When you think of Home, what do you think of ?

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Your home. What does it mean you? The chances are you spend more time in it than anywhere else. You sleep, relax, entertain, practice your hobbies there and perhaps most importantly provide a secure environment for your children's evolving needs. But does it work for you in terms of space and size, its layout, its style, its homeliness?

What could your home be? Do you have a vision of that? Could your current house be realized to its fullest potential more cost effectively? Could you afford it? Or do you move house? Your estate agent may help there but if you decide it's the former, it's your architect who can enable you to develop that vision of expanded and transformed living space, and turn it successfully into reality.

But the architect you choose is paramount to the success of realising your vision. The role of architect is a creative and inventive one that requires talent and experience. It is also very personal. The best kind of architect to design your new house or to extend your existing is a small practice or one man band, who can focus on your project and who is specialised in residential design right down to the interiors. The last point may seem obvious, but it is very important, as it is the interior space that needs to be manipulated to give drama or delight even if it is in a gentle and understated way.  This is distinct from Interior Decoration which may or may not be offered, but this will be where a good Architect really adds value over other construction trades able to draw up plans, but with little understanding of ROI or spacial design and finishes. Your architect needs to have worked in the relevant market - this is crucial just as much for a few hundred square feet domestic extension as for a high end residence in Kensington or the Surrey Hills. It's a bit like going to see a doctor. You wouldn't expect to be referred to a heart surgeon if you have a broken leg, so it's imperative not to go with a large architectural practice with an impressive office and wide range of experience in hospitals, schools, prisons or offices but little in residential. 

This is almost more important than whether you see an individual architects style as modern or traditional, minimalist or classically stylish because a good architect will always provide a contemporary interpretation of what you want, always using modern materials and building techniques to meet current regulations. Using his specialized knowledge he will fashion your home into a small work of art. It may be a work of art that looks like its always been part of your house or it may be a grand design statement contrasting and competing visually with your original house. That work of art needs to function on an every day level, and be something that both meets your practical needs and is beautiful in its own right.

So how does all this translate into reality. A word on the process.

Your architect will initially meet with you to discuss your ideas and if you decide to take him on formally, once the basic direction of the project is decided on, he will need to survey your existing property and begin to look at the feasibility of the scheme, hopefully with a rough idea of building costs. You will need to agree the extent of the services you require and put it in writing, including a timetable and a budget. Architects fees are either on a percentage build, hourly or in lump sums fixed at different stages of the project, and that should also be put in writing.

Once all that is out of the way, a detail design will be submitted for planning and building regulation permission, both of which involve fees to the local authority. An architect can take the proposals just up to this stage or develop information for tendering for construction where selected builders will price on drawings and schedules he produces resulting into priced building contract. An architect will be available to manage the project right up to the final stages of this stressful and time consuming process. He is the professional who acts on your behalf as an interpreter of your requirements and monitor costs and timing in the project.

For this reason good communication between you and him or her is essential. It is a demanding process for everyone, but at the end of it you should have a new home, and something that on many different levels, changes your life.

Jeremy Barry of Jeremy Barry Architects

Architect, Residential Investment Consultant and Interior Designer