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The Four Elements of Home Design

Categories: Building a Custom Home, Custom Home Design Ideas, WhiteStone | Posted: April 13, 2019

The Four Elements of Home Design

Regardless of how big or small the house may be or how many rooms or square feet, Traditional style or Tuscan, there are really only four main elements of home design:

  • Kitchen
  • Family Room
  • Master Bedroom
  • Master Bath

Here is where I’d like to walk you through each element:


After thirty years in the construction industry, there is one thing I know for certain: people LOVE their kitchens. Our job is to create a kitchen that clients not only love, but will love for all the right reasons. And that leads us to some specific questions you might not think to ask, such as:

  • Where do you want the kitchen?
  • In the middle of the house, in the front, in the back?
  • Or, let’s get more specific: Do you want it on the left leisure side of the home?
  • The right leisure side of the home?
  • And what do you want in it?
  • How big will it have to be to accommodate, say, a central island or double door refrigerator or breakfast nook?


All of these answers are critical as we move onto the next major element of home design, the family room.

Family Room

Homes are like puzzles; they must fit together, so depending on what your wants, needs and plans are for the kitchen—which is why we start with that area of the house—we can then move on to designing the family room.

If you want your kitchen on the right leisure side of the house, perhaps you’ll want the family room on the left. Or vice versa! Or, maybe your kitchen is the centerpiece of your house and you really want it to blend into the family room in a way that is unique and different.

As the floor plan begins to evolve and take shape, you can see the importance of these four elements of design and how they not only fit together, but begin to inform and color the feel, tone and tempo of the home itself.

The kitchen and family room elements are also integral to the style of home you’re looking for. We see a lot of Tuscan and Texas Hill Country Traditional here, as well as a kind of loft-like, farmhouse style, the castle look and the Mediterranean look, etc.

You can apply almost any style you want to almost any house, but the best styles match inside and out. So knowing the feel, tone and tempo you want for your house can help you pick both the style and have that style influence the size of rooms, the brightness and layout, etc.

The typical square footage for a family room is generally 18 x 18-square feet, or 18 x 20. That would be the size we would suggest you shoot for.

Master Bedroom

The master bedroom is the third major element of home design, and provides a wide opportunity of style, size and fixture choices. Here we have a variety of choices to make, such as size and style, of course, but also widow treatment, closet size, flooring, etc.

Do you want a walk-out balcony? A parlor or sitting area? Built in fixtures or flat walls? High arches or ceilings, slanted, low or cathedral? People spend a lot of time in their bedrooms and, like the family kitchen, tend to take a lot of time planning this room out to be both comfortable and personal.

When it comes to size, most of our master bedrooms come in at 13 x 14-square feet. That is our default measurement and the standard by which we go, with the understanding that making the master bedroom bigger or smaller will generally affect the size of adjoining or connecting rooms.

Master Bath

The fourth and final major element of home design is the master bathroom. Again, like the relationship between the family room and the kitchen, the choices you make with your master bedroom will affect your master bathroom.

The larger your sitting area or walk-in closet, for instance, the smaller your master bathroom might have to be. Or do you want the master bath in the front of the suite, to the side or in the back?

Our designers and sales people will help you see all of the facets, options and opportunities involved in your choices, and perhaps help you reach compromises that allow you to have the best of both worlds when it comes to your master bedroom and master bath.

When it comes to designing the master bathroom, there are other considerations to make as well. Do you want the master bath to be just for the master bedroom, so that the flow is quite organic from one room to the next? Do you want the master bath next to the master bedroom? Do you want the master bath to join two rooms, equally accessible to both, in what is known as a “Hollywood” or “Jack and Jill” style? Again, it’s like a puzzle; the choices you make for this room will affect other rooms, and so require careful consideration and lots of visualization!


I always say, if you’re going to scrimp on certain elements of the house, never scrimp on these main four elements; kitchen, family room, master bedroom and master bathroom. There are four main elements for a reason; because this is where, traditionally, home owners spend the most of their time.

