We are big fans of efficiency, in both design and process. When we launched Dooley Cummins, we wanted to do things a little differently from other firms.

So, we chose to focus on what matters the most – the client relationship– and reduce superfluous effort and unnecessary back and forth.

The solution is our systematic design process, which is outlined below. We require clients to sign-off on the work completed at each stage, to minimise re-work and ensure programs are met. Project cost estimates are also provided at several key points in the process, as no one likes surprises when it comes to budgets.

We are all for modern technologies and work practices; we work from a cloud-based system, use an integrated project management system and the most advanced BIM modelling software available, Revit. This enables us to work with client-friendly three-dimensional images for those not familiar with looking at traditional plans and blueprints.

Stage A. Pre-Design

This stage is all about background research prior to putting pen to paper. We work with you to develop a detailed brief outlining the way your family lives, everything from where you drop your bag or wellingtons when you walk into the house to how you want to feel when you wake up in the morning. We will also help you gather images that visually represent the look and mood you would like your new home to have.

This deep dive also involves detailing the programmatic brief and determining what type of rooms are needed, how many and at what size. We spend time here considering the different zones, how they will interact, and yes, how to design around that grand piano or snooker table you have had in storage.

We will investigate the property particulars, such as any legal folio issues, relevant local council planning policies, town-planning zonings, or other requirements from authorities such as Heritage, Water and Wastewater treatment systems.

We have a strong understanding of the boxes that need to be ticked for each authority; this ensures fewer surprises down the track.

Finally, we carry out a detailed site analysis, considering the views, prevailing breezes, site levels and neighbouring buildings, and arrange for it to be surveyed. We collate all the information collected into templates for your records and then commence the fun stuff – concept design.

Stage B. Concept Design

Enter the old-fashioned’ sketch paper and soft pencil! This is where we will start to develop a design concept, by way of hand-drawn sketches to brainstorm with you before advancing to detailed 3D computer models, floor plans, elevations, and other drawings. We will determine the general layout, organise the required rooms in a logical and efficient manner and look for opportunities to create some special spaces and highlight features. We are anti wasted floor area, so we like to keep circulation areas such as corridors to a minimum so we can allocate the budget to areas you will actually use.

This stage also involves environmental and sunlight studies to track how the sun enters your home through the seasons. Passive design principles are integral to our work; sustainability is not just a buzzword to us! Good design always takes into consideration the direction of the sun and any breezes to ensure a home is as comfortable as possible with minimal mechanical heating and cooling.

We will research construction methods and core building materials and products to determine which will be most suited to the project. The final concept design is then presented, with floor plans showing the approximate size and location of rooms. 3D perspective images will reveal the intended shape and form of the building along with external materials and finishes. Based on the feedback we receive, the design will be developed and refined until it is something you, the client, is excited about.

Stage C. Design Development

Once the concept has been approved by the client, we will start locking in all the external building elements such as room dimensions, ceiling and building heights, windows, doors and external materials and finishes. The design is built in our computer modelling software, Revit. This allows us to navigate around and walk-through a 3D render of the proposed structure and show what it will look like from every angle. The software also allows us to forecast the amount of winter and summer sun that will ingress into the home – a useful tool for planning passive heating and cooling.

We’ll then prepare the Development Application set of drawings and documents for submission to local council. This is the first major milestone, and it generally takes 2-3 months to get to this point. The local council assessment period can vary greatly as it depends on the council’s current workload, the opinion of the planner, and whether they require neighbour consultation periods. We recommend allowing a minimum of three months for this process.

Stage D. Construction Documentation

Once we have Planning Approval (yippee!) we’ll charge on with the nitty gritty: the documentation stage. This sees the preparation of drawings and specification with enough detail to allow for pricing and construction. The ‘tighter’ the documentation, the more accurate the pricing will be and the less room for interpretation during construction.

We invest time here to deeply consider how the building will be put together so we can provide a high level of detail to assist the builder and streamline the construction process. We will need your initial input here on items such as your preferred kitchen fittings or bathroom tiles.

