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Agency Life

The Master Builder

The Master Builder

Michael Carnevale

Michael Carnevale

November 13, 2018

Move over, Property Brothers. This adman built his house from the ground up.

"I think unless you build from scratch, you will always be moving into somebody else’s impression of a home."

Elliot Harris, Deputy ECD at Havas London, had a vision for what his perfect home would be. Rather than move to a home that would never truly feel like his own, he decided to build one with the vision of his family. The results? Spectacular.

 

Tell us about yourself and what you do.

Creative Director. Father of five girls. Self-building by the sea.

Before your current home, where did you live?

We lived in a converted church in Hackney, East London before moving out to the East Coast to do the build project, but we’d harbored the self-build dream for quite some time. Finding the plot to build on is another thing entirely.

What made you want to change your living situation and build a house yourself?

We’re a big family. We wanted to build a space that worked for the seven of us. I think unless you build from scratch, you will always be moving into somebody else’s impression of a home. We’d constantly moved as our family grew, always needing to extend, modernize, renovate the houses we bought as we went. So we started thinking about how we could take a long-game approach to designing something from the ground up and working out how, as a large family, we would use those spaces, now and in the future.

Did you work with any architects, or did you design the house yourself?

We had a very clear vision of the type of modern, modular, green build we wanted. Right down to the key finishes, surfaces, and textures we wanted to use. We did all the initial design, then worked with an architect to model it using Google SketchUp, which I cannot recommend enough (even for small alterations). It’s the most fantastic bit of open-source software, and it saved us so much time and money.

What was the moment where you were like, “Whoa, this is actually…happening?”

Demolition day makes things tangible. We also spent a lot of time getting the design through tight planning restrictions. We built in a woodland on protected greenbelt countryside, which makes the idea very difficult to execute. I remember going to planning meetings which were like walking into a room full of clients where you knew that they already hated your idea. We had to constantly pitch to them. Once we got planning approved—a process that took two years—we knew then it was doable. We just had to raise enough money. We were so naive going into the self-build process. Now we could write a book on it.

"You have to stay focused on the end goal because it will test you along the way and try and knock you off course. We had to keep the belief we could do it, daily."

How involved were you once the building process started?

Completely immersed, I’d say. We lived through it every day. Thousands of decisions needed to be made through the entire process. My wife Carla ran the project with our architect, so it was an all-girl team on site, which meant multitasking came built in. Carla lived and breathed every part of the building, she became self-taught through the entire journey as a main contractor. Now I think she should do it for other clients. She was amazing. Watching her drive this project through was quite a life lesson for our five daughters, too. If you want some things in life you have to work bloody hard to get it, and it won’t be easy at times. I’m so proud of what she’s produced for us as a family.

I’m sure there were hurdles along the way. Any in particular that stick out?

Loads. Momentum is everything. You have to stay focused on the end goal because it will test you along the way and try and knock you off course. We had to keep the belief we could do it, daily. Due to our lack of knowledge at the beginning, I think we lost time and money getting off the ground as they say. Getting the groundwork done in preparation for the prefabricated house to sit on was a steep and expensive learning curve. There’s stuff we would have done differently, and scheduling people through that process is a nightmare. It really has many synergies with producing an idea. From the time of conception through to the planning, procurement, and strategy: account handlers getting the idea through clients, choosing a director or a designer to work with, getting on the shoot, and then executing your idea the way you want. There are always hurdles in the way between you and your idea. It’s whether you can stick to your true vision and feel proud of what you’ve made for a client. In this case we were the agency AND the client. So everyone had to be happy.

You’re a family of seven, which is a lot! How did everyone digest this, and did they help at all during the process?

All of the girls have grown up around the build and had their lives affected by it. They’ve also had a big say in the design. In many ways they informed the brief. We were also featured on a homebuilding show in the UK, which they loved being around the production of, and in return we got a very nice time capsule of the entire project—watching them and the house grow up on screen over a period of 5 years. My eldest was 14 when we started, and she’s nearly 19 now and off to college. She always joked that she would never get to live in the house and that she would have moved out before we’d finished. She seems quite happy to live at home for a bit longer now that we’re in.

I’m sure this home wasn’t built in a week or two. How long was the process from start to finish?

The build process was just over a year. The actual structure of the house went up in 4 days.

A mad but brilliant bunch of blokes came from Wales and put it up at lightning speed. That’s the beauty of a modular timber frame house—they go up quick.

Just from looking at the photos, the finished product is beautiful. Are you happy with the way it turned out? How does the rest of the family feel about it?

It still feels very new, like when you go on holiday and stay in a villa and you think, “I could live here.” Except we get to stay. It makes me smile every day when I wake up in it and return home in the evening. New little bits of the building are revealing itself as the light changes and we move into winter. I love the spaces, but ultimately it’s about the family as a unit and being able to turn life back on and have mates over and socialize with relatives and have lots of parties. We always liked playing host to that stuff, but we had to tread water for so many years while we did the project that people stop inviting you round when there’s seven of you. Now we can have them over to us. It’s the simple stuff like food, friends, and family that keep people happy. The great architecture is an added bonus.

