Building your dream home | How to create a design brief

A design brief is a clear description of your full requirements and scope for your design and build project. A design brief is important to ensure that you and your designer are on the same page about what it is you require. It’s the most important aspect in translating your vision of the property you desire into a reality. The process below can assist you to come up with a clear brief.

What is the purpose of the project?

Before we even sit down for a brief, you need to know exactly what it is you need help with. Describe the reason you need design services. Start off with describing if this is a renovation project, a new build, an investment project for commercial use etc. This will give us context.

Who will benefit from the project

Who are you building this for? Is it a multi-residential that you want to rent out to young families? A senior retirement village? An office block? We will need to know as much about the kinds of people who will be using the property, in order to design accordingly. If this is a primary residence for you, we need to know as much about you as possible to have a clear idea of the design problem we need to solve. Start with a few sentences describing your family, including pets, professions, schooling, what makes you special, as well as how you live (i.e. hobbies, how you like to entertain and how often, do you have guests staying with you and do you have any significant equipment to accommodate such as camping equipment, caravans, sports car etc.) This information will be incorporated into a design.

Incorporate a vision board in your design brief

  1. Collect images of all the things you like about the type of home you want to create. I find Pinterest to be the best tool for this because you can create a board for each room in the house, the exterior, the type of interior, and you can easily share your pins with other family members.
  2. Take each of the images you have chosen and ask yourself what it is that attracted you to the image. It could be obvious, such as a particular material or shape, or it could be something less tangible, such as a feeling of comfort you get from the image.
  3. Picture yourself living in the room or house in the photo? If so, how does it feel to be there? Ask yourself what it is about that feeling that you want to emulate in your own home. A good architect will be able to capture this feeling and put it into a design. The moment someone walks into your home, they should be able to get that feeling. For example, if you want your home to feel like a Moroccan riad, we will use flat ceilings and rooftop terraces, mosaics etc.
via unsplash

Evaluate your current space

Ask yourself the following questions about your current living situation:

  1. What do you like about where you live and what don’t you like?
  2. Which rooms do you prefer to spend time?
  3. If you could improve just one thing, what would it be?
  4. Watch how people move around in your current living spaces. Can you identify any conflicts that could be avoided in your new home?

This evaluation of your current space will help us identify what functionality needs to be built into the new space.

Create a list of Interior requirements

Start compiling a list of the rooms you hope to include in your new home. There will be plenty of time to downsize if and when it becomes necessary. Remember, your architect’s job is to get you as close to your dream build as possible. If budget is a constraint, we work backwards from the goal until we arrive at an acceptable solution. Don’t start with a budget and then ask what can I get with this amount.  Below is a good list of things to consider:

  • Size and type of garage?
  • Number and type of living areas?
  • Dining area, casual, formal, number of chairs?
  • Describe the type of kitchen you want and specific features?
  • Type of pantry and how you want to use it?
  • Size of laundry and specific requirements?
  • Games room, media room, home theatre?
  • Study, home office, library?
  • Store room, workshop, cellar?
  • Number of bedrooms and sizes?
  • Number of bathrooms and specific features?
  • Master bedroom requirements and design features?
  • Guest bedroom requirements?
  • Ideal ceiling heights?
  • Any specific electrical system requirements?
  • Any specific heating or cooling requirements?​

Describe the exterior design you would like

  • How would you like the house to look from the street and any specific exterior design ideas or requirements?
  • Any specific requirements for the entry or front door?
  • Any specific exterior materials you do or do not want to use on the building?
  • Windows requirements?
  • Swimming pool?
  • Front fence or boundary wall requirements?
  • Describe the type of garden and outdoor spaces you would like and any specific design ideas?

Add depth to the list. 

Look at each of the rooms on your list and consider the following questions:

  1. What furniture will you want to put in the spaces you are going to design? Include any built-in storage you think you may need. Any walk-in closets etc.
  2. Which of the rooms would you consider public or private spaces? What rooms would you want to be open or closed, inward- or outward-looking?
  3. Now revisit the qualities and feelings you identified from your list of likes, as well your analysis of the rooms you enjoy spending time in. What qualities do you want each of the rooms on your list to have? This may include access to natural light at certain times of the day, or feelings of spaciousness, comfort, warmth.

Establish big-picture goals and priorities for the project. 

You should now have a good idea on the specifics of each room. It’s time to take a step back and think about the project as a whole. These goals will help guide the decision-making process as you move forward, and form a foundational core when you face difficult choices or conflicting opinions.
They might be environmental goals, such as minimizing energy use or water consumption, or economic goals, such as maximizing affordability and minimizing ongoing maintenance costs. Your goals could also be personal ones, such as allowing for flexibility toward any future lifestyle changes or creating the perfect place to hold lavish dinner parties.

Think of your goals as the values you want your final design to embody. Note it all down but prioritize each item into “non-negotiable,” “important” and “nice to have.” Remember you decided to build instead of buy for a reason. You want the end product to be capture as much of your values as possible.

Finalize your design brief

The last step in this process is about bringing it all together. You should have an overview of the rooms you think you need and their relationship to one another, as well as a fairly detailed description of what each room should contain and how it should feel. Tips for a successful design brief:

  • Try not to focus too much on aesthetics. Instead, think more about quality, comfort and functionality
  • Include all family members’ thoughts and feelings. Although you may be the one leading the design, don’t forget the other occupants of your home.
  • Don’t try too hard to “keep up with the Joneses.” Just because your neighbours have a hot tub on the roof doesn’t mean you have to have one too.
  • Consider the future. If this process is going to be worthwhile, your design needs to have the flexibility to allow it to grow with you and your family. None of us knows what the future holds, so aim for a design that can easily adapt should your circumstances change.

Once you’re done with your design brief, you can schedule your free consultation with us. We will then be able to tell you if your budget can accommodate everything on your wishlist or if you will need to downscale it. Remember, the budget should NOT be your starting point. The question is NOT how much we charge for a house. You should come with a design brief, then tell us your budget. We will tell you what is achievable within that budget. Then we work to get as close to your desired outcome as possible. After this, you will receive an estimate of our fees. You can read about how architects determine their fees here. Property will probably be the biggest investment you ever make. Get it right the first time.

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