Nathan and his fiance are building a new forever home on a large block of land (1500 sq. metres).
Listen as Nathan shares more about his project and the value he gained through Undercover Architect’s online course during the new build process.
Nathan shares how the cost of the online course was relatively nothing in comparison to how much he saved on his build.
Good day, my name’s Nathan from Tasmania. And I’m a teacher. So I live in Launceston, Tasmania, which is in the north of the state. And my fiance and I purchased a really nice block, which is about 1,500 square metres. And we didn’t really know what to do with it, and so we started to look for the answers.
And as part of that process, we came across the Undercover Architect, which really helped us in actually selecting the block, because we knew that orientation was important. That’s been a good start.
So it is a new build for us. It’s the first time we built and hopefully the last. So we had a real part of, I guess, philosophy of this being our forever home.
Do it once and do it right. And that really resonated with us strongly from the start with Amelia.
And my fiance’s not really into the podcast or anything like that. It’s all me. But it’s been, yeah, it’s been a really good process.
What concerns did you have before you started?
Oh, absolutely. So I mean, the first thing is around getting it right. So we purchased the block in February of 2019. And we probably started the design process in April. And we only just got our council approval back recently, that’s not because there’s been a delay in getting our development approved, but it just took a long time to get it right.
And so working, I guess, with the Undercover Architect, particularly, on the interior design course, which we signed up for, which is Interior Design 101. It’s been awesome, really awesome to help us get right.
What challenges were you worried about before you started?
Yeah, so it’s the first time that we’re building and the last, as we hope. And so we, as part of that process and knowing, you know, that we will only do this once, we inherently knew that there was a lot of pressure around that, trying to get it right for something that we’ve never done before.
I mean, building and renovating, I think people sometimes have the perception that you just, you, you’ll be fine and that you know.
As Amelia says, you actually don’t know what you don’t know. And the more that we’ve gone through this process, it’s just been phenomenal what we didn’t know.
And now what we’ve been able to do, is actually been working through really, with skilled professionals and seeking out the help from places like the Undercover Architect, that we’ve been able to, I guess, avoid some dramas.
And there might still be more to come because construction hasn’t started yet. It’s going to start in a couple of months. We are in the process of getting a contract drafted up at the moment, so yeah, so certainly, yeah, we did have some anxieties around cost.
And from the podcast series, as well as interior design, we learnt about getting a professional Quantity Surveyor, and so in the early stages of our project, getting priced up. And we wanted our designer which was great. But we took that one step further to an independent party, which was the Quantity Surveyor, to make sure that our build was actually on budget. And that was good.
It was a really reassuring feeling to go that extra step that we wouldn’t have otherwise known to do.
How did you first discover Undercover Architect?
So the way I found the Undercover Architect was, I remember googling what is the difference between an architect and a building designer. And so in the very first instance, I mean, I knew that architects had probably the highest level of qualification in terms of time spent at university from the other professions. And so we got a quote from an architect.
And we were in shock at the first instance, because we, we, don’t know what you don’t know. And we didn’t expect that it would be sort of around the mark that it was.
And so I naturally went to Google, and I thought, what, what does this person do in order to charge that money? So I wanted to understand it better. And so I googled, what’s the difference between an architect and a building designer?
And I’m certain now, and this is yep, this is exactly right, is that the first Google search that came up was from this website called the Undercover Architect.
And so when I went, and I teach history and english, and so I’m a bit of a critical reader, and I thought, ah, this is just an architectural website, she will just be saying how much better an architect is than a building designer, but I was completely wrong.
And the transparency in what she wrote and the objective nature around, she said, well, you know, an architect’s good for this, a building designer is good for this. I kind of thought, oh, that’s, that’s really interesting.
And so I think, a week went by or so and I probably just ended up on googling something else around building or selecting land, or whatever it might have been. And so I came across it again.
And I reckon as I went through the website, I saw a link to the podcast. And I’d recently bought a new set of headphones at that point in time. And so I just wanted something new to listen to.
And I remember on Spotify, I thought, I’m going to type in Undercover Architect and see what comes up. And so it was there, and I just watched episode one. And, and we knew after building … buying our block of land that we weren’t going to build for at least another twelve months, because we were saving up money and all those sorts of things.
And so, over that twelve month period, I’ve watched up until probably the last episode. I … Truthfully, I’ve just been busy, I just haven’t tuned in, but I think I’ve watched all the episodes.
So I think there’s a hundred and a few but I’ve definitely watched at least 100 of them. So yeah, it’s, you know, it turned from an accidental kind of, oh, this is interesting, into something I just really became quite full blown into, as time went on, which has been great.
