Wednesday, 6 April 2011


My tips on design and inspiration have been published in the May 2011 edition of Self Build & Design magazine:

I think the secret to the success of any self-build project is to understand what is behind the motivation to self-build, ie. what is the driving force that makes a person want to design and build their own home?

For most this is a desire to build a home which is not a red brick mirror of next door’s house but a bespoke solution; a dream to create a unique building which is designed around your own personal needs and which ultimately reflects your personality and lifestyle.


As a population we spend increasing amounts of time at home whether it be working, entertaining, exercising, listening to music or browsing the web, there is simply less need for us to go out of the house.

Determining the functions of the spaces within your home is therefore crucial at the early design stage. Is it a formal or informal space? Is it a multipurpose or single purpose room? Is it a private or communal area? Is there a focal point? And most important of all how do all the spaces inter-connect?

It is not just, however, the functions of the spaces within a house which should be considered it is how the house functions as a whole. I strongly believe that buildings should function as living things responsive to events both internally and externally, to their occupants and their environment.

The success story of the German model, ‘Passivhaus’ has helped to bring all things ‘green’ into the mainstream of self-building and with a direct link between saving energy and saving money all self-builds should be designed to do just that. It is no longer a design compromise to build an eco-home, in fact, I wonder whether there will even be such a term, as we push towards zero carbon homes in 2016.


Comfort is something which is often overlooked in the frenzy of sifting through glossy magazines, stashing of material samples and inputting of costs into spreadsheets. Comfort is difficult to quantify and what individuals consider to be comfortable is variable. However, a home by its very definition, should be comfortable for its inhabitants.

It is often by keeping things simple that comfort can be achieved through design. Think about how you want your home to feel, and design in materials, colours and sounds (the tranquil splash of a water feature perhaps?) which please the senses. Of course convenience is a big factor in enabling a home to be comfortable which in turn takes us back to the importance of the fluidity of spaces.

Comfort is often the most difficult to achieve but also the most important.


For most self-builders the aim is to build a beautiful home. Quite often, and wrongly so, the external appearance of a house takes second fiddle to the interior. The size and layout of the floor plan takes precedence.

To achieve a truly beautiful house the floor plan, the exterior, the site and the architectural details should be designed together in harmony. I believe a building should be able to be ‘read’ from the exterior to form a kind of map of what’s within.

I would advise thorough research on materials as there is a huge variety available. Take into consideration the local architectural vernacular, use local materials where possible and think about using different materials to break up the fa├žade giving your home a more human scale. Approach the design of your house holistically and select materials which extend from interior to exterior and vice versa.

The form, proportions, materials, relationships, light, the accord of all the different elements of the building will set you on the path to designing a beautiful and unique home.


It is my belief that a building should connect with both time and place. Your home is not just a ‘space’ to live in, but a ‘place’ and it is your interaction with the space that makes this distinction. Those embarking on a self-build project are invariably trying to improve their lives by designing a place within which they can form a true connection, which harbours fond memories and which allows for meaningful experiences. Good design includes focal points and architectural features which can give the occupant a real sense of place and belonging.

Consider how your house connects with the environment around it. Capitalise on that environment, whether it be orientating your building to capture the sun or building into a hillside to take advantage of the earth as thermal mass. Buildings should be designed to connect with nature, respond to the climate, utilize the topography of their site but above all respect their surroundings.


It is often the little moments in a design which really make it something special. Whether they be accidental or intentional; the clever use of a small space, the way the light falls, a glimpse of a view or exposure of structure. After all, architecture is in the details.