Design Builders own in-house design team is headed up by Architect Renee Woods and Design Manager Sam Scrymgeour. In the first of two interviews, we caught up with Renee and Sam to learn about their roles and what’s so special about Design Builders’ architecture and design.

First up, Renee and Sam, can you tell us about your roles, and what you bring to each new project for Design Builders clients.

Renee:  I’m Design Builders Architect, so I create the initial concept designs for our clients’ houses across New Zealand. I’ll develop the preliminary design ready for my team members to add detail, so it’s ready for consent. I also oversee the detailed design just before it goes in for building consent, to make sure everything is as envisaged. My role is really about creating the concept and setting the direction for the house. It’s about initial design and developing that design in the early stages.

Sam:  As Design Builders Design Manager, my role is wide-ranging. I schedule in the work from the Design Builders partners from around the country, I take on new design briefs, allocate the right designer to those projects based on their availability and unique skillsets, and I’m also a lead designer on projects, so I have my own projects that I’m working on as well.

Design Builders is more than just a brilliant building company. It also has a full architectural and design offering. What advantages does this give clients?

Sam:  For the client, it makes the process seamless and straightforward. They benefit from our focus on quality control, and control over the whole process. We have direct contact with the Design Builders regional partners, and the people in the head office. We know everybody’s capabilities, and know what they can deliver, which is great for clients.

Renee:  I definitely think it streamlines the process for clients, especially for someone who hasn’t built before. I guess otherwise it can be quite a daunting process, going to an architect or an architectural designer, or maybe they’re not sure who they’re going to use to build it. I think that’s really beneficial for the client – they don’t have to go through that procurement process. We take care of it all.

Most people have never had a beautiful unique home designed and built for them. The design process might seem a bit of a mystery. Sam, can you step us through it?

Sam:  Well, the design process begins when we, the design team, receive a design brief from a Design Builders regional partner, who has been working with a client. This brief includes information gathered from meetings, site visits, and budget discussions and more. The partner has talked with the client what they want, any concerns they might have, anything they might need to be aware of, and collected as much information as they can. This part can take anywhere from days to months, before the brief comes to us.

Once we get the design brief, we carefully review it, identifying any concerns, especially related to budget alignment. Then we’ll produce our first concept design, including design notes, site notes, and budget notes. We aim to show the concept of what the client wants, what we can achieve, and potential budget impacts.

The concept design then undergoes alterations based client feedback. Then we create floor plans, elevations, and rough 3D drafts, making sure we’ve captured the client’s vision. Next the pricing document, with detailed information, is prepared for partners to seek out pricing. Once the pricing is accepted, the project moves to the building contract stage.

Do you both have a favourite part of the process, and if so what is it, and why do you enjoy it?

Renee:  Well, I enjoy all the stages that I’m involved in. For me, it’s that initial first concept stage that I always find pretty exciting, seeing where you can take the design, how far you can go with it, or not, and it’s fun bringing a client’s brief to life!

Sam:  I do love the initial stage. That’s when we’re digesting the brief, and getting all these ideas. Then we fine tune those ideas, making sure everything’s working. And there’s a moment in there when you get that feeling like, “Oh, yeah, I’ve nailed it this time.” Or, if you haven’t nailed it, you know that as well. So, you have to keep retrying and retrying and retrying. But when you get a design to work, it’s a great feeling. And ultimately, we want really happy clients, and that’s a favourite moment too.

And you’re always refining that client-driven process.

Sam:  Always. It’s important that it’s forever-changing. We’re constantly refining our process because, on every project, there are always new learnings – whether it’s budget-related, or it’s about our in-house systems, our quality control checks, or communication. We’re constantly looking and we’re discussing as a team ways to keep improving.

“I think this is where Design Builders have an advantage – we don’t do cookie cutter homes.”

Sam, what design trends do you see emerging in New Zealand architecture and design?

Sam:  It’s funny because I’m not really trend-driven at all. In fact, if I saw something becoming a trend, I would actively avoid it! However, I’ve just noticed there is a bit more of a trend towards the idea of sustainability, but I think you have to be careful, sometimes I feel like it’s a little bit ‘token’. People also want houses that require a little bit less maintenance. We’ve got more projects where people are going back towards lower maintenance solutions, which is great.

There’s also less money around now, so there’s a trend towards lower cost buildings. Interestingly, there’s also less land available, so the sites can be more challenging. They’re either smaller with tight restrictions on them, so it’s driven very much by the site, or they are really challenging, like sloping sites. I think this is where Design Builders have an advantage – we don’t do cookie cutter homes, so we can cater for the site individually. That’s what’s great about Design Builders’ approach.