And so now, I sort of follow Amelia on Facebook and in the different channels. And that’s how I learned about the interior design course, because that was one of the seasons on the podcast, which is awesome.
Did you explore any other options before joining Undercover Architect?
Yeah, look, it’s really interesting. And I suppose in summary, and Amelia will probably laugh at this, like, I would have done all the courses really, if I could, but we, you know, it’s about balancing out the needs of yourself and your partner and whatnot.
And we sort of had a budget around what we could spend. And the more we learned about design is that, not that it’s a bottomless pit, but you can certainly involve a lot of people. And so we were sort of strategic around … well the podcast was an awesome sounding board for me. And I felt like I picked up a lot of information from it. And so we were selective around the courses that we went for.
And I really wanted to work with an interior designer, because, I remember distinctly, in one of the series of the podcast, is that Amelia was talking about lots of variations for build happen by the ground stage, but also, with clients changing their ideas, or in the tiles they want.
Or the builder might put in an allowance, say for $20,000 in the kitchen, the client just signs and goes, yeah, that’s awesome. And when you’re on a contract, you then go into the joiner and say, okay, ‘I want this, this, this and this. And inevitably, the bill comes out at $35,000.
And I think I’m correct in saying this, but in Australia, the client pays for the variation in cash, plus the variation margin. So if you selected this kitchen that’s $15,000 over your allocation, then you either have to rob that from somewhere else in your build, or you have to pay for that, the difference plus a fee, which is a variation fee.
So the anxiety around how much is this going to cost, I said, well, there has to be a better way.
And so that’s why when we’re looking at the Undercover Architect, and specifically the interior design course, there was a lot of talking around getting what’s called internal elevations or internal drawings done. So that you can actually get your kitchen drawn up in, in a two dimensional drawing from all the different aspects.
And in doing that, you can actually then take that to a builder before you sign a contract. And the builder looks at that, and then really accurately prices that up. They can see whether you’ve got drawers, cupboards, whether it’s a stone benchtop, what’s the splashback, and so on and so forth.
So we really, as busy people, wanted to make sure that once the builder started that every single decision, within reason, had been made. So that A) it’s been costed for correctly in the contract, and B) we don’t have to be on site making variations.
So I remember that Amelia talked about this really clearly that in your bathroom, your vanity can either sit off the floor or off the wall. If it sits off of the floor, the plumbing runs through the floor, typically, and if it sits off the wall, then the plumbing goes through the wall.
So lots of people in Australia want it off the wall, it costs more, it needs to be double framed, and the plumbing needs to go through the wall and so on. And so what often happens on site, is that people will come in and the builder will put the vanity down on the ground, and they’ll say, oh, we’d actually like that on the wall.
And so you’ve got this concrete slab with the plumbing in it. And now all of a sudden, you need to remove that and put that into the wall. And so that could be thousands of dollars, that, that you can no longer spend on your landscaping or, or your window furnishings or your fence or whatever it might be in the build.
So we were really conscious through learning, learning, learning and observing. Absorbing as much as we could to try to make as much of the decision making up front, so that it was done at the end.
And there’s a really good saying, I’ll probably get this wrong, but it’s around effort, in like, when I feel like, when you’re building a house, you need to make 80% of the effort decision making in the design stage and then the building only requires 20% of the effort.
But from what I’ve seen on Facebook pages and other things is, so many people don’t take the time, or effort or cost up front to make those decisions. And they inevitably pay for them on site. And they have the added stress. And so building is just a really horrible experience for lots of people.
I know Amelia’s talked about that as well and so we really want to, to not have that experience.
We want to have every duck in a row, so that when we’re on site, we’re just checking that things are getting along as we wanted them to, on budget, on time, and we have a good result. And who knows how it will go because it hasn’t started yet. But we’re trying our best.
Because you don’t know what you don’t know. So true.
Like, that’s the biggest take home message from all of this. So knowledge is power. Definitely when you’re building and renovating.
What have you learned from the Undercover Architect courses?
Absolutely. And just there’s just so many little things that you don’t— know. I mean, I mean, the interior design course is, it’s about function to a degree, but it’s also around the aesthetic and all those sorts of things, which is important, when you’re trying … and you spend so much money, money on a house.
Most people want to make it look cohesive to a degree between spaces, and so we got some really valuable tips around the types of toilets to select from, from the course.
And colour psychology, you know, what colours elicit, what moods and when you’re selecting carpet, what to know, I mean, to me, I just thought carpet was carpet, but there’s loop, cut, twist, the ounce-age of the carpet, all of these things. And it was really interesting.
