Sandy Mitchell: How to beat the competition & hire the dream project team

“It is a crazy sellers’ market for architects, designers and the like,” writes Redbook founder Sandy Mitchell. Here the former Country Life Editor shares words of wisdom for keeping building projects on track despite the competition.

“It is a crazy sellers’ market for architects, designers and the like,” writes Redbook founder Sandy Mitchell. Here the former Country Life Editor shares words of wisdom for keeping building projects on track despite the competition.


Reports of frustrated house owners in London and the country pile up like angry storm clouds on the skyline. They desperately want to start a building project but either they can’t get anyone to do the work or the price quoted makes their eyeballs spin. PrimeResi has been at the forefront of reporting this, echoing the exasperation we hear from our own clients at RedBook and our network.

Don’t abandon all hope, though. If you or your clients are struggling to launch a refurbishment or building project there are simple and highly effective steps you can take to give the best chance of securing the services of the team you want. There are also some not-so-simple and even more effective steps you can take, perhaps with professional help, that can work miracles.

First, the harsh fact. It is a crazy sellers’ market for architects, designers and the like. “We can’t think about taking on any more work until well into 2022,” says one fashionable interior designer in London, repeating the familiar story. “We have never seen demand like it,” gushes an architect with 30 years’ practice under his belt in the West Country. And stories are rife of respected builders pricing their tenders at unheard of levels. All this is the combined effect of those evil genies: post-Brexit disruption, pandemic home-improvement fever, Suez Canal snarl ups and Covid supply-chain mayhem.

How then can you give yourself the best chance of securing the services of your desired architect, interior designer, builder or other members of your dream project-team? Quite simply by making your project sound irresistible.  

Be pleasant, be organised, be helpful – suddenly you double your chances

Of course, it helps if you can dangle an unlimited budget and a house the size of Blenheim Palace. But you would scarcely believe how much can be achieved by presenting yourself as the ideal client. Be pleasant, be organised, be helpful – suddenly you double your chances. 

So respond the same day to emails if you can. Provide useful background information on your house and project – such as estate agents’ particulars – in an organised way. Be as upfront about your budget as you can be from the outset. (You may be understandably wary about showing your hand when it comes to your available cash, but architects, interior designers and the like want to know you have realistic expectations of cost and are in their ballpark for project budgets.)  

Don’t forget to offer good coffee and biscuits if they come to your home. Tiny courtesies matter

Oh, don’t forget to offer good coffee and biscuits if they come to your home. Tiny courtesies matter. They act as subtle indicators that you will be what every sophisticated and experienced professional wants far more than the fattest project: a client they love working with. 

Always remember you are not the only belle at the ball when you go wooing. Even more important, don’t put off the object of your affection with a crass misstep. A prominent architect recently confided in me that the new owner of a dreamy yet decrepit country house was desperate to hire him after the architect’s name featured widely in glossy magazines thanks to his work for a film star.  The owner rang the architect, describing his project in appealing terms and the architect – who already knew and loved the house – sent his standard contract along with an indicative fee proposal.  Oops, the owner then made his blooper. He went through the contract tweaking dozens of small terms, highlighting changes in red pen, before sending it back. A cat on a hot tin roof hangs around longer than that architect did. 

Now let’s assume you have got past the early wooing stage, and your architect, designer (or other) is definitely keen to be part of your team. But then they tell you with great regret that, having looked closely at your project timeline and their own schedule, they can’t start work for six months. 

Again, do not abandon hope. It is perfectly possible that with some clever analysis of your project timeline, and by examining exactly when input is required from architects and interior designers, you can get your project underway with the team you want and when you want it. This may also require shifting responsibilities for particular elements of work between an architect and an interior designer. For example, the design of kitchens and bathrooms or aspects of interior architecture could be swapped from one to another. This is a technique my colleagues and I often use successfully for clients facing this kind of log-jam. 

Dare I say it, having a company such as RedBook which enjoys privileged access to the UK’s finest architects, interior designers, contractors and wider project-team members, has never been more valuable than now. 

RedBook not only ensures you gain access and options to the best of the best, who have availability, but gives you expert advice on fee analysis, risk mitigation and how to finish a project on time. Whether it’s in London or Country, new build or refurb, we are on hand to help. 

Sandy Mitchell is the Founding Director of the RedBook Agency: [email protected] / 0207 060 6222