Gabrielle had never considered building, but with the guidance from Amelia Lee she became confident and excited about getting her home design right.
When Gabrielle and her husband were faced with the shortage of quality houses in their town, they decided to embark on building their own home.
Listen as Gabrielle shares her experience of working with Amelia Lee. Through the Undercover Architect programs, she was able to gain clarity on the entire construction process and understood the value of making key decisions upfront.
I’m Gabrielle Watts. I live in Warrnambool, in Victoria, Australia, down on the south coast. So it’s quite cool a lot of the year, particularly winters here, and it’s quite windy. I’m a nurse, and we moved to Warrnambool from Darwin, which is the top of Australia and quite tropical, about 18 months ago.
So my husband and I both grew up in Victoria. We’d met, we’d gone to the Northern Territory to Darwin separately, and met up there. We thought we’re going to stay there forever. And then we had young kids and the pull of family, you know, bought us back.
Why did you decide to join the Undercover Architect course?
So we actually moved down, when we moved down to Warrnambool, we thought we were going to buy, we’d never entertain the idea of building. Neither of us are in the industry, we just thought “Oh, that’s too hard. You need to know stuff to do that”.
So we’d came down and looked at Warrnambool, it’s only a population of about 30,000, and it actually wasn’t that much on the market. And what we did find just didn’t really appeal. So after a good year of looking, we started to think about other options. And when my husband first said, “let’s build”! I was like, “no, we can’t”.
But then through, maybe a bit of Googling, I can’t quite remember, but I stumbled across Amelia’s Undercover Architect podcast. And I was driving a lot for work at the time, so I put that on and had a listen.
And over catching up on a lot of series, I started to realise that there was information available to help a novice like myself, and once I got a little bit of confidence about thinking this could be possible, we just stumbled across an ideal block of land that we just loved. And, we felt like it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, beautiful views over the river and a gorgeous part of Warrnambool.
So we bought the block and thanks to what we’ve learned from Amelia’s courses and podcasts, we’re quite confident now about the build process.
What were you concerned about before starting your new build journey?
I was nervous about everything. I didn’t know what a good house was. I didn’t know how to spot a good house. I didn’t know how you choose a builder. I didn’t know how you’d land on a design. I didn’t know whether we could afford it. I didn’t know what building might cost. And I just literally didn’t know where to begin.
And I knew there was a lot of stuff and decisions that had to be made to build and everyone says it’s an intensely stressful process. We’ve got a four-year-old, a two-year-old, I just don’t think we can take it on. It felt like all of it was overwhelming for me. I’d much to go.
What did you do differently because of what you learned?
I started to listen to Amelia’s resources and understand some of the parameters around some of those things. I was like, okay, we are going to need to devote time to this.
So let’s look at, and I looked at how I could really juggle my work a little bit and my husband’s work so that I could have some dedicated time each week, and that’s what we’ve stuck with. Pandemics notwithstanding. But mostly try to stick to that schedule. A really dedicated time to keep this project moving along.
So having found this block of land and loved it, I met with a few people and again, Amelia’s expertise, she gives you a toolkit about what questions you can ask, you know. What you should ask and how you can assess whether the person is going to be the right person to work for you. So that was great.
So we went around and met with quite a few people, ended up with our number one, back to the first person we met with. And it’s actually taken months of back and forward to get our concept plans exactly where we wanted.
The first iteration was fantastic. We’d already talked about sustainability, we talked about the northern orientation, we talked about all the key things. We talked about that we didn’t need the four bedrooms, actually, we only needed three bedrooms, but we needed a second living space that could be a guest bedroom.
All those sorts of things about quality, not necessarily quantity, that again, Amelia’s course really emphasises.
So when we got the first lot of concept plans back, they were actually 90% of the way there, but there were some tweaks and again, because of Amelia’s course, that I was able to see actually this would flow a bit better, or I’m a bit unsure about this. So the designers worked with us and we’ve just got the final concept plans through today.
We’ve already met with a couple of builders to have a chat with them about their processes. And again, the questions that Amelia recommends, which have been really, really valuable. And so we’ll get our preliminary quotes.
Now, obviously, that might change the design. But we’re open to that. We understand that part of the process. So we haven’t started building it. We’re hoping to be starting by the end of the year.
But I just have confidence. I mean, I would never have gotten this far without that course.
And I have a competency in understanding the next steps and managing the budget, because there’s an additional course that Amelia’s just set up about how to manage your budget. So I’m looking forward to diving into it.
How did you first discover Undercover Architect?
Yeah, it was wonderful. I think at the time, my husband and I kind of talked about building, and I must have done some Google about, you know, how to build a new house and I’d stumbled across Amelia’s podcasts. I was driving a lot for work, sometimes seven or eight hours a day.
So I remember just putting on an episode, mid podcast, latest season, let’s see what this one was about, and just was absolutely captivated.
So I think, you know, I had to go back and catch up on like, eight seasons. But I would listen to it in the car. Or I’m a runner, and with young kids the only time I get to listen to podcasts was when I was out for a run.
