Contemporary Business interview hosted by Dr Ivor Blumenthal
“Living Design is a small company owned by Wendy Holmes, specializing in the design and construction of house renovations and the creation of beautiful homes, in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town & Langebaan, typically from old and ordinary houses. Whilst she also takes on the building of new houses, Wendy’s passion lies in the transformation of houses from ordinary to spectacular, her main strength being her vision and ability to see potential in old buildings and to creatively convert them to suit her clients’ needs. She is also a very ‘hands on’ project manager thereby ensuring surprisingly short construction programmes but at the same time controlling quality and cost.”
Contemporary Business Podcast transcript:
“I: Welcome back to Contemporary Business and it’s time now for the Bay Magazine Interview of the week and I’m pleased to tell you dear listeners that Bay Magazine is the number one community read magazine in the Western Cape and the Western Cape is the number one tourist destination in the world!
I’m chatting to Wendy Holmes, whose company, Living Design, is based in Cape Town. It’s a small niche architectural design construction and project management company specialising in home renovations.
Wendy, thank you so much for taking my call.”
W: Thank you for interviewing me!
I: So tell me a little bit about Living Design.
W: Living Design is a niche business. I specialise in people’s homes and specifically called Living Design because I design to accommodate people’s home living and not to impose my living ideas on them. I give them suggestions and help to create a home where it’s conducive to happiness in their home. I’ve found over the years that psychology is actually required to understand the dynamics in families because the wife has certain needs that she really would like and the husband has different needs and I set off initially with interviewing them and sitting down and listening to them and asking them leading questions so I get to understand how they like to live. Do they like to entertain a lot, specifically the ages of the children – you know, would they be doing homework while the mothers cooking and things like that. So I get a very good idea of the dynamics of the family and then I find out from them what it is about their existing home that they are finding frustrating and then I go away and I look at their existing plans and I combine what I’ve understood that they need with my design abilities – I’ve got a very good ability to envision spaces. So I then convert the home on plan to give them what I think would work for them, and often when I go back to the clients, they are blown away because people get stuck with what they have and think they must just knock out here or change this but often I swing the entire thing around so that there’s more indoor outdoor living, more sunshine or whatever it is that I think would make a huge difference to their home and their living within the home.
I: Yours is a professional service, and such must not come cheap in terms of the amount it adds to the budget that these home owners are going to have to put aside to do the job properly as you quite rightly spell out.
W: I’m not a qualified architect – it’s a skill that I’ve learned from renovating houses initially for myself – buying and renovating houses over the last 40 years. 17 years ago I decided to make it a business working with clients rather than just for my own – because people started asking me over and over again to please help them with their home renovations, giving them ideas and then I thought, I love it so much I want to actually do this full time and so the business has grown very nicely. I don’t allow it to get too big because I’m very hands on. I go and do a consultation initially which I charge them for. Should they want me to do the design I give them a quote and I’m about a third of what an architect would charge. So there’s the concept design which is an amount they pay upfront, and then after that, if they like my ideas and we go ahead with the rest right through to presenting the plans to council and following it through until approval, there’s sections that they pay. I don’t base it on a percentage of what I think the renovations going to be, I base it on how much time I’m going to spend on the plan – getting them to approval – and also using my expertise and so on. So I charge for a full renovation – for a big renovation – up to R150 000. It starts from about R30 000 for a small renovation up to R150 000 for a big renovation whereas architects normally charge a percentage of the total cost of the build.
I: It must take away a lot of the headache to use your services because I would imagine, beside the planning and design phase, working with contractors is a massive nightmare as it is and my understanding from what you’re telling me, is that you take away all of those headaches.
W: I do. I take away all the anxiety both emotionally (?) and financially from the client. I offer various services – so the plans are one aspect of it. And then if they want me to do the construction and project management, I put together a quote for them. What is very useful for clients is often, once you come up with a concept of the floor plan of what I’ve come up with for them and they like it, I will then work out a quote for them so that before we go ahead with the further expenses of elevations and submitting to council and all that, they will have a very good ballpark figure of what the renovations going to cost them. And should it be more that what they feel comfortable paying or that they can afford, we then relook at the plan and will look at what is essential to them and what could be left for another day. Sometimes we leave the plan as it is but we then decide to do Phase 1 and then Phase 2 at a later stage – maybe a year or two later. But we first give them the overall concept of what their house could look like because so often people spend a fortune on their kitchen and their kitchen is actually in the wrong place. And then, when they want to renovate their house, they have to trash their kitchen that’s cost them a lot of money to move it somewhere else. So it’s better to have an overall full plan of what they want to do whether they can do it all at once or not.
I: And Wendy, who works with you? Who works for you and with you in your business?
W: OK, I don’t employ anybody. I work with a builder that I’ve been working with for over 20 years and an electrician and a plumber and that, they do all my work. I’ve got two cupboard companies, you know, for the kitchen and bedroom cupboards that I work with depending on the style that the client likes or what I think would suit their style of house. I work with landscapers. But each job my builder gives me a quote for and same with the electrician and plumber and so on. Each job is treated as an entity and I co-ordinate everything – I control the budget for the client – so they pay me. I take full responsibility for the job. The client signs a contract with me. I don’t have any staff, I don’t really want to have – but all the staff that works for all my sub-contractors, we’re all like a big family. We work very well together. There’s never screaming, swearing and shouting on site. At the end of it, if people look at my website, and they look at testimonials, what has been an amazing experience for me is, all my clients remain my friends. I absolutely love my job and unfortunately I’m 67 years old and I wish I was 37 years old ‘cos I love my job so much I don’t want to retire.
I: I’ve been speaking with Wendy Holmes of Living Design. It is livingdesign.co.za. Wendy, if there is one clarion call
you want to make to the listeners of this podcast, what would that be?
W: Before you spend a lot of money on your home, let me come and do a consultation with you and guide you so that you don’t make big expensive mistakes.
I: Wendy, thank you so much for being on Contemporary Business and we definitely are going to chat again in the future.
W: Thank you, bye bye.”