Designing our first house – ground up

April 24th, 2013

(final detail)

We have FINALLY finalized the floor plan and design of our new home. Thats a quick and easy sentence, but the process has been anything but quick and easy. It’s been a crazy road – I think my first sketch was the last week in January – and here we are the last week in April! Of course a lot happened between then and now like moving 2 states over, finishing up some killer deadlines, and of course taking care of 2 very little ones.

(Original exterior rough sketch)

Designing a house – especially your first house – is painstaking. We’ve labored over every door, wall, ceiling, and closet at least half a dozen times. And those are the simple things. The kitchen, bathrooms, fireplaces, stairs etc. were more like 2 dozen times each. Once we were pretty happy with the inside we turned to the outside. We had a vision and designed the outside. We *liked* it… a lot… but not enough (kind of like being engaged to a really nice guy, but knowing deep down that he’s just not the right one for you). This house is a heart and soul and probably the only house project of this magnitude that we’ll ever take on. So we revised, and revised, until late one night – after a stroke of design genius – we felt it was just right. During this process we played around with 3 or more design styles, inventing and reinventing ourselves our taste, our style, our environment. What did we want this house to say about us? What did this house want to say about itself?

(brainstorming sketch to change exterior to farm-house inspired elevation)

Forgive me for a moment as I wax poetic – I often am asked about my design process – so here is a little insight: As a designer, I believe in a very organic process. I try not to over think the process, instead I just let my designs be what they want to be. I don’t force or coerce my designs based on my initial vision – doing so would result in designs that are limited to my personal vision and my perceptions of my design ability. I use my initial vision as a jumping off point, not an end goal. Now if you’re not a designer or possible a new designer you may not know what I’m talking about, but trust me, if there is one bit of advice I can give about the design process it would be to not force anything – just let it flow and morph into what it wants to be. Because what it wants to be – if you let it spread it’s wings and fly – will most likely be greater than anything you could even imagine. And so that is what we did. We started out with a “transitional craftsman” and ended up with “contemporary farmhouse”. But what we really did is end up with something synergistic and amazing that we would have never designed if we didn’t let the design process take on a life of it’s own.

(3D of the new exterior taking shape)

If you are undertaking a home design or renovation, I think the first point of business is to know what you want. In our case we wanted a single-story home that had a simple, unique design, in a family friendly neighborhood. I wanted the living areas to flow well and I wanted my kids rooms close to mine for while they are still young, and a place for them to be further away when they are older (livable basement). I wanted a main floor guest room for our aging parents, and lots of comfortable and flexible work spaces since we spend so much time working in our home. We wanted the home to look unique, but not be so different that it couldn’t mesh in a standard suburban neighborhood. Most importantly, we wanted to incorporate as much detail work into the interior and exterior as we possibly could, which is why we labored so much over even the smallest of design choices. We had to make a lot of compromises along the way to stay in budget, but we tried to stay focused on the items that were most important to us.

Once you have the spaces nailed down, go over every room, wall, nook, cranny and imagine how you want to live, use, and decorate those spaces. Look at a million photos and blogs to get ideas. The more time you have for this process the better – we had very little time, so we did our best to pick one or two special things about each room/space and make sure that our floor plan included a way to make this happen. For instance – windows over the master bathtub, several niche’s that will have shelving, rooms framed specifically for beds to slide into nooks, use of reclaimed lumbar, beams etc. Don’t forget to imagine ways to incorporate special lighting, unique cabinetry, built-in shelving, and accent tile.

We have FINALLY finalized the floor plan and design of our new home… that includes all of the above. We didn’t want to break ground not being able to visualize the house from ground up. We’re hoping that thinking through the entire house from top to bottom helps the build process go quickly and as smoothly as possible – and perhaps on/under budget. One tool that we used for visualization was Google’s Sketch Up. It’s an easy-to-learn 3D program and the entry level version is free. We were able to Sketch-up the entire floorplan and exterior and solve problems and personalize the floor plan during the planning phase instead of the building phase. Now if that doesn’t save us time and money, I don’t know what will. So learning how to use a great program like that should definitely pay off.

(3D detail of the family room/kitchen using Sketch Up)

Reading through this – the process sounds like so much work. But for us, it has been nothing but fun. We try to get our work done a little faster and our kids in bed a little earlier and then we just savor the few hours before bed – to talk and dream and imagine up all the beauty and function that we want our future home to be.

(final sketch for Neighborhood Architectural Design Committee approval)

5 responses to “Designing our first house – ground up”

  1. libbywilko says:

    It looks great !! Can’t wait to see how each stage progresses.

  2. Kim says:

    This is going to be so much fun watching this process. We can all live our dreams vicariously through you! It will be such a beautiful home!!!

  3. Joann says:

    Thanks for the tip on the program – I’ll definitely be checking it out.

    I’ll be checking your website with so much anticipation to see how it goes for you.

    Question: I went back through your posts about the previous house and found the one where you talked about putting in the trim and thanks someone (name escapes me) for helping you with the proportions, but you didn’t link to a website so I couldn’t check it out. Do you have numbers for those trim sizes and dimensions? I’m in the process of replacing and adding trim in my house and *really* loved what you did with yours but the sizes are hard to judge from a website.


  4. Jen Allyson says:

    I should do a post about this soon!. From memory… our baseboard was .5″ x 5″, the casing was standard casing .75″ x3.5″ and the header was a 1×6. Now those are not *actual* measurements, but what the trim is called. Real measurements are slightly smaller.

  5. alicia king says:

    that is amazing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *