Building Good House Designs

Building Good House Designs title on white background with photo of Amelia Lee and Duayne Pearce and Live Life Build Logo

What makes good house design?

To build good design, you need to understand what good design means.  Learn about the Five “F’s” of good home design.

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A well designed home can change someone’s life. This is something that I’ve learned over the past maybe three or four years working very closely with clients during the PAC process. But you being an incredible architect and doing everything to do with homeowners, we want to get builders understanding more about design.

I’m A Builder – Why Do I Need to Know About Good House Design?


What do you think makes a well designed home? And why do you think builders should know why a well designed home is so important? 


I love that you’ve learned over the past few years in the work that you have been doing that design makes a really big difference. You’ve had the experience of seeing what happens when a homeowner moves in and how a well designed home actually changes their life. 

You know, at the end of the day, builders aren’t designers, in the same way that architects and designers aren’t builders. We do these areas of specialty big for a good reason. 

Builders understanding what creates good design in homes means that they can be an advocate for good design.

They can actually then help their clients understand what’s going to make their house work better.

What Makes Good Home Design?


At the end of the day, for me, design isn’t something that’s high end. It’s not something that’s expensive. 

It’s actually about how your home supports you living a great life. And that can mean a more functional home. A home that’s more convenient. That feels better. That you feel better in. A home that’s comfortable, and just works for you on a day to day basis over the long term. 

I often say to builders, that you need to understand that you can do the most incredibly good quality build. 

But if the design of that home frustrates that homeowner on a daily basis, it won’t really matter to them that it’s built incredibly well.

What they’ll be experiencing is how frustrating the design is. And so I think, when as a builder you see that your finished projects are potentially going to last for decades, you’re going to have these clients living in them either having a fantastic life because of the way the design works, or a frustrating one because it doesn’t. And they get to be your brand ambassadors and walk out into the world and tell everybody what kind of builder you are. That, and you’re also creating something that potentially future generations can come to live in, it lasts a long time. So design really contributes to people’s quality of life. 

And I think that understanding what makes good design is something that a builder can put in their toolbox to really help clients understand that as well.


Yeah well I found this personally as well as working with clients. We’ve done a couple of our own projects over the last couple of years. And one in particular that we never actually went ahead with because we sold the development site, but you had some input into it. We had a design done. We thought it was incredible.

And I flicked it off to you, and you did some rejigging around and we’re like what the hell, that just makes so much sense. It was unbelievable. 

The Five “F’s” of Home Design


For all the builders out there, I know you’ve got the five ‘F’s’ of home design. What are the five ‘F’s’ to educate builders on what good design looks like? 


Yeah, so my five F’s of home design is something that I talk to homeowners a lot about. And I think as a builder it’s worth remembering and just locking away in your head as a way of assessing homes. 


So the first one is ‘functionality‘. So great design and good design in homes means that you have a functional home that works well. The best design works so well that it just gets out of your way. You think of all the things that you enjoy using, they work because you don’t actually see them working, they just make things easier for you. 

So functionality, and that definitely links through to how the home works for its site, and for the orientation. So a home working well means that it lowers its energy heating and cooling costs. It feels comfortable year round. People feel great in it. Orientation plays a big part in that. Designing a house to suit the orientation or the movement of the sun across the site makes a big difference.


The second one is ‘flexibility‘. So we build homes for the long term. And homeowners are often having to think a couple of decades ahead if they’re building their long term family home, about how a home is going to suit them over the long term. We don’t want to be rebuilding houses every seven years as our kids grow into that next phase. And ideally, we want to be building smaller homes that can suit our lifestyle over the long term and can have functional and adaptable and flexible spaces that really can adapt and change. 

As construction costs go up we want to be getting more bang for our buck as well. We want to stretch that budget. Doing that well and still getting a good quality outcome means actually building smaller, and building better quality and building those flexible, adaptable spaces.


The third thing to think about is ‘furnishability‘. I can’t tell you how many homeowners wait until they move into their finished home to figure out where everything is going to go. And that even extends to where power points are, lighting is, which way the door swings in a room. All of those kinds of things.

One thing I tell homeowners that they have to do is to ensure that their floor plans include their furniture drawn into them. And if they have any special items that they want to keep, that’s actually shown in their floor plan. So as a builder, if you’re going to see a family as part of building their home, and you notice that they’ve got a piano, pianos can really only go on an internal wall if you don’t want to be dealing with tuning them for the rest of your life.


And they take up a lot of space. 


Yeah. And they need to be thought about. So if a homeowner hasn’t considered that in their design, that’s going to create a huge amount of headaches for them long term. So furnishability is a really big one.


The fourth one is ‘flow‘. And flow is, you know, it’s that real estate term of “the house has great flow”. This is really just about how do spaces connect? And how they also disconnect to maintain privacy, and good use of spaces as well. 

