If you’re reading this post you’re probably aware that the relationship between you and your Designer is critical to the successful design and construction of your dream home… So that’s what we’re going to delve into – ‘How to choose the right designer or builder for your home reno project.

Image Credit:  Designer:  The Little Brick Studio  Photographs: Amorfo Photography

Not all Designers or Builders are created equal

In truth, it’s actually not that hard to find a designer or a builder for your project. What can be really hard though is finding the best one, the right one for you and for your project

Because at the end of the day they are not all created equal. Not all designers design the same and not all builders build the same either and like any profession that exists some are amazing at their job and others are simply just mediocre – to put it nicely. And there are many let’s call them mediocre ones who still pull in the clients and  run successful businesses 

And it also needs to be mentioned that everyone has their own way of doing what they do and their own reasons for doing them the way they do.

Image Credit:  Architect: O’Neill Architecture Photographs: Scott Burrows

Each as their way of doing things

While It’s true , designers and builders are expected to have a certain level of ability  or even competency) and expertise. And what that level is can be related to their ;level of qualification or skill set in relation to a designer is directly related to their role – an architect has a different skill set then a building designer and a draughtsman. I’m going to cover what those actual differences are in the nex video so keep an eye out for that.  And it can also relate to their level of professionalism and their principles or beliefs or even ethics.

Some Designers are just not in the game for the benefit of their clients… they have other goals that are more important to them – wand that might be chasing the almighty dollar at any and all costs.

Image Credit:  Architect: O’Neill Architecture Photographs: Scott Burrows

The value of good design

But beyond that, many homeowners see the work that a designer or a builder does as a commodity [ we as humans are used to buying products off the shelf and we understand that type of purchase as it is a tangible thing) and something tangible can be easily replicated  by pretty much anyone. . So many first-time home renovators or home builders perceive all designers as being the same and believe that they are all able to do, and produce the same thing … and nothing could be further from the truth.

Design is so much more than simply drawing some lines on a piece of paper, it is an interpretation of your needs and your wants, and to a large extent your emotion and should respond to the criteria set by you and these criteria will differ sometimes a little and sometimes a lot in each and every case or project, And design, good design that is as much about function as it is about how it looks. 

Or as Steve Jobs [founder of Apple]- famously and in my opinion pretty accurately put it… 

‘Design is not just what it looks like and how it feels.  Design is how it works.”

And a good Designer will give you all that, something that looks great and works great too… they will give you something that you love,, and a home you love living in each and every day.   

And, the good news, you don’t need a huge budget to get a great design either.. You just need to be prepared to do some homework…and be prepared to sort through and narrow down the good designer or builders from the not so good to find the best fit for you… the best designer or builder for your project.

Look, there are lots of great designers out there but the difficulty lies in finding them… and finding one is worth the search because a great or even a good will be worth their weight in gold or I should say the cost of their fees. 

And there’s little question about the value a good designer will bring to your project.

Image Credit:  Architect: Gardiner Architects Photographs: Tess Kelly

The value a Designer will bring to your project

A good designer can bring great value to your project and to many other aspects of your life. 

They can:

  • Increase the value of one of your biggest assets – your home;
  • Add value to your quality of life, sense of wellbeing, and emotional attachment to your home, through their design expertise;
  • Create a cost-effective home design with your budget in mind and design for ongoing maintenance and running costs 
  • Ensure a smoother build stage;
  • Help ensure you have an enjoyable renovation or new build experience

This begs the next question that I know is on your lips and that’s so, how do you find the right designer or builder for your project?

How do you find the right Designer or Builder?

Firstly you need to understand that some designers or builders will be more suitable for you and for your project… and as for the rest I’ve got a few tips – 5 actually – that will help you choose the best designer and the best project team members for your project.

Image Credit:  Architect: O’Neill Architecture Photographs: Scott Burrows

Tip #1
Know what you want & what you want to do

Identify why you’re renovating or building a new home and think about the type of features that would  satisfy your needs. As the saying goes 

If you don’t know what you want, how can you expect anyone else too’ and if you don’t know what you want, how can you find the best professionals to help you to get your project done well. 

Are you after a new home, a renovation, or add an extra level or even raise your home and building underneath – It’s important to know this because many professionals specialise in different types of building.  

Knowing this allows you to look for designers or builders with experience in projects of similar scope. 

The design and building professions cover a broad range of building types. Perhaps you’ve mentioned that you intend on building a new home only to have a friend suggest “Oh I know a designer; I’ll connect you two.” While all architects are “qualified” to design residential buildings, most will have a specialization with which they are most experienced. 

A Designer oe builder who is an expert at new homes may not be the best one for your character home renovation.for example

How to choose a good Designer or Builder for your reno project? 

