Designing a Custom Home

Virgil Carter Fine Art
August 21, 2016
last modified: August 21, 2016

This thread is an attempt to help those fortunate enough to be in a position to design a new custom home on land that they own. This forum is full of requests to "help me with my plan" and "help me with my new home", and so this is an effort to begin a discussion which may be a helpful reference for everyone who is, or who wishes to be, in the wonderful position of considering a new home, whether it's a first home, a retirement home, or something in between.

I invite my professional colleagues to join in with their ideas and experiences, as well as consumers who have successfully completed and occupied their custom home. A wide range of ideas and experiences will make this thread good reference tool for the future, which is its goal.

There are four primary and influential considerations for the design (and subsequent construction) of a new custom home. The four are: 1) the site; 2) the desired functions; 3) the architectural envelope; and 4) the budget. Of course, there are many and various other considerations to take into account in the design of any custom home, but these are the Big Four.

A word of caution: for success, all four of these considerations must be explored, understood and taken into consideration, together, from the beginning to the end of the design of a custom home. Ignoring, forgetting and just letting the local draftsman take care of one or more of these during the design of a custom home is courting disaster, or at the very least an expensive and time-consuming disappointment.

Let's take a quick look at the Big Four, what each consists of and why each is important.

  1. The Site

Frank Lloyd Wright said a "house is and of its site". Unless one's site is a tight, constricted and minimal urban site where design alternatives are virtually non-existent, almost every strong house design begins with a detailed and creative site analysis, considering a wide range of influences on a design for the specific property. These influences can be very wide-ranging and have very important budget implications! Many books have been written on the subject, but among the many important things to consider at the very outset are: the buildable site envelope (setbacks, easements, flood zones, etc., all impact the buildable area); topography and surface drainage; views to and from the site (both desirable and undesirable views); sun path (particularly important for passive solar design strategies); climatic conditions (particularly seasonal adverse weather); primary access points to the site; public utility locations; existing landscaping and man-made improvements which are to remain; suitable locations for wells and septic systems (if needed); suitable locations for any desired new outdoor/landscape improvements (swimming pool, special recreational areas, indoor-outdoor entertaining, etc.). Because of the strong impact on design of all of these influences, many architects and design professionals begin here. It is a point of beginning generally not understood by consumers!

  1. Desired Functions

The highly influential French architect Le Corbusier said, "...Une maison est une machine-à-habiter..." or "A house is a machine for living in". In other words, Corbusier is saying that houses are tools we use to live and we happen to live inside them. Thus, the desired functions of a house are of great importance. The challenge, in our First-World, 21st Century environment, is to identify and separate our desired "needs" from our desired "wants". If that's not enough of a challenge, we must also identify and establish some sort of priority relationships and adjacencies for our needs and wants. Said differently, we simply cannot have all of our "needs" available to us as soon as we walk through the front door...or any door. Thus, we must begin our design efforts by first establishing primary and secondary adjacencies for our needs (and as many of our wants as we can afford). For example, is it of primary importance that the kitchen and dining space be as close together as possible? Is locating the master bedroom close to the garage of secondary importance? Or is it of any importance at all?

Good architectural design begins by exploring and establishing adjacency diagrams of all needed functional areas. Once it's clear about the important primary and secondary adjacencies (and the functions with few important adjacencies), and the site influences are understood, early architectural design explorations can begin.

The goal of early architectural design is to explore and find a strong and durable design concept which appears to meet the tests of site, function, architectural envelope and budget. Once that concept--the parti--is established, more detailed design studies can productively take place.

  1. Architectural Envelope

The American architect Louis Sullivan coined the phrase "form follows function", a principle associated with modernist architecture and industrial design in the 20th century. The principle is that the shape of a building or object should be primarily based upon its intended function or purpose. While this is a rather controversial statement, not necessarily believed by many noted architectural "form makers", the phrase serves to introduce the importance in the design of a custom home (or any building), of the creative exploration of the architectural envelope.

By the envelope, I am talking about both the external form and style, and at the same time, the interior spatial design and sequences. In other words, the form, style, space and massing of both the exterior and interior of a potential custom home.

