Complete building design guide for serious renovations

Here are sanity-saving tips, plus expert advice for those renovating with the help of a building design professional.

If you plan to renovate your current home, you will need a professional to assist you. For example, if you need help with drafting the house plans, plus the design component of your project, consider hiring a building design professional. 

Why do you need a building designer? Continue reading this guide to:

  • learn how a residential building designer can help you
  • find out the most convenient and smartest way to find and engage local building designers near you; and 
  • manage your project from the initial design consultation until the builders turnover their finished work!

But first:

Decide what to  renovate

Firstly, you will need to establish what kind of project that you want to undertake.

Start by making a list of all essentials and secondary items you would like for your home. This will help you to form a scope of work for your project to discuss in further detail at your initial design consultation.

building design

To better understand what you want to do, take note of these terms: 

  • A renovation means updating, modernising, repairing, fixing, restoring, or returning an existing home to its former glory. 
  • An extension means building more sideways or at ground level so the existing house gets a bigger and wider floor size. A project like this often sacrifices yard space. 
  • An addition means building vertically to create more living space. A project like this gives your current home another floor level. 
  • A conversion means renovating an existing structure within your property and turning it into something more suited for your needs (e.g. garage converted into a bedroom, an old barn into a home, an old stable into guest houses). 
  • An adaptive reuse means recycling old buildings. Here, you save a building that might otherwise be demolished by converting and repurposing it while preserving its historical features. Many adaptive reuse projects occur in areas with heritage overlays. 
  • A new build means constructing a new home on a property, or building a structure that’s not attached to the existing house (e.g. shed or granny flat). 
  • A knockdown rebuild means demolishing or taking down an entire structure to build a new home in its place.

Understanding these terms will help you explain what you want to happen more clearly with your building designer.

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Types of home reno projects

Consider your family’s needs, priorities, preferences, future plans, and budget when planning for your home renovation project.

Here’s where working with a skilled and experienced building designer becomes an advantage. 

If you are planning any of these popular residential projects, there is a building designer within Dreamspace’s network who can help you:

Narrow lot home designs

Subdividing existing lots and selling them for profit happens often in the cities and residential areas near central business districts. It has resulted in many city dwellers building homes on these unusually-shaped, skinny, and narrow blocks of land. 

If you are planning a similar project, then you can find building designers within Dreamspace’s network to help you with the design and drafting the house plans!

You can also find land surveyors to survey the property, in case you need a survey report too!

Image credit: Atelier rzlbd

Multigenerational home designs

Here at Dreamspace, you can find building designers who specialise in multigenerational home designs too. 

Multigenerational home designs support communal living of extended families. Think of a large, spacious home with enough room to accommodate three or more generations of one family.

building design
Image credit: Weathertex

Duplex home designs

Duplexes are one of the most popular structures that support multigenerational households. 

Duplexes are two homes that share a wall and a roof. These two homes are built on a single land property, but they have separate entryways and driveways. 

When you decide to renovate a duplex, know that it is possible to subdivide the land and sell the other house in the future. You can also put it up for long-term rental, ideally to your immediate family.

Dual occupancy dwellings

Similar to duplexes, dual occupancy homes are two dwellings built on one piece of land property. However, it can’t be subdivided. It is the ultimate ‘shared living’ home design and is perfect for multigenerational households.

Image credit: Superdraft

Tiny homes 

Building tiny homes and going off the grid is also a dream of many Australians. A lot of people have done it, and we’ve seen them featured online and on television. Others have built a tiny home and put it up for short-term rental. 

Whether it is for business or personal use, a residential building designer can help you draw up the plans for a tiny custom home.

building design

Acreage homes

The majority of acreage homes are located in rural areas and are built on large plots of land. These spread out and sprawl over a landscape and have four or more bedrooms, massive indoor-outdoor areas, and an open plan family room. 

Residential building designers can help you with the working drawings of your dream acreage house too.

acreage building design

Granny flats

Building granny flats also pique the interest of many property owners in the city. More than half a million homeowners in Australia want to build a granny flat, and they have compelling reasons to do so. 

Homeowners who have chosen to build a granny flat often: 

  • Invite their ageing parents to live with them. Building a granny flat for the senior members of your family helps extended families grow closer together.
  • Rent it out or offer it to their children who come back after college. Allowing them to rent the granny flat instead of moving someplace more expensive enables them to save up their own house. 
  •  Use it as a guest house or rent it out to family members visiting from out of town. 
  • Rent out the ancillary dwelling to students or workers. (As a landlord, you should know the tenancy laws in your state/territory so you can discuss these with your tenant.)
granny flat building design

There are laws governing the building of a secondary dwelling on your property and putting it up for rent. The rules and regulations vary from state to state. It’s best to check in with your local council first before planning this kind of project.