In fact, when we begin to design a custom home for our clients we not only start with these four elements but really try to “wow” future homeowners with our designs for these four areas. If you can’t get clients excited about their kitchen, family room, master bedroom or bath, how in the world can you hope to get them excited about the guest room or garage?

It’s Not Just You: Designing for Resale

National averages reveal that most Americans live in their home for an average of seven years before moving out and moving on. While that’s not something you want to dwell on as you invest precious time, energy and financial resources to the design of your new home, it is something to consider in the design of that home.

You will want to create a design that’s not just attractive or comfortable to you, but that will appeal to potential buyers as well. We love to encourage our clients to be as personal, unique and inventive as possible when it comes to designing their homes, but not so unique that they’ll be the only ones to ever be able to live in it!

That’s why we try to blend the best of what we know, and families’ love, with what each specific client brings to the home design process, as well. Once again, this gives them the best of both worlds; ideal living conditions while they own the house and optimal resale value, if and when, they ever decide to sell.




Questions Lead to Answers: Prioritizing the Process

Categories: Building a Custom Home, Custom Home Design Ideas, WhiteStone | Posted: March 9, 2019

At WhiteStone Custom Homes, we run a showroom, not a sales floor. And, I think that’s a pretty important distinction. By that, I mean we don’t expect you to walk in, buy something, and leave on your very first trip.  Yes, we have salespeople and we want your business, but not at the cost of your peace of mind, or ours, for that matter.

I’ve spent so much time talking about the mentality of building a custom home because I believe it’s critically important to have the right mindset before you start; even before you decide to start.

Here are five questions to ask yourself before deciding to build a new home:

  • Do you have to be in control in all situations?

It takes a village to build a new custom home, and while you are most certainly the customer and eventual homeowner, you’re not necessarily the “boss,” if you know what I mean. The team we assemble at WhiteStone Custom Homes includes knowledgeable experts, not just in the actual construction but the planning, organizing, implementation, design and facilitating aspects of such a significant project.

You will have people making suggestions on everything from flooring and landscaping to roofing and kitchen cabinets to faucets and all the way down to the nuts, the bolts and the pitch of the roof.

All of these people will be working for you, but they will all be working under their own steam and in conjunction with one other, meaning you won’t necessarily be in control of all situations at all times. Not everybody is okay with that, particularly when they’re spending new custom home dollars.


  • Are you excited by change or something new?

I always say that building a home is first an emotional decision, then a physical operation. That’s because the desire to build a new home doesn’t necessarily come from the smell of fresh lumber or the desire to put on a hard hat, but the stirrings of change within a particular individual, couple or family.

Building a new custom home is exciting and it should be exciting. You should be excited about it. It’s also about change- a lot of change. You may be going from 1,500-square feet to 4,000-square feet, from single story to two-story, from apartment or townhouse to a freestanding dwelling. These changes are adjustments and require a particular level of energy to commit to.


  • Do you need a new home?

Let’s shift from the emotional to the physical and ask, “Do you straight up need a new home?” This may seem like a simple question but the fact is many people who think they “need” a new home just want one. They want what their neighbors have, what their friends or other family members have, they want to keep up with the Joneses, or simply be the Joneses. That’s more want than need, and can lead to trouble when the design team start drilling down to details.

However, if the emotional want is matched with a physical need, then the motivation for building a new home becomes clearer and the process simpler. If you need a bigger house, a newer house, a smaller house, a different style of house, one with features you’ve always wanted and now can afford, such as a view of the setting sun, a better neighborhood for your family, a pool or garden or backyard barbecue outdoor living area, or lush landscaping, then the decision to build a custom new home simply makes more sense.


  • Are you a perfectionist? Do people actually *call* you a perfectionist?

No home is perfect; there is always compromise. If you are a perfectionist who can’t understand, abide or compromise, then the build is going to be long, arduous, unpleasant and, ultimately, unsatisfactory. Not because everyone didn’t try to please you, but because perfectionists simply can’t be pleased.


  • Do you and your spouse agree/argue most of the time? (FYI, most of the time is 80 percent.)


In the next section, I talk about your “building family,” but here I want to talk about your actual family, particularly your spouse. Do you argue most of the time? (And for the record, most of the time is 80 percent or more). If so, building a new home is probably not for you.