Most non-architects simply don't understand that successful strong designs must always consider exploration of desired functions and the architectural envelope simultaneously and together, at the same time, until both reach a satisfactory solution point. In other words, what happens on the inside affects the outside; what happens on the outside affects the inside.

The successful design of a custom home must continually look and explore design ideas and directions from both the inside and the outside of the house, if the final design is to be strong and successful. One simply cannot design the interior of a custom home by intensely studying the interior floor plan in isolation, and hope to paste some sort of intelligent design on the exterior when the floor plans are "finished".

So many consumers seem to think, "well I have to have a floor plan to show the architect what I am thinking, and s/he will just tidy everything up after that!".

Unfortunately, strong architectural design doesn't happen that way. Good design isn't simply pasted on at the end! It happens by taking into account all of the first three preceding considerations for design, simulataneously and consistently, plus the following one.

  1. Budget

Perhaps nothing causes greater concern with a custom home than concern about the budget. Or at least that's the way it should be. The purpose of designing a custom home is to have it meet a family's needs and to get it built for the family's budget. Make sense?

Unfortunately, it frequently doesn't work out that way for a wide variety of reasons. There are many, many reasons why this may happen. Consumers, architects, builders, economic changes, materials and labor costs, changes in interest rates, etc., all can contribute to a house more expensive than anyone thought or desired.

One of the most common areas of unexpected costs may be when consumers believe they can and need to save money by limiting architectural services and fees to those necessary for the preparation of only very basic drawings sufficient for building permit approvals. These sorts of drawings often result in a wide range of "allowances" when it comes time for a general contractor to give a construction cost to the owners. The "allowances" are necessary because all of the details and specifications of the project have not been completed, requiring the general contractor to "allow" certain sums for all of the work, fixtures, fittings and equipment needed to complete the project, but as yet unidentified.

There is no greater trap door waiting for owners of a custom home project than this--allowances!

The more allowances, the bigger and deeper the potential trap door for added and unexpected expenses. If there is one mantra for controlling costs, it may probably be eliminate all allowances!

Thus, for most custom home owners, it's worth a serious discussion with your architect or design professional of what it will take to produce a set of construction documents which will fully identify all major work, fixture, fittings and equipment, and which will have zero, or minimal, allowances.


So that's a quick look at the Big Four elements of designing a custom home. Hopefully, this will serve to start a useful discussion and reference for designing a custom home.

What should a consumer begin to do before meeting with their architect or design professional?

Here's my recommendations:

--Have in hand a detail site plan with topographic contours and other applicable information;

--Prepare a written summary of "needs", "wants", and any other pertinent information;

--Collect some exterior and interior photos of appealing residential architecture;

--Agree with you spouse on your construction budget and schedule

--Take all of these to your preferred architect and have an exploratory meeting to see if the personal chemistry and approaches are compatible.

--Check the architect's references and similar past projects

That's really all that's needed. No one really needs to attempt to prepare a floor plan to hand to an architect, any more than one needs to bring a sandwich to a 3-Michelin star restaurant!

Comments and critique are welcome!

Comments (41)

  • mojomom

    Virgil, You are the pro, but I'll add a one more thing you need to have in hand when you met with the architect, if applicable -- the subdivisions design guidelines! The client needs to read and understand the design guidelines ahead of the -- preferably before purchasing the land.

    I've found not just from my personal experience, but through my professional experience, architects are not particularly adept in cost estimating -- in fact ours told us that up front and the cost to build surprised him almost as much as it surprised us! I suggest bringing in a builder early in the process.

    I sightly disagree about the client drawn plans. Sometimes yes, but sometimes no. It's fun for clients to draw and it forces thoughts on adjacentcies. It is also helpful as a visual aid in explaining what the client is looking for and can give a jumping off point for discussion. The key is that the client not be wed to their plans and the architect has freedom to depart.

    One thing I looked at in reviewing our architects portfolio in the selection process was that his designs were not "all of a kind" and fell into different price ranges. To me it show respect for the clients style and flexibly.

