Monday, 20 June 2011

A Game of Drafts

So you think you’ve designed your own home - have you specified the nail length?
How about the depth of your anchor piles?

Having decided to build our own home we each took a blank sheet of paper and sketched what we each thought it should look like. The bank of North-facing glass doors and windows was there right from the beginning, except my initial drawing looked more like the Tracey family’s ‘60s sci-fi’ island mansion from Thunderbirds, with impossibly expensive curved walls. No harm in aiming high to begin with, but ‘Thunderbirds weren’t go’, this time.
Our initial sketches.  Mine is the one from Thunderbirds,
Rose's is the one which looks more like our final design
Instead, we took our inspiration from the real world, specifically a truly beautiful house which we had been shown through while staying in the Hawke’s Bay a couple of years ago. As luxury accommodation, it had its own website which very thoughtfully included a floor plan. At this point I should state that I won’t name this elegant home to avoid accusations of plagiarism. I seriously doubt the architect would ever recognise anything of his own in our finished home, (it will be a tiny fraction of the size, for a start), but ‘the house which shall not be named’ was a constant inspiration and touchstone through every part of our own design process.
 Whenever we felt we’d reached a dead end, the adage "What did {unnamed Hawkes’ Bay house} do in this situation" would often come to our rescue.
My next sketch more closely resembled the finished concept
(scroll to bottom for comparison)
The details of the numerous conversations we must have had about room sizes, positions, quantity and flat screen TV dimensions seem to have blurred, but we somehow channelled our energies and ideas in a similar direction throughout. I know I’d offer token resistance occasionally, but knew it was only a matter of time before Rose’s practicality would win over my whimsy. I soon learned that leading Rose to believe that something I really wanted had been her idea all along was a better way to go.
Finally I drew up a floor plan which was detailed enough for our builder to obtain initial costings with.
Our floorplan - rich in detail, but a little lacking in measurement accuracy.
 But we wanted to see our ‘dream house’ in three dimensions, so downloaded a free 3-D drafting programme called Google Sketch Up, which I’d highly recommend. Before we even started using it, Rose’s and my differences in methodology came to the fore. I wanted to carefully prepare, watching instructional videos on You Tube - while she just dived in, turning simple shapes into 3-D forms just by experimenting with the programme’s tools. Rose’s results weren’t useable, but when I saw how far she had got, I imported our floor plan and dived in myself.
Our 3-D model grew quickly, and as I became more familiar with Sketch Up I even added transparent glass windows and textured cladding. The result was largely a botched job, (a little instructional video watching would probably have helped after all), but it fulfilled its function of giving us a rudimentary 3-D model which we could reposition and even move around inside – virtually, of course!
Two views of our 'Sketch Up' model (minus the roof). 
Looking East (above) and looking West.
Our builder was more interested in the floor plan and barely glanced at our proudly-displayed Sketch Up model, which was a good clue as to its actual practical use. Never the less we took it with us when an all-important initial meeting with our draughtsman took place, and he was polite enough to watch indulgently as I spun our model around a few times on our little laptop. Several key issues were addressed during this meeting, with an emphasis placed on making certain we were absolutely satisfied with our plans before they went to the local council to begin the consent process.
It wasn’t long before a request for a follow up meeting took place. It seemed that although our floor plan gave far more information and detail than their clients were usually able to provide, my measurements were somewhat askew. This was ironed out and then our draughtsman, Tim, showed us our home as a three dimensional model rendered by a CAD programme which made our Sketch Up efforts look… sketchy, to say the least. It didn’t matter; our own foray into 3-D had served its purpose and could now be honourably discharged.
Various details were resolved and tweaks made over the next few weeks, including breaking our simple rectangular envelop by extending the master bedroom northwards. This became a necessity when we realised that our large walk-in wardrobe prevented us from also fitting a bed in the room!
A proper draughtsman's floorplan (note extended master bedroom)
Another issue which we struggled with was our chimney. Initially we were set upon extending the large freestanding wall behind our wood burner, (which we named ‘the monolith’), right through the roof to become our chimney. Unfortunately this meant that our wood burner flue, left exposed inside the living room for maximum heat production, then had to be bent to fit into the monolith somewhere in the roof-space. The safety issues and detriment to the wood burner’s efficiency meant that we eventually had to discard this imposing rooftop feature in favour of a far more modest chimney.
Eventually a 25 page document was delivered into our hands for approval. Containing a bewildering amount of detail, we hardly felt qualified to green light anything beyond the floor plans, so invited our builder, Dean, around to the container for a cup of tea and a look through it all.
Dean was happy, and so were we, so shortly afterwards Tim reported that he had delivered the plans, the land transfer titles, and an 86 page specifications document, a 20 page waste water specification and our cheque for $4,000 to the South Wairarapa District Council to begin the consent process.
And now… we wait.
Two views of our home rendered with a professional 3-D programme.
The north face of the house (above) and the south side.

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