Everything Courtney Adamo Learnt Building Her New Coastal Home


Courtney Adamo has renovated houses before, but nothing compared to the process of designing and building her family’s beach home.

The writer and creator, and her husband Michael, finished building the house last year (you can see more images of it here!), and they learned plenty of lessons in the process.

Lucy Feagins sat down with Courtney for the latest episode of TDF Talks to discuss the design and build process, revealing what she would do differently if she built a house again!

Read the highlights of their conversation below!

The number lesson Courtney learned designing a new house

If Courtney could build her beach house again, she’d start by determining a specific vision or ‘North Star’ for the home, before approaching an architect.

This lack of direction resulted in a very lengthy design process, across three separate architects, who ended up working on the project.

‘We went to an architect and kind of hoped that they would just come up with something — like they would read our minds or something — but even my mind wasn’t clear’, says Courtney.

‘So we had this very long and arduous kind of journey… We had to part ways with that first architect, and we had basically wasted money paying her for her time and for these designs that she came up with.’

Courtney says having a clear direction is especially important in a new-build where there’s no existing house to draw inspiration from.

Her ‘North Star’ for the house ended up being a detailed render that she would return to whenever the project became stressful.

‘It doesn’t need to be something where every single detail is displayed — it’s just a feeling or an overall sense of what you want to do that can help you with all the mini decisions you need to make.’

The importance of clear communication with collaborators 

When working with an architect for the first time, Courtney says it’s important to discuss your expectations, and ask lots of questions.

Think of them as your educator, as well as the person designing your home.

The same can be said for working with a builder. Before starting on construction, be sure to communicate the key values of your project and what elements should be prioritised.

In Courtney’s instance, this was using non-toxic finishes and materials with low embodied energy.

‘You think that they’re going to read your mind in a way, or if they are an environmentally-friendly builder that they’re just going to use environmentally-friendly materials, but unless you specify it, they just don’t,’ says Courtney.

‘You can even choose or specify the sustainable option for materials, but then your builder will go in and put a finish on it… They don’t even think to use something else because it’s what they’ve always used, and it’s not their fault if you haven’t specified it.’

Why you need to speak to a quantity surveyor and builder ASAP

Courtney’s beach house is a great example of why you should engage a builder, and/or invest in a quantity surveyor, as soon as possible.

When left too late in the process, it’s very easy to be hit wth unexpected costs, or for design elements to require reengineering.

Courtney learned this the hard way when engaging a builder who specialised in hempcrete, only to learn her already-designed architect plans weren’t compatible with the material.

‘I think we were naive because we didn’t realise that a lot of those materials need to be factored in at the design stage… it changed the dimensions of the whole house,’ she says.

Courtney’s build also came in well over her original budget, which could have been lessened upfront by investing in a quantity surveyor who has expert knowledge on construction costs and contracts.

‘Get actual figures. Even if you have to pay for someone to go in and look at it and give you a really good accurate quote, that’s worthwhile,’ she says.

‘What happened to us is we ended up getting our plans approved by the council, and then we went to a builder and the quote that came back… We cried.

‘We actually cried, and then we went to another builder and it was the same quote, and so we were left to build a house that really, really stretched us financially.’

Why patience is everything

Trying to rush or cut corners could end up costing you more money down the track.

Instead, Courtney advises take the time to know the house or site; find the best people for the job; and have fun making all the decisions along the way.

‘I would rush a lot of the decisions… in retrospect, we probably should have been more patient and more choosy.’ she says.

Despite the challenges, Courtney says one day you’ll look around and realise it was all worth it.

‘There’s just so many things you learn in doing this, but I would do it again… It’s a really fun creative project and if someone handed me money, I’d do it again.’

This episode of TDF talks is brought to you by Koala. Head to Koala to check out their full range of Australian-designed furniture at down-to-earth prices!

Listen to the full episode with Courtney Adamo below; on Spotify on Apple Podcasts; or search The Design Files Talks on your favourite podcast app.



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