    Virgil Carter Fine Art thanked mojomom
  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    Great points, mojomon--I agree. Thanks!

    Being aware of the ordinances, regulations and guidelines of the various jurisdictions which have control over how a property is developed is essential knowledge. This is so important that prospective owners should seek out this information before purchasing any property! Never buy property before having a good understanding of these important influences on design and construction.

    As for consumer drawn plans, they certainly are fun for many consumers to do.

    The all too common problem, however, is that consumers become wed to them, all too often without consideration of the site, the architectural envelope, or budget. Often it's better to just work these things out together from the get-go--consumer and architect working together, sketching on a table top and evaluating the opportunities together.

  • cpartist

    I'd like to add some of the other threads that I feel go along with what Virgil has said:

    Books to Read

    Designing a Home

    Room Adjacencies

    Virgil Carter Fine Art thanked cpartist
  • cpartist

    And I had given this advice in another thread to someone else:

    I know I'm not artistic, and I would have a hard time putting a "vision" into words if I couldn't also point to it and say "sorta like this".

    But you'd be perfectly capable of saying I need 3 bedrooms 2 1/2 baths and I want as many of the rooms to face my gorgeous pond out back. The view to the back is SE. I also prefer my kitchen is separate from my other rooms and want a formal dining room. I don't want my master bedroom next to the kids rooms, but want our office near the master. I prefer to walk through my bathroom to my closet...

    I need to have...

    And here are pictures from houzz of what I like. I like this roof, this porch, and am in love with this kitchen.

    Just by letting an architect or designer know the things that mean something to you vs showing a plan that may or may not work for you, you are painting a picture for him/her.

    I would also add in that I would want my architect to know how I want to feel when I'm inside my house, or when I drive up, or when I'm sitting in my backyard, etc.

    Virgil Carter Fine Art thanked cpartist
  • cpartist

    Additionally I had used this analogy to explain what Virgil is saying above.

    "Adkbml, maybe I can help by breaking it down as how an artist would work because the process is really very similar. (And architects please correct me where I'm wrong!)

    1. First I will come up with a concept. As I'm a still life artist, let's say I decide I want to create a drawing using peonies in a blue and white bowl. That's the concept.

    ( I would equate this to the homeowner saying I want a two story house with 4 bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, with a game room, an office and my lot is a hilly 3 acres.)

    2. Once I have my concept, I set up a still life that recreates the idea in my head.

    (Here is where the homeowner and the architect/designer get together and the homeowner shows the architect his/her houzz and pinterest images, their want list, their need list, their wish we could have list, and their budget. It's where the architect and homeowner walk the property and where the architect takes notes.)

    3. My next step is to roughly block in the image on paper. I'm not concerned at this point with the details or the exact placement, but only the overall placement of the larger shapes. So I'll sketch where the peonies are and where the blue and white bowl is. I might have water drops, but I'm not concerned about them until step 5. The flowers on the blue vase will be defined in step 5 too.

    (This is where someone like ARG would sit down with the builder and the homeowner and have a design session where he sits and sketches out how the house might look and where things might go. The builder would give input as to whether it's feasible in terms of price, etc and this is where they play.)

    4. Once I'm confident my larger shapes are where I want them, I start to slowly define them by blocking in my darks and lights. I am still not concerned with details but only refining them to get shadow and light. So I'll make sure my darks are where I want them, and my lights.

    (Now it's up to the architect to go back to his/her office and put together a first plan showing the exterior as well as the interior. At this point it may not even be a computer model but just hand drawn or it may be done on the computer. Lots is still up in the air. Changes are made based on the homeowner's feedback)

    5. Next is when I start to really define everything. Here is where I refine everything so it really starts to look like a blue and white vase with peonies in it. Here's where I'll define individual petals on the peonies, or make sure the leaves have the right edges. It's here that I'll finally make sure to include those water drops.

    (Once the homeowner is happy with the overall look, the architect will create the drawings and plans showing all the details in the house. Window placement, kitchen appliance placement. A set of drawings will also show electrical, etc.)

