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What are the ingredients to the perfect house?

From dog staircase to snow room, Property Vision and RedBook debate the ingredients that make the perfect house in the splendid setting of London’s Reform Club.  Senior Partner Philip Harvey gives his top 10 tips for building the dream house and explains why “disposable architecture” should be avoided at all costs.

Property Vision and RedBook co-hosted a breakfast seminar on the topic: “How to build the perfect house…and what could possibly go wrong?”. Moderated by Ed Vaizey MP, the longest serving Minister of State for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, and the only ever Minister for Architecture, this was a lively session held in the magnificent surroundings of the Reform Club in Pall Mall, with guests drawn from the worlds of property, wealth management, legal and media.

Asked what are the magical ingredients that make the perfect house, Philip Harvey was unequivocal: “The site is so important — it has to be able to support the house of your dreams. After that, it’s timeless architecture. That’s not to say it can’t be contemporary — it just has to be special. Great architecture stands on its own merits and doesn’t rely on dressing.

“I often say, if you stand at the end of the drive and like what you see, and then go into the hall and still like what you see, every subsequent step is spent looking for reasons not to like it. If you don’t like it from the end of the drive or when you reach the hall, every subsequent step is looking for reasons why you should like it.”

So how can Property Vision help in the process?

“Assessing the perfect site or concept for a new home is far more art than science. There are required elements, but it’s an emotionally driven exercise and our experience allows clients to get closer to perfection than if left to their own devices.

“A developer will often try and mask a poor site or poor architecture with gimmicks to tempt the buyer, but these rarely stand the test of time. Many people will get their styling cues from classical architecture or hotel design, others are prepared to let their imagination run wild, whilst some just want to be wowed by a ‘starchitect’. Ultimately there’s no wrong answer but there can be serious consequences on value.”

Sandy Mitchell, founder of RedBook, the consultancy advising on the best design partners for property projects, responded: “The whole point of a bespoke house is that it fits you like a suit or dress made by a Savile Row tailor. You get someone to choose what is perfect for you down to every last detail, rather than what happens to be on the market that someone wants to offer you as a limited range of choices to guarantee a profit margin.

“With a bespoke house, the ingredients for individuals can be taken to extremes, ranging from a dog staircase to a snow room. The imagination can truly run wild when you are creating your own space.”

Importantly, who should you avoid when asking for help?

Sandy is blunt on this point: “Friends. Their taste, their budget, their own property, are not the same as yours. And any designer for whom the project is not their sweet spot – whether it’s size (too large, too small), distance, fees, typology and style.”

And what can possibly go wrong, asks Ed Vaizey?

According to Philip, rather a lot.

“I would say that at least 90% of the new houses I see are wasted opportunities. With a little more thought and effort, something so much better could have been achieved.”

“I’ve labelled these as ‘disposable architecture’. We’re used to seeing houses from the 1960s being knocked down, but we’re also seeing an increasing number from the early noughties being replaced.”


  1. Start a moodboard on Pinterest to share with the team you appoint.
  2. The key relationship is with the site.
  3. You must feel driven to create something special and live there.
  4. Don’t ask friends – they will always tell you the horror stories.
  5. Do engage your family – it’s a home for everyone.
  6. Never employ anyone who uses the phrase “future-proof”.
  7. Buy the site carefully; beware that agents tend to value a site by assessing the potential GDV (Gross Development Value – end price) and taking away the build cost. However they tend to overstate the former and underestimate the latter.
  8. Invest your own time.
  9. You may be able to negotiate better deals on certain things such as kitchens and bathrooms, more-so than a professional advisor.
  10. Avoid changing your mind. It can have expensive repurcussions.