Undercover Architect

5 ingredients in a stress-free project and a happy home


Home renovating and building: Here’s your recipe to get it right.

This article was first published in the April issue of Latte Magazine, the member magazine for Business Chicks.

If you’re building or renovating, you’re about to embark on a journey towards your beautiful home. A home where you can see yourself relaxing, enjoying time with family and friends, and that is light-filled, spacious, welcoming and comfortable.

When we live in a home that works, it makes our life better. Our home can be the launchpad for our life, and the place that restores and inspires us to go out into the world as the best version of ourselves. It can seamlessly support our lifestyle, so home life is more convenient and relaxing, and helps free up our energy for the things we really need it for.

Yet, between you and this vision of your beautiful home, is a sea of information, horror stories and reality TV programs that make it look like an all-consuming path with expensive pitfalls and potential disasters.

It doesn’t have to be that way, and renovating or building your home can be simpler and even enjoyable. After all – it’s an incredible opportunity to create a home to create a home that works for you and your lifestyle. A home that is uniquely yours.

So what’s the recipe to help you stay excited and empowered for your home project – and get it right? Here are 5 ingredients to help you.

Ingredient 1: Your Project Plan

Renovating and building is not one big step or decision. It’s actually a series of small, sequential steps. At each turn, you may be presented with several choices, not just one.

The sheer amount of choice is what can overwhelm homeowners, and the fact that, with a few wrong turns based on poor advice, they can end up in a rabbit hole that is difficult and expensive to get out of.

Before you start, map out a picture of the whole journey. Understand the basics of what the process is, and what is involved. Whilst each project is slightly different based on its location and the extent of work planned, the overall process is similar each time.

At its most basic level, you need to:

  1. Create your design
  2. Draw (or document) your design
  3. Cost your design
  4. Build your design

Research and explore what is involved in each of these; from seeking council approval, through to selecting and managing builders.

Preparation like this may take a little time upfront, however it will save you significant time and money (and stress) in your project overall. Ultimately, it will help you know how to get to where you’re planning to go!

And if you haven’t already, pop your email in at the top of this page, and I’ll send you my free Project Planning E-Guide and Cheatsheet – with all the steps you need to know for your project, and how to save time, money and stress along the way.

SPECIAL TIP:   Have a system to sort and store the information you’ll be researching, for easy reference as your project continues. Some homeowners even establish a dedicated email address so their partner can access all communication too.

Ingredient 2: Your Project Team

A renovating or building project can be disruptive to your already busy life. As well, it generally impacts where and how you’ll be living until your project is complete.

To execute it well, your project will involve the coordination of people, knowledge and skills.

How involved will you be in your project? What are your skills, and what time will you realistically have available to dedicate?

Once you can determine what your role, capacity (and inclination!) is, you can then decide on the professionals will you need to bring into your team.

SPECIAL TIP:   Look for like-minded professionals who see the world similarly to you. Creating your home is an intimate process, involving open and honest discussions about your lifestyle and finances. When you and your team are on the same wavelength, it helps to create trusting relationships and a shared vision for your home.

Ingredient 3: Your Project Strategy

This is different to your Project Plan. Your Project Strategy is how you’ll apply your plan – so you actually create a home that maximises every opportunity and stretches your budget to its full potential.

Creating your Project Strategy includes determining your priorities. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Create your big picture goals.

What are you trying to achieve overall for your project? Your forever home? A first great step on your property journey? To sell your home for a profit? You will be seduced by lots of choices and items that will seem essential (it’s like weddings or having babies!) However, keeping your big picture goals in front-of-mind will give you clarity at each decision.

  1. Design for how the sun moves across your site.

When you design this way, it is the single biggest thing you can do to create a home that works and feels great.

Research shows that our health and wellbeing improves with access to natural daylight on a regular basis.

In addition, using what comes for free (in sunlight and natural breezes) will help lower your home’s energy bills.

Designing for the sun’s movement is the best way to make a home that is great for you, great for the environment, and great for your budget.

  1. Focus on functionality

Pay attention to your every day activities, and what would make them easier.

It may be in how spaces are arranged and connected to each other, and what you can see and access whilst in them.

Think about how you’d like this to be to make your life simpler and more convenient, and build that into your new or renovated home.

  1. Create spaciousness

Even the most compact of homes can feel spacious. Create spaciousness through:

–   bringing organisation to the way things are stored and accessed, with effective storage solutions

–   the use of volume and light. Think about how you want to the spaces in your home to feel and be sized.

–   great indoor / outdoor connections. Bring the outside in, through the arrangement of doors and windows to create views, maintain privacy and blur the edge of your home into your garden or surroundings.

SPECIAL TIP:   The aim of your Project Strategy is to help you navigate your journey so you don’t feel like you’re compromising or making trade-offs. Instead, you’re able to act with confidence and clarity that your decisions are leading you to the type of home you dream of.


Setting a budget should be one of the very first things you do in your home renovating or building project. Your budget should frame the project overall (not the other way around!)

Your home is usually one of your most significant assets, so see your budget as your investment in that asset. Even if you never plan to sell, undertake some real estate research to see what is sought after in your area, will improve the value of your home, and will prevent you from overcapitalising.

Use free online estimating and budget tools to gather ideas about costs. Speak to those in the industry for advice also. Once you have an idea of the costs, keep testing it against your project as it progresses.

Do not skip this ingredient. Bring it in early, and keep it close to you through the duration of your project! Financial stress is a burden that will kill the enjoyment of even the greatest of homes.

SPECIAL TIP:    Build in a contingency of 10 – 20% for unexpected challenges and expenses during construction. This will help you avoid stress and keep your project running smoothly.





So many projects go pear-shaped over one thing: Communication.

Maintain effective and open communication channels with your like-minded team to move efficiently through your project. Here are a couple of tools to use along the way:


This is the document that explains your vision for your project, and will include big picture goals, as well as nitty-gritty details. Treat it as a sacred document and platform to get everyone on the same page.


As with any industry, there’s specific terminology, and drawings are the main means of communication. If you can’t read plans, get help with this.


And keep records of all correspondence in case there’s a discrepancy between what you’re paying for and what is delivered.


Have written agreements, and understand your obligations under all contracts.


Regularly visit site and check that what is being built is as per the drawings and any conversations you’ve recorded.

There’s more tips for how to get great communication happening in your project in this 2-part blog – Part 1 is here.

SPECIAL TIP:    A lot of legal cases in home building and renovating can be traced back to a communication breakdown. If you feel you’re not being listened to, or dealt with professionally, act quickly to rectify the situation.


It is exciting to think about building or renovating your home.

You may or may not be able to imagine what it will look like, but chances are you can imagine what it will feel like to live in, and even see your family and friends enjoying it … hear the laughter, see meals being shared, and memories being made.

You can get it right – many, many homeowners have. So get informed, confident and empowered for your project. Follow this recipe, and your beautiful home will be ready for you soon.

Other blogs you may find useful to get it right with your reno or build …

This one will help you understand the decisions that matter when you create your home

This one will show you what options you have for building based on your budget (but not the way you think)

This one will provide tips on how to avoid a bad design for your home



Amelia Lee

Amelia Lee is the architect behind Undercover Architect. Undercover Architect operates mainly online to help homeowners (especially women) design and plan their future new homes and renovations. Think of it as your secret ally in getting it right, and saving time, money and stress - whoever you’re working with to create or transform your home.

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