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Designing your self-build

It’s pretty obvious that, when building your own home, you need to get things right at the design stage. But there’s more to choosing an architect than finding someone who can design a house that won't fall down. The question isn’t can they design a house, but can they design the right house for you?

What is the role of an architect?

An architect's job is to take the ideas you have in your head and turn them into a workable design. Whether you have a very clear vision, or want them to use their imagination to the full, they should be able to create a design that is better than you could have imagined.

Your architect can also take care of the planning application for you and, if you wish, they can oversee the building work. Fully qualified architects have had a minimum of seven years’ training, covering design, construction and structural engineering, and will therefore be able to make sure the work is up to standard.

Choosing an architect

Recommendations from people you know are a great place to start – or the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Homeowners’ Alliance both have lists of architects. Your architects must be members of the Architects Registration Board, the UK's regulator of architects, and should also be members of RIBA, as this guarantees that the practice complies with certain insurance, health and safety and quality standards. Check that they have professional indemnity insurance, which covers compensation if something goes wrong – ARB members are required to hold this.

If you're doing a self-build, you need an experienced self-build architect – it will be a bumpy ride at times, and the more experience your architect has, the better they should be able to smooth that out.

Consult at least three companies before making up your mind. Their websites are the place to start, but you should also ask for references and follow them up. Local architects are your best bet, as they will be familiar with the area and used to designing homes which fit in with it. They should also have a good relationship with the district or borough council’s planning department, and a good idea of what they are likely to approve, as well as being able to recommend builders.

Most practices will offer a free architect consultation, which is where you will get a feel for how well you can work with them. You're trusting these people to design your home, so you need to feel they are approachable and reliable, and are listening to you. They should present you with several designs, so you can see which you like best, and should never try to steer you away from what you want or can afford. The Homeowners’ Alliance has a form you can download with questions you can ask.

South east London architects Bluelime Home Design has been working on self-builds, extensions and renovations across London and Kent for 13 years, and is a member of both the ARB and RIBA. We have offices in DartfordBromleyErithBexley and Croydon, though we're called on more and more often to work further afield too. Call us on 01322 517632 to chat about the architectural services we offer and how we can help you.

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