A Building Update, and Five Insights

Well, this photo says just about all of it:

38richmond_jan2015

What you will see poking it from behind the rubble is our first new wall, rising from the earth like a volcanic mountain range. So that’s encouraging. The rest looks pretty apocalyptic, I’ll grant you. But it’s coming along.

I thought I’d share five insights about building that I have now learned. These will not be the first five insights I learn and I suspect they may become increasingly hysterical as time goes by – but here they are anyway:

1. It is possible to budget fairly accurately

The common wisdom about building is that the budget will be missed by anywhere between 50% and 100%. So when you are approaching a building project you are warned to expect calamity.

So far – and granted I’m not all the way through yet – I think it is possible to create a fairly accurate cost. You will never, ever be able to account for everything (I just spent R3000 taking out a tree, for example) but you can commit your contractors to a fixed cost and provided your architect has done a good job of specifying everything it’s actually not impossible to come in close to your estimates.

Having said all of that, I advise spending time with someone who has recently renovated and going through their finished cost tracking sheet so you can remember all the things that are sometimes forgotten.

2. Glass is f*$%ing expensive

Our design has a lot of glass in it. These days you are forced to come up with energy efficient glass designs given that we no longer have a functional electricity provider. And it costs serious, serious cash. A full third of our cost estimate is the glass doors and windows.

These days a lot of home design has a lot of glass – and no wonder given that it’s awesome to have a lot of light and view of garden from your home. But if you want to do a renovation inexpensively you need to use glass sparingly.

3. Simple

A very clear design trend – it’s everywhere – is minimalism. This is good news from a building complexity point of view, but it’s surprisingly hard to accomplish, particularly in SA. Why? Because a lot of the stuff out there – from tiles to window frames to furniture – bucks this trend. There is so much frilly, elaborate crap available and very little stylish, simple stuff. And – ironically – the simplest, cleanest stuff costs the most.

I think creating something singular and simple is a wonderful challenge and a beautiful aesthetic. But be prepared to fight the fussiness of what’s on the shelf.

4. Live at Home

This is controversial, but I’d advise living on the property you’re building if you possibly can. The number of small tweaks and insights we keep having just by seeing what’s going on is immense. And being available to the crew on a daily basis to field questions and provide guidance is invaluable.

It is not fun. Our architect has told us to move out a dozen times. But we have structured the building program in such a way that we can live here while its going on, and it feels like a smart move.

5. Browse

To create something wonderful you need to fill your head with wonderful things. You are not an interior designer (unless you are). And you are not an architect (unless, again, you are). So you know nothing about what makes a beautiful space or structure. Unless you have a gift for it – which probably comes from having immersed yourself in design for years – you’re going to have to study up, and fast.

I will post a list of resources at some stage that we have used but needless to say the three obvious ones are:

– Websites – like houzz.com and similar. There is endless inspiration, albeit frequently not that well organised or searchable.

– Books – go and spend hours in Exclusive Books or at bookstores like Warm & Glad and just look at things. There are also countless magazines to browse although I’d advise against spending too much time with international publications featuring beautiful products that you cannot buy here

– Shops – where the reality sinks in. Get out to wherever your furniture and fittings mecca is in your city and just start seeing what is available. Kramerville and Fourways in Joburg are musts, but there will also be a lot of small places all over with useful things to see.

Bathrooms, kitchens, tiles, fabric, furniture, flooring – the choices you will be called upon to make will be countless. It’s easier, eventually, when you have a mental catalogue.

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