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  • Carmel Homes

What is the Design Process for a Custom Built Home?

By its very nature, the process of designing a custom home is unique and varies from project to project. Guided by your specific requirements and tastes, it will be tailored to the type of home you want to build. It will also respond to your preferences and priorities, with your designer helping you move through the different stages.

This is quite different to working with a volume builder, where you have a suite of set designs to pick from. You may need to make some adjustments, but these will usually be fairly minor and limited by what your builder allows. As such, the process of designing a custom home tends to be more time-consuming and complex – but also much more rewarding.

The good news is, regardless of your plans, there are several key design steps you will need to go through. Understanding these will make the process easier to navigate and should allow you to get more from it.


Step 1: Initial Consultation in the Design Process

The first thing you need to do is choose who will help you refine your ideas and put your plans together. This could be an independent architect or building designer or your builder’s own design team (if they are a design and build company). Whoever you choose to work with, make sure they are sufficiently qualified, suitably skilled, and have experience completing similar projects.

Once you have picked your designer, they will schedule an initial meeting to learn more about you and your plans. During this session, they will try to get a sense of your requirements, your lifestyle, and your aesthetic tastes. To do this, they will usually ask you about:


  • How much space you need. As a starting point, your designer will need to know how many bedrooms, bathrooms, and living spaces you need. They will also want to get a sense of how large you would like the various rooms to be. This will help them understand the scale of the home you are after and the spaces they need to plan.

  • Your daily routine. How you plan to live in your new home will dictate the ideal floor plan and flow between spaces. It will also help determine the features you need to be included and the best way to structure and position them. Walking through an ordinary day in your life is also a great way to assess the liveability of new home plans.

  • Architectural styles you like. This will give your designer a good sense of your taste and provide guidance on suitable decoration and décor. For example, if you are a fan of French Provincial homes, they may design a similar façade or suggest ornate cornicing. Alternatively, if you like more modern home designs, they may opt for cleaner lines and minimal adornment.

  • Any special features you are after. In addition to the standard inclusions (bedrooms, bathrooms, etc.), a custom home allows you to have the features you want. This could be a home office space, home gym, cinema room, entertainer’s kitchen, or any other area you would like. By discussing your desires with your designer upfront, they will be able to fully integrate them into your design.

  • Your budget and timeline. It does not matter how good your new home design is if you will not be able to build it. And the two biggest limitations for custom home builders are money and time. As such, having an idea of your budget and timeline allows your designer to make sure their plans are realistic.

  • Your priorities. If you have a limited budget, you may not be able to achieve your whole wish list. If this happens, your designer will need to decide which features to include and which features to leave out. In this instance, understanding what you value most will help them make sure they make the right choices.

To make your initial consultation more effective, it is best to come into the meeting with some clear ideas. As such, we recommend thinking about the above questions ahead of the session and documenting your thoughts. It is also worth collating a few images of homes you would like your design to be inspired by.


Step 2: Site Analysis

In addition to getting to know you, your designer will also need to learn about your site. This will help them identify any potential limitations and make sure these are reflected in their proposed design. It will also help them identify any unique features (views, significant trees, etc.) your new home design can capitalise on.

Depending on the designer, this could involve an actual site visit or just the preparation of a few key reports. Either way, at a minimum, your designer will require a site survey and soil quality testing to be completed. This will help them make sure their proposed design is suitable for building on your chosen site.

If you are planning to knockdown and rebuild, your designer may also require information about the existing structure. This is particularly important in areas where knockdown and rebuild projects are required to stay within the existing building footprint.



Step 3: High-Level Schedule and Initial Quote

The information gathered in the first two steps should give your designer enough to start putting together high-level plans. To make sure everyone is on the same page at this point, they will generally arrange another meeting with you. At this session, they will recap their understanding of your needs and wants and seek any further clarification required.

Usually, you will also be presented with an indicative timeline at this meeting, outlining the key project milestones. This will be based on your designer’s initial ideas and should give you a good sense of the process ahead. It will also allow you to start making your own tentative plans, particularly in relation to your finances and accommodation arrangements.

Importantly, this is also when you will first get a real sense of the cost of your new home build. While the quote will still only be indicative at this point, it will generally be fairly close to the final number. Most design and build companies will also require you to pay a deposit at this point before the real work begins.

Step 4: Initial Review and Feedback

After taking some time to put together initial drafts, your designer will share their work with you and get your thoughts. While you will not have complete plans at this stage, you should at least receive proposed floorplans and elevations. This should be enough to get a sense of your designer’s thinking and to provide initial feedback.

Depending on the brief you gave them, your designer may provide you with multiple design concepts to choose from. These will usually focus on different elements of your brief and should help you decide what is most important.

When providing your thoughts on the proposed plans, try to be as honest, open, and detailed as possible. This will help your designer better understand your concerns and make it easier for them to make the required changes.



Step 5: Interior Design

Once most of the structural elements have been planned, you will be able to think about your new home’s interiors. This is considered one of the most fun steps because you get to play with different colours, materials, and finishes. It is also when your new home design starts to become real, as you pick your surfaces and fittings.

Generally, your designer will support you through this process, with many employing dedicated interior design specialists. As part of this, they will help you methodically work through all the decisions you need to make. They will also make sure all your choices work together and suggest creative ways to achieve the look you want.

As a rule, your designer will recommend matching your internal décor to your new home’s architectural style. For example, if you are planning a French Provincial home, parquetry flooring, stone benchtops, and muted colours would complete the look. Alternatively, you could opt for a more contemporary feel, creating contrast through the use of modern home design elements.



Step 6: Final Documents and Building Contract

When you are happy with the proposed plans, you give your approval, and your designer will finalise all their documentation. You may need to go through several review cycles before getting to this point as you work through the details. However, it is important to get this right, as it can be difficult and expensive to make changes later.

Once all the documents are finalised, you can use them to apply for planning permission. Most designers will also support you through this process, and some will even manage it on your behalf. Either way, once you have received planning approval, you can move on to the construction phase.

If you are working with a design and build company, this should be a fairly smooth transition. If you are not, you will need to find a builder with the qualifications and skills to deliver your plans. Your designer should be able to help with this, either by recommending suitable companies or supporting you through the tender process.

Want to discuss this further?

For more information on designing a custom home, or to start working on your own plans contact Carmel Homes. As one of Melbourne’s leading custom home builders, we can guide you through every step of the process. We also specialise in working with homeowners to develop unique designs that perfectly fit their tastes, lifestyle, and budget.

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