It actually helped us to select better people to work with throughout the process.
And so I’ll give an example, where we went into a couple of carpet stores and I was looking for a particular ounce-age of a carpet. Now Australia obviously uses metrics. So we don’t talk in ounces. But carpet, the density of the pile is measured in ounce, the higher the ounce, the more luxurious, and sometimes durable the carpet is, depending on its type.
And so I remember going into one retailer who operates nationally, and I said, “oh look, I really want to know what the ounce-age is of these two carpets, to make a bit of a comparison”. And they said, “oh, we don’t, we don’t work in ounces here, that’s not, yeah, we don’t do that.”
I thought okay, well, the carpet weighs … the carpet weighs something, so they know. But it just helped me to kind of differentiate between what, what I guess, companies really knew what they were talking about and were willing to help and go that extra mile, versus those companies who weren’t.
And if that question was difficult in the sales room, I can’t imagine how much more difficult that carpet retailer would be once we’d actually purchased the product, if there were any troubles.
So that lens around going in there … Rather than going in there to kind of learn about the products, because at the end of the day, a lot of these places try and sell the product. Rather than learning about the products, it was actually going in there to check knowledge, you know, and make some educated comparisons, and not get drawn into a sales pitch. So I think that’s been really, really good.
As I said, we took it one step further around employing an interior designer, because we really wanted those internal elevations to help with our costs and our surety around things. But you know, my fiance and I, you know, we have different tastes. And so going into a tile shop with hundreds of tiles, was not going to be a productive use of our time.
So even if we hadn’t saved money in that sense, we certainly saved time.
And got a better result by working with a skilled professional who actually knows the difference between tiles, and what do you get at what price point, and so on and so forth. So the decision making process is really good.
Even without taking it that far though, Interior Design 101 actually gives you lots of information about how to just narrow your selections down. You know, it’s about, I guess, almost helping you to understand what you like and dislike before you get into a showroom.
So that once you’re in there, you’re only selecting between a few things, as opposed to going to the shop like a deer in headlights, not knowing anything, asking the salesperson, I want this, and then getting pushed into a maybe an inferior product or something that’s not actually going to suit your long term needs.
So it was important for us to select the things that we actually want, and to be sure about it. And so after we’d selected all of our taps with our interior designer online, we were able to go inside to Reece, and not get overwhelmed by the showroom, just go in and look at two options, and then make a really simple choice from there, which was just awesome.
Did the Undercover Architect course save you drama + stress?
That is, that is a really good question. And I think through the process of listening to the podcast in conjunction with the course, and then working with an interior designer as well, as an accessory to that, that way, we’ll probably account for a whole range of mistakes that we otherwise would have made.
So I can give an example, I suppose, is something that I think will work really well for us, and that is that we were going to select a particular tile to go as our kitchen splashback.
Now, we wouldn’t have realised this without actually knowing to check with the manufacturer, but the size of the tile was actually greater than our splashback area, but the tiles weren’t going to look good laid landscape, they were going to be better laid portrait.
And so we were going to have huge amounts of waste off of the top of the tile, that would have, we would have paid for the whole box, and effectively thrown out 30% of the tile.
Now you always have wastage, that’s a given, but going in, knowing to look for the size of the tile, and finding out which ways it was best going to be laid for waterproofing, and those other aesthetic reasons, we were able to kind of change our mind around a tile selection so that we had less wastage, which is good.
And tiles quite often, I mean, the tiles that we’ve selected are going to come from Spain, so they have a three month waiting time outside of COVID anyways. So you really need to get those quantities right in the first instance, because you’re either going to have a whole box that sits in under your garage wasted, effectively thousands of dollars, or you’re not going to have enough and then you’re going to have to select a different tile, and then you’ve got three boxes here that you could never use, because you didn’t order right from the first place.
So yeah, really challenging and something that you need to think about in the first instance. That’s for sure.
Did you have a favourite part of the Undercover Architect course?
Well, I think it’s definitely saved us money, although I can’t measure that, because we haven’t made the mistakes. But I mean, for me, we’ve paid, I think it was $397 or $297, or whatever it was for the course, but if you think about that example of the tiles that I just gave, I mean that that would have saved us, I don’t know the difference in the price, but it was certainly more than the price of the course.
And so time and time again, what this course has proved to us is it’s just helped us to narrow down our focus on what matters. What’s going to provide us with a functional, durable and usable home. Because I think that without this course, we would have spent money in inappropriate places.