If you’re fighting under ideal conditions, before you start to design and construct a new home, then imagine what it might be like when the imported Italian Tile shipment is delayed by a few days, which sets back the schedule a week, which impacts the roofing team,  and the tile crew, creating a ripple effect that ultimately creates stress, challenge and delays for all involved.

Building a new home can be challenging for all couples, even the healthiest, friendliest and easiest going. But for those who already argue a significant portion of the time pre-construction, the challenges can turn the construction itself into a nightmare, which bleeds into your enjoyment of living in the home once it’s actually built. Are you prepared for that? Is your spouse?

Or, think of it this way; if there is a screaming match every time you and your spouse and your family go out to eat, how much more intense are those battles going to be every time a decision needs to be made on a new home?


I ask these questions of every client, whether formally or informally. Look, we’re a small family business with an A rating with the Better Business Bureau. That’s because we really do treat your family like our family, to the point where we, a). Want to see your dream of constructing a new home become a reality but, also, b). Don’t want to sell you on something you don’t really want, need or are ready for.

Building for Success: It’s a Family Affair

Think of building a home like taking a long trip with your extended family. Not just your wife and grown kids, but their spouses, in-laws, stepchildren, etc. Now add your travel agent!

Building a home takes time; from planning to conception to construction to completion, it’s a months-long effort full of ups, downs and compromises. What you want is a team, a “building family,” as we like to call it, that you’d actually like to go on vacation with for an extended time.

All parties need to go along to get along, to understand each other, to enjoy spending time with each other and, ultimately, to make important compromises based on price, technology, tools, skill, resources, etc.

I’m not saying we have to be best friends, but there should be a certain level of respect, understanding, and yes, companionship if we’re going to build a house together.

Parting Words

Listen, not every home builder is going to run you through a questionnaire to see if you’re up for the challenge of building a custom home with them. Most likely they assume you’re grown, sane adults who can handle the stress of building a custom home.

But, we build showcase custom homes and that requires a higher level of commitment from you and equally from us. We also consider you a part of the WhiteStone family, and like all good family, we want to make sure you know what you’re getting into before you start the process, not midway through!

This is a book I want to be able to hand to my family; my brother or sister, parents or uncles, nieces or nephews. So, I’m speaking to you as I would speak to them. If I could tell them what I’ve learned after doing this for over thirty years, this is what I would say. I wouldn’t let my family rush into building a custom-designed home, so I’m not about to let you—my building family—rush into it, either.




Building Your Dream Home Starts with a Firm Grasp of Reality

Categories: Building a Custom Home, Custom Home Design Ideas, WhiteStone | Posted: February 26, 2019

Chances are you know exactly what you want in your dream home, from how many bedrooms to what the bathroom fixtures look like, to the fireplace mantel to where you’ll put your Christmas tree; it’s a vivid picture in your mind.

But it’s just as likely that you’ve spent far less time envisioning what the actual process of building your home will look like. For instance, who is responsible for picking out those bathroom fixtures? You, the home builder, or the contractor?

How long will building the home take? Where will you live during construction? How much will that add to the final “price” of the home? Each one of these questions adds to the stress of building a home.

While you may be detail-oriented in your personal life, and the vision of your dream home may be extremely detail-oriented, the reality is that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of choices to make when building a home. Not just what type of French doors you want, but are the window panes up to code, which hinges both look best with that set of doors and are also the most durable and cost effective?

I leave as much of the creative process as possible to my clients, and try to take the stress off the rest by making choices that I know will match their dreams of visions. How many of you first think of “door stops” when the words “dream home” come to mind? (You know, those little rubber tips behind your door that stops it from slamming into the wall each time you open up?) Very little, I would imagine, and yet the typical two-story, four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath home can have several dozen door stops.

Whether you’re a door stop aficionado or not, my point is that we make it simple for you, not more complex. The choices are always up to you, but we help as much as we can–or as little as you need. In this case, we pick the latest fashions and trends on a regular basis and put them in packages so buyers can pick items in clear groups from the latest, most popular and fashionable trends.