    6. Last is where I put in all the small details and highlights that make my drawings glow. This is where I put in some tiny white highlights to bring out the "shine" on the vase, or the translucence of the water drop. It's also where I might put in some sharp lines to define the lines in the blue vase.

    (These are the drawings that go to the planning board and are used by the builder to actually build the house.)

    Virgil Carter Fine Art thanked cpartist
  • PRO
    Mark Bischak, Architect

    I notice Virgil arranged the big four considerations numerically in order of importance.

    Virgil Carter Fine Art thanked Mark Bischak, Architect
  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    Well, all the considerations are very important, so it's hard to say they are in a priority. But the first three--siting, desired functions and architectural envelope--are in the sequence used by many architects in their early design explorations. Budget, on the other hand, is important from the get-go to the get-finish, don't you agree?

  • cpartist

    Budget, on the other hand, is important from the get-go to the get-finish, don't you agree?

    Yes very important, (she says as she watched her budget increase by 2/3's).

    Seriously though, I would consider it the most important thing.

    Additionally I'd consider it important so as not to overbuild for the neighborhood because you just never know if you'll need to sell. Life happens. And if your house is the only one with marble, SZ and Wolf appliances, hardwood floors and custom finishes, you will not get it back if you need to sell. You might sell your home more quickly if it's priced the same as others in the neighborhood, but you won't get a premium for it.

    Virgil Carter Fine Art thanked cpartist
  • Pensacola PI

    Very informative and cp, budget in our case was the most important. Before ARG even started our process, we provided him with a budget. No matter how incredibly perfect a design is on every level in concept, if it blows the homeowners budget the rest is a moot point IMHO.

    Virgil Carter Fine Art thanked Pensacola PI
  • cpartist

    Very informative and cp, budget in our case was the most important. Before ARG even started our process, we provided him with a budget. No matter how incredibly perfect a design is on every level in concept, if it blows the homeowners budget the rest is a moot point IMHO.

    Budget should be the most important. In our case, our budget went up because we realized the plot of land we originally bought was too small for what we wanted and needed, so we bought 1/2 the lot next to us and increased the size of the house by almost 250 square feet and added a second garage bay.

    Virgil Carter Fine Art thanked cpartist
  • One Devoted Dame

    Mr. Virgil, I was inspired to create an account just now, so that I could have the opportunity to thank you for starting this thread. I am a longtime admirer of you, Mr. ArchitectRunnerGuy, Mr. Mark B., Mrs. Pete, Miss Sophie, Miss CPArtist, and Mr. Renovator8 (whose contributions to this forum I miss terribly).

    I have been lurking for a loooooooong time now, and my husband and I are finally beginning the journey of building a home. Constantly amazed at the recurring themes that new users create, and y'all's patience in dealing with it all, I hope this thread lives a long and very productive life!

    Blessings to you and yours. :-)

    Virgil Carter Fine Art thanked One Devoted Dame
  • Architectrunnerguy

    Great thread Virgil....

    I thought I'd post some short thoughts appropriate to the thread title. In my jumbled mess where these are I have the authors noted of some but not all.

    1. Good design is never an
    accident. It is always the result of intelligent efforts.

    2. To say that something is
    designed means it has intentions that go beyond its function. Otherwise it’s
    just planning. Ayse Birsel

    3. Design is not the narrow
    application of formal skills, it is a way of thinking.

    4. Design is an opportunity
    to continue telling the story, not just to sum everything up.

    5. With
    good design there are no shortcuts.

    6. Be
    passionate about good design. Nothing amazing ever came from the apathetic.

    7. When
    you are stuck, walk away from the computer and draw. It will teach you how to
    see. Gerard Huerta

    8. Even
    in conceptual design, draw in the furniture.

    9. Never
    show a plan without accompanying elevations. Architecture is, after all, three

    Design is not a veneer, design is how a house works.