So we’ve learned exactly where that durability kind of mark is. It’s a family home, it’s a forever home. And so you can get really good durability out of a tap for $200 or $300, you can also get the same durability out of an $800 tap that’s more aesthetically pleasing.
So for us, it was about kind of hitting that point of, how long do we need this to last. And then, you know, trying to match our budget to that.
I mean, another example might be in a bathroom where it’s more expensive to tile up to the ceiling. But bathrooms are quite often places that endure a lot of mould and mildew. And so for us, you know, it was about saying, okay, well, if we don’t want to deal with that, it’s about having good ventilation in the first instance. But how can we tile up to a higher level to avoid a bit of mould and mildew and those sorts of things, so it obviously wipes off better from the tiles.
And so we had to then manage our budget around or how expensive can our tiles be if we want to tile up higher? Can we still get the same look and functionality from a cheaper tile that’s going to last? And we could. Because tiles will cost you $50 a square metre to $400 a square metre.
So now, I guess the Interior Design 101 course equipped us with the criteria for each of the selections in our home, that enabled us to really get the most out of it, for the biggest bank for buck, I guess you could say.
So there’s a couple of things that we might have spent a little bit more than we needed to, which is just purely because we wanted to. And there’s some other things that we’ve been able to strip right back.
And yeah, be able to save that money and invest it elsewhere, or take out a smaller mortgage, which is always nice.
What would you say to others thinking of joining this Undercover Architect course?
Well, I think that the course, it’s a yeah… You’d be silly not to. That’s the kind of the down way of saying it. But I think for us, you don’t know what you don’t know, and I think it’s really important to understand that all professions exist because those people have undertaken a lot of study and have a lot of knowledge.
And certainly by us getting involved in this course, we have learned so much about interior design that we didn’t think was even a thing. I didn’t know that you could have internal drawings done or anything like that.
But by doing so, we’ve undoubtedly saved thousands of dollars I would imagine.
And got a better result than we otherwise would have on our own.
So I guess, being vulnerable in the understanding that we don’t know what we don’t know, and embracing the opportunity to seek help when we can, is really good. And Amelia’s help is so impartial, there’s no sales gimmick around it. It’s just her sharing her knowledge that she’s built up over many years, hundreds of projects.
And it’s been very, very useful for us. I couldn’t think of anyone who wouldn’t find benefit from this, unless you are in the industry and highly experienced yourself.
Because we’ve worked with some professionals who really, if we’d have had more due diligence, we might have selected with a little bit more intensity. Who, who haven’t actually known certain things around what we were trying to achieve, and have, you know, pushed back and said, no, you can’t do that.
But being equipped with the knowledge of Interior Design 101, we’ve been able to say ‘no, that is possible’, and been able to get the result that we wanted. I mean, our design, so yeah, we’re forever grateful, I guess, for being part of the course. And I mean, the money spent on it, it’s so insignificant in this game with your budget.
I mean, really, you could change a tile from a $79 square metre to a $78.50. And you would save yourself thousands and be able to buy the course. So I just, yeah, I don’t understand people’s logic around, you know, I couldn’t afford that.
But it’s the same idea of, it’s a really, it’s a challenge, isn’t it? Because you’ve got to let people know what the benefit is, in order to pay for it. But yeah, it’s just been amazing. So do it! Do it, is the, is the overall message. You won’t regret it.
Is there anything else you would like to share about the course?
I mean, like colloquially, I call it the ‘too hard tax’. So if someone doesn’t know how to do it, or they don’t want to, they slap on the two hard tacks. And so getting the knowledge that you don’t have and being really open to the fact that you might not know everything about building a house, because I haven’t done it before, has really helped us to respectfully say to the people that we’re working with, that we expect more from them.
And I think that that’s, that’s the mark of, you know, a really good professional, is that they’re always willing to do more and more and more, so long as your communication is respectful with them.
So it’s certainly equipped us for difficult conversations if we’ve had to have them, But we haven’t had too many, because you’ve selected really good people to work with. And Amelia has really helped us to understand, what does a good architect look like? What does a good engineer look like? What does a good landscape designer look like? And so on, and so forth.
So I couldn’t, I couldn’t encourage people enough to get involved with the Undercover Architect. If anything, it is just the most amazing springboard for you to gain knowledge and then go out and test that knowledge with professionals.
And you don’t have to have every professional on your team. That’s definitely fair enough. And people have different budgets. But interior design, I think, is a really forgotten profession, because as much as it’s important to get your walls in the right places and your structure correctly, you actually live on the inside.
So why wouldn’t you spend money on getting professional advice around what that inside looks like?