Do you want to stop everything and pick those out? Or would you prefer someone who knows you, is working for you–and with you–to achieve your vision go pick those out for you?

This is another part of the process that, knowing beforehand, can relieve some of the stress–even some of the fear–from the equation. The last thing we want is for building your dream home to turn into your home-building nightmare!

The Construction Phase & Your New Hobby?!?

Categories: Building a Custom Home, Custom Home Design Ideas, WhiteStone | Posted: November 17, 2018

Chapter 6 of my book 90 Minute Guide to Custom Home-Building

The Construction Phase

The construction phase is obviously quite critical to the completion of your dream custom home, but you don’t necessarily have to wear a hard hat to get in on the act.

The good news is, that for you, by the time we enter the construction phase, your hard work is mostly over. You’ve participated in the planning phases, through conception and design, making hard choices about how to accessorize and even color each room inside and outside your house.

Now it’s time to see those plans become a reality. Don’t get me wrong, we still want—and need—your partnership through every phase of the process. The only difference is that now we kind of take the “handoff” and run with the ball to the end zone.

Believe it or not, my feeling on the construction phase is that it should be relatively easy and positively fun. This is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, where all your clippings and webpage links and home design magazine cutouts come to life, where all those forms you filled out, boxes you checked and decisions you’ve made, come to life.

We want to take as much of the work off your hands as possible while still letting you enjoying seeing each phase of the construction process develop.

The Process of Discovery: Your New Hobby?!?

I never forget that, for most people, building their dream home is the largest single purchase in their life. I know how daunting it can be, from visualizing that dream home, to conceptualizing it, to planning it and framing it out to, naturally, paying for it.

I call that whole process the “process of discovery,” and it truly is awe-inspiring to watch the faces of satisfied clients as they experience it for themselves.

What I find with most clients as that they begin this process of discovery is that they get hooked on it. Much like they got addicted to taking model home tours and scrapbooking living room designs or wall colors during the planning phase, during the construction phase they likewise get hooked on seeing each day’s progress.

Imagine driving up to the work site, seeing a wall that wasn’t there yesterday, a hill that used to be a flat patch of land, a window or a door that wasn’t there before.

Our hobbies are those things we do in our spare time, at night when we get home from work, or on the weekends or over the holidays; gardening, stamp collecting, reading or going to the movies. For many new home builders/ home buyers, watching the construction phase becomes their new hobby, and with good reason. Few things can rival the feeling of watching a home—especially your new custom home—being built from the ground up.

And, unlike a hobby such as watching TV, going to the library or sitting in a movie theater, there is some action to the construction phase. You’re there, in the fresh air, seeing the day’s developments live and in person. There’s an active element to it, like gardening, where you’re participating in the birth, and growth, of a living thing. We love it, but please be very careful around a job site.

The equation I shared with you last chapter–Fear + Excitement = Transformation–applies here, as well. There is naturally some fear, or at least concern, as the construction phase begins. The permits are all in order, the lot is buzzing with activity, and contractors are coming and going in their work trucks. But, the fear slowly turns into excitement as the foundation is laid, walls go up and activity increases. And finally, transformation–from blueprints, permits, hard hats and an empty lot to a home. Not just any home, your home; your dream home.

If watching that happen isn’t a worthy hobby, then I don’t know what is!

Advanced Home Design

Categories: Building a Custom Home, Custom Home Design Ideas, WhiteStone | Posted: October 27, 2018

Chapter 4

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:

Square feet

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

Our Concierge Service: Let Us Help You Help Yourself

Categories: Building a Custom Home, Custom Home Design Ideas, WhiteStone | Posted: September 16, 2018

When clients come to see us, they often know “exactly” what they want but not quite how to get it. They may know they want a pool, but not what shape, how big or how deep. They may know they want a built-in island in the kitchen but do they want the sink there, or a mini-fridge underneath, or a marble baking top, etc.

To avoid confusion, we have a variety of forms that we ask clients to fill out that guides them through the process, digging for details and slowly drawing them down a “design funnel” until they have narrowed their choices down enough to make definitive, deliberate decisions.

