I have seen a lot of plans for new homes in the last few years, and it has highlighted a huge gap that exists between the aspiration for a new home and the reality of what gets built. Far too often, people set out with a huge desire to do something different and personal — but end up falling into building very standard houses that don’t seem to fit their lofty ambitions.

There are many reasons for this. One of the most prevalent is that people think that ‘something different’ will cost a lot more than standard. It doesn’t have to. There is a real reluctance to spend money on design fees. Fees are often seen as money not being spent on the build, but fees for good design are the best money you will spend — it informs how everything else is spent.


This contemporary Californian style home in Highgate recently sold for £3m+, proving that buyers are willing to pay the price for superb design. It was sold by The Modern House

Many people are simply not aware of what is possible; it is one thing to watch Grand Designs, but it is another to go and visit some good modern houses — something few of us do.

While all issues play their part, I think the real death knell for so many a grand design is the crushing weight of market expectations. It is this market that is brought up in so many conversations, for example: “We want to do something exciting, but when we come to sell, we are worried it won’t be worth as much.”

This is the market as espoused by estate agents, built by developers and endlessly pronounced upon by TV presenters desperate to fill the airwaves. They all tell us that we need to have lots of bedrooms (no matter how small), lots of en-suite bathrooms (no matter how well they work) and big, big rooms. If you listen to these people, it seems as though the market is a thing and has its own identity. It isn’t, and it doesn’t.

The market is as multifarious and contrary as we are. But too often, people follow the over-simplified tripe we hear from so-called experts and design by numbers, compromise their aspirations, and squeeze out all creativity and quality.

The real tragedy is that I am far from convinced that this perceived market advice is right. Well-designed houses with lovely spaces – even if that means fewer bedrooms – are very desirable. Increasingly, the people with the money don’t want houses with endless bedrooms and loos that all need cleaning and heating — they want amazing, interesting spaces.

When you’re paying ludicrously large amounts for a house, you want a big bedroom and an en suite (preferably with a dressing room), you want to walk down a large beautiful staircase, and you want space and light. We now see so many beautiful houses on the telly, in the movies and in magazines that are the type of homes that we want.

I appreciate that a highly personal house may not appeal to everyone. Good design takes many forms and when the right person walks through the door they will buy it and pay good money. People don’t fall in love with the vital statistics of a house; they fall in love with a home and the host of subtle emotional sparks it sets flying — something the crudity of ‘market wisdom’ can’t convey. What’s more, there are 25 million existing houses, 100,000 or so developer-built houses finished each year, and most of which do very well at cramming in bedrooms and bathrooms, and tickling the markets fancy. Your dream home doesn’t have to be one of them. Perhaps the craziest thing about this market-dominated approach to house design is that self builders move every 20 years on average, as opposed to seven for everyone else. As a result, many self builders compromise on their dream home for the potential of an easier sale a very long way down the line. Building a house is hard work; bringing together tens of thousands of separate components in the right way is never easy. It seems a waste to go through all this heartache and effort and not take the creative opportunity that building any house, no matter how simple, offers. I would love to see more people throw off the shackles of market constraint and really explore what they want from their home. So let’s start something: screw the market, do lots of research, employ good designers and, most importantly, follow your heart!

Read more design advice articles by Charlie Luxton

In text images c/o The Modern House

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