Engage a Designer or Builder  who has experience in residential design to ensure that they are familiar with the building and construction type, and how to navigate the required Local Government Planning requirements.

Image Credit: Architect: Drawing Room Architecture Photographs: Daniel Fuge

Tip #2
Do your research

This is once in a lifetime journey for most of us … so you need to get this right… You’re about to make a huge investment. One of the biggest you’ll ever make … this isn’t just any journey, this is your home so how you spend your time, your energy, and your hard-earned money has a huge impact on you and your family and the lifestyle you want.

So taking the time to find the right designer or project team member support you in this once-in-a-lifetime journey will take time and it will take effort.

When doing your research: take these things into consideration:

  • Check their qualifications
  • ask for references & check them
  • You’re going to be working with this individual to create your dream home so get to know them – meet in person, talk on the phone, or email them – whatever works best for you
  • Look at projects they have done  and  make sure they are experienced in projects similar in size and type to yours 
  • Check their processes and systems 
  • Think about how they communicate with you – if they don’t answer questions or avoid calls now – consider that a red flag for later.
  • Check that they are licensed,
  • Check their career history, and training,  

Image Credit: Architect: Sandbox Studio Architecture & Design Photographs: Katherine Lu

Tip #3
Trust your gut

I am a big fan of trusting your gut.  Let’s face a home renovation will take time so you will inevitably be working with your designer or team for a significant timeframe and they’re going to contribute to a project that’s very important to you. You’ll be spending a lot of time communicating with them, taking a lot of time to talk about your goals and dreams, how you want to live in your new home, what you want for your home, and what you like and dislike.

The better your project team knows you and understands how you live, the better they can help create a home that will support you in the life you want to lead.

So as you start to get to know potential designers and builders, get a feel for whether you can get along with these people and connect with them. Do you trust them?  Do they listen to what you’re saying and not saying? Do they ‘get’ you?

Image Credit: Architect: Tom Robertson Architects   Photographs: Derek Swalwell

Tip #4
Think twice before friends of friends or family members

Don’t make the mistake of working with someone simply because they’re a friend, they’re the cheapest, or they call themselves the best.  

While working with family members or friends might seem like a good idea – the idea that you can save time and money and be dealing with someone who knows you is a big draw for many but this arrangement can often lead to challenging and uncomfortable situations or even potentially damage relationships. When evaluating whether to use friends or family for your home renovation project, understanding the good, the bad, and the ugly that may come of it and what you can do to ensure a positive outcome will help you feel more confident about your decision.


When we work with friends or family members we often treat the situation more casually than we would if we were actually hiring someone formally. That may mean that you don’t have legit contracts, get proper quotes, or go through the same channels or process that you would with other professionals.

And when there’s so much at stake, it’s not just the fact that it’s your home, the amount of money that you might be spending on it, or that you’re borrowing that money to do this project. There are also personal relationships at stake.

Image Credit:  Architect: Sandbox Studio Architecture & Design Photographs: Katherine Lu

Tip #5
Find the best fit for YOUR project

Every project is unique so once you’ve worked out what you want to do and the type of project you want to do… you need to find someone who has a similar specialisation and similar design/building style that you’re looking for.

Many people choose designers and builders to make their choice based almost solely on price, which is one of the worst reasons you can have when making your choice. You only have to look at how many people question 

Cost is not a good indication of quality, professionalism, experiences or even talent.

Many designers and builders have things they specialize in whether it’s style, project types – like new homes or renovation or even extensions, Local government planning codes, heritage projects, or even the level and types of services that they offer to make sure that the designer you choose specialises in the type of project your want … if you live in an older inner-city suburb, one that is experienced in local planning codes and the local council will be advantageous and will probably save you time and money.

So it’s really important to choose your designer or builder based on the characteristics that are important to you and your project. Just because that designer or builder worked for someone else doesn’t mean theta re the best for your project if your project is different from the person issuing the recommendation.

Do your homework

And even though your gut feeling is important i’ve gotta say don’t bypass or ignore your homework.

By doing your research, trusting your gut, and choosing someone who fulfills the characteristics you’re looking for,  you’ll be in a position, the best position to be able to sort through the good, the bad and the ugly and find the best  designer or builder that suits you and your project and  you’ll be well on the way to  creating the home you’ve been dreaming of.

And lastly, the choice is ultimately yours, and it’s a hugely important one so make sure you give it the time and the priority that it deserves, your future you and your lifestyle will be better than you.

While every effort has been made to provide accurate information, The Zen Reno does not guarantee that this blog article is free from errors or omissions or is suitable for your intended use. It is for information purposes only and expert advice should be sought regarding how this issue might affect your particular project.

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