Wednesday, November 30th, 2022

From Sketch to Built Home | The Design Process

From Sketch to Built Home The Design Process

It feels like a dream come true, watching your design sketch slowly coming to life in the form of a home.

The process of planning, designing, and finally constructing a house is intricate. There are several levels of planning which go into it. Of course, the intricacy of each step depends upon the project itself. Some renovation projects require fewer steps, while building a structure from scratch may be a longer process.

It doesn’t matter if you are looking for a building plan, renovation ideas, or just curious about the process. In this comprehensive guide, we have described each step of going from a sketch to a built home.

Each part of the process is exciting, bringing you one step closer to the final, completed home. Is suspense getting the better of you?

Well, without keeping you waiting any longer, let’s get to the deets!

The Design Process

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Step 1 | Preliminary Research

The very first step of the design process is conducting preliminary research. It is advisable to use online sketch tools, which will help you understand what you are looking for in your next home. Furthermore, this step is one of the most important once you begin the process, as it helps you develop your design brief.

In fact, it would help if you did this by first examining your current home and lifestyle. You can take into account what kind of amenities, comforts, and luxuries you are looking for in your new home.

It is imperative to decide on your baseline budget in this step. It ensures that you don’t exceed your price range with the expectations you have for your new home. If you fail to create your baseline budget, you run the risk of adding up additional costs that you may not be able to fulfill later on during the project.

Also, it would be best if you also took professional advice during this step; and all further steps in the process.


There are slight variations in the process and specifications you need to keep in mind, which change according to your requirements. If you are looking to renovate an apartment, build a new home, or just make additions or reductions, the process and steps will vary.

Step 2 | Choosing Your Designer

After conducting the preliminary research, the next step is to find the right designer for your building. There are two types of designers to look out for: Architect Designers and Building Designers.

When looking for the right designer, make sure to look into their credentials. They should have a state license; moreover, their professional history will give you a better understanding of their previous work. Some designers hold special degrees, which can be helpful if you are looking for an unique home design.

Choose a designer based on their skills, experience, and the degrees that they hold. Additionally, it would help if you also asked for references from their past clients. Contact them and ask them for honest feedback on their experience of working with the designer.

Most importantly, ensure that your designer has the capacity to deliver the style and type of home that you have in mind. Also, they should be able to follow the safety precautions and regulations for your climate and zone.

Lastly, you should also visit homes that the designer has previously completed to understand their work better.

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Sustainable Practices

It is essential for your designer to build your future home, taking into account sustainable design practices. This has become an ever-growing concern in modern homes, and you must ensure that your designer can do it properly. There are several architects and designers who specialize in this – achieving high-quality and cost-effective outcomes.

Delegating Decisions

Your designer will typically work with a team of specialist consultants. These include structural engineers, landscape designers, interior designers, building sustainability assessors, and a sustainability consultant. You must be able to delegate all your requirements to your team of consultants and designers. It is also essential to discuss your level of involvement with the designers before hiring them.

Your relationship with the designer and his team will ensure that your work progresses in a healthy manner. Over-involvement or under-involvement may lead to clashes and dissatisfaction.

Keep in mind that every State will have its own set of complex planning controls. Your designer must be aware of these planning controls and be able to work out a solution or negotiate if required. Alternatively, you can also appoint a qualified consultant to negotiate with the local council on your behalf.

Step 3 | Site Analysis

This step allows you to align your objectives with that of your designer. You must visit the site and complete a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats).

There are a few crucial factors to consider on-site, such as solar access, view from the site, bushfire risks, access and transport, and other services around the area. Furthermore, you also need to consider any overshadowing by other landforms around your site, such as trees and buildings.

Finally, your designer needs to consider creating a climate responsive design and follow other site-specific variables.

After completing the first site analysis, the designer can create a concept plan which they will share with you. They should value-add to your original brief design and identify design solutions. While doing this, they must consider capitalizing on the site’s strengths and opportunities. They must also find feasible solutions to overcome weaknesses and threats. These may include factors like poor solar access, risk of flooding, fires, or slipping soil.

Side Note 

Keep about 3-5% of your entire budget for the sustainable design and working drawing documentation of the new home. This initial investment is a smart strategy that will see you through the rest of the process.

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Step 4 | Developing A Brief, Fee Proposal and Design Contract

This is the stage when you would sign the design contract if you are satisfied with everything. However, after discussing the site analysis and fee proposal, you should not move forward immediately if you are unhappy. Instead, you should seek advice from another designer.

The brief which was brought out by you during the preliminary research step remains a ‘living document.’ This simply means that the document is continuously updated throughout the rest of the processes. It acts as proof of record for all your agreed decisions.

At this stage, you must also review the preliminary budget with your designer and make any changes if required. You have to identify any problems and have strategies to deal with them efficiently.

