Doing a New Build for a Family of 5 | Undercover Architect Member Review

Doing a new build for a family of 5 can be a big undertaking. So how do you get properly prepared?

Listen to Elizabeth explain what she’s done to get it right.

In this video, Elizabeth tells us about her new build journey, what she’s specifically learned, and the help she’s been able to access through her membership in Undercover Architect’s online courses.

Elizabeth is a member of HOME Method and Interior Design 101.

Hi, my name is Elizabeth. I live in Castle Hill, in Sydney, in Australia. I have a husband and three boys who I share my house with, my home. My oldest son has just turned 17, then we have a 14 year old, and an 11 year old. They are very energetic. Very much into their sport, football and baseball, like everything. So we have a steady procession of muddy football boots, and cleats, and soccer balls, and baseball bats, and uniforms traipsing through the house. 

We also have two very, very energetic labradoodles, standard labradoodles, who are nuts who live with us and in the house. And we share the house with our six budgies who live in a very big cage in our family room. 

So by trade, I’m a chartered accountant, but I haven’t really done a whole lot of standard accounting work. Probably more on the management accounting type space and consulting type work. And I’m just working part time these days.

What prompted you to undertake this project?

So we’re, where we live, we’ve been living in a house for about 21 and a half years. And we actually really like it. It’s a great area, it’s really nice, family friendly. We’re in a large block about 957 square metres. And we really like our home. 

But fortunately, unfortunately, whichever way you look at it, they’ve built a brand new metro station just near us. And part of that means is that the whole area has been redesigned, and the developers are moving in and buying up all the land and knocking down all the houses and building apartments. So we have to move. 

So, so that’s a positive because we will, you know, get a good price for our house. Better than we would have, had we just sold it normally. So that’s what’s probably given us the push to do it. As to why we want to build, because I mean, we could just go out and buy a house. 

But I’ve always wanted to build a house, ever since I was a little kid. So my favourite toy was Lego, I was always building Lego houses. And I used to draw floor plans for those houses. And I had an adult dolls house, a big one that my uncle made me and I used to renovate that on a regular basis and add extra rooms and divide rooms and build furniture. So that’s why we decided that we’re going to build.

What challenges were you worried about before you started?

Probably my two biggest concerns were/are where to start in the sense of, I do, I love houses, and I love lots of different styles. And I’ll see something, oh, I want that, oh, I want that, oh, I want that. And wanting everything and realising we can’t have everything. One, because you can’t have everything. But two, it would just look awful. It was, it was a mismatch. So trying to narrow down the choices I guess, that was one thing. 

And probably the other biggest issue is, I’m getting agreement between what I want and what my husband wants. I don’t want any nuclear fallouts over this house. 

I don’t know that budget has been a big issue yet. Um, I mean, I know building is, how long is a piece of string, and you can always build to a budget. And being an accountant, I’m quite comfortable with money and putting in place a very strict budget to follow, and tracking it and that sort of thing. So from that perspective, I’m probably a little less concerned that I might otherwise have been.

I’m conscious of not wanting to over capitalise, there’s definitely that concern there. And perhaps the concern about that in the pursuit of getting exactly what I want, and maybe not actually having the opportunity to build again, and this is like the one chance to get it right. That I would potentially go to that over capitalising stage. And I don’t really want to do that either. So that is a concern and a consideration.

How did you first discover Undercover Architect?

I know I came across her on another site, Lunchbox Architect. So I don’t know how I came across Lunchbox Architect, but he sends out an email most days just featuring your house. And he must have referenced, and he did reference somewhere in there, Undercover Architect. 

And I went, oh, that sounds interesting. And sort of followed the links through and stumbled across the podcast and that’s where it began.

Why did you decide to join the Undercover Architect course?

I had actually considered doing it alone, and had been sort of toying with the idea of whether I really need to go down the path of getting an architect, or whether I should get to see the building designer, or even just go straight to a builder and just do my own design. 

