In this interview Neil talks about how he likes to work, his style and approaches.
Can you describe your own personal style?
I don’t impose a cookie cutter design style on my projects. You won’t be able to drive around Perth seeing the same building design over and over. People don’t say, “there’s another Neil Cownie”. Each site is unique, every client is different. So there are lots of influences for each site that guide the outcome.
I prefer to build my reputation on how well I’ve followed my client’s brief. I use my design skill to create something they love, protect their interests and ensure high standards during construction. I want my clients to have a stress free experience. I want the homes I design to fit well into the environment and serve the family they have been designed for.
Sometimes people say that their architect didn’t seem to hear what they wanted.
My clients are my focus, so I listen and pay close attention to what they want. That is my highest priority when I design a home.
People have their own ideas, can those be part of the process?
Definitely. I’ll value those ideas and build on them. I’ll aim to exceed my client’s expectations and deliver a resolved design that is inspiring and timeless.
Can great design be practical as well?
Yes, certainly. My designs are beautiful as well as functional and practical to build.
Do you guide your clients? Who looks after the budget?
I want my clients to feel well informed and confident when they make decisions. I’ll respect their budget and keep them up to date every step of the way.
How do people know they get what they pay for?
I work with the builder to ensure that all contractors deliver quality workmanship using quality materials, as specified.
How does sustainability fit into your work?
I am always studying trends and new products. My home designs use the latest in sustainable materials and technologies. Home maintenance and the future needs of a family are considered and planned for.
How can clients reach you if there is an issue?
My clients can always call me. I am available at short notice.
How do you get the best out of builders?
Team work. I encourage co-operation and information sharing. I draw together experienced professionals to get the best outcome for your project. I take pride in delivering specific drawing and specification packages. This ensures that the building contract with the builder contains comprehensive and accurate information.
Once the design is complete how much contact do clients have with you?
I’m just as interested in construction as I am in design. I stay involved. After we’ve agreed on layout and look of the home I provide more detailed design. This is for the cabinetwork, lighting, plumbing fixtures, internal and external finishes. I remain the first point of contact during the construction stage of the project. I liaise with the builder to answer questions and process claims.
What’s your background?
I studied at the University of Western Australia. In 1985 I completed a Bachelor in Architecture and went to work in London. Here I joined a team working on a project designed by the respected architect Ian Ritchie. Ian had worked with the famous firm of Norman Foster Architect.
On returning to Perth I worked with the well respected firm of Philip Cox Architects. I gained heritage architecture experience in the preservation stage of the Old Swan Brewery. I was also involved with the housing development fronting the Joondalup Golf Course. Other projects included Stage Two of the East Perth TAFE building.
I moved to Overman and Zuideveld where I spent 16 years, ten of those years as Director. Overman and Zuideveld were one of the most prominent residential architects in Perth. We went on to be at the forefront of luxury residential apartments and mixed use developments.
What experience do you have?
At Overman and Zuideveld I designed homes and high end apartment projects. I was able to follow the whole process through. Often in architecture you can get pigeonholed as a technical person. If you’re lucky, you might get labelled a design person. There’s a broad field of work but you get channeled into doing just one aspect of it. I was lucky to get the opportunity to develop my skills in all aspects of design and construction. My creative and the practical skills grew side by side.
I developed a full understanding of all aspects. I worked from preliminary sketch design, through to construction, through to post-construction work. My projects covered residential, apartment buildings, office, and resorts. This involved design, building and interiors. I established a Interior Design Department. We provided interior design for new hotels. I was the Principal responsible for the interior design. We covered all areas of interior design. This included custom furniture to the commissioning of artists.
After 10 years and many varied projects at Overman and Zuideveld I started my own business. That sense of being across the whole project from start to finish is still how I work. I now specialise in new home design and renovation and I enjoy a hands on approach.
What are some of the key early influences on your work?
I inherited a creative and physical interest in building from my father, Stewart Cownie. He was an artist and illustrator, and very hands on with building – he built our house, including making all the bricks by hand.
My older brother studied architecture at Curtin and went on to become a builder. He has also been a big influence, and has helped me understand how to work with builders and contractors.
I grew up seeing a lot of art, architecture, and building. My father taught me the importance of research and gathering information. This is the same process I use before embarking on a new design. Gathering the right information helps me make designs that are inspiring and relevant to the way people live.
When is the right time to be talking?
I like clients to contact me when they’re thinking about buying land or looking for a home to renovate. I can offer advice including best orientation, best access and development potential. I love these conversations because a wise choice early on can save people lot of money down the track.
I can still assist people who already have land. In that case I can provide an initial consultation to show you potential for the site. I can provide them with an overview of how the process works. So when should we start talking? I’d say as early as possible. The best time is right at the beginning of the planning process.