If you can build one and make it income-generating, consider installing these high-tech smart home improvements in your granny flat. Residential building designers can help you draft up house plans for ‘smart’ granny flats too.

tiny home

She sheds, man caves and outdoor offices

Given the opportunity to work remotely, many Australians decided to move to the outer suburbs and rural areas in 2020. The real estate prices here dropped significantly because of the pandemic, and many saw it as an opportunity to buy and own a house.

Owning oversized lots, they can build bigger homes and still have enough backyard space for an outdoor office or a shed. 

A residential building designer can help you prepare working drawings for your outdoor home office.

Want to know what undertaking any of these types of projects may cost? Get a free quote here.

home renovation
Image credit: Ola Studio

Plan the look and feel of your home

It is helpful if you already know what you would like the exterior and interior of your home to look like before you meet a building designer. 

Providing some examples of the styles and materials you like will help your designer better guide you and ensure your personality is reflected throughout the home.

Here at Dreamspace, we encourage our customers to save their favourite images in their Dreamboard and write a design brief, so their chosen building designer has a ‘cheat sheet’ to better understand the look they want to achieve.

Architect or Designer or Draftsman: Who Should You Hire?

Preparing your Dreamboard and design brief

When you write your design brief, remember to: 

  • Establish your goals, priorities, and budget for the project. Think of the bigger picture; think of this project as a whole. 
  • Use pictures to exhibit the house you want to build and make a note of what specific thing made that photo appeal to you. Your Dreamboard is one of the best tools for this because it’s automatically shared with your chosen designer. Save the photos that you like or that reflect the home you want to create here.
  • List all the rooms and areas you want in your newly renovated home. 
  • Review your list and analyse what you’ve written. Circle back to your goals and priorities to make sure you do not forget the bigger picture. Address all issues and problems that you’ve noticed. 
  • Make sure that you’ve set a realistic budget for this home project. Double-check with us; we will quote your project for free.

After this exercise, you are now ready to find a residential building designer to help you finalise the design and produce the house plans. 

However, if you are still not 100% sure what you want, don’t worry. The designer will discuss this with you during an initial consultation and note your conversation.

Onboard the building design professional needed in your project

Finding the right building designer for your project is crucial and can be an arduous task. The typical quest for one goes like this: 

  1. Look up building designers and building design companies near you. 
  2. Conduct intense research about their past work. 
  3. Ask for referrals and do some further research about the ones recommended to you.
  4. Shortlist the building designers and building design companies that know your style and specialise in the project you want to develop. 
  5. Check the background of these designers and companies, ideally against associations and bodies governing building designers in Australia and within your state. 
  6. Strike up a conversation with your prospects online and check their availability
  7. Book an appointment for each one and discuss your project with them. 
  8. Ask for a quote. 
  9. Assess which one gives you the most value for money and weigh in other factors such as relationship building, output, skills, knowledge, experience, proximity, level of creativity, enthusiasm, and more. 
  10. Choose your building designer, or repeat the process when you still haven’t decided. 

Following the traditional way, onboarding a building design professional might take weeks! 

Dreamspace’s process and platform shorten the process of sourcing a building designer to save you time and money. 

When you sign up, you will instantly get access to our network of skilled Australian building designers. These local building designers are prescreened, trained, insured, and registered for your protection.

What’s more, Dreamspace’s project dashboard features a designer match technology to ensure that you are expertly teamed up with the best and most suited professional for your project. Here, you will receive recommended building designers, choose the one you want to work with and coordinate with him/her from one interface via our project planning dashboard.

No worries, this is backed by a designer switch guarantee. You can appoint another building designer for your project at any time if you desire. Our Project Consultants and the entire Dreamspace’s Support Team are here to assist you when you need it.

Taking advantage of Dreamspace’s designer match technology

Most building designers can take on new homes, renovations, extensions, additions, conversions, knockdown rebuilds, and other kinds of residential projects previously mentioned in this blog. 

When you use Dreamspace’s designer match technology, you are more likely to find the ideal building design professional for your project and be matched with a pro who has the experience relevant to your project.  