Typically, a designer will not accept responsibility for the final cost of your project. This is done because there is a high probability of variable factors changing this final cost. Most of these factors are beyond anyone’s control.

That being said, a good designer will provide indicative costs for each of the sustainable features in your design. They may also choose to recommend additional features if they think it applies to the climate or your specific site.

Ensure that both you and your designer agree on the updates on the brief. Sign them at every step carefully.

Step 5 | Concept Designs

Generally, a designer will prepare several concept designs in varying formats. Some of these may be intricate blueprints. However, some may just be a bubble diagram sketch drawn on the back on an envelope or a piece of paper. The primary intention behind these is to communicate ideas and thoughts with you and assess them against your brief.

This step will help you understand your designer’s thoughts better, while communicating with them about your own ideas. You can give your inputs regarding any changes you would like to see in the diagrams.

During this process, you should get advice from a sustainability consultant who can help you make efficient choices regarding your new home. The concept design is made to be flexible during this stage and can easily incorporate any changes in design and structure.

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Step 6 | Design Development

This is an exciting step for most people, as it is the starting point of your dream home coming to life. In this step, you can have detailed discussions with your designer to agree upon a concept for your new home. Of course, you are free to develop more than one concept. Keep in mind that each new concept will be chargeable.

Spend time actively visualizing your new home. Where would you like the windows to go? What shape would you prefer? How much space should each room have? What should the furniture layout look like?

Take into account any problems you might be facing in your current home, and how you can overcome them in your new home. Be open to ideas and changes. It is possible that you might end up with a design completely different from what you first thought of. However, if the new design works better for you, go ahead with it!

You should also be selecting the materials for your home during this stage. Make a conscious decision to choose sustainably sourced material. These will have a low life cycle impact on the environment, which should be your goal.

Smart Tip

If you are having trouble visualizing what your new window designs would look like, ask the designer to build models made of cardboard for you. If you are artistic enough, you can even do this step yourself. Glue these cardboard windows to your window frames, and take in the idea. Keep them for a day or two to observe how the window cut and shape impacts the amount of light that comes in through them.

Be Mindful Of Size

Remember the old cliche – size doesn’t matter? Well, in this case, it does.

Figure out where you would place furniture (existing and new) in your new rooms. Discuss with your designer where he thinks they would look best, and how they should be set to save space. You can also visualize how your family might live in the house with the plans you are making.

Do you see any spatial issues arising? Can you figure out an effective way to fix them? It is not advisable to cramp up your home’s spaces with too much furniture. Try and keep it minimalistic – you can always add more after you have moved in.

Make use of computer-based building design and modeling tools like AccuRate, BERS Pro, and FirstRate5. These will help you predict the environmental performance of your new home and its features. Moreover, it enables you to model the various thermal performance benefits of window numbers. It also assists you with placement, orientation, and size, as well as varying mass levels in different construction systems.

It is advisable to complete this analysis before finalizing your concept design and choice of the construction system. Any changes that you wish to make at a later stage will prove to be expensive.

This is also the stage where you should be preparing your landscape design. Landscaping is crucial, as it makes a significant difference in diverting breezes, the shadows, and lights that enter your home. It also helps in enhancing privacy and saving water and electricity (if you plan smartly).

Hiring a landscape designer at this stage is a good idea. They can use landscaping ideas to add aesthetic beauty along with functionality to your property.


Typically, a designer would discuss these upcoming plans with the inspectors and council planners to identify any issues which might need to be resolved.

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Step 7 | Final Design

Now comes one of the best parts of the design process – the final design. There are several tasks which need to be completed during this stage, such as:

  1. a) Building form and floor plan
  2. b) Construction systems
  3. c) Window types, shapes, size, and orientation
  4. d) Shading solutions
  5. e) Heating and cooling systems
  6. f) Water systems (rainwater recycling, rainwater tanks)
  7. g) External finishes
  8. h) Major appliances (renewable energy, hot water system)
  9. i) Landscape and garden design

During this step, you must ensure that all your plans and strategies follow specific guidelines to make yours an environmentally sustainable home. You can make some final, minor adjustments to the project, adding, excluding or modifying items. However, it is recommended not to make too many major changes during this process.

Note: The final design is the stage when your initial budget may overrun. Now, you will have to make the necessary changes and cost reductions. It is essential to ensure that your home maintains environmentally sustainable guidelines throughout this process. Some people may opt out of these features, thinking that they might be unnecessary. However, this is not a good long-term strategy for your new home.

During this process, you should divide your project into many different stages. This will help you add or delete any features during the various stages, according to your requirements. However, it is recommended to include all your sustainability features at the initial stage. This ensures that your bills are reduced by the time you move in.

