How to put together a realistic design brief?

You may have an idea of the type of house or upgrade you require, but getting a realistic design brief on paper to reflect what you envisage is more difficult than it sounds. And as a design brief is crucial to the build process, it is imperative you get it right. What starts as a simple idea can emerge as a useful and practical brief that ensures nothing gets forgotten. It will help your designer know exactly what you are aiming for and what the outcome of the project will be. But where do you start?

Set a Budget

Your budget for the build will depend on your personal circumstances. However, just to give you a clear idea, the following sections will demonstrate how to work out what kind of expenses you may be dealing with. Do the math to accurately come up with a ballpark figure to enable you to plan for the specific costs.

Overall rate per m2

How can you determine how much it is going to cost? Thankfully that is made easy by an approximate base rate. Allow a total price of $3,500 per m2 to determine the actual cost of the build. For example, a new two-storey dwelling measuring 250m2 will cost approximately $875,000.

Extra expenses

Any additions and alterations need to be included, along with your initial base rate. These alteration expenses will vary depending on the specific requirements of your design. As a guide, allow for $2,000 per m2 for renovated space. Add this figure to the one above.

Contingency costs

Once you have added the rate per m2 to any planned alterations, add a 20% contingency fee on top. That will allow for any unexpected costs and give you a budgeting cushion, so you don’t run out of money before the project comes to completion.

This is the total figure you will take to the bank or your financial lender when it’s time to chat with them about your project. Due to the economic climate in Australia, it is best to speak to them earlier rather than later. Because of nationwide tighter lending standards, banks have become quite stringent on property loans. From your perspective, you need to know that you have the finances in place before you make solid plans to move forward with your build or extension.

Understand Planning Constraints

When you design a home, you have to make sure that it meets Government rules on a state and local level. There will be particular planning constraints which fall under state control, in particular, land zoning and building heights, as well as floor space and landscape ratios. The information provided by your state government will give you a sense of the scale you can build or develop. As a property owner, you must understand the rules and regulations and how it will affect your development plans. (refer to our previous post for more information)

Create an Ideas Book

Quite often your building ideas will come from multiple sources. Perhaps you have seen a house you admire in the next suburb or have come across an inspirational design in a magazine you were reading. Record what you want in an ideas book, so you don’t forget about it. Sometimes it is the smallest details of a building that can make a significant impact on the finished product. Consider aspects such as storage space and lighting. Don’t forget to jot down your turn-offs as well as your turn-ons.

Houzz is an online platform for those individuals looking to design or enhance their own home. It offers a wide variety of creative ideas and enhancements. Houzz allows you to save the images you like in one place and is conveniently broken down into sections for each room for ease of browsing. If possible, note what interests you about each image. Perhaps it is just a feeling the space evokes; be as specific as possible. You can view our Houzz Page HERE.

If you are yet to enter the world of Pinterest – be warned! You can easily lose an hour or two at a time lost in thought, browsing home improvement and building designs, and pinning them to your boards. Pinterest is a visual search engine which allows you to keep all of your favourite tips and useful images in one place. Think of it as an online scrapbook. Create boards for each room and save it for future use. Don’t forget the outdoor space and garden area as well.


If you aren’t computer savvy, then a traditional scrapbook or notebook will work just as well. Stock up on your favourite magazines and photograph homes in your neighbourhood which appeal to you. Don’t be afraid to get ideas from project home builders as well. Their interior layouts can be very efficient, not to mention incredibly cost-effective. Inspiration can come from anywhere – so keep your eyes open. The more details you can add to your online and offline scrapbooks, the better.

Write a Scope

Write a clear scope in your own words as a starting point. While it does not need to be technical, it should cover the basics such as the number of living rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms, etc. We also recommend writing down how you want to feel when you move into the house. While it may seem a little odd writing about your feelings in this way, your words will keep you focused on what you want to get out of your project, particularly during those times when things aren’t entirely going to plan.  Consider what aspects may be negotiable and non-negotiable about your budget.

Your research should determine how you want each room to look, as well as the final appearance and structure of the exterior and outdoor space. Understanding your goals will ensure that the design brief is realistic and in touch with your needs, especially once you have taken into account your budget and local laws. It is in the design stage where you can see your dreams become an actuality, so have some fun with it.