John Henry Architect
How should I plan for my perfect custom Dream Home?
Your ultimate Dream Home is going to be based on: desired lifestyle, the time you have to create and work out the perfect design, meeting your budget and schedule, satisfying property restrictions (local building codes), your interest in a particular style or approach, and chosen method of construction/materials.
Assuming the conditions outlined above are somewhat ‘negotiable’, then the question
really is: what is your vision? What do you ultimately wish to proclaim to others, secondly and how do you want to live, firstly. Do you spend a lot of time indoors? Are you busy, do you work out of your home? Are you retired and ‘established’, are you young and adventurous? Do you like to throw parties or are very private? What hobbies and eccentricities do you enjoy? What would you like to do in a dream house that you are not doing now? All these factors have to be put together cohesively and find expression in an executable design.
Location is an important factor. Living in a cold climate vs. a tropical one for example, or moderate... Some designs work or aesthetically fit in better to particular environments than others. The inclusion of porches or verandahs in a warm locale may create issues in ice and snow and shield winter sun from the interiors. The exterior materials you select are affected by freeze-thaw cycles in northern climates and may work better in warmer climates with less damage.
A red brick home in Florida looks out of place and will 'feel' hotter than a cool stucco design. A Mediterranean house built in a thick forest seems out of place. A very contemporary design planned for a subdivision of traditional smaller-scale houses will act as a 'foil' and not necessarily be compatible. Topography also has an impact on the design of a house, especially if several levels are contemplated.
Houses, unlike many other smaller luxury or basic goods such machinery, automobiles, and electronics devices, cannot be field-tested. What you work up in your mind and with your architect cannot be built and lived in for a few years to get all the kinks out and then redesigned, unlike merchant builders and tract houses which can be modified down the line.
A ‘traditional’ house will have fewer problems over time and cost less to build than ‘contemporary’ or ‘modern house’, especially ones that break with tradition in a big way. You may have one chance at this experience but you can learn and repeat the process if things don’t turn out exactly as you expected. A qualified architect should be able to mitigate that outcome and focus as quickly as possible on what realistic choices to consider.
A site overlooking the ocean or on high mountains may inspire a response that is unconventional or something interesting in a regional style. Do you want to stand out in a subdivision or wish for privacy in a rural setting? A large plot of land will allow more opportunity in stretching out the design or taking advantage of views, topography, sun, and breezes, etc. Flexibility is an advantage. And can be a curse. Multiple opportunities lead to dozens of possible solutions.
Are you inspired by classical architecture or modern? Is there a place you have visited that is etched in your memory? Can you accept modifying something grand to something livable? Is your dream house a comfortable abode or a towering mansion? Have you considered upkeep over time from style to style? There is a difference. Flat roofs, for example, will invariably require attention more than pitched roofs, etc.
Do you want to be energy-efficient, green and generally self-sustaining? There are many materials available to go this route although the upfront cost may be more than any other. Are you prone to certain indoor pollution from off-gassing? Then your ventilation system has to be designed properly. If you are concerned about steps inside your house or need the width for a wheelchair, different counter heights, and locations of switches, etc. then these should be worked out.
Have you considered aging in place? Will other adults or minors be living together and if so will you require separate areas be designated for privacy?
If you have the time to dream you could coax several ‘solutions’ from your architect. How many cooks will there be in the kitchen - how many will be involved in the design process? Many decision-makers may be required and a clear understanding and goals set before meeting with an architect. There may never be a ‘perfect’ design in the end but usually, something very interesting, inspiring, and functional will be resolved. Several academic approaches could be considered, or free form, decon, post-modern, etc. Theoretically, nothing has to hold you back. Buck the system or fit in. Your choice.
Interior architecture is likely more important than exterior facade design. You live in your house far more hours than stare at it from the outside. Yet the interiors should follow some logic from the exterior architecture. An open plan modern floor layout cannot correctly be detailed with period moldings as traditional houses had discrete spaces, each 'decorated' in separate styles and color schemes. An open plan means seeing several rooms together, which can appear confusing unless they share common finishing details and colors, furnishings and accessories. There are many more decisions to make on your interiors. Consider that each room has six planes and that each require attention.
Costs of your dream home will vary with the style, structural system, type of construction, and location. Building close to an established network of suppliers and contractors means a more affordable outcome. In an isolated spot, you may not even find tradespeople to make the trek to you.
Local codes, personal and national economics and world events may impinge on your dreams. If you live in Scottsdale you cannot build over 30 feet in height, therefore a French house cannot be built in correct proportions. I have seen clients start, hold,
A national recession will affect all real estate and the construction industry from mortgage financing to materials availability. Local business trends and industries/companies moving in and out may affect the local building trades. A booming economy will result in higher labor and materials prices.
Ask your Realtor to advise on location and future development, etc.
One other thought: resale. A custom house that fits stylistically and is within the norm of size and value in a particular neighborhood will sell quicker and for more money than something that does not fit in, although this may not be an issue in mixed close in areas or if this may be the last house you will build.
Patience, a keen interest in creating something special, timing and budgetary flexibility is clearly essential in starting from zero and getting to your perfect Dream Home. Nothing beats the sense of pride in designing and building the house of your dreams!