WHEN GOOD IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH? When great design can turn good into brilliant!!

One of the main reasons we had the confidence to start on this journey of building our own house is the support we have received from our main designers. I first met Debbie, of Debbie and Tony, when I did a juice detox retreat 4 years ago in Portugal. I liked her enormously from the start as she had a wicked sense of humour but was also down to earth and did not put on airs and graces. At the time though I had no use for a home designer, particularly one who specialised in taking 1960s ugly ducklings and transforming them into beautiful, environmentally friendly swans.

However fast forward a couple of years and I met Debbie again with her husband Tony. They showed me a portfolio of some of their projects which were truly exceptional. Unfortunately they do not have a website as they work purely through word of mouth, but they have kindly let me post pictures of a couple of their renovations.

So when we discovered our 60s ugly duckling they were the first people I turned to for advice on whether we could transform her.

Building a house is not an easy undertaking but what I have learned is with the right designer and builder it can be exciting, educational and a lot of fun – despite the inevitable issues that crop up along the way.

I wanted to use this blog to say thank you to Tony and Debbie for their support on this journey so far. What has impressed me is that Tony will never cease to try and improve on what he has designed, both in terms of aesthetics but also in terms of value for money. He is mindful of our budget and he and Debbie have spent hours helping us to identify suppliers that provide real quality for great value. But he is also looking to make things work in the method of construction, never afraid to try new ideas which can bring benefits in terms of economy and efficiency.

He is also constantly looking to improve on the overall aesthetics of the house – and no detail is too small to be overlooked. I thought a designer once they have agreed the overall plan would reduce their input and move onto the next project. But Tony is constantly revisiting ideas to make good even better.

This started at the early stage of our design when Tony realised that altering the direction of one of the mono pitch roofs on the main building would improve its kerb side appeal by reducing the sense of mass. He then later tweaked the roof line on the amended roof to make it slight lower than the adjacent one which again had the effect of reducing the mass further and also making the overall roof lines of the building more interesting. I would never have seen this for myself but the end result is right because of it.

The house with the original roof design
The revised roof design see how the changed angle reduces the mass of the building.

Today he sent me two drawings of a vanity unit he had designed for our main en-suite. They looked the same but for some reason Version 2 looked better – I couldn’t immediately work out why and then he pointed out that he had made the drawers frameless. Does this matter you might ask? – not in the larger scheme of things – but a test of good design is that you don’t notice why it works it just does work better.

Framed drawers
Frameless drawers

There are many examples of Tony’s diligence on our journey, they are too numerous to list. But one other comes to mind which brings out his sense of ensuring design is practical. We have agreed a streamlined design for our main stair case to fit with the simplicity of the overall building and also to enhance the focus on the double height entrance hall. I wanted gaps between the various junctures on the staircase to let light play between them. Our initial design left the gaps open at the top – but Tony realised that making the bannister flow across the entire staircase would have a practical benefit in that you wouldn’t find your hand falling into the gaps as you walked along the landing to the stair case; also it would simplify the construction and in so doing would reduce costs; but most importantly having a wood bannister flowing from the top to the bottom connects the entire structure and improves the aesthetics, it is just right!

This is a two person team and Debbie is also a brilliant asset to the project. She speaks her mind and has steered us away from some dodgy design choices on the interior. She also keeps an eye on the budget and has a way of telling you that you cannot have something (due to cost and practicality) in a way that enables you to understand and own the decision, so rather than feeling you have compromised your dream you appreciate that you have in fact achieved something that works and feels right.

So the purpose of this blog is to thank Tony and Debbie; and to encourage any of you thinking of embarking on a similar journey to recognise the importance of a good design team. But choose your designers carefully as they will be key to delivering the vision you haven’t yet fully worked out!


  1. Really lovely piece Sue, it shows the skill of your designers and your deep appreciation of their work. It is a daunting prospect to build your own house, as you have, but you have found your dream makers, congratulations all round. Felicidades as they say, happiness- state-of. 💫💕🌟

  2. I too hope I had a little to do with getting you all together!! As I think it was me who first suggested them to you.
    Glad all is going so well for you

    • It definitely was you Sara – in fact it started when Debbie, you and I went to visit the other house. Hope all is well with you in NZ and looking forward to catching up again one day when these strange times move on. X

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