    Architecture is not a trade, it’s a craft … and to become any good at it, you
    are going to have to get it wrong for awhile.-Bob Borson

    The dumbest mistake is viewing design as something you do at the end of the
    process to tidy up the mess, as opposed to understanding it as a day one issue
    and part of everything. Tom Peters

    The psychological expression of
    materials in architecture can speak volumes....Mark Bishak

    Practice safe design: Use a concept. Petrula Vrontikis

    I think constraints are very important. They’re positive, because they allow
    you to work off something. Charles Gwathmey

    Question everything generally thought to be obvious. – Dieter Rams

    A house can have integrity, just like a person,' said Roark, 'and just as
    seldom’. Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

    Practicality is the slayer of dreams.

    We tend to forget there is more to design than designing

    Sometimes the best way to prove your own value is to let the client design.

    Technology over technique produces emotionless design. Daniel Mall

    The pencil and computer are, if left to their own devices, equally dumb and
    only as good as the person driving them. Sir Norman Foster

    Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking
    clean to make it simple.

    Houses today cost a lot of money, so it's tempting to make that money show up
    as much as possible. 12 gables, a gazillion angles, 9 bumpouts, and 3 different
    bricks with 2 stone choices and shakes with shiplap all thrown together. Resist
    the temptation. Live Wire Oak


    25. It is always better to be underdressed. Coco Chanel.

    Virgil Carter Fine Art thanked Architectrunnerguy
  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    "Design is a patient search"--Le Corbusier!

  • jdez

    Would it be unheard of to ask your architect to come into your current home and actually see how you live, what works for you and what doesn't? I am not the greatest communicator so I was thinking that could be the easiest way to convey my thoughts. Is there some reason why that is a bad idea? (Our house is done. I'm just asking for future reference.)

    Virgil Carter Fine Art thanked jdez
  • PRO
    Mark Bischak, Architect

    Did the creative nurses lose another one? : )

  • PRO
    Mark Bischak, Architect

    Having the architect see the current living spaces is not unheard of at all, in fact I see it as preferred; positives and negatives can be conveyed.

  • jdez

    Thanks Mark. The one time I spoke to an architect, he gave me the impression that I just had to pick one of his already-made plans and talk to his designers about any changes we might like. I was hoping that this one experience was not the norm.

  • cpartist

    jdez that sounds more like what a builder would do vs an architect.

  • jdez

    Well, I live in a small town and he is the only architect for miles. I guess he is way too busy.

    Oh, and most people here are not like me and live on GW and research the heck out of everything. His method probably works for most people here.

  • Jenny Rasch

    I'm so grateful for this post! This is just the kind of information I've been looking for.

    Given what you've posted about the importance of the land, is it insane/pointless to try and meet with an architect before you've purchased land? Part of my concern is that I'm not sure how feasible our goal is. I may be approaching this from the wrong direction -- I know what I want, and I need to figure out how much it costs to get it so I can decide if I want to move forward or need to scrap custom building all together.

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    Jenny, you raise a question of interest to many, many folks. Yes, you could consult with an architect for an hour about the feasibility of designing and building what you have in mind, but architects are not generally up-to-the-minute experts on current materials and labor costs.

    That's what general contractors do for a living, and even they may get surprised by sudden and/or unexpected changes in costs.

    And yes, it is rather pointless to think about designing a custom home without having specific land in mind, and understanding what makes sense for building on the particular property.

    My advice is to:

    1. Talk to a range of builders--preferably custom builders in your desired area, about what are the range of costs for what you have in mind. Some builders own property on which they build, while others will build on a customer's property;
    2. Go to open houses--new and existing houses--and get a sense of what existing housing stock costs which may be similar to what you have in mind;
    3. Talk to a realtor about land and improvement costs for property in your area of interest;
    4. Talk to your banker or local lender about their experience and polices for lending and building in your area of interest.

    All of these should help to pull together the information you're seeking. Good luck!

  • JDS

    I'm going to stay out of this discussion because I have 3 clients waiting for final CDs and I might have a panic attack.

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    Aw, come'on, JDS...what are you doing between midnight and 600 AM?