I knew what I wanted. So I could just tell it to the builder and say build this. So that was definitely in my mind. But I’ve totally changed my mind now that I’ve listened to the podcast, I realised how much I really don’t know. 

I love Grand Designs. I love all the home renovations. And, you know, if I think about it, you know. I read home magazines. I can put a pencil to paper and sketch that. But I think it’d be very arrogant of me to think that I can actually put together a perfectly functioning, well formed home, without the six year degree that goes with it and the wealth of professional experience. 

You know, it’s like I, you know, if I read the St. John’s ambulance handbook, you know, the first aid book, and you know, watch E.R, no one would come to me for advice on a heart surgery or something like that. 

So I kind of think, you know, it’s the same thing with a house. It’s a big investment. It’s my home. I need to get it right.

Why did you choose to do a paid course over the free resources?

I think building a house to home is such a big deal for me. I think while there is a wealth of information in the podcast, absolutely, and all the add-on notes that she provides. I guess, two things. 

One, I think there was a lot more information to be gained by doing the course, and I saw it as an investment in the house. So it’s definitely worth every cent that it cost. 

And I just think it was part of the cost of building the house properly. And I was fascinated by it. I just want to know more. It’s become a bit of a hobby. Yeah, I really enjoyed it.

What have you learned because of this Undercover Architect course?

Absolutely, I now definitely would not do it on my own. I now know exactly, what I don’t know exactly. I now know what I don’t know. And there’s a lot that I don’t know. And I think the biggest thing is really understanding the importance of orientation. 

So given I’ve always liked houses, I’ve always sketched floor plans, and I had in my mind how exactly how I want my house to look. And then I looked at it in the light of the things that Amelia explained about orientations and solar, your solar gain. 

And I realised that I would never have built a good house. I had all my orientations wrong. 

And the other thing that she’s really made me question, is why I would want certain rooms in my house. And what size, and what the purpose of rooms are. 

So that’s been very valuable, just that thinking about what it is I want and why I want it, and how I want it to relate to each other. So that’s a big takeaway I’ve taken from the course.

Has it been worthwhile doing Undercover Architect courses?

It’s been very handy actually. Well, to start with, there are some people I didn’t know that I needed. Like, I have no idea we need such things as a structural engineer, for example. And quantity surveyors. I didn’t actually know that they factored into the whole process either. So that’s been very educational. 

And I’ve really appreciate, the, Amelia’s point about bringing in a builder early on. To make sure that you get the design that is buildable as well. 

And then any cost limitations are considered in the build structure, as opposed to this beautiful design, falling in love with it, sending it to a builder who goes, yeah, I can’t build that. Or, I can build that, but that’s going to cost you an extra $500,000 to do it that way. If I do this, and you know, and then you’ve got to reset. 

So I’ve really come to appreciate her thought that you really need that builder involved up front. 

And because we’re still in the process of finalising the sale of our house before we can actually move on, I’m using this time now to speak to a few architects to get an idea of who I want to work with. 

And from the knowledge I’ve gained from Amelia, that’s helped me with questions to ask. 

And certainly in the information I got from her, I was able to put together that design brief. So I’ve been able to go to the architect with my brief. And I think we’ve been able to start the conversations further down the track than otherwise. 

So we haven’t sort of been, they haven’t had to try and extract information out of me and me sit there go, I don’t know, I haven’t really thought about that. Because I have thought about a lot of that. And I think that’s been very beneficial.

Have Undercover Architect’s courses armed you with more confidence, especially as a woman?

Absolutely, absolutely. A classic example. Years ago, I designed a cabinet to go on our wall in our kitchen. I knew exactly what I wanted, I had measured it all out. I went off to the timber place and said, this is what I’d like. 

And the guy asked me some questions and I answered them. And he said, we can’t do this, you can’t do that. And I said, well yes I can, here it is. He said, “you know what sweetie, why don’t you come back on the weekend and bring your husband with you”. And if I could have found a different supplier, I would have, but there wasn’t. 

