Build In Common

The recipe of a well thought out design


Two beef patties’, lettuce, onion, mayo on a sesame seed bun – a relatively small number of ingredients comprising what is probably one of the most popular burgers throughout history. Is it these individual ingredients we think of when we give into our cravings? No, we want a burger, (maybe some fries and a milkshake too if we are feeling extra indulgent)!

It is the combination of ingredients that elegantly come together to form the singular item that we crave – all complimenting each other to form what we know as a burger.

Balanced? Elegant? Maybe…it depends how into burgers you are… My unhealthy ‘startup founder’ lifestyle aside; this analogy can be applied to practically anything, particularly when planning and designing a building project – the well-balanced combination of elements to form a structure or project.

How do we find that balance, that all-important ‘feng shui’ we need to create a practical and aesthetically pleasing renovation or building project that suits our taste and style, while not completely destroying our re-sell value, bank account and sanity in the process? Unlike a simple item such as a burger, which only has a few ingredients, a house or even a relatively small building project can have hundreds of crucial options, of which one or two poor choices may ruin the flavour of the entire project.

Hilarious case in point: The Westminster Bridge, London.

At first glance, nothing really stands out as unusual, let alone stunning about this bridge… it’s nice, I guess, but not amazing in comparison to some of its neighbouring masterpieces. However, as observed by generations of immature locals and tourists (myself unapologetically included), at certain times of day when the sunlight is just right (on a rare sunny day in London), the side rail casts an unfortunate shadow!

A small and un-obvious design oversight which now dominates my immature thought process whenever I think of ye olde Limey. When designing, it is important to think outside of the box about every minor detail and how it could have an unintended effect on other seemingly unrelated aspects.

During my career, I have been a structural draftsman, architect, geotechnical analysist, as well as dabbling in structural and geoengineering along the way. I have recently made the shift into the tech industry, building and designing software to simplify the building industry for everyone (See Plugs aside, I have been involved with several construction projects and managed to get my hands dirty on the way.

This has given me plenty of time to develop a broad view of the entire build process, from initial design to finish, and importantly I have learnt from my mistakes on the way (which for the record would take up a whole other article by themselves)!

Mistakes are certainly an efficient way to learn quickly. This is especially true when undertaking a building project, which can mean thousands of dollars down the drain in the blink of an eye, or being reminded every day when you leave to work that you should have spent the extra $150 for larger size front door which catches your shoulder every morning.

Here are my top few hints and tips to make sure you get your recipe right from the start of your building process, as learnt from my mistakes and experience:

1. Do your homework!

Have a look while driving around, check out your friends’ pads, read (TILT) magazine, take clippings of what you like, take photos and begin a collection of stuff that suits your taste. Remember it’s also important to take a mental note of the stuff you don’t like, your tradies, builders and architects will thank you for it! It can be very challenging designing and building something when the client doesn’t quite know what they want. This can end in cost blowout and an unhappy everybody!

2. If you get stuck: ASK!


Most trades and building professionals are happy to give you their two cents if asked politely, or if beer is involved.

After all, this is their job and they see this type of stuff every day, so they generally seen first hand what works and what does not. If for whatever reason you feel you are not getting good advice – Google it!

Chances are someone else has faced a similar crisis and found their solution.

3. Foresight: how can I best future proof my design?

Try to think long-term… • Will this purple feature wall still be in fashion in 10 years’ time? (You know who you are!) • Will I need an electric charger point in my garage for my future Tesla sports car? (I can dream). • How hard / expensive may it be in the future to alter X decision if for whatever reason it needs to be changed or removed completely? • However number of power points you specify, double it… trust me.

4. Serviceability (similar to above)

Will my design be easy and affordable enough to maintain? For example – Do I put in a beautiful jarrah outdoor deck that will have to be sanded and oiled every year, or do I spend 15% extra and get composite decking which requires zero maintenance? There is no right or wrong answer – this comes down to personal choice versus practicality and costs. (FYI – I went with the composite!) Case in point; I chose these great designer downlights for my house when I was renovating. Problem is, you can only change the globe from inside the 40cm of clearance from within my roof space. I now own a lot of lamps.

5. Don’t skimp out on the geotechnical!

Mostly relevant if you are extending or building a larger project, however, this is often an afterthought as it is generally something we never think about until it is too late, or unless you have an avid green thumb. For every dollar you spend on geotechnical it is said you save $50. You can get a decent residential geo report for around $300- $1,000, which could potentially save you $50K in future works such as fixing cracks, moisture damage, concrete costs, sand pad costs or even worse structural failures.

6. Maths

Largely overlooked by the average person planning a design, and generally disliked due to emotional scars obtained in high school… “When will this ever be applicable in real life?” said everyone ever. Well, my friends, it’s applicable now so dust off that Casio! Like it or not, Maths is fundamental to every good design – and not just from an engineering standpoint and calculating quantities, but importantly for overall aesthetics (there’s that feng shui again!) Fact: Us human-folks have a funny natural subconscious preference towards mathematically pleasing shapes and complex structures.

When designing an entire house maths is commonly used to work out proportions, symmetry and spaces, which then sets the undertone for the rest of the build. If you want to see a great example of maths in nature and architecture, check out the Golden Ratio – its mind-blowing.

7. Go with your gut

Assuming your project is your ‘forever’ house; spend that extra $10 per square meter for the tiles that you REALLY love and don’t settle for the okay ones that look nice enough and will do the job.  The short-term higher cost is well worth it for the long run. Do it once and do it properly without regrets – you will be reminded of this every day for the rest of your life when you shower.

Like cooking a new recipe, it is hard to get it 100% right on your first go, however, these tips can really help you increase the chances of a tasty build through a well thought out design. There is nothing quite as rewarding as finishing a build in which you designed and picked every small detail. I lost a lot of sleep with every minor aspect I had to choose, but it was well worth it!

All this writing is making me hungry…off to get a burger now.

Ciao and good luck!

Tom Young

About our guest contributor:

Our thanks to Tom Young, CEO of Udrew for sharing his insights and thoughts with us this month. Udrew is a multiple award-winning cloud platform for homeowners and contractors without any technical skill to design, engineer and manage their own custom-building project from start to finish, for 70% less cost and receive potential instant council approval for their small construction projects.

All designs are checked and assessed against all local and national building regulations in real time while materials are quantified as they are drawn, meaning you can order every component with the click of a button. This means you can begin construction of your own project in minutes – not months. Udrew will be launching in late 2018, see for more details.

Build In Common

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1 Comment

  1. David Head

    October 15, 2018 at 10:49 am

    It was actually “Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.”
    They are patties not paddies 😉
    Cheers, David

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