One such form is our Concierge Form. As the name implies, this form acts as a do-it-yourself guide to your new dream home. (You can find the actual form below, PLUS on our website at It lists such categories as:

  • General must have items (i.e. view of hills, warm feeling, Tuscan elevation, lots of closet space)
  • Kitchen must have items (i.e. stainless steel appliances, gourmet serving island, two dishwashers)
  • Garage must have items (i.e. three car, built in cabinets, epoxy floor covering, freezer plug, air-conditioned, surround sound)

Through every room in the house, plus the front, side and back exterior, every bathroom, closet and cabinets, we walk you through it, step-by-step. We get you familiar with industry specific terms, like “judges paneling,” “Tuscany elevation” and “full arbor.”

For every room or category there are five lines to help list the major needs from the minor, drilling down deeper and deeper on every choice, until it’s clear to you what exactly you want, what you can live without, and what compromises may need to be made to reach a livable budget.

It may sound clinical, but as you go through the process, complete with visuals and even 3-D modeling, if needed, you can feel the excitement build for each new client. This is where dreams become a reality, where the sometimes hard choices are made, but where the picture becomes real and solid in their heads.

By the time we’re through filing this in, everyone knows what to expect; you, me, the builder, the designer, the sub-contractors, we’re all on the same page together.


Figure 1.1: The WhiteStone Custom Homes Concierge Form

Criteria for Success: You May Not Want to Build a Home If…

Categories: Building a Custom Home, Custom Home Design Ideas, WhiteStone | Posted: July 27, 2018

This may be one of my stranger blogs : ). I have to admit, some people should not build a new home. This is an excerpt from my book about custom home building: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Building a home is NOT for everybody. What seems like an adventure to some can turn into a nightmare for others, especially if you don’t particularly enjoy getting your hands dirty or being a decision-maker.

So, who shouldn’t build their own home? Well, I strongly recommend that you don’t build a house if:

  • You’re happy with the status quo. If you like things the way they are, if you’re resistant to change or don’t feel the need for change, don’t build your own home. Contentedness is a powerful feeling. If you’re happy where you are, why go on the home building adventure in the first place? Too often, couples get carried away by the momentum of building a home when they’re actually unprepared for, and not even that fond of, the process involved. If you’re happy where you are, I suggest you stay there until you’re not! Building a new home is definitely an improvement in your life. For many, it is the next step to greater happiness for themselves and their family. But some people are simply too happy—or too scared—to venture out.
  • It’s not a unanimous decision. Everyone living in the house, or at least the ones paying for it, should definitely agree that you both want to build a new home before making the plunge. I’ve seen many cases where one spouse is merely “going along to get along” with the other, who desperately wants to build a new home. We realize they will be the most convinced spouse. That is only natural, but to be truly happy, both spouses must be convinced.
  • You like old technology. The modern world of custom home building is not only high-tech but cutting edge and fast paced. It can get overwhelming if you’re not prepared for the changes that have happened in the construction industry over the last five to ten years, or are unwilling to adopt them.
  • You are a perfectionist. If you seek perfection in every area of your life, particularly your living space, you should probably avoid building a custom home at all costs. Custom homes are not extruded out of a machine in some factory, but manufactured homes are. Those are homes that, like cars off an assembly line, come pre-assembled and popped out in cookie cutter fashion, with no muss, no fuss and, above all, no surprises—or frustration.
  • You can’t expect, or appreciate, the unexpected. Part of the reason why home building is such an adventure, just like child rearing, is that the only constant you can expect is the unexpected. Plans are just that- plans. They’re written in ink, not stone, and the biggest part of the home building adventure is seeing how your dream translates into reality. The best custom home builders are realists who not only know when to compromise, but how to pick their battles. Part of the joy of the home building process is being there every step of the way, for every brick or stone that goes up, watching the house evolve. While custom homes are never perfect, they are personal; it’s hard not to get attached to something you watch grow from the ground up. This new home will be your design. Your ideas brought to life! However, if you can’t appreciate or expect the unexpected, then building a custom home probably isn’t for you.


