Architectural school is very good at teaching you the skills associated with physical design. But you don't learn much about dealing with people and manipulating situations to get things done. On leaving college you're a bit naive. You hand over drawings and expect people to care for them, but that often doesn't happen.
The whole idea of practical training is crucial. RIBA demands that you do two years. I was lucky because I got lots of good experience on small jobs. But if you do your training in a large office, you can spend all your time specialising in one area, such as cladding and lifts, where you won't even get to meet the client.
My training at the University of Bath did help me find the site for the house I designed for myself. We were encouraged to look for opportunities in unpromising areas and we learned that it's possible to develop awkward sites into something better.
How are you fitting housebuilding around a full-time job?
It's really hard. I've been doing it for three years and I'm effectively doing two jobs. I'm working every day of the week and most evenings. The office also sees less of me. You definitely need a generous employer, and many architects forbid their staff from doing it. I know two people who had to leave work to do what I'm doing.
My employer respects people who want to be adventurous and do their own thing: they want people to be content. They also ask you for long hours so there is a degree of give and take. I'm also learning a hell of a lot at my own expense and am bringing this back to the office.
My employer sees less of me … but I’m learning a hell of a lot at my own expense and bringing this back to the office
What's it like being in charge of your own project?
You can learn to project-manage on the hoof. It's scary but not that difficult. It's experience that makes the difference. You gain that by working out the cause of a problem, finding the solution in a book and then applying it. You often find out what works through trial and error. As a sole practitioner there's less support, though: in the office there's always somebody to ask.
Will this achievement help your career?
I feel as though I've done a masters in construction. It's given me a great understanding of how the industry works. This knowledge feeds back into my day-to-day job, and I have more confidence when I approach a new project. It would also make going it alone a lot easier.
Why build a house at this stage of your career – when you're only 32?
If you have an ambition and you can sort out the money, why not? The state of the London property market also helped me make up my mind. For the price of a one-bedroom flat in Newington Green, north London, I've ended up with a whole house there.