consuming....

My service entails developing a unique interior design concept for my clients, followed by a full set of technical drawings and schedules allowing accurate tendering prior to the build and cost control during the build and finally on site co-ordination services to help my clients implement the design right through to completion.

Some of my clients come to me halfway through their build when they encounter problems in developing their interior design concept or when trying to pull all their interior design ideas together. Many find it difficult to communicate their concept to the tradesmen (or women!) on site without having the correct drawings on hand or anyone to answer technical questions for them. Or worse still they have made some expensive mistakes!

I have found that many clients do not realise that building is an exact science. Contrary to the popular belief that "we can deal with that at a later stage"! The time to deal with it is right now. It is like this, it's 10mm or it's 20mm, it is obvious to me that these are not the same and it may sound insignificant to many but when you are dealing with contemporary interiors, being exact is key to achieving that streamlined look which is a contemporary interior trade mark. Contemporary interiors may look simple but the reason they look simple is because they are planned well in advance down to the millimetre. Therein lays their beauty.

Designing your dream bathrooms & kitchen, storage areas, electrics & lighting for example all take technical knowledge and on site know how. There is no reason why your entire home could not be fully designed and documented prior to breaking ground on site, but I have found more often than not so many couples plough ahead not realising that all elements in your home need to be pre-planned well in advance and are of an exact nature.

For example adding extra height to your ground floor ceiling during the build (which most importantly contravenes your planning permission) will affect your stairs, making it longer than originally measured. If an extra step is required the stairs may no longer fit in its allocated position. Changing the floor to ceiling height may also affect the angle of your stairs making it steeper, to the point that it may no longer comply with building regulations. So be very careful.

That’s all I have time for right now, but I will be back with another blog very soon.