Advanced Home Design
Frank Lloyd Wright once said, “All good architectural design is a compromise.” Only in the movies, with fancy special effects or in particular animation, can a truly compromise-free home exist. The rest of us have to deal with the physical limits of technology, space, opportunity, materials, and location, location, location.
Even if it’s a multi-million dollar home belonging to Bill Gates or Tiger Woods, there is always compromise. For instance, you can’t build on a mountain and expect oceanfront property, or vice versa. You can’t build your dream home in the tropics and expect a white Christmas view outside your floor to ceiling picture window. You can’t build on the Las Vegas strip and expect privacy, or even quiet.
For the rest of us mere mortals, compromise is even more expected. Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “Well, Tim, the whole reason I’m building a custom home to begin with is because I don’t want to compromise.”
And you’re right. But so am I. For instance, you may end up planning and building a single story home of your dreams, but it’s not a two-story home, is it? If you ultimately decide to put your master bedroom on the ground floor of a two-story, then it can’t be up. So, at some point in the planning process, you did compromise.
Most often you compromised in favor of a more attractive layout, or features, or less upkeep or simply a lower price. But there was a compromise. The key was making you happy about the compromise and hoping it turns out as a win-win.
Part of making compromises in your favor is finding a reputable, professional, experienced and expert Design/Build firm, like WhiteStone Custom Homes. Ltd®. If you can find such a firm, trust them, believe in them, work with them and rely on them and you will be already halfway there.
In this chapter, we’re going to discuss Advance Home Design, but don’t worry, you won’t need a drafting table of HVAC degree to understand it! What I mean by “advanced” is simply moving beyond the mere aesthetics of the home—although those are still important—to something we call “designing for cost.”
Designing for Cost
After the concierge forms have all been filled out, the dreams turned into something more and more resembling reality, our design firm can begin creating what we call “working drawings.” These begin to flesh out the actual design of your house, in language that contractors and building professionals can understand.
At this stage, we can begin to put the cost of the home into clearer focus for you, going room by room to determine what each team will be responsible for, providing estimates and blending it all together on a cost-by-cost basis.
Our goal in the working drawings is to create a balanced design that blends what you want and need with what is realistic in terms of your budget, lot-size, materials, projected costs, etc. In this, we strive to meet what we call “a majority” of your needs. We’d love to get you everything you want and even everything you need, within reason.
It is the “within reason” where compromise is typically necessary. Then again, if compromise is good enough for Bill Gates, Tiger Woods and Frank Lloyd Wright, well, we all should feel a little better about that by now, shouldn’t we?
Price as You Go: Designing by Cost
As we go through the design process, we price the buyer’s ideas out before we draw them. This way you have a much better idea of what each room, bell, whistle, square foot, tile or window treatment is going to cost you before we start talking to subcontractors, vendors and the like.
This is a far superior process than that used by most home builders, who design the home of your dreams with no calculator in sight, only to come back with a shocking price tag once all those pie in the sky designs are bid and tabulated. If you are building with another home builder, we would stress this process for new home design.
This way you know throughout the process why compromise is so important and, critically, where compromises need to be made. When you know, for instance, how much that walk-in closet you’ve seen on Beverly Hills Housewives is going to cost and how it might be putting your husband’s “man cave” in jeopardy, well, it’s better to know that up front and make some compromises in the design of both, rather than get blindsided when the price comes in AFTER the working drawings are presented to subcontractors and vendors.
This way you can perhaps build a smaller closet and a smaller man cave and get what you both want; a compromise, I think, we can all be happy with.
Picture It As You Go: Crude by Design
One thing that’s important to remember as we move through the advance home design process is that these initial working drawings won’t include elevation.
In fact, sometimes they may look downright crude, hence the term “working” drawings instead of “final” drawings. The industry term for this is a “cartoon” or a “blocked out” plan.
These working drawings are not necessarily for you to show off to your friends, but rather, to move the process along to the advanced stage and provide subcontractors and vendors with a design so they can begin looking at square footage and what that might cost.