If you choose to add these features later, you can. However, keep in mind that it is more expensive to do it later than at the initial building stages.

Also, note that any changes you make to the design at this stage are likely to add additional costs.

Once you and your designer are happy with the final design, submit it to the council for planning approval. After this, you may accommodate any changes made by the council in a more cost-effective manner.

The alternative approach to this is to opt for combined planning and construction approval. However, this will be an expensive approach if the council decides to make changes. It will also require the changes to be made to both sets of drawings.

Step 8 | Council approval – Planning and construction certification

Depending upon how straightforward or complex your design is, one of two things may happen:

1) Straightforward designs which are not subject to stringent or demanding planning controls may be submitted to the council. In this case, you may opt for simultaneous planning and construction approval. One set of plans are required for addressing both planning and construction detailing.

2) More complex designs require a slightly different approach. These designs may not wholly adhere to the standard approval process. In this case, making separate submissions will be advantageous. However, these challenges are more common with oversized developments, which risk impacting the neighboring views, amenities, etc.

At this stage, it is common to create a statement of environmental effect. This statement will inform the necessary parties that your development has no adverse impact on the environment. Furthermore, you may have to add a detailed checklist of items that require addressing.

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Step 9 | Design Detailing

This is the final step of the design process, and arguably one of the most exciting ones. This step consists of the design and construction details to be finalized and documented. It is the very last step of the process, after which you will finally see your project coming to life.

It is crucial to work out all the kinks in your design plan in the earlier stages, as no changes should be made in this process. Not only will it cause a complete shift in several steps and details, but it will cost a significant amount more. 

Moreover, you would have to seek council approval for the design plan changes once again. This will be a long drawn process and exhaustive for all the parties involved. During this stage, you should have finalized entirely on all your design decisions and should be ready to move forward to the final step of making your home a reality.

Documents Made During This Stage  

The documents in this stage compromise of the following. 

  1. a) Several working drawings of how the design is to be built
  2. b) Specifications of all the materials, products, standards, and finishes to be used
  3. c) NatHERS rating
  4. d) Engineering design and certification

This is the stage when you send tenders to invite builders to start the building’s working process. These documents, or sometimes even more detailed ones, are given to the builders to aid them in the process. You and your designer will be forming contracts with builders during this stage, so you need to be cautious about all the documents and specifications.

The final scheduling of materials required and their quality of finishes are documents in the specification by reference to Standards met by your country/state. The industry definitions of practice and the desired outcomes are also noted in these plans.

It is imperative to pay close attention to sustainable inclusions, practices, and finishes. Everything must be spelled out correctly and linked to the contract that you produce.


Specification writing primarily for sustainability or sustainable practices and outcomes is a relatively new skill. You may be hard-pressed in finding a designer who can adequately address these issues and comply with them. In fact, many designers fail to do this, which can be a problem for your project.

Designers often claim not to use sustainable practices, items, or standards because they feel that their competitors use non-environment friendly products and quote a lower price. In order to be competitive, many designers opt for the same strategy – avoiding sustainable practices and products to save on costs. However, in the long-run, these unsustainable practices will turn out to be more significant problems than their initial investment.

You may notice some designers trying to talk you out of features such as double glazing, solar hot water, or thermal comfort inclusions. In these situations, it is essential for you to take the lead and encourage sustainable practices to be used in your design process.

Ensure that the tender documents and design plans contain detailed specifications of such practices and products. Also, make sure that you bring attention to these atypical clauses when speaking to tendering builders.

Important Points To Remember

When looking for your new home’s design plans, you can always take help and inspiration from online forums and websites. However, you may not be able to make a perfect copy of what you see online. This depends on various factors, such as the location of your property, the designer and builders you choose, the materials you use, their cost, and the area’s regulations.

Ensure that the designer you pick is aware of the specifications and regulations so that you don’t face any legal trouble in the future. It is essential to be open to any changes of modifications along the way. However, it would help if you keep your final goal in mind when taking any suggestions for changes by the designer.

Final Words

The process of watching the sketch of your home come to life is enthralling. Every design process is unique, and you may find specific steps taking longer in your case compared to what we mentioned in this guide. Just remember that this is entirely normal.

One of the most important things to keep in mind is to hire a designer who you can build a good rapport and working relationship with. This individual will be guiding you through the entire process of making a sketch into your home.

However, you will be unable to express your thoughts and ideas to them without open and honest communication.

That being said, we hope this guide helped walk you through the design process. All the best for your project!

Stay safe, until next time!

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Anna Vaughn

Anna Vaughn

Immense painting experience recommends Anna. She shaped The Little Painters, a small local painting workshop for children that invites the little ones to explore painting through simple and creative means in a safe, loving and extremely colorful environment. In her home panting studio she plays with all paint mediums but watercolor is her expertise.

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