Categories: Building a Custom Home, Custom Home Design Ideas, WhiteStone | Posted: January 31, 2018


Building a new home is one of the most important investments a family will make. In many cases it represents the single largest financial investment. The home is designed and built to provide years of pleasure, comfort, and security. It is the physical manifestation of “family” and the place where celebration and joy are expressed and experienced.

No wonder that when it comes to building a home, no one likes surprises. The document that spells out the detail and helps sets expectations for both builder and client is the contract and subsequent change orders. The contract is the roadmap that defines the destination, describes the detail of how the project will proceed, and steers everyone clear of obstructions and delays.

The contract is crafted so that it protects both builder and client, and clarifies everything about the job. It is organized into a number of sections, including information about the project location (address, lot number, etc.), project timetables, and deposit payment schedules.

While all of these details are important, most builders find that if conflicts arise during construction, they’re usually caused by misunderstanding over the “who, what, and how” of the job, and an effective contract works to clarify these issues.

Who makes the decisions?

One very short but important section names the owners’ representative. This should be one person–for instance the husband or wife, but not both–who will act as the builder’s main contact for approvals, changes, and questions. Having one owner as the representative helps eliminate confusion and makes communication more efficient. Similarly, the language should define who on the builder’s team can sign off on changes–whether it’s the company owner or the owner plus the site manager or superintendent.

What, exactly, is the client buying?

The project description defines exactly what the homeowners will be getting for their investment. The more detail the better. We use standard features, floor plans and elevations. Additionally we use the Homeowners Manual to add detail and keep only the most brief and important items in the contract.

The plans are the visual description of the new home, and include floor plans, elevation drawings, and all electrical and mechanical systems. They should note who prepared them and when they were signed. The plans should include all necessary changes–for instance, from the building department.

How will discretionary funds be allocated?

Discretionary funds include allowances and change orders on some contracts but mostly on our BOL contract. It’s important both be crystal clear. Allowances cover parts of the job that haven’t been fully specified yet, such as when the homeowner has yet to decide on how big they want the drive or how much they want to clear the lot. The allowance should specify when the decision is needed.

The contract should also clearly explain the builder’s change-order policy, including what types of changes can be made at each stage of the project, who can sign off on changes (the owner and builder reps), and the administrative cost for preparing change orders. It’s in everyone’s interest for even small changes to be documented in writing.

A contract that clearly defines the who, what, and how of the job steers the project clear of the most common minefields. This will help ensure that the homeowners get the home they want, on the timetable and for the price they were expecting.



Categories: Custom Home Design Ideas, WhiteStone | Posted: December 30, 2017

Countertops make a huge difference your kitchen. It is one of the top choices a homeowner will pick. And of course, they play a big part in the first impression the space makes on guest to your home. It’s worth taking the time to choose the countertop materials that work best for you.

Homeowners have more choices today than ever, but let’s consider the four most popular materials: laminate, solid surfacing, granite and quartz. Each has strengths and weaknesses.

Laminate comes in several quality grades. Although most people may think first of the inexpensive grades common in rental units and entry-level homes, there are high-quality, preformed laminate counters with three times the durability and no edge seams. Homeowners can choose from a variety of colors and patterns, including some that mimic the look of stone. On the downside, even these better products can scratch and burn under some circumstances–damage that’s difficult or impossible to repair. However, small scratches can be repaired or covered. And, at the cost of this material, replacement later as styles or your taste change.

Solid surfacing has lost market share in kitchens but remains a top choice for bathroom vanities. Made from a blend of acrylic and polyester, solid surfacing can cost three times more than basic laminate, but it looks more stylish and doesn’t have any surface or edge seams. Homeowners can choose from a wide range of colors and patterns.

Although solid surfacing isn’t totally resistant to scratches and burns, a good installer can often repair the damage. The material is also nonporous, so it’s less likely to stain than laminate.

Some people like the fact that solid surfacing doesn’t feel as hard or cold as granite, although others find it looks too artificial for their taste. I like it. I like the matte finish. I think it is very attractive.

Granite has been hugely popular in custom homes for years. That’s no surprise, given this natural material’s beautiful flowing patterns and mottling, as well as each slab’s unique look.