You can find building design professionals with experience in:

  • Drafting sustainable house plans
  • Drafting house plans with heritage overlays 
  • Drafting house plans for bush-fire prone areas 
  • Drafting accessible / disability and wheelchair-friendly house plans

and so much more!

dreamspace designer

What it’s like to work with a building design professional via Dreamspace

Here at Dreamspace, working with a building designer usually begins with a design consultation. Even before the lockdowns, designers conduct onsite design consultations. 

Virtual building design service

Now, for everyone’s safety, Dreamspace also offers virtual design services. Talk about what you hope to achieve, what’s important to you, and any design advice you may need here.

During the virtual design services, you will experience a ‘contactless’ concept design and approval experience. 

  • You will be guided on how to measure your space accurately using our DIY Site Measure Guide
  • Your building designer will sketch ideas and a floor plan to discuss with you during the call. Talk for up to four hours until you’re happy with the initial design plan. 
  • You can use the Build Cost Estimation Calculator, a tool that can help you budget.
  • You will receive a detailed, complimentary design strategy and quote via email for you to review, discuss with your family, and approve.

Book your virtual design service here.

Once approved and agreed upon, your building designer will proceed on to the drafting and documentation stage. 

You can easily coordinate with your building designer using our project planning platform.

Sign up for free here.

dreamspace 3d builder

Tips for working with a building design professional

Dreamspace wants you to enjoy the experience of working with a building designer.

Remember these tips: 

  • Trust your building designer. The best projects happen when the clients and the designer trust one another. 
  • Always be flexible. The budget is always a concern. When something you want is too expensive and isn’t within your budget, look for a substitute. Be flexible with your design choices. Know that there are many ways to achieve the same look without going over budget. Explore your options with the help of your designer. 
  • Negotiate like a diplomat. There are things that you and your designer could disagree on. Here at Dreamspace, building designers get trained to handle these issues professionally to avoid bitter tales. We would love to work with a customer who loves peace as we do. Let’s come up with a better solution together.
  • Collaborate with your building designer. Share your ideas with your designer. Seek design guidance when you feel like you need it. Try to be open to all of your designer’s suggestions, especially when they start thinking outside the box. If there’s anything you aren’t sure of, ask them to explain in further detail, rather than dismissing an idea. 
  • Be confident making decisions. Building your home is a creative process. When you feel like the design strategy could work and is in your best interest, go for it. Trust that this will be an enjoyable and rewarding experience.
dreamspace step-plan

Tools for the success of your renovation project

Dreamspace is committed to helping homeowners design and renovate their dream homes. We offer a project planning platform for homeowners who want to plan, design, and build their dream space the right way with the help of professionals. 

Sign up to access our project dashboard, which features everything you need to ensure the success of your home project. 

Your pre-design checklist

Here at Dreamspace, we help our customers plan for a successful construction project. Signing up will give you access to all the guides and tips from industry experts ⸺ from writing a design brief to creating a realistic budget and timeline.

Your Dreamboard

Save images that reflect your style here to help your building designer create a home tailored to your tastes and preferences.


Your Project Consultant and Support Team

They will help you establish what you need and get tailored quotes from the professionals. In addition, they make sure that you are up to speed and more involved in the process. In short, they always got your back!

designer match technology

Designer match technology

Use it to find the building designers suited to your project and carefully compare each one before choosing your designer. No worries, your choice is backed by a switch guarantee.

For a better outcome, book a virtual design service to meet your designer and develop a design concept before proceeding with the drafting and documentation process.

Free build cost calculator

Access to the build cost calculator at the beginning of the project ensures that your project stays within your budget. It helps you set a realistic budget and gives assurance that you can build the home you planned.

Streamlined communication channels within the dashboard

Dreamspace’s integrated emails, direct messaging, and team chats inside the platform so you can easily communicate with your building designer. They will post project updates here, and you can check in here to ask them questions.

With all communications done here, you get to keep an organised record of all important information about your project in one place.

dreamspace step-design

Centralised filing system

All the relevant documents to your project are automatically uploaded to your project planning platform; files are labelled and indexed clearly to ensure organisation. 

All your plans, drawings, reports, quotes, and invoices ⸺ you’ll see these in your dashboard, and you’ll have access to them 24/7. In addition, you will be able to sign, and markup plans digitally, which is convenient because it reduces the number of prints and scans throughout the process.

Dreamspace’s planning platform makes your project easier to manage and makes the experience of working with a building designer smoother.

Sign up and start planning your project today.

Start planning now for free

Find more articles, guides and inspiration in the planning dashboard. Save them to your dream board, and start planning your dream space today.