So on the weekend I came back, he turned to my husband and started asking him the questions. He said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, speak to her, she’s the one who knows what she wants”. 

So I really appreciated the knowledge that I have gained from Amelia because in understanding some of the technical aspects and the terminology, I think I can speak more confidently. So I won’t find myself in the situation with the builder, turning to my husband and saying, right, can you answer this? And it’s like well,” it’s me, I designed this, or I’m the one who’s leading this. Talk to me. Don’t talk to him, talk to me”. So yeah, absolutely. Understanding the process, understanding where the process goes, the terminology in some of the issues has definitely given me a lot more confidence.

We went to a display home not far from us. So there’s this, so there’s this standard display home near us but there’s this other area which has got just builders. So not the big project companies. 

And we went in there and I was asking the questions, no eye contact with me, all to my husband. He had a brochure to give to us, I put my hand out and he handed it straight to my husband. 

And we walked out and he said to me, what is it? What did you do to him? And I was like, I don’t know. You know what, I would never ever go to work, I would never put him on. And they had by far the nicest house there. 

And at the time I was sort of thinking well, maybe we would go with one of them as a builder, but there’s no way I would do it because he just absolutely dismissed me. 

Did the Undercover Architect course save you drama + stress?

Yeah, it looks like at this stage of the design, it’s just me having done my sketches in my brief which I, which I sent a copy to Amelia and I’ve sent to these are the three architects I’ve spoken to so far. And the feedback on it is, actually I’m quite chuffed as it’s quite a positive one. 

One of the architects said, look, you’re 50% there and I can see what you’re trying to achieve through that. 

The benefit of having Amelia’s input is that there are now things that aren’t in that design that otherwise would have been without her. 

So I guess the two sides of that is you know, another architect may have brought me to that realisation but I might have had my heart and head more fixed on what I’d put on paper without having had Amelia explain, or challenge the thinking of what it is that you do want. 

I do like to come to my own decisions and not be told what I can and can’t do. 

So the benefit is that in helping focus the thinking, I’ve now gone forward with something that is more realistic and would not cost as much because it’s not going to be as big and contain things I don’t need.

Did you have a favourite part of the Undercover Architect course?

I think everything really has been the importance of getting that orientation right. And what a significant influence that can have on how comfortable the house feels, how light and airy. 

And sustainability is a massive thing for me as well. So I really want the house to be as sustainable as possible. And getting that orientation right is the biggest thing you can do to get that right. So that’s probably my favourite thing. 

And, and I like it, because it is something that really is so simple. And that the answer is in the elegance of the design. And the planning. Yes, I really, that one really resonated with me. 

And a quote that she used was, it costs just as much to build a wall in the right place at the wrong place. 

So, again, that reinforces the importance of getting your orientation right, and the design right. And then the rest of the house follows. And you get that beautiful environment that you’re hoping for.

What would you say to others who are thinking of joining?

I would say it is worth every cent. I mean, a house is going to cost you a significant amount of money. And the cost of doing her courses is such a small, it’s less than a percent of the cost of building the house. And I think the knowledge you gain to give you the confidence to build the family home that you want and to be able to engage the professionals that you need. And to get your design right, I think it’s worth every cent to make that investment. 

And I think if you challenge your thinking and take on board the lessons that she has, then I think you’re more likely to end up with the house that you want to live for. That is a better result, and therefore worth every cent as well.

I mean, I think my parting thing would be as well … 

You know, Amelia is obviously very, very experienced. And she explains things so beautifully. So even though you don’t have a background in architecture, or construction or engineering, you walk away from listening to her speak and going yeah, I understand that, and I can see how I would apply that. 

And she explains it in such a friendly, warm way. She’s not patronising. She’s very friendly, and welcoming and fun. 

So it’s actually really enjoyable. And the little story she tells, she makes it very relatable. 

And yeah, I think that’s actually another real benefit of doing the courses with her because it is relatable and fun. So you want to do it.

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