So every morning when I go for a run I just pop another one on, learn more, come home to my husband, “bla bla bla”, we have to do this, we have to think about that. I think he grew to dread that for a little while. But anyway, I’m up to date on all the podcasts now. So we can all relax a little bit.
Did you consider joining any other course out there?
I didn’t consider going headlong into it because I felt that the builders would have their own interests, and understandably they’re running their own business. So I knew, particularly for design, that I had to have some nous about what would suit us, rather than be told by someone else what that might be.
So that was where Amelia’s course was really helpful. I’ve certainly looked a bit at other resources, but I guess I don’t … and we ended up using a designer. It’s not like I went back and then designed my own house. But that was never the intent of the course. It was always to inform you about how to make those decisions and how to know, you know, if the design was going to work for your family. So I felt that that was really valuable.
And the interior design course, I’m partway through, I’ve listened to the podcast and partway through working through the material. And again, I think we’ll probably still use an interior designer to help us hone down some of the choices. But again, it helps me know the right questions and where I do what I want to go with that person.
Why did you decide to join the Undercover Architect course?
So not long after I started listening to the podcast, Amelia had a short, I think it was a five day or a ten day kitchen design challenge. And I signed up to that and learnt so much about kitchens and dimensions and how there’s just these really advisable spaces, and I had never thought about it before.
And I just kind of went, “Oh, wow, this is gold”.
So when the Home Design Masterclass came up, I thought, I want that level of information for every room in the house.
So my husband and I sort of discussed, yeah, we’re I mean, obviously, we’re in this stage. In particular, because it’s coming out of your pocket right now, you know, you don’t have that home loan yet. So you’re handing over the money directly. So we really had to think about whether it was worth it.
But I think the design, frankly, is the most important bit there. Well, one of the most important bits. So we’re quite comfortable with the idea of investing that time in the design. So that… then, in me understanding the design, so that we’re able to work with the designer to get what we want and critique that.
What are you doing differently because of what you’ve learned?
Oh, everything. I don’t know how long you’ve got, but things like, even just the bed position in the master bedroom and making sure you don’t walk in sideways. Having the entry to walk-in-robe and the ensuite away from your bed so you’re not looking into those spaces really appeals to us and we’ve incorporated that into our design.
Sketching out furniture layouts being really key, we have this alfresco area on our concept plans and designed two lots of sliding doors in, and while that appealed theoretically to look at it, when I went to map out where our actual furniture would go, I was like ‘oh yeah, that actually does not leave us with space’.
So we turned one set of those sliding doors, which were on adjacent walls anyway, we turned one back into windows so that we can put a couch under it.
I was in our revision today, I was like to the designer, just make sure those 820mm laundry doors get in please. Like, from, I could go on all day.
Just the level of detail Amelia provides, big and small, about the design.
I’m very organised. I do like to plan. I wrote a lot of notes.
And every time I’ve got the concept plan through I’ve gone back through my notes of what to avoid, and recommended dimensions. Not that, you know, they’re gospel, but just making sure that they fit with our house. And it’s been super helpful.
And working out already where appliances will go and those sort of things, which is what she recommends early in the design phase, has definitely influenced our kitchen.
And the spaces too, and thinking about how those spaces will be used and what the dimensions are to make them feel generous, but not necessarily be a large footprint, has been really helpful.
How did you find ‘Home Design Masterclass” as a course?
So the Home Design Masterclass was split into modules. And it was quite clear, you know, it was where we sleep, where we eat, where we wash, I think. Anyway, so it was quite clear. It went into a lot of dimensions, and avoid and recommends, which was really good, it was very structured for each module, so you knew what was coming.
I think listening to that on a podcast only would have been quite difficult. I mean, A, you want to scribble down all the dimensions, and they were included in the slides, so you didn’t have to, but I took a lot of notes through that course. So every second evening or so, I’d sit down and, you know, knock over a module, basically.
I would say, to be honest, I found it relatively intense. It wasn’t something that I could have had played in the car and still got the full benefit out. So I did actually really take some time and go through each module carefully. But as I said, I am a details person.
I do have all these notes that have helped me, you know, with really refining the concept, the concept plan. So I think that the audio podcasts, have probably had more general information. There’s always the, you know, episode notes you can go to.
Whereas for something like design, where you need to physically see what it looks like, and Amelia shows you lots of examples, I think being able to see that visually and sit and spend that time was valuable for me.
What have you learned from the Undercover Architect courses?
I can only speak to the design phase, because that’s all we’re in so far. But I mean, the whole thing, I would not have known where to start. But specifically, knowing the floors, the rooms, having mapped the furniture, having to work out where windows and doors should and should not go, we have altered that a bit.
Our first concept plans actually have the laundry on the north side and the second family room on the southwest side, which is kind of a utility side of their house. So I phoned the designer and said this house is 90% great, and what were you thinking with that? So we got that changed around and it’s made it far more service … serviceable.
