Countdown to success

How to begin and manage a renovation programme is a moot point. There are many potential pitfalls, so read our foolproof guide to bringing the project in on time, on budget and exceeding expectations. 

Words: Gillian Upton.


If you’re planning a major design and build project in your home, the one thing you cannot afford to do is waste time. In an ideal world, planning permission is approved first time round so your builders can get cracking, the bifold doors arrive just when the opening is finished, and the Italian porcelain flooring arrives just when the screed is dry.

Of course, we all know that deliveries are often delayed, Eastern European bifold doors and German kitchens take an age to arrive in the UK, wrong items turn up and have to be returned, planning permission is declined, then you change your mind and the builder and architect fall out over the variation of works. A home design and build project can be as stressful as moving house, but there are a few golden rules that can be followed to smooth the way. First of all, understand the process.

1-31. The vacant plot on Abbeville Rd that became architectural designer John Osborn’s 5-bed, 4-floor home. 2. A specialist contractor starts work on the basement structure 3. The soil is dug out.


STEP 1: Preparation and Brief This is the most important part of the project and where an architect adds value. He or she will survey the site to assess the feasibility of the project and decide the best way forward, and will identify the need for any approvals and other consultants, most commonly a structural engineer.

STEP 2: Concept Design The architect will develop outline proposals and present a number of initial concepts for you to choose from, liaising with local planners as a matter of urgency. A final design brief will be developed.

STEP 3: Developed Design The final design brief will be turned into something that can be built and the design proposals submitted for planning approval, if required.

4-64. Steel mesh reinforcing for the concrete lining. 5. Work starts on the first part of the build. 6. Structural walls built to divide gym, bedroom and stairwell. External walls have been brought to ground-floor height.


STEP 4: Technical Design Technical drawings will be prepared, with detailed specifications and a schedule of works so you can approach builders to quote for the job. Get at least three quotes from established firms, and try not to go for the cheapest. The architect can appraise the tenders, appoint the chosen firm and then manage the building contract on your behalf. Alternatively, you can turn the project over to the builder at this stage.

STEP 5: Construction The architect or builder can manage the construction phase to ensure it is developed on time and on budget.

STEP 6: Handover and Close Out The architect will carry out a snagging inspection and once those have been done, he or she will give you the final certifications (issued by Building Control), and formally hand over the building to you.

more haste

Do you need an architect? Definitely for the drawings and for planning approval. “We can often improve on the client brief but they usually know what they want,” says architectural designer Mike Scudamore. He is content to do the drawings and walk away, leaving a project manager to supervise the works, but can return to problem solve.

Size and complexity of project will dictate whether you need one. Arguably, a simple extension, side return or loft project doesn’t require their services full time, and it will avoid added cost too.

“Architects add value, whether it comes from maximizing impact or functionality, bringing about change of use, increasing capacity or marketability,” says RIBA. Architects begin to offer a full service for projects over £30,000. Their fees are a percentage of the renovation cost, normally in the region of 10-15%, less if there is no supervision. One Wandsworth resident living on the Tooting Common/Streatham borders shared his experience of a major renovation costing £100,000 to his five- bedroom house. He relied on architects’ drawings and calculations, then used his builder to project manage. He does concede, however, “An architect/project manager would have made my life easier if there was more of a step-by-step guide. “Cost is one of the main factors, as once architects and project managers are appointed, costs do ratchet up quite considerably. If I were attempting some ‘Grand Design’ then I would definitely use an architect through the whole project.” 

7-97. Ground-floor joists are in and the walls have started to go up. 8. First steels are in to form the opening for the ground-floor folding door. 9. First-floor joists are in.


They gutted the ground floor, added a side return, changed the garage into an office, extended the back and loft (with two new dormers) and added 600 square feet. Unfortunately it fell foul of the planning authorities. “As a result [our builder] was held up with men on site and ended up doing things in slightly reverse order. Nonetheless, the builder brought the project in on time, after four months. “We were lucky [the builder] was so relaxed and willing to be flexible, I guess. Once Lambeth produced the paperwork it was full steam ahead, but only after some stressful moments.” (For guidance on smoothing the planning process, go to our feature “Best laid plans”).

choosing the right expertsRob Wood, Director with Simply Construction, says, “Builders can pay a project manager to coordinate all the tradesmen and liaise with the client, so I don’t know what an architect would be paid for. A good builder can manage their team themselves.”

Moreover, builders and architects can rub each other up the wrong way. Mike Scudamore concedes, “Builders can come up with better ideas on site. Don’t forget we just sit at a drawing board in a clean, dry office but builders work in the thick of it.”

This is an opinion echoed by James Gold, CEO of Landmark. “If you ask a separate architectural firm to design your loft, for example, they may draw up plans that appear fantastic. However, the cost to build it may be outside the client’s budget. Our in-house  architects provide solutions that fit a client’s personal budget.”

Builder Tele Kyriacou of Telemark Construction can see both sides. “Those [architects] that do their job properly are fantastic, with the right detailed drawings and the right spec.” But he warns that when their work is less than comprehensive, it can lead to a breakdown in the project between the client, builder and architect.

He cites inaccurate initial surveys, not acknowledging variations which should be incorporated into drawings with new costings, and younger architects with insufficient technical knowledge of building products.

10-11Clients aren’t blame free either, because they change their minds once the project has begun. It’s usually where arguments begin between client and builder/architect, as the client often won’t accept the resulting additional costs and delay. “We allocate manpower to each stage of the job so if the plan changes, so will everything else. The architect should head them off at the pass and explain that there is a serious cost implication to any change,” says Tele of Telemark Construction.

10. Scaffolding goes up another “lift” ready to build the 2nd floor. 11. Roof structure is going up.

Dermot Steedman, owner of Dermarta Construction says variations occur in 50% of jobs. He advises “to be clear and upfront at the start” and stick to it. Be sure to get an itemised costing so if you are going over budget, you can see immediately what can be saved and where. Ensure the contract with your builder is watertight, stipulating level of deposit,  phased payments, a retention for snagging and penalties for delays.

Lastly, be realistic about timescales. “Everyone wants their project done quickly,” says Rob at Simply. Allow four months from appointing an architect to starting on site. See below for our more detailed guide to costings and timings.

NB. Go to the directory page for our feature on how to find the right supplier, and download our exhaustive guide to suppliers across the Nappy Valley area.


Digging under front bay window to create space for a playroom/living room, bedroom/ shower room and utility room. Average time taken: Allow 15 weeks for the structural dig, then a further 12-15 weeks for fit-out and finish. Total = 27-30 weeks. Average cost: Anywhere between £130,000 – £200,000 + VAT

Media room/playroom, wine cellar, utility room, bedroom & bathroom. Average time taken: Allow 32-40 weeks, depending on size and spec. Average cost: £250-£400,000 + VAT

NB. Allow 3 months between signing a contract with a builder and getting planning permission, so plan on a year to build and finish a basement.

Average time taken: Allow 10-12 weeks (plus or minus 2 weeks) to construct and decorate. Average cost: Anywhere between £35,000 – £55,000 + VAT Plus cost of fit-out.

Average time taken: Allow 8 weeks (plus or minus 2 weeks) to get to a plaster finish, snag and decorate. Average cost: From £32,000 upwards + VAT

Source: Simply Construction.


Part two – Jargon buster



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