Our takeaways: End of series round up

with Amy and Jane

In this bonus episode we take a moment to look back on the sixth series of Stories from Site.

We chat through the common themes that emerged and discuss our favourite top tips from our guests.



Welcome to Stories from Site, the podcast for renovation enthusiasts. I’m Amy Dohnalek and together with my co host Jane Middlehurst, we chat with home renovators about the roller coaster that is renovation.

Amy: Welcome to our bonus episode where we’re going to be sharing our thoughts on this season, and lessons learned from our wonderful home renovators.

So another great series. I always feel like every single series is my favorite one.And in this one, we’ve had, renovations from different perspectives. So we’ve had an interior designer, we’ve had an estate agent, we’ve had an architect, we’ve had a builder, And I think that’s quite interesting to hear from lots of different people who work in the industry and what that’s meant for their own renovations. what’s been a highlight for you?

I’ve really enjoyed drawing parallels between those different experiences.

Jane: and I think. one of the key things is communication, it comes through in every single series, but the process of communicating what you want and what you expect, and on the contractor side, receiving that information and making it happen, that has come through on every single episode this series, I think.

Do you agree?

Amy: absolutely.

I think, what’s interesting is when we talk about communication, it actually boils down to drawings. so I think what’s interesting is Kat, our first guest of this series, she had an architect who did her permissions, but she didn’t have that kind of technical design process,

Jane: She had building control drawings, which is technical design in terms of the fact that it meets the permissions, it says all the things that you have to have. The bit that was missing was actually choosing the exact products and the exact way that was going to happen.

So I think the roof lights are really great example for any project, which is, you know, the drawings said roof lights. And she had an image in her head of what that roof light was and her contractor had an image in his mind about what that meant. And what was in her head was actually much more technically, advanced, so it actually, and complicated, and it’s the type of thing that you don’t just buy off the shelf.

It was a full glazed unit with, these kind of timber beams to dissect the glass. But what was on the drawings was probably just a couple of velluxes that were, you know, separate roof lights that were just put in the roof.

So I think it’s just that extra level of information that if you have your product specified and you go through that process with an architect, they actually have to find the exact product, the exact person you’re going to work with, the exact place you’re going to buy that thing from. And then they, Find the details for that and they put it in the drawings and that actually means a totally different thing to the contractor because they can look at that and say, Oh, they’re having a full glazing,

it’s going to have these timber beams.

Amy: Well, that’s what

Gemma did, I mean, she basically took off the shelf products, but designed it in such a way that when her builder came to build it, it looks like this bespoke, out of a magazine type thing.

Jane: yeah, and I guess that’s the interesting point, it doesn’t have to be expensive, but it is communicating exactly how those roof lights are going to be installed, and thinking that through, and if you don’t go through that process and draw the instruction manual to how that’s going to happen, your architect isn’t going to know what you mean because they haven’t really been told.

Amy: So what would you say, I mean, I guess for people listening to this, they don’t want to be stuck on site trying to explain this thing or showing them Pinterest images, how can they avoid being in that position?

Jane: I think Get that Pinterest image of the roof light and the look that you want to your architect, and sanity checking with them and saying, is something like this gonna be possible to do?

Is this what you’ve drawn? And hopefully they’ll be honest and say, no, that’s not what I’ve drawn. And you need to speak to X, Y, Z supplier, or, you know, so you either need to be speaking with them or when your contractor is doing their quote. You say, this is the type of roof light that I was thinking of.

Do you need any extra information to make that happen? But obviously do that before you’ve got to site.

But it doesn’t always work like that because if we look at Tishna and she was saying to her loft company, right at the beginning, she did that. she had a difficulty with wanting, you know, different products in her build than what, what her contractor was probably planning for.

And so she flagged it straight up at the beginning. I want to use these different things. And they didn’t know how to process it, that information, so they just kind of ignored it. And then when she got closer, when she got on site, it just transpired that they couldn’t, and they weren’t going to accommodate that because they didn’t really have the processes to manage it.

So yes, you can flag it early on, but. It doesn’t necessarily always come through.

Amy: Yeah. Oh, it’s so tricky, isn’t it? Because Ithink there’s just so many things to align. as a homeowner. You need to go for an architect who is going to be designing the type of house that you want.

Jane: Mm.

Amy: Then you need to also then match with a builder who is used to building those type of projects that you want.