Whereas had we, had I accepted that concept and gone with it, I’d be forever having to walk across the hallway to the laundry the whole time and having no light in our second family room. So there is a lot of examples of where I can just see.
And also I think I would have built bigger. I would have been like, “Oh the biggest space must be the best space”. So I would have asked for an additional bedroom and really compromised maybe on how those areas have finished.
Whereas I really feel that Amelia’s been able to show us how to do, and the designer that we worked with, which is great, how to make generous spaces without having to build large. So they’re the main areas that I feel that have really helped now.
Has it been worthwhile doing Undercover Architect courses?
I would say so. I’m actually a relatively assertive person anyway. And because of the work I do, I am a nurse, but I do a managerial position. So I’m pretty used to handling situations where people have different point of views. So I don’t feel … I would never have felt uncomfortable about having difficult conversations. But what I feel now, is that I’ve got the knowledge to back those up.
So instead of just saying, ‘I’m not sure about this?’ I’ll be able to say, and I mean, this is only from a design point of view obviously, there’s far, far more stages for me to go and I might have a different tune down the track, but I feel that I’ve got a good assessment of how to assess the builder that will be best for us and have that good communication.
And also, then that clear guidelines of no, this was quite carefully mapped out, it wasn’t agreed in the contract. So what would you like to do to rectify, or whatever that needs to be.
Did the Undercover Architect course save you drama + stress?
So one of the things between the Home Design Masterclass and the Interior Design 101 course, is really about getting your choices done before the build starts. And we’ve got very dear friends who have been working on plans for like three years, and then it’s gone through various iterations.
They’ve just started finally building about three months ago, which is fantastic. But I rang her the other night, and she’s like, I just had a call from a builder and he needs to know what kind of specific Colorbond we’re doing, and whether it has like the round edges or the square edges. And he needs to know about 10 o’clock tomorrow morning. And I was like, “How, how is this not being discussed?”. I mean, obviously, I didn’t say that to her.
But she’s like, “Oh, I’m getting a call from the builder every day and I have to Google that and let him know by 10 o’clock the next morning”. And I just thought, that is my idea of hell. Because she’s trying to run a family and you know, career and all of that as well.
So I am hoping that having … armed with the knowledge of the course of what you choose beforehand, and that you do make those decisions early. And then yes, of course ebbs and flows, and some products will be out of stock and you may have to exchange or whatever.
But having all of that done before you finalise the build, before you sign the contract, so that you get an accurate costing on it. So that you can sit back and the stuff that you’re called about is the abnormal or the, you know, the, the unexpected, I should say, rather than the day-to-day. So I’m hoping this build will be a lot smoother than my friend’s current build.
Did you have a favourite part of the Undercover Architect course?
Ah, the to… Each module had a ‘What to Avoid’ at the end. Like, I mean, there was a lot of information about what to do, but it had a nice little summary of just what to avoid, which was really useful for me.
And the dimensions for each room, like suggested dimensions, i.e. don’t make your space smaller than this, or else it probably won’t function well. So I found that really helpful. I found all of the modules very helpful. But I found those two areas particularly helpful as we moved through.
What would you say to others thinking of joining this Undercover Architect course?
Well, I was telling my GP, actually, about Amelia and her courses the other day.
Obviously it’s an individual decision. Obviously, it depends on that individuals already prior knowledge and instincts of understanding and whether it’s their first build. But if it was their first build, and they came into it like me, without that knowledge..
I’d say that, that, that money that you spent, it’s a drop in the ocean compared to your build.
And it just influences a view, I think, quite a lot on your build. It saved us a lot of time on our design, because we’ve been able to get the design we want, you know, exactly right
Is there anything else that you think people should know?
Amelia is really passionate about helping, about sharing her knowledge and about helping people avoid mistakes.
So it’s really lovely. I feel she gives a lot of information for free. I think she’s very accessible with the information she gets through, through her podcasts.
And I think she’s just really generous. She just really genuinely wants to see people in the homes that they love. And that vibe, her personality, the way she engages, the way she talks, that just really resonates with me.
An Update: Gabrielle emailed Undercover Architect with this news …
“Thanks to you, we had a great block of land, a design we loved, a builder we trusted, and we were ‘just about’ to sign the build contract. 6 months later I signed off yesterday on the final selections.
Yes, it’s taken a bit longer than anticipated, as has everything in this journey, but you’ve taught me that time invested now will save us time, money and headaches down the track.
We are still 3 months away from even commencing the build, but we’ve made every single decision I need to for the build, it’s all documented to the nth degree (lots of ‘confirm position with client on site’ in the contract!) and I truly feel like we can sit back and let it all happen now.
Yes, things will crop up during the build, but we have a firm handle on our vision, our budget and a great relationship with our builders, so I’m sure any issue will be manageable.
I’ve gone from a person who would never even consider building to someone who is confident, excited and really grateful about our forever home-to-be. That is 100% because of you Amelia. I can’t ever express my gratitude, but wanted to at least email you and thank you.”