Why in the world would anyone want to go through all the hassle of having a custom home built? Wouldn’t it be much easier to just go buy a new or older existing home and avoid all the headaches of picking everything out while waiting most of a year to move in?
Well, yeah – but then you end up living in a home that is some other person’s idea of what a good home should be. Some home purchasers are like some car buyers – they are happy to simply go shop the car lots, make a deal, and drive away in their new car. Others are not so easily satisfied and, frustrated by not finding what they want on lots or online, end up ordering a car built to their specifications. With any luck, most of us spend much more time in our homes than in our cars, hence the desire by many to go custom – you get to have everything just the way that you want it. Our homes can be a daily source of equanimity and pleasure for us, or, conversely, a constant source of irritation – might as well stack the deck in our favor!
At its most basic level, a custom home is an accomodation between the owner’s wishes, needs, budget and the suggestions of the site. (I say “suggestions” because I have seen too many times where an inappropriate design was forced on a home site, quite often with unhappy results.) Optimally, a home design first considers its environment and is planned from the outside in – where are the views, the winter sun, the prevailing wind, the driveway approach, the neighbors, the existing mature trees, impacts of future development – there are many factors to consider and we are all different as to our priorities. This is not part of the design process that should be taken lightly or hurried – it’s a good idea to spend plenty of time at a new homesite to get a feel for it and listen to what it has to suggest. Early planning is also a good time to get input from others – most often, many voices lead to a more thorough integration of a site’s attributes and avoidance of its pitfalls. For all practical purposes, houses are a “forever” proposition and the site planning should not be taken lightly.
After working from the outside in, it becomes easier to begin imagining the interior layout as it relates to daily activities. Where do you want to greet the day, to loaf and daydream, to escape activity surrounding the TV, to wind up a long day of dragon-slaying, to spend time with the kids doing homework, to lounge in the tub, to sleep? This is the fun stuff and is maybe the only opportunity we get in life to imagine our perfect environment and then create it. A useful design goal is to plan your home so that you use the whole thing every day – homes are a large investment, so efficient utilization of our entire investment only makes sense.
Once the macro picture of floor plans and daily life in your new home is sorted out, then you get to move on to the micro stuff – flooring, plumbing fixtures, countertops, cabinet design, colors, lighting – more fun! Apparently this is so much fun for some people that they want to start with these choices, but that’s putting the cart before the horse a bit, which is OK as long as you save some energy for the big picture thinking and don’t get burnt out. When you get to this point in the micro planning, it can really help to enlist the aid of an interior designer to avoid burn out and to help pull the whole package together. A good interior person is worth their weight in gold (but charge much less).
Another wonderful thing that is possible in the custom home market that so far is not emphasized much in the spec or existing home market is the whole “green” thing. Want energy efficiency? Done. Got allergies or some sort of environmental sensitivities? Green homes are all about great indoor air quality. Want to have that warm fuzzy feeling when the January blizzard rages outside? An air-tight, evenly-heated, waterproof house does just that. Someday, we can only hope that all houses will be built this way, but, for now, the custom market pretty much has to demand these green features.
So, custom homes require a commitment of time and consideration, but are oh-so worth the effort. Put the right project team of professionals together and it’s just not that hard and is usually just a good time. Set aside a few months or a year for planning and construction and then you get to have one of the most wonderful experiences that we as humans can have – the first morning that you wake up in your new custom home built just for you. The coffee is just right, the sun streaming in the windows, birds are chirping, the colors and textures are all right on, the view is perfectly framed, and the whole house is singing your song…
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