And where it becomes tricky is that everything is expensive. So I think the temptation is to go for the cheaper architect. Go for the cheaper builder, and then what happens is you are in a tricky position because you’re trying to get this high end thing on a cheaper budget.

Because I think everybody has very good taste. Also with social media and all the, exposure to incredible projects, it feels in some ways It’s like there’s an accessibility to what we want and it feels like it should be possible. But then when the reality comes with, the fees for the architects or, the builders quotes, that’s where there’s this immediate issue because budgets are so tight. I really feel like there used to be a bit of a fatter margin and, you could really push up against that kind of high end part of your budget. But now, I mean, the high end isn’t getting you what it used to. And I think that’s just really frustrating.

Jane: I mean, just,as a caveat, you know, when we say you’re paying for a cheaper architect and you’re going for the cheaper contractor,

We’re not saying that it’s cheaper because. Somehow it’s less a quality or it’s actually the scope is less. So you pay for the cheaper architect, you’re paying for a cheaper architect. service, which means that you don’t get that extra level of technical design or coordination that you would have.

Amy: Well, they’re not designing your interiors.

Yeah, they’re not designing your interiors. They just, you know, it’s cheaper because they’re actually just not doing that part of the process. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just that if you want that look, you have to go through the process to design that look.

It needs designing and it needs thinking about. and I guess most home renovators, how are they supposed to know how much detail they get with that quote or what actually is required?

And the same with the contractor, getting a contractor that put a quote together for putting in the Velux roof lights and, you know, quite the simple process that they always go through, hasn’t quoted for doing this much more technical, full glazing, special detail, you know, coordinated with the glazing supplier process.

So that’s why they’re cheaper. It’s not necessarily because they’re undercutting or, you know, do anything bad. So I think there’s one thing, just thinking about price like that. But then I also think Cat did it. She did She didn’t have the drawings that went with the design that she wanted.

She didn’t necessarily have the contractor that had, you know, he hadn’t quoted for doing the thing that she wanted. She jumped in through sheer determination, loads of hard work, you know, pushed it through. I guess you know, it’s risky, but she did manage it. So I guess sometimes at the back of people’s head, it’s like, yes, I could be cautious and I could do it all the right way and make sure that I’ve got all the information and make sure everyone’s on board. Or you jump in and you take the risk. But it’s a, it’s a massive battle and a stress to get there. But you get there in the end and, you know, six months, a year later, you’ve forgotten how terrible it was. Which is pretty much what Kat said.

Yeah, or I guess, in some ways, Tishna is maybe a more common story, which is that really push for it. Like you basically deep dive into upskilling and knowing all this stuff. And then you have to make compromises in the moment. And I think that that story is probably more common than Kat.


Amy: I mean, it was quite interesting talking with Irene, because I think, her experience of renovating their own space as an architect, has really helped them inform their practice with other clients.

The compassion, comes through that this is just a really difficult process. And that when you are working with an architect that architect really needs to take you with them. on their journey, because I think sometimes, you know, we can come up with really nice ideas and it’s like, oh yeah, it’s obvious she should do this.

And if you’re receiving it as a client, that’s sometimes quite tricky to take because when you’re trying to, visualize it, you’re trying to work out, is this the best thing for me? And I just thought it was quite interesting To hear her as a professional architect and just using that empathy and understanding and communication to take their client with them, but also just realizing personally how difficult it is making decisions, because it feels like you’re having to close doors to these other options.

Jane: It’s always hard and I think perhaps on both those projects the architects or technicians that were used, should have, if shown the insulation, or if shown the images of the project that they were trying to make, should say, That’s not what I’m providing you with, you know, there should be some kind of accountability that says, I’m doing a very basic, package for you.

And I’m not drawing that up, or I haven’t included that insulation. and just be honest about, you know, there’s nothing wrong with having a kind of minimal package of information, but if you’re asking your architect at that point about certain things, they should be honest and just say, that isn’t in the budget, or that isn’t part of this process.

and that’s shutting that door, but earlier on, you know, because it’s kind of a reckoning. It’s like, you don’t maybe have the budget. This contractor can’t do that and you need that advice earlier in the process so that you’re not banging your head against a brick wall trying to get something that isn’t within the project structure that you’ve gone down.

Amy: I also wanted to talk about Sian and James and I thought what was interesting about hearing things from a builder’s point of view is just that process of building and having pride in what you’re making. But just when someone interrupts you midway how frustrating that is because you just want to get it to the Completion and then show someone and say oh look this is it this is finished now And I just thought that was quite interesting to remember I guess But I also it brought up a question which is Clients have questions and they need to ask their builder.

