What makes a great home, a home of architectural merit that will nurture your family, give you years of enjoyment and be worth a lot more on completion than the investment you will have made to create it?

The answers aren’t as difficult as some might have you believe. Here are my top ten if you like, in no real order, that will help you to create that masterpiece. I offer it to inspire a little debate on what makes a house a really wonderful place to live in, and makes you a tax free profit when Steve, Robert and their team come to sell it for you.

1. You can always change the house but you can’t change the street, the aspect or the neighbours. In other words, buy the site not the house. No matter how clever you are you cannot decide where the sun shines, where the traffic noise is, or where the cold wind blows from, but you can design a house on your site to suit the environment you find.

2. Always, I repeat always, design your living and kitchen areas to drown in winter sun. The difference between a sunny, open and well planned living space that in some way faces between north-east and north–west and a collection of cold, small rooms facing south is the difference between really living and just existing.

3. In Mosman, the value of most sites lies in the land itself and its potential. A great many poorly oriented and laid out houses, both new and old, have little or no value in them at all in the eyes of a purchaser. In fact they can be worth minus $20,000, the cost to demolish them, or $750,000 less than you think they are worth because the purchaser factors in the cost to renovate it all. So the stakes are very high and if you get it wrong you may spend a fortune and add nothing to the value of your investment or even worse, lessen it. If you get it right, the market will pay enormous sums for your property and the gap between those who get it right and those who don’t, is vast. Yes, good design does pay more than ever.

4. Yes, the market does want modern design and it will pay a great deal more for a well-crafted contemporary house with sunny open plan entertaining areas that flow seamlessly to private and sheltered outdoor living areas than a similarly scaled renovated house. However, this modern house needs warmth, soul and a sense of place, to go with all those shiny new materials and electronic wizardry, or it will never fulfil those basic human instincts for shelter and family.

5. Water and energy saving and re-use must be on your design agenda and budget. They can no longer be ignored by any responsible owner or architect. You will not have the water now and in the future to care for your garden or top up your pool unless you provide for it yourself with a sensible combination of roof water storage and grey or even black water recycling. A future where energy authorities cut the power to Mosman air conditioners on 42 degree days to preserve it for hospitals and schools is not far away. Those with sensibly designed, insulated and cross ventilated houses that do not need air conditioning, with toilets flushed with recycled water and gardens thriving on stored stormwater will be celebrated. (More on this subject in next week’s article).

6. Did I mention Rule number 2 about north aspect? Yes, but I’ll repeat it again. We tend to overstate summer in Sydney and forget the sublime midwinter days of clear blue skies where the sun penetrates all day into north facing living rooms and heats the floor, which then reradiates that heat back to you at night. That same space due to its orientation and careful design, then blocks the harsh sun all summer long. Who needs air conditioning in Mosman in a well designed house?

7. The cost of renovating now is so huge and the stakes are so high (see 3 ) that if the house does not have special features that demand retention, be they architectural quality, heritage, special memories or code advantage, then you are better off starting fresh with a new house. I don’t offer this lightly or with any satisfaction, as I love to preserve and enhance existing building stock, but the stark reality is that you pay enormous sums in labour and inefficient work methods to painstakingly pull apart a house, correct all its faults and then put it back together. That said, Mosman will always have a large stock of quality older housing that deserves and demands sensitive and imaginative renovation. Just don’t under-estimate the cost of the exercise!

8. Many houses are ruined by people trying to cram one too many elements into their plan. Err on the side of creating less but more generous spaces that naturally flow from one to the other, that benefit from flexibility of use, and avoid the temptation to fulfil your checklist down to the last room. You can so easily ruin the plan and the natural flow and rhythm of the house.

9. Concentrate less on scale and more on quality, flow and rhythm. Most houses built are too large for their sites. Focus on providing more with less, leaving more room and scope for beautiful courtyards and gardens, or outdoor rooms if you like.

10. We are an over-toileted society. No child needs an en-suite. A two storey house needs two and a half bathrooms or perhaps three if the guest toilet downstairs becomes a bathroom for guests. Why people feel the need to waste so much space and money on toileting is beyond me and in my book unnecessary. Bathrooms do nothing for the value of the house, nor the quality of life of its inhabitants.

Follow these few ideas and you won’t go too far wrong!

Peter Tout
Chairman Castlepeake Group
Architecture Landscapes Interiors Construction Sustainability
(02) 9437-1800

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