This stage also sees us design all landscaping items, paved areas, stair details, ceiling plans, wet areas, and built-in fitting layouts – the whole shebang, in other words. We’ll also document the electrical layout, considering the best locations for power points and networking and smart home technologies. We’re suckers for a good lighting scheme, so we’ll think about every detail and fitting, down to the most user-friendly locations for the light switches.

We’ll also coordinate a host of other required consultants, such as the structural design or Building Energy Rating (minimum A2). We then work with you to finalise our architectural specification (usually in the order of 40 pages) detailing every finish and selection in the building, along with instructions on their installation or treatment.

This suite of documents also allows the builder to provide a detailed cost estimate. Allow up to 3 months for this stage, pending the schedule of consultants and clients.

Stage E. or F. Tender, Self-Build or Negotiated Contract

There are several ways to select a builder: through what is formally called a ‘negotiated contract’ or by a tender process. The first involves shortlisting and selecting one builder to work with early in the design process – usually at the Concept Design stage. The benefit of this approach is we can check-in with them throughout the process to ensure the design is within budget, and receive their valuable construction advice along the way.

A tender involves shortlisting three builders, whereby they receive the final drawing and documentation package that has been produced and submit a bid. It can be argued that a tender process pressures builders to provide more competitive pricing; the flipside is that a lower price may mean omissions, and hence variations down the track. We prefer to engage builders on a negotiated contract, and always advocate paying a fair price for quality construction. This approach results in fewer surprises, as you are not waiting until the documentation is complete before obtaining a final price.

However, we can manage either approach on behalf of the client. We can recommend suitable builders, plus negotiate their fees and those of any sub-contractors. We do this day in, day out, so can very quickly ascertain if pricing is fair. Our expertise also allows us to offer suggestions on where money can be saved, in addition to where extra spend is justified in order to get the best quality product.

Stage G. Contract Administration

Aka construction!

This final drawing and document package is then lodged with the local council to receive a building permit so construction can start. This is when the design comes to life and things get exciting. We carry out various tasks during this stage. Our main job is to attend regular site meetings with the builder and ensure the project is built in accordance with the documentation package. This involves resolving any issues or queries they may have. There is only so much information a 2D drawing can express about a 3D object (your home!) so queries are expected and normal.

We also assess progress payment claims submitted by the builder, to ensure you are paying for what has been built. We take both written and photographic records of all meetings and building progress. We’ll review mock-ups and assess work samples, such as testing an area of a polished concrete slab, or a feature brickwork sample prior to work proceeding. Drawings from trades such as the cabinetmaker or steel worker also need to be reviewed and approved prior to fabrication. Inaccuracies are common, so engaging us to keep a look out at this stage is a sound investment.

While we encourage our clients to attend the regular site meetings, we understand that’s not always possible. We will always attend in order to represent your interests and keep you updated on all progress.

This stage culminates in handover day, the date when the builder gives you the keys to your new home. There is usually wine involved.

Stage H. Interior Design

This stage is included in our Full Service package but can also be offered as a stand-alone service. We love interiors. We believe the inside of your home should be an extension of the architecture – an important consideration when producing a cohesive, high-quality house.

We will design every in-built cabinetry piece, including selecting the materials and finishes. Detailed drawings reveal every tiny detail, down to the benchtop edges and handles. Every aspect will be completely customised to suit your preferences, and the project.

Not surprisingly, this nitty-gritty stage requires another detailed briefing – we’ll need to know how many pairs of shoes you have, your preferred ratio of hanging space to folding storage, and whether you’re a collector of obscure kitchen appliances. We believe an organised home is the pathway to happiness, so we like to make sure all your treasured items are right where you need them to be!

In addition to the cabinetry design, we’ll also present options for tapware and plumbing fixtures, lighting, floor and wall tiling and paint colours. It’s a comprehensive package and involves plenty of grunt work to research and curate the selections for your approval. Of course, you’re welcome to be hands-on at this stage too – we’ll even accompany you to the showrooms and help you make the selections.

We have a curated list of suppliers we use regularly and can recommend. A bonus of engaging our interior design services is our ability to pass on our access to trade pricing, for a small service fee. Usually this stage runs concurrently with the Construction Documentation stage.