 

For more photos, check out Elliot’s Instagram page here.

"I think unless you build from scratch, you will always be moving into somebody else’s impression of a home."

Elliot Harris, Deputy ECD at Havas London, had a vision for what his perfect home would be. Rather than move to a home that would never truly feel like his own, he decided to build one with the vision of his family. The results? Spectacular.

 

Tell us about yourself and what you do.

Creative Director. Father of five girls. Self-building by the sea.

Before your current home, where did you live?

We lived in a converted church in Hackney, East London before moving out to the East Coast to do the build project, but we’d harbored the self-build dream for quite some time. Finding the plot to build on is another thing entirely.

What made you want to change your living situation and build a house yourself?

We’re a big family. We wanted to build a space that worked for the seven of us. I think unless you build from scratch, you will always be moving into somebody else’s impression of a home. We’d constantly moved as our family grew, always needing to extend, modernize, renovate the houses we bought as we went. So we started thinking about how we could take a long-game approach to designing something from the ground up and working out how, as a large family, we would use those spaces, now and in the future.

Did you work with any architects, or did you design the house yourself?

We had a very clear vision of the type of modern, modular, green build we wanted. Right down to the key finishes, surfaces, and textures we wanted to use. We did all the initial design, then worked with an architect to model it using Google SketchUp, which I cannot recommend enough (even for small alterations). It’s the most fantastic bit of open-source software, and it saved us so much time and money.

What was the moment where you were like, “Whoa, this is actually…happening?”

Demolition day makes things tangible. We also spent a lot of time getting the design through tight planning restrictions. We built in a woodland on protected greenbelt countryside, which makes the idea very difficult to execute. I remember going to planning meetings which were like walking into a room full of clients where you knew that they already hated your idea. We had to constantly pitch to them. Once we got planning approved—a process that took two years—we knew then it was doable. We just had to raise enough money. We were so naive going into the self-build process. Now we could write a book on it.

"You have to stay focused on the end goal because it will test you along the way and try and knock you off course. We had to keep the belief we could do it, daily."

How involved were you once the building process started?

Completely immersed, I’d say. We lived through it every day. Thousands of decisions needed to be made through the entire process. My wife Carla ran the project with our architect, so it was an all-girl team on site, which meant multitasking came built in. Carla lived and breathed every part of the building, she became self-taught through the entire journey as a main contractor. Now I think she should do it for other clients. She was amazing. Watching her drive this project through was quite a life lesson for our five daughters, too. If you want some things in life you have to work bloody hard to get it, and it won’t be easy at times. I’m so proud of what she’s produced for us as a family.

I’m sure there were hurdles along the way. Any in particular that stick out?

Loads. Momentum is everything. You have to stay focused on the end goal because it will test you along the way and try and knock you off course. We had to keep the belief we could do it, daily. Due to our lack of knowledge at the beginning, I think we lost time and money getting off the ground as they say. Getting the groundwork done in preparation for the prefabricated house to sit on was a steep and expensive learning curve. There’s stuff we would have done differently, and scheduling people through that process is a nightmare. It really has many synergies with producing an idea. From the time of conception through to the planning, procurement, and strategy: account handlers getting the idea through clients, choosing a director or a designer to work with, getting on the shoot, and then executing your idea the way you want. There are always hurdles in the way between you and your idea. It’s whether you can stick to your true vision and feel proud of what you’ve made for a client. In this case we were the agency AND the client. So everyone had to be happy.

You’re a family of seven, which is a lot! How did everyone digest this, and did they help at all during the process?

All of the girls have grown up around the build and had their lives affected by it. They’ve also had a big say in the design. In many ways they informed the brief. We were also featured on a homebuilding show in the UK, which they loved being around the production of, and in return we got a very nice time capsule of the entire project—watching them and the house grow up on screen over a period of 5 years. My eldest was 14 when we started, and she’s nearly 19 now and off to college. She always joked that she would never get to live in the house and that she would have moved out before we’d finished. She seems quite happy to live at home for a bit longer now that we’re in.

I’m sure this home wasn’t built in a week or two. How long was the process from start to finish?

The build process was just over a year. The actual structure of the house went up in 4 days.

A mad but brilliant bunch of blokes came from Wales and put it up at lightning speed. That’s the beauty of a modular timber frame house—they go up quick.

Just from looking at the photos, the finished product is beautiful. Are you happy with the way it turned out? How does the rest of the family feel about it?

It still feels very new, like when you go on holiday and stay in a villa and you think, “I could live here.” Except we get to stay. It makes me smile every day when I wake up in it and return home in the evening. New little bits of the building are revealing itself as the light changes and we move into winter. I love the spaces, but ultimately it’s about the family as a unit and being able to turn life back on and have mates over and socialize with relatives and have lots of parties. We always liked playing host to that stuff, but we had to tread water for so many years while we did the project that people stop inviting you round when there’s seven of you. Now we can have them over to us. It’s the simple stuff like food, friends, and family that keep people happy. The great architecture is an added bonus.

 

For more photos, check out Elliot’s Instagram page here.

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