Designing Custom Homes

Inspired by photographs of beautifully appointed homes that you frequently admired in decorating and architectural magazines, you developed your own conceptual plan for the perfect home. Now, after years of dreaming and planning and saving, the time is right for you to actually design and build the ideal home that will appeal to your imagination while meeting all your needs and expectations.

Whether perusing through house plan catalogs, or working with an architect, there are three major variables that must be considered when planning your custom home: budget, architectural style, and size. You may choose any two of these three variables, but the third variable will always be determined by the other two. If you need to adhere to a strict budget and you have a strong preference as to the architectural style, then the size of your home will be determined by the parameters these variables impose. If the architectural style is important to you and your needs dictate a minimum number of square feet, then your budget must be flexible enough to meet the requirements demanded by these choices. And, if your life style requirements dictate a minimum size for your home but you must adhere to a certain pre-determined budget, then you will need to be flexible as to the architectural style.

Your budget will be determined by either the maximum amount you intend to spend, or the maximum amount for which you can qualify for an end loan plus your cash participation in the project. Once you have chosen a lot or other suitable building site, you should be able to determine how much of your budget can be allocated to the actual construction of your home. Keep in mind that the cost of the construction drawings, the cost of construction financing, and any applicable fees and/or real estate commissions will also need to be included in your budget.

Deciding upon an architectural style involves much more than simply deciding whether the home is English Tudor, French, colonial, traditional, contemporary, rustic, or whatever eclectic style appeals to you. There are numerous design elements within each of these architectural styles that can greatly enhance the home, but may also significantly influence the cost. If you need to be flexible as to the architectural style of the home due to your budget and size requirements, these many design elements can be embellished or simplified to make the necessary adjustments.

You will need to decide if the home is to be designed as a ranch, a one and one-half story, or a two-story. Generally speaking, a ranch style floor plan will be more expensive to build than either a one and one-half story or a true two-story floor plan. For example: If your home is to be a ranch with 3,000 square feet, it will require the excavation and foundation to accommodate a footprint of 3,000 square feet; if your home is to be a true two-story of 3,000 square feet (1,500 square feet on the first floor and 1,500 on the second floor) then the required excavation and foundation need only to accommodate a footprint of 1,500 square feet.  Both homes would have the same amount of finished living space, but there would be a distinct difference in the cost of the excavation, the foundation, the roofing, the guttering, etc.

You will want to select an appropriate exterior finish for the home such as wood siding, stucco, brick, or stone, and determine whether the roofing will be asphalt or wood shingle, composite, tile, or slate. You will also need to decide if there is a significant view or other reason for incorporating large windows and lots of light in the home.  Exterior finishes and the extent of exterior detailing will have a significant effect on the cost of your home. Covered or screened porches, greenhouses, barbecue pits and/or exterior fireplaces, gazebos, fountains, or other exterior enhancements will increase the total cost without adding to the square footage of the home. In addition, each window opening increases the cost of the exterior shell of the home, and large, panoramic windows tend to be more expensive. If you are attempting to use a price per square foot formula to determine the maximum affordable size for your budget, such exterior details and enhancements can make a big difference in the price per square foot.

Part of the fun in designing a custom home is being artistic and using your imagination to create drama and excitement in an original floor plan that is all your own. Keep in mind that simple, compact floor plans, where the rooms connect neatly together in a virtually rectangular shape, will normally result in a simple roof plan.  An imaginative floor plan can be breathtakingly beautiful and very impressive, but floor plans that incorporate rooms angling off in different directions or wings creating variations to the plan footprint usually translate into a more complicated roof scheme. The more complicated the roof scheme, the more costly the home will be to build.

Over the past several years there has been a tendency for homes to be designed with very open floors plans. When compared to the traditional floor plan having more intimate and smaller rooms, an open floor plan tends to cost more to build as it requires specially engineered framing systems to insure the structural integrity of large, open spaces.

The extent of the interior detailing throughout the home can also greatly affect the cost. Ceilings can be raised, vaulted, or arched and be accented with crown moldings, medallions, indirect lighting, trusses, beams, dormers, and skylights. Variations in ceiling treatments can create a more interesting living environment, but any of these embellishments will certainly be more costly than a standard, 8-foot ceiling. Stairway treatments including closed, open, or even floating staircases, with a variety of wood or wrought iron spindles and railings can also add a great deal of excitement to the home’s design but can be costly. The amount and type of woodwork, whether it is to be stained or painted, can make a big difference in the cost of your home as well as can the extent of built-in cabinetry or paneling. And the uses of hardwood and marble, granite, or hard tile flooring are also popular ways to enhance the look of your custom home.

Finally, you will need to determine the appropriate size for your custom home. It is wise to take into consideration the neighborhood in which you plan to build your home. The home should be designed to attractively conform to the size of the building site and surrounding properties.  To protect your investment, you should be sure that the home’s size is comparable to other homes in the neighborhood as future resale valuations and appraisals will be based upon nearby homes that have recently sold. You may also want to analyze your current space requirements and consider what your long term objectives are. Building a spacious home to accommodate a growing family may, sooner than you realize, be much more home than what you want to maintain. Of course, you can always custom design and build another, smaller home.

When you begin to plan your custom home, knowing how the three major variables of budget, architectural style, and size interact with one another can be essential to the success of your new home project. Many homes are never built or are built poorly because they are over-designed architecturally or are designed too large for the budget. Remember that the objective to building a custom home is to have the ideal home that meets all your needs and expectations, a home that you can be proud of and enjoy for many years to come.