Costs for granite are slightly more than for solid surfacing.

Granite stands up well to heat and isn’t easily scratched, but its hardness means that ceramic dishes or cups can easily chip or break when dropped or bumped against the surface. Raw granite can also be stained by hot grease, so it needs to be sealed during fabrication and resealed at intervals recommended by the fabricator. Its heavy weight means it may not be the best choice for cabinets with particleboard frames.

Granite slabs are 9 to 10 feet long and 5 feet wide, so if you want something bigger you will have a seam.

Quartz has recently passed granite in popularity among some custom homeowners, even though it costs 10 to 20 percent more. Made from a blend of crushed stone and resin, this material is harder than granite and impervious to stains, including those from cooking oil, wine and coffee. Quartz has a rich, attractive finish and a regular surface pattern. It comes in 8 x 4 feet sheets, so anything bigger will require seams.

These descriptions are just an introduction to today’s most picked countertop materials. Other options are marble, wood, stainless steel, concrete and even soapstone counters. These are very custom and are not usually the choice of our homebuyers. It is like anything, there needs to be a balance in the differing costs of the materials you pick.


How long does it take to Estimate My Custom Home?

Categories: Building a Custom Home, Custom Home Design Ideas, WhiteStone | Posted: December 3, 2017

The work of building a price and schedule for your custom home is a project in itself.

There’s a reason that quality project estimates don’t happen overnight. Every home is a collection of thousands of individual components that range from large-scale assemblies like walls and roofs to small items like doorknobs and faucets. The builder has to consider every one of these elements when projecting what it will cost in time and materials to complete the home.

How long this takes varies by project type. For instance, a production builder that builds the same plan over and over will be able to generate estimates on the spot in its design center. That’s because even though the company offers some options to buyers, it’s really mass-producing a cookie-cutter product.

Custom homes are different because each one is unique. An estimate for a simple custom home can easily require 40 hours of staff time, and even more if it’s a complex architectural design. The logistics of getting the estimate could mean those hours will likely be spread out over several weeks. Many times our customers will ask us to price changes on one of our many standard custom plans. When we get that request, we can turn the pricing around typically in one week.

The builder needs to calculate the time and expense for everything from having the plans reviewed by permitting agencies to framing the shell and installing the roof, mechanicals, interior finishes and landscaping. Assembling all these numbers is a massive project that requires experience, knowledge and organizational skills. And, of course, time.

In addition, the builder needs to ensure that the products being priced for the home are the ones the customers want and that the budget will support. In many cases, this means investing time to complete the plans and clarify the product specifications, or specs.

People come to the table with dramatically different assumptions about costs, so the builder needs to clarify these assumptions. For instance, the home’s overall quality level may indicate that it’s safe to base your price on standard features which are more than generous, until a discussion reveals that the homeowners are imagining something more expensive. This clarifying work may need to be done for every line item in the estimate.

The builder also needs to solicit prices from each trade subcontractor that will work on the home, from the excavator to the plumber and painter. This can be the most time-consuming part of the estimate. If getting the subcontractors’ bids in house weren’t enough of a challenge, those bids also need to be put under a microscope.

That’s because the builder needs to make sure that subcontractors’ estimates are realistic. For instance, if a drywall bid seems low, the builder has to know enough to ask the drywall contractor how many sheets the estimate was based on, and someone on the builder’s staff needs to check those calculations. When asking for bids from 30 trade subcontractors, it’s not unheard-of for one or two to submit inaccurate bids because they were busy and needed to get their estimate to the builder on deadline. That’s why bids must be carefully reviewed. In the end, if they have messed up their bid, they resolve this by simply not doing the job. You may say this is unfair, and it is. However, there is such a demand for trade people in this community, they will not care and will simply go elsewhere.

All this work is about getting the estimate right. Taking the time to do a thorough and accurate job today will save time, expense and headaches tomorrow. It’s an area where patience pays real dividends.

Having said all this, WhiteStone Homes can still turn around your custom pricing literally faster than any other builder in this market. Just know the level of work that is put into each one of the prices.