How Your House Gets So Expensive: Foot by Foot
If you’re wondering how a few thousand square feet turns into a few hundred thousand dollars, well, you’re in luck! In this section of advanced home design, I’ll walk you through a few of the ways in which your crude “working drawing” can reveal how expensive each room might be:
In as much as a butcher charges by the pound and a boutique salon sells perfume by the ounce, the construction industry runs on square footage. In short, every foot costs something, and many/most of the vendors and trade craftsmen bid by the square foot.
Most people only consider the square footage that is “under air.” That is, with a roof over it and living space treated by air conditioning. The construction industry has a variety of ways of measuring a square foot that includes under air and then some.
For instance, a “framer” charges by what is called “covered” square footage. That includes all living areas, the garage, the overhangs and the porches. As one might imagine, when charging by the foot, this can add up quickly. Additionally, you must consider the square footage of big porches and other outdoor living area. In fact, many homebuilders calculate the square footage of those areas when they tell you how big the home is. The same is true for garages. That is part of the calculation that must be included. Some Builders even calculate the interior cubic air footage. All that open space comes at some cost.
Another expense that can add up quickly is plumbing, which may seem like it only exists in the bathroom and under sinks, but in fact can snake through the entire house when you consider how water gets to your upstairs bathroom.
You wouldn’t imagine that cabinet space could drive up the cost of a home, but you’d be surprised. Depending on the type of cabinets you select, how many of them, upper and lower and what kind of finish, you’d be amazed by how much that affects the cost of your kitchen.
Every foot of cabinet goes up in cost depending on the finish, the model, the make or the quality of material involved. It seems like such a minor thing when you’re talking about floor tiles and an outdoor living room, but look to how many square feet of cabinets you’re planning on having and how that affects the bottom line kitchen cost.
This is why both the concierge form and the working drawing are so important when it comes to making compromises. Room by room, we can point to the hidden costs that drive up the final estimate and, in this way, they can be addressed instance by instance.
Obviously, this isn’t my first time at the rodeo, nor is it my sales team’s. So, as we discuss the concierge form with clients, we might point out that a certain finish of cabinet can get exorbitant, hard to find, etc. This can help avoid surprises later, but even then, it often takes the working drawing estimates to make those prices clear for home builders.
The more complex your home design, the more bells and whistles you include on your concierge form—Tuscan elevation, a lot of closet space, gourmet serving island, two dishwashers, built in cabinets, double stair cases, epoxy floor covering in the garage, etc.—the more expensive it is.
When we’re talking about walk in closets, man caves, arboretums and speakers in the garage, this probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it often does, and so I want to address that here momentarily.
The term most related to complexity in the construction industry is Aspect Ratio. Simply put, a low aspect ratio home is a less expensive home, while a high aspect ratio home costs more. For instance, your typical suburban square or rectangular home, which from the air might look like a gift box or shoebox shaped home, has a low aspect ratio. Why? Because it’s simply less complex than other styles of home.
Now, compare that box-shaped, low-aspect ratio home with one that is wrapped around a swimming pool in a central courtyard, with cupolas coming out of the roof and multiple exits and levels, and the aspect ratio goes higher and higher with each design flourish.
So, while the more complex home is beautiful, it should come as no surprise that, with such complexity, comes a higher price tag.
It’s great to sit on your covered, screened-in porch at the end of a long day and kick back with a refreshing drink and the joy of custom home ownership. And while covered porches aren’t as expensive as, say, an air-conditioned and interior room, they’re more expensive than most home buyers realize.
Fancy Interior finishing
The fancy flourishes that clients love to decorate their interiors with, such as trim, crown molding, tiled ceilings or inlaid tile walls and faux panting, those interior finishes add up. Room by room, square foot by square foot, we provide a variety of options if this is where home builders want to eventually compromise.
Parting Words: Nothing Is Ever Perfect
It’s a fact of life that no matter how fully you participated in this advanced home design, no matter how long it took or active you were or how fully you envisioned the final product, one day you’ll look up at your finished home and think how you might have changed something.
It could be your first week in the home, a year or two later or ten years down the road, but at some point you’ll reconsider a design flourish, an angle, a room or a feature and experience, if not buyer’s remorse, then the slight sting of “could have been.”
This is the reason I don’t recommend that perfectionists build custom homes; they experience this tenfold and twice as rapidly! But, if you know going in that, as Frank Lloyd Wright so tactfully put it, “All good architectural design is a compromise,” then you can