So when is a good time to ask your builder, all those questions Should you be looking for a particular type of contractor who likes being asked questions?

Jane: I think it comes back to the very first bit of the build process. So, when you have your drawings, I guess it’s like, the communication is like, feeling heard, or feeling seen, and sometimes, the contractor receives the drawings, they price it, but there is an a big amount of time at the very beginning of the project to actually just sit down.

I think if clients really felt like their contractor had really understood exactly what they want to do, right at the beginning, and you know, you’re looking in each other’s eyes and you’re saying, yes, I understand you want, it’s like having, you know, it’s like with your kids, isn’t it? Sometimes they want you to just say, Yes, I’ve heard what you’ve said, you want this thing, and I’m going to deliver it.

Or, I’ve heard what you’ve said, and that’s not possible, but we’re going to do this instead. It’s not often with a contractor where you actually have the time to sit down at that early stage and just make sure that all those worries and have you really understood everything that I’m asking you to do and get that all bottomed out early.

Because I feel like if you had that reassurance where you’re like, yes they’ve definitely heard me, they’ve definitely understood what I’m trying to achieve here and I feel confident that they have got it. then I don’t think there’d be so much hovering and like, well, I wonder what they’re doing now? Are they building that how I thought they were going to build?

Are they, have they really understood what, how I wanted the tiles? Like, I think if you could get that out of the way, then everyone could be a bit more confident and just get on with the process and, you know, you would be like, well, they’ve said, they’ve definitely 100 percent said that they’ve understood how I want that light to be.

And so I don’t need to ask them 10 times if that’s what they’re doing.

Amy: Well, I guess it comes down to, we talk about it a lot and it’s not, Particularly sexy, but the scope of works is just so important because it is essentially that document where you’re saying everything you want in the projects and they are pricing everything you want in the projects. And it that’s the moment to have the majority of those conversations.

And that’s why we’re always saying, don’t go for the kind of just blanket number. Oh yeah, it’s going to be 40 grand, 50

Jane: Yeah, I’ll build you

an extension, it’s gonna cost this much,

Amy: Yeah. And that scope of works is essentially a shopping list of all the things that you want. And equally from the client’s point of view, it’s just so critical to make sure you have got, all the things that you want in that document.

Because I think often you think you have more time and, Oh, you know, the tiles aren’t important. Oh, we’ll get the doors. You know, it’s easy to knock things to the long grass, but actually if you as a client have really, made your final decisions. And I’m talking final, final, no turning back at that point.

Then you’ve you’re really helping your builder to form a quote and a price that is accurate. You know, it kind of comes from both sides, doesn’t it? And I think the only other time that is really critical is when you’re signing a contract with your builder. And I think that’s another point where you can really have those conversations.

And we would always say, you know, Meet at your house, meet at a coffee shop, like, make it quite formal, actually, this is the moment we’re signing the contract and it’s just a really important moment You know, you’re committing massive amounts of money there, they’re taking on risk, taking on the project, you know, like everybody has something to lose, actually.

So I think kind of making, you know, I’m, I’m not saying come in a suit or anything, but it’s just, I think making it a little bit more official is actually quite helpful.

Jane: yeah. Because it’s at that point where you’re saying, I’m sorry I’m banging on about the roof light all the time, but I just think it’s such an important thing, it’s like,

you’ve both agreed there’s gonna be a roof light installed, it’s at that point you need to say, are we both talking about the same thing?

What was really interesting with Sian and James is that, he was just saying that frustration of he’s just trying to get on, do a good job. And being presented with a Pinterest board when you’re halfway through a job

You know, we were chatting before this and you were, Amy was talking about the chef analogy,

You’ve got your chef, he’s going to make a meal for you, and you’re turning up halfway through, he’s actually cooking it, and you’re saying, actually, I don’t fancy, it wasn’t chicken, it was beef.

And he’s like, well I’ve already got all the chicken here. Do you know what I mean? It’s like, you’ve got to give the person all the information, and then of course they’re going to want to just get on with it. It’s very frustrating when you’re in the middle of something, pull it apart.

re evaluate and, well, the beef is going to cost more, and it needs to be braised for four hours, and we, you know,

Amy: yeah,

Jane: when you think about it like that, it’s, it’s understandable why things can fall apart on site.

if those things aren’t clear.

