How To Design Your Dream Home
When you design your own home from the ground up, the sky’s the limit when it comes to design. You get to choose the architectural style, the floor plan, and all the flourishes that make this place uniquely, well, you.
Sounds fun, right? It is, but figuring out what you want to build can also be incredibly intimidating. Before you start picking out tile and light fixtures, you need a plan.
In this final installment of our Guide To Building Your Own Home, we'll help you focus on the joys—and potential pitfalls—of designing your space. We'll show you where to get inspiration, how to narrow down your needs versus wants, ways to make trade-offs to stay on budget, and much more that will help your architectural plans come to life with as few hiccups as possible.
Where to get home design inspiration
You probably already have a picture in mind of your dream home—its style, feeling, and design. If not, scour sites like Pinterest and Houzz for visual ideas, suggests Elizabeth Sanchez Vaughan, creative principal at In-Site Interior Design. These sites often let you create “idea books” and save images you like.
“When you look at all these images as a whole, you will start to see a pattern of the things that you like, and it will inform your style decisions,” she says. “If there’s an element that repeats itself within those images, then chances are good that it’s really something you will like to live with.”
This process will at least give you a starting point. Sharing these images with your builder and designer will also help them get to know your style so that they can guide you through the process.
Questions to ask before you build a floor plan
Don’t get ahead of yourself when designing your dream home. Justin Riordan, interior designer, architect, and founder of home-staging company Spade and Archer Design Agency, suggests thinking broadly first.
Some questions to consider: Who will be living in the home and what will the home be used for? Are you planning to grow your family, or will you become an empty nester soon? Will you be working from home for the foreseeable future? The answers will help you choose a functional layout that will meet your needs now and in the future.
“Once all of these questions are answered, you can then start to create a bubble diagram to show how the spaces needed will be laid out to best accommodate the various uses of the house,” Riordan says.
This will guide the schematic design, which includes a floor plan. And a budget and timeline for construction can be set based on these drawings.
The biggest mistake people make when building a home is not spending enough time planning, Vaughan says. You may be eager to break ground and start the construction, but don’t skip the prep stage. After all, this is when the budget is set and gets everyone on the same page.
“If the plan is 100% right, then the rest of the construction process will go smoothly and not require time-consuming changes,” she says. “Really have the professional walk you through the space and describe what the flow will be.”
And don't make these decisions alone—make sure your builder, designer, and anyone else on your team is involved, says Amala Raj Swenson, an interior designer working in Los Angeles and San Diego. “Designers, architects, and the builder will all have knowledge specific to their trade that can help the other plan details more accurately.”
Don't pick trendy designs you might regret
Have you fallen in love with the latest home design trends on Instagram? Think twice before incorporating them all in your new home. Think about your long-term needs and whether you’ll get sick of decor fads down the road.
“I recommend a mix of long-term classic style incorporated with more trendy, modern styles,” Swenson says. “I find that adding accessories—sofas, throw pillows, and lighting—that are more trendy makes it easier to change in the long run, if you want to update anything.”
A big mistake homeowners make, she adds, is focusing on a specific aesthetic and not considering the functionality of the home.
“It’s so important to consider the use of the space, just as much as the look of it,” Swenson says. Functionality should drive the design, not the other way around.
Make trade-offs to keep your home construction on budget
If you have expensive tastes but a modest budget, you might have to rethink some of your design choices to avoid spending too much. That’s why making a list of needs, wants, and like-to-haves and setting a budget early on are such important steps.
All homes need a roof, for example, but Riordan says an inexpensive composition roof accomplishes this need, even if you have your eye on a pricier option like slate. Maybe you’d rather spend that extra money elsewhere.
Home fixtures and features like appliances, lighting, countertops, tile, and flooring come in all price ranges. Most likely you’ll find something you like that’s also budget-friendly.
“If you need to make trade-offs to stay in budget, I would focus on putting the finances toward anything that is structural,” she explains. “I advise against cutting corners on items like cabinetry, flooring, or paneling because these are the long-term items that will cost more in the long run to update or change.”
And keep revisiting your priority list. Vaughan says it’ll help you make all the important decisions along the way.
Check in on your construction site often
Building a home is a huge investment, so you should keep tabs on how it’s progressing. Vaughan suggests scheduling regular meetings with your builder, designer, and any contractors involved.
“Make sure you spend time in the space—without the contractor, as well as with them—just after framing and just after sheetrocking,” says Vaughan. “This is so critical to make sure the flow of the rooms feels right, as well as the size of the rooms.”
At this stage, think about how you might arrange your furniture and where electrical outlets should be placed. Visit more frequently when finishes are being placed to make sure everything is correct.
Regular check-ins can save you time and money in the long run, since your questions and concerns are being addressed along the way, Swenson says.
“The best way to have fun and not get too stressed about everything being Pinterest-perfect is just to remember what an achievement and blessing it is to be able to build your home,” she adds. “Have fun with the process, and truly take time to enjoy and take in all the details of options, layouts, and materials that are out there.”
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