  • doc5md

    @jdez: My architect did just that, our first real meeting was at our current house and he wanted to see all of it. I hadn't though about it until that meeting, but he really learned about us, how we live and how much crap (I mean lovely stuff) is in our house. :)

  • One Devoted Dame

    We'll wait up for ya, Mr. J. ;-) Always love your sketches, so I'm sure you have lots to contribute to this thread! (Eventually... When the threat of panic has passed, of course....)

    Edited to add: Worthy, seriously????? YAY!!! (Sorry, lol.)

  • worthy

    I am a longtime admirer of ... Mr. Renovator8 (whose
    contributions to this forum I miss terribly.

    Like Dr. Who, he has had many crusty reincarnations. (Just Don't Shout it.)

  • cpartist

    ARG said this on another thread and it has been said here already but sometimes being more concise will get through to those who's eyes glaze over at times:

    The best houses are designed in plan, elevation and section simultaneously. And as CP wrote, show it on the site. Think of the house and lot as one. Never stop designing at the exterior walls. Stop the designing at the property lines. - Doug Burke

  • One Devoted Dame

    Okay, Professor, I've reread your lecture, and I have an odd question about The Site.

    Before actually buying a piece of land, is it ever recommended to find an architect *first*? Or is that just weird?

    For example, say I want to have the flexibility to design and create a cute little Tudor Revival "family village" in the woods. Main house first, with 2-4 satellite cottages built as needed, all designed from the very beginning.

    Is this kind of consultation even part of a residential architect's services? I *really* want to experience the architectural design process, and I want to do this thing right.

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    Madame Dame, your situation is one which would intrigue most architects, I think. So consulting with one at the outset, developing some initial ideas and criteria, and especially some criteria for evaluating and selecting suitable property makes a lot of sense.

    My guess is that after initial introductions you should be able to spend an hour or two with your chosen architect and have what you need for starting to look for land. For example, establishing a typical "footprint" and configuration for the houses, plus access to/from them, for an understanding of the necessary buildable envelope for a piece of land.

    Before buying specific property, you could meet on the site with your architect to ensure it is possible to support your ideas.

    Picking a good site for one's dreams can be challenging, and a discussion of your ideas and the important characteristics of property to support those ideas is a good initial investment.

    Architects do this all the time for an hourly rate.

    Good luck!

  • Andy

    Depending on where you live, you may not even like any of the lots currently on the market! I had to look for about a year before I could find what I wanted: an elevated lot with a view, reasonably close to everything while feeling like you're in the middle of nowhere while on the property, and most important, high speed internet (I work from home usually).

    So many amazing lots were just a little too far away and weren't serviced by Comcast. I became an expert on lots between 5 and 15 acres in our area! So when a lot that we wanted came on the market, at a price that I felt was fair, if not a little low, we pounced on it.

    Then we sat on it for two years building back up our finances, and only when we were ready to build did we start talking to people.

    One thing I've learned is that unless you have enough money that you could pay cash for your build if you wanted to, you're going to have to embrace some level of uncertainty.

  • One Devoted Dame

    In reviewing the info again... Sorry I'm so slow, lol, it's a lot to process in between running a household. ;-)

    You mention in Desired Functions, the concept of adjacency diagrams. What do those typically look like? Will it vary, depending on how the architect prefers to input information and work his magic?

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    "Adjacency diagrams" are often called "bubble diagrams", but in either case they are simply ways to put onto paper all of the specific and finite spaces which are important to have included in the house. They can be large spaces, i.e., garage, living/family, etc., or small, i.e., pantry, guest closet, etc. They can be indoor, i.e., family room, etc., or outdoor, i.e., entertaining patio, BBQ, herb garden, etc. Whatever is important to the successful living for the house.

    Many architects use "bubbles" or circles of various size, sketched on tracing paper, large to small, and thereafter group them closely, where they are important to do so and place them independently if there are few or no important adjacencies.

    Adjacencies may be further defined with solid lines connecting bubbles (a "primary" adjacency); a dashed line (a "secondary" adjacency); or no connection meaning that the space or function is needed but has no strong or secondary connection to other spaces or functions.