Amy: There’s a very big difference, isn’t there, within, like, budget chicken and, the gourmet version of a chicken dinner. The scope of works I think is interesting because in an ideal world you would have the drawings to go hand in hand at that point because then you’re saying exactly You’re essentially saying this is my chicken recipe that you’re going to build as opposed to just general, chicken.

Jane: Well, if we’re going to take this analogy further,

Amy: Do it! I want to go all the way.

Jane: Then the drawings are kind of like you’re asking them to make this gourmet meal that has the, the, the sauce spread out with the little piece of garnish on the top. And if you haven’t done that, If you haven’t showed them a picture of that, or they don’t know that, then they well may just dish up your chicken as they always normally do, and you’ll have a surprise. You need, you need the visuals, you need the drawings, you need the list of the ingredients, and everybody needs to be on the same page.

Amy: As to how much it’s going to cost,

Jane: Yeah, that you can only come to a price for the meal when you know what all of that is.

And Yes, you can battle through and it is possible, but it is risky if you don’t do that.

And everybody benefits from that. What a joyful thing to make a meal. And, you know, James was saying what a pleasure it is to deliver this stuff for

people, but it’s sad on their half if they can’t deliver the thing that they want to, know, that’s

not satisfying.

And that’s why sometimes I guess, you get that kind of bad vibe on site because It’s frustrating on all sides, isn’t it?

Amy: I mean, it’s also that people have to stay in their houses a lot more during the build. And I think that used to maybe be more of an option to move out, budget wise that becomes difficult. so I think that just compounds the feelings because I think coping with building works in your home

when you’re just trying to do your day to day, it’s a lot,

Jane: And for the contractors, having people,

in your kitchen while you’re cooking.

Amy: Yeah.

Jane: It’s like, peering over your shoulder saying, so how long are you going to cook that for? and then you’re going to add this?

Amy: Oh, you’re going to add that spice.

Jane: It’s



Amy: For both sides.

Jane: yeah.

and then I guess, we haven’t spoken about Lorna and her experience. and the DIY element of it,

Amy: so many people are having to do that

Jane: That also. Needs to be really clearly defined,

it’s an amazing thing to be able to do especially when budgets are tight.

But that needs to be done in an organized way as well.

Amy: Yeah, absolutely.

Well, I think finally, I just want to say again, just well done to everyone who gets over the finish line, because however you get there, it’s just such an accomplishment, isn’t it?

It really is.

Amy: And it does change family life. Like, I think it does change how you experience the space, but also relate to each other. So it’s worth the effort.

Jane: It is just making sure that you have the right, documentation together to make your process as clear as possible. And it is just the communication. And the only way you’re going to know that is by asking people, is what I’ve got suitable? Or is this achievable with what we have? And you know, like Tishna said with her first contractor, who just wasn’t answering questions and wasn’t getting back.

You know, you can take that as a message to say that’s not possible. Try, and keep trying those avenues and keep asking those questions until you get the answers that feel right to you and feel like everybody’s on the same page. Because you do, you kind of know. And I think going with your gut on those things where you feel something’s not right and the communication’s not good and you don’t understand what’s happening.

You can always try again and speak to more people.

Amy: I guess it’s also worth saying that we actually do have a course that is aimed for people who are working with their builders directly without professionals on site. And if that’s you and you want to get prepared and just know what’s happening, learn the skills that we use as architects, go to our website, it’s called Site Survival.


Jane: Yeah. I mean, we basically made that course to stop the stress. Like that is like having, building is a stressful process and the more you can, contain that and understand what’s going on and have the tools and the spreadsheets to just keep a handle on everything, the better that process is going to feel for sure.


Amy: Yes,

Jane: made it.

Amy: sorry, I wouldn’t normally mention it but, um Feels weird not to. Yeah, exactly.well, I hope you guys are looking forward to the next series. We’ve already started recording and we have some amazing

stories lined up.

Thank you for being with us. We really appreciate your support and the fact that you love listening to, all of our guests as well.

Jane: Yeah, finally, If you enjoy the podcast, leave us a review, tap the little stars to say how much you like


Amy: in Spotify,

Jane: because those interactions really help a lot with our visibility, and the more people that get to listen to it, the more people might renovate differently.

Amy: Absolutely.

And, see you next time.

Jane: See you next time.


Our closing thoughts:

We have loved chatting and listening to our amazing guests and finding out about their renovation journeys.

If you would like to talk to us about your renovation, we’d love to hear from you! Get in touch with us here.

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