2: YOUR BRIEF – Wish List, Shopping List & Priorities List

brief wish list shopping list priorities list


Your initial brief is your first set of instructions to your architect.  It’s the starting point for your project.

It will be a “wish list” of your wants, needs and intangible hopes, often with meaning and significance beyond bricks and mortar.

It should also be a “shopping list”, as all the items on the list will have a cost.

And if you are serious about your project, it also has to have a “priorities list”.  When the going gets tough, a simple reminder of your priorities will give you the clarity to make good decisions.

In my experience renovating for myself and working with clients, the hardest part about being a client is knowing your wants, needs, the emotional value you place on aspects of your project, and your financial capacity to pay for it.

So it’s useful to recognise this before you start to put together your initial brief.

Commit your initial brief to paper and ensure that you and your family are in agreement, as much as possible, before engaging an architect and starting the process.

There are a variety of ways to consider and communicate your brief including:

  1. the bigger picture “why” of the project
  2. the accommodation schedule of your functional requirements
  3. the character and feel of the home
  4. any other circumstances particular to our situation – may relate to timing, history of the site / approvals
  5. your hopes and expectations throughout the project
  6. your concerns and any problems or uncertainties and the final two essential ingredients to a successful brief…
  7. the overall total project spend that you can afford                                                                       
  8. your priorities list (this will be your the reality check and the secret to a successful project) 

Read on for more.


1   The bigger picture “why” of the project

Start with the questions to ask yourself at the beginning of your project, outlined in 1: Do You Need An Architect (repeated below).

These are the bigger picture questions which frame your initial brief.

It may be that working with your architect will assist in answering some of these questions through the pre-design and design process.

The questions get to the “why” driving your project, its feasibility,  your preparedness to undertake the project and the type of service you will need from your architect.

  • What is the value of your site?
  • What is the value of your existing home?
  • Is a knock down and re-build process permitted on your site?
  • Is your existing home and site simple and straight forward, or complex? ie: existing special site conditions or zonings, steep falls, bushfire, environmental living, foreshore area, heritage conservation, flood zone
  • Is your existing home a robust and special asset, worthy of adapting to suit your ongoing needs?
  • What will you spend on your project, all up?
  • What will the $ value of your asset – house and site be, upon completion
  • How important is the home to you as a financial asset?
  • How important is the home/site to you, personally?
  • How long after the project is complete will you be living in the home?
  • How much dedicated time and personal resources do you have to undertake and contribute to the project over the next two years?
  • How much experience do you have in residential renovating and building?
  • Who will be responsible for the day to day carriage of the project?


2   the accommodation schedule of your functional requirements

The more functional description of the brief a the list of requirements that clients usually have no trouble with.

Consider this as a numeric list of functions. It does not need to be a list of instructions on HOW and WHERE these items are to go, unless you have a fixed idea that is driving the project.

An accommodation schedule approach to a brief is useful and clear to understand.  For example:

  • main bedroom suite with WIR and ensuite with bath
  • three kids bedrooms with robes and desks
  • one family bathroom
  • one additional bedroom to use as a home office and occasional guest room
  • new kitchen
  • new laundry
  • new open planned living/dining
  • covered outdoor entertaining area with bbq
  • double garage
  • etc…


3  the character and feel of the home

Don’t be shy here, your architect needs to know what you like and what you don’t.

Photos are great ways explore and communicate character and feel, so a collection of images from HOUZZ or PINTEREST or a magazine is useful, as a mood board, rather than literal design instructions.

If you are doing an alteration and addition to an existing home, its also useful to consider that its going to be more realistic to work with the best features of your existing home than aspire to a vision of something so completely different, its going to be best to start building from new.


4  any other circumstances particular to your site or situation – may relate to timing, history of the site / approvals


5  your hopes and expectations throughout the project – this will be based on your personal expectations and past experiences


6  your concerns,  problems or uncertainties – again based on your personal approach


The final two parts of a successful brief to start of a successful project are:

7  the overall total project spend that you can afford (this will be your reality check)

If you can’t be honest or clear about this at the beginning of your project, with yourselves and your architect, then your project won’t progress smoothly.  

Clients are often reluctant to declare a figure to their architect and confess they don’t know what their “budget” is.  Fair enough.  As an architect at the start of a job, I also don’t know how what the project budget should or will be either.  There are so many variables to residential work that it’s impossible to estimate straight off.  Whatever the budget guesstimate at the engagement of the project, its not going to be accurate.

What’s more useful though is to start the other way around and consider how much you can spend on the renovations.  Most clients have a measure of their financial capacity – be it savings, cashing in an investment, re-draw or refinancing a mortgage or a construction loan.

When I renovated my first home, I knew I had $490K.  No more.  I cut my cloth to suit the budget.  I spent more on my home in the later years after, but completed what was essential to be done first.

Stating a dollar figure crystallises your thoughts and guides your decisions.

“Unless commitment is made, there are only promised and hopes…”

Along with…

8  your priorities list

Your “priorities list” is one of the secrets to a successful project.

It should be short.  One, two or three items or reasons why you are renovating/building.   Know this and again, your decisions will be easier and your project will run more smoothly.

For my home, the priorities were:

  • one more bedroom – so my oldest son going into high school didn’t have to share a room with his brother
  • a new kitchen
  • to complete an outdoor space around the existing pool which was safe (and a great place to be), so we could have friends over (without the kids falling off 1.4m off the pool apron)

The above was not my complete brief, but it was the absolute essential, and everything else was secondary.

If you consider all the above as your brief, then your project will have good foundations.

Armed with the above self knowledge, next step is to find the your architect.

Read on…  

3  Your Architect – A Good Match: How to find the right architect

Client Advice