    The purpose is to identify and establish agreement about a functional "wiring diagram" for the proposed house, which thereafter can act as a roadmap for the subsequent actual physical architectural design. As the architectural design progresses, it can be tested against the agreed upon adjacency diagram to evaluate how responsive and complete the design may be. In other words, are all the primary adjacencies in place; are the secondary adjacencies reasonable, and are the other uses accommodated somewhere?

    Every architect, being an individual, has her/his own preferred ways to design, of course, but this early approach to help guide, make design explorations more efficient and evaluate the design explorations is a common technique.

    Hope this helps.

  • Russ Barnard

    Dame - It is very helpful to know what you can and cannot do before you buy land. Every piece of land has it's own "quirks" etc. This is MY experience and these folks are all experts, I am no expert by any stretch of the imagination, but we almost got locked into a piece of land at one point with the inability to do anything we wanted to do.

    I think it goes to a little of what CP said (sorry, so much to read.. I may have the wrong person here).. but out here, there are a lot of nice pieces of land that are large, you would have no idea they were still part of a HoA.. and those HoAs are nas-tee! What looked like a beautiful pecan grove would have had us going back to the drawing board had we not already hammered out what we wanted and what was feasible.

    Also, depending on what side of the city you lived on, we may or may not have blown our budget sky high. The last guy that owned the lot we are now building on, flat out went bankrupt before he could pour the slab trying to do what he wanted.

    So, yea, talk to the builder and get the house you want at least somewhat defined to make sure you know what sort of land you need to buy to place it on.


  • NewEnglandgal

    Love this thread! Thank you CP for leading me to it.

    I wanted to add to Dame's questions on land-not only do you need to find land that suites your build but if building several buildings you also need to look up zoning ordinances. You may only be allowed an in law type sized building on the land unless you can subdivide it and then you have to see what the lots are zoned in that area r-10, r-20 (what size?. There is so much that goes into looking for the right size lot, especially if you plan on building more than one home or building.

  • Carolyn87

    Finding a lot that can do what you want can be very very hard. I learned what lot features I do not want, what features I need and am still looking. I got so frustrated that I decided to just see what can be done on a narrower lot than I originally wanted. I also did not know until I tried to take a house and add average setbacks how big a lot I would need and it has made me change my mind on some things I thought I wanted. I was also shocked by the number of lots that do not have gas, electric, water, sewers, etc.

    Where do you go other than websites like zillow and to find property that tells you all the zoning and site specs? I am looking out of state and do not have time to go travel unless the actual needs for a livable home on the site are met. I think this information would help others as well so they don't buy without knowing the lot beforehand (like I almost did when I was only going by size, I'd rather have a slightly smaller home that works and that I can really use the backyard than a big house where I have to worry about a well or a septic issue- including adding a pool someday where I can see it from in the house).

  • PRO

    You need a realtor where you are looking to buy.

  • PRO
    Mark Bischak, Architect

    I ran across this quote by John Howe, an architect and apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright, and thought it would be appropriate to share here:

    “The land is the beginning of Architecture. I don’t have a preconception for a house or building . . . I rely on topographical maps, the location of the trees and other natural features, the views, and the points of the compass. That’s where I start.” - John H. Howe

  • worthy

    Unless one's site is a tight, constricted and minimal urban site where design alternatives are virtually non-existent

    But that is where the overwhelming majority of residences are in fact built! And where arguably the most creative construction and architecture is done. (Most North Americans are neither land barons nor content to live in the backwoods of the southeast US or in the redneck backwaters and badlands of Canuckistan.)

    Otherwise, an excellent primer, a bargain at twice the price. :-)

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    I agree: when the going gets tough, the tough get going! :-) Not sure that "that's where the overwhelming majority of (custom) residences are built", but regardless, design challenges such as a very small and tight site are what may bring out some of the most creative responses...assuming one wants to be creative!

  • rdthomas12

    Looking for something directions from the experts here. I purchased a lot overseas to build a vacation/retirement home. Should I use a local architect or start the process with a US architect and have a local architect complete the CDs?

  • JDS

    Start a new thread and tell us the scope of the project, and where it will be built.

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