You’ve probably walked into homes where the guest toilet is completely visible from the living space. Or the master bedroom has no acoustic privacy from the main living areas. Or for the family to actually keep an eye on their kids in the garden, they’ve got to take a packed lunch to go and hang out there. 

So thinking about how you’re going to create connections between those spaces. And those connections aren’t necessarily just visual or physical, they’re also acoustic, and they’re through auditory as well. 

I think too, a lot of people who are particularly renovating or moving from a small house into a bigger house, they want to create that beautiful indoor-outdoor connection. But that means that they’re just punching holes in all the walls of their house, which then of course, you would know create structural issues of physically holding the house up, lots of extra expense, and glass and steel and things. So being really intentional about how you create those connections is super important.

Making Space for Your Special Items


To give builders a bit of an insight, we had a very real experience with this. And it was for a $4 million home on the canals. The guy couldn’t wait to build it. He’d come to us, he’d been designing this home for about 18 months. It was over three blocks of land. And we got right down to it, the third round of costings, and we’re pretty much finalising things to lock things in and go to contract. 

And we’re actually having a meeting at his home, and he got a delivery. And it was a massive piece of artwork. And he started to talk to me about this artwork, and how he had been waiting months for it.  It was in this huge big package, it was all protected. 


I can tell what’s coming.


I said, you’re obviously interested in art. He said, look, come with me. And this house that he was currently in was a bit of a halfway house. So he took me into the living room which was all closed off. And this living room was completely full of artwork that he was storing, to put in his new home that he saved over the years. And I said mate, I hate to tell you but your new house has no walls.

It’s designed on a canal. It’s got glass the whole way around, even your internal bedrooms and hallways and things. There is not enough space for you to even put a quarter of this. 

And his face just dropped. And he was completely devastated. And long story short, that job never went ahead. He actually went and ended up buying a house that suited his artwork.


It’s amazing. I see this happen for homeowners so often. They don’t even have anywhere to put up their family photos. Or they end up in a bedroom tucked away where nobody ever gets to see them on a regular basis. So you know, doing that audit with the homeowner of what are all the things that you want to take with you, and how do they need to be included? And, and working well with the architect or designer to ensure that those interests are protected as they move through the project is super, super important.


We weren’t involved in the design on that one. But obviously, with the PAC process and what we do now, we’re heavily involved. But it’s important. Now as the builder and learning what I’ve learned through the design process and things to look out for makes me bring those questions up. So nowadays, we wouldn’t get ourselves in that situation. But for builders out there that are working with all different designers and architects or clients are coming to them with plans, a builder can add so much value with this type of information.


Yeah, I think it’s really important to obviously understand that, as I said at the beginning, a builder is not a designer, but you occupy and you experience houses all the time. And so I talk to my homeowner members about being design detectives. About paying attention to the way we occupy space. 

I mean, that’s what you do as an architect and a designer. It’s an occupational hazard you kind of walk through and you’re always examining how spaces and places are being used and interacted with. If you can do that as a builder, chances are you already have a massive bank of intel about what works for people and what doesn’t. 


Now the last F in my five F’s of home design is ‘feel’. And I actually think this one should be first, but if I put it first everybody thinks it’s too ‘woo-woo’ and then they check out on the pragmatic four. But ‘feel’ is really about how do you as a homeowner feel in your home, and how does the home feel? 

To me, the reason that I include this is because I actually think that when homeowners hone in on this, how do I want my home to feel, and how do I want to feel in my home? That enables them to have huge clarity around all the decision making. They’re going to have to make sometimes I think it’s over 15,000 decisions when they build or renovate a house. That’s incredibly overwhelming for somebody who’s never done this before. We do this kind of stuff all the time. 


It’s overwhelming for me.


I think that to give them an anchor back to where they need to be, so they don’t get swept away with all the Instagram images and the versions of the life that somebody else has and trying to bring that into their home. But instead, they can anchor back to why they’re creating their home the way that they are, and what they want that home to mean to them and how they want to feel in that home.

Set Yourself Apart as a Builder in the Design Process

We have given you some great tips on understanding more about what makes good design, and how you can add value to your business as a result.

Amelia has outlined her Five F’s of good home design:

  • Functionality
  • Flexibility
  • Furnishability
  • Flow
  • Feel. 

And you as a builder, understanding what creates great design, can really mean that you’re helping partner with homeowners and designers to create homes that are going to be these incredible legacies for your business. Incredible legacies for the homeowners. And when these things end up being your business card, these built representations of what you deliver, it just sets you up for a much longer term business success as well.

You may also like to check out our tips on creating project sheets and this one on finding architects and designers who you can work with to grow your building business and build good house design.

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