How To Start Designing Your New Home Build

So how does one come to a design? The answer is never the same but it does start with questions, and a good designer will ask a lot of questions. My first question is why do you want to build a custom home? This simple question is sometimes not so easy to answer, however, it is the most important question to understand. Every building is built with the intended purpose and the design should be a response to the reason for the build. For example, the Eiffel Tower was built for the 1889 World’s Fair to demonstrate the use of steel as a construction material and its capabilities.

Another more relevant custom home example is a direct client of ours. As a fine art painter, he wanted to build a home with a dedicated space to use as a studio. It is a simple starter of an idea but the home design eventually evolved to be centered around the performance of his studio. As an architect and designer, we are trained to think of the genesis of a design – it is referred to as a concept and is the reason for everything we are doing on a project.

We understand that not everyone has such a specific need like my painter client, but there are common reasons clients give us when asked why they want to build a custom home.

Budgeting The Cost Of Your Custom Home

Knowing what you are expecting is the key to establishing a construction budget and understanding the construction costs – they are different! A construction budget is set by the client before the design commences. For instance, if you want to build a custom home and you are looking to build for $250.00/sq.ft then you plan and make decisions with that constraint in mind.

Construction costs on the other hand are time and location-specific. For example, building in the winter or in a remote location will add cost to the construction. Construction costs are specific to the location and availability of trades and products. The more access there is, the less expensive the cost of construction will be.

Other things that shape construction budgets and costs are the type of construction, detailing, materials, and finishing. All the variables above make every contractor and/or designer hesitant to provide meaningful costing at the onset of a project. As a client you need to be aware of the costs and what it takes to build a custom home. Below are five different types of projects to give you an idea of what you can expect construction costs to be and prepare you to discuss your budget with your architect and builder.

For location purposes, the concept costs listed below are isolated to the Greater Toronto Area and southern Ontario as a location of construction:

  • Typical Subdivision Home – Approximate cost per square foot $180-$220 plus 5-7% for landscaping. Design costs 9%.
  • Executive Home – Approximate cost per square foot $240-$300 plus 6-10% for landscaping. Design costs 12%.
  • City Estate Home – Approximate cost per square foot $320-$380 plus 8-14% for landscaping. Design costs 13%.
  • Modern Contemporary Home – Approximate cost per square foot $360-$550 plus 9-15% for landscaping. Design costs 16%.
  • Modern Artistic Home – Approximate cost per square foot $450-$800 plus 9-15% for landscaping. Design costs 18%.


Mapping Out Your Room Arrangements

After you define your construction budget and the zoning regulations of your lot have been determined, you are ready for a first draft layout. It is at this stage where you should start to picture how you will live in the space and how the spatial arrangement will be most efficient to your lifestyle. For example, locating the laundry room upstairs, on the main floor or in the basement; the size and location of the pantry; and the proximity of the kitchen to the mudroom and garbage (making for easy trips to bring in the groceries or take out the garbage).

It is also very important to decide on the principal rooms (what spaces are most important to you and where will you spend most of your time?). The placement, size and location of entry points into these rooms will also be an important consideration at this stage. Bedrooms specifically are vulnerable to door placement and window placement. These are all decisions that need to be evaluated with your architect so they can recommend typical arrangements and modify them to best adapt to your lifestyle.

Customized Entertainment Rooms

Finding a home that can properly entertain family and dinner parties is difficult, uncommon, and often not perfect for the type of entertaining that is expected. When developing a home for this purpose, the design focuses on the separation of public and private spaces. Powder rooms, for instance, are removed from the sightline of public spaces and are generally given more space. Even finish materials are considered and selected based on their durability to withstand high traffic and guests moving throughout the home with shoes. Entertaining was a big reason why custom homes were built 100 years ago. Look at any estate home and you can see the obvious signs: large dining rooms, kitchens hidden away for staff, grand foyers, and ample driveway space for guests to park.

Building Your Hobbies Into Your Home Design

Not dissimilar to working from home with more focused consideration given to the type of hobby and what spaces are needed, is it a woodshop, car collection, greenhouse, gym? All these spaces have specific requirements from a planning perspective. Placement of power, lighting, environmental controls all play into how a custom home is planned.

The large entrance foyer of a custom built home with beautiful black marble fireplace and glass staircase designed by FrankFranco Architects on their Deja View Project. Are you building a custom home? Connect with us today.
The large entrance foyer of our Deja View project

Designing A Home Office

Under current COVID-19 restrictions, we see this as a big reason for building or renovating. When planning for home office use, consideration is given to the proximity of the workspace to the entrance for business visitation.

Separate entrances for home offices are sometimes considered when office visitation is required. In this instance, access to the rest of the home is limited, and partitioning of the home is enforced to separate home and workspaces.
When creating a true home-work space there are a lot of details to look at: placement of desk and screen relative to windows to eliminate glare, location of support desk space, and location of amenity spaces such as a bathroom or powder room to double as a work restroom.

Lighting is also an important consideration as proper lighting makes working less straining on the eyes. It should be adaptable to different times of the day so even when you are working late into the evening, you have the proper lighting available to manage fatigue. Consideration for natural daylight should be made as views to the outdoors are conducive to productivity.

All this was less relevant prior to COVID-19 but since then it has become a necessary adjustment for many people. Employers when hiring may ask questions of your work environment which will give them an indication of how efficient and committed you are about working from home.

For more information on designing a home office for your custom home, read our latest blog post “How To Build The Perfect Home Office“.

Family Needs And Preferences

The most common reason we hear why our clients want to build a custom home is because they want a home that suits their family. This is the most challenging because it means as an Architect you need to invest time in understanding every member of the family, where their mindset is now and predicting how that may evolve over time. We look at how we can craft that space to address both eventualities.

A family having lunch together in their custom designed kitchen featuring a large island table with wood millwork cabinets designed by FrankFranco Architects.
The open concept kitchen and living space perfect for family time at our Deja View project.

When it comes to building a custom home the first step is design but only after you can answer the most fundamental question, Why? If you are thinking of building and need some help figuring out the “Why” we can send you our interactive questionnaire designed to help clients that are starting out on this exciting journey. And never hesitate to call, we are always here to help.

The Construction Process And the Project Management Team

Part two of The Ultimate Guide to Building a Custom Home starts once the design of the house has begun. It involves planning the construction and the introduction of the project management team. Every construction project needs to be managed effectively in order to minimize delays and added costs. In my experience, the number one thing you can do when working with a project management team is to involve them early in the design process.

Even though construction may not start for another few months, it is critical to involve the construction/project management team while the design is still evolving. Involving the PM team at this early stage in the design process allows them to contribute to the conversation on important topics such as construction budget and the planning of the mechanical, structural, and electrical systems. Familiarity with the project will better inform their plan for building. It also gives them insight on the level of detailing and finishing is expected for the project.

Why You Need A Project Manager For Your Home Build

When the project manager is involved early in the design process, they gain a lot of knowledge about the project and have a better understanding of the decisions made during the design stage. The idea is to get the PM team to fully understand the design and become a contributor to the process. There is far less finger-pointing during construction when they are active participants. In addition, the relationship between Architect and Project Manager becomes very strong, resulting in project efficiencies that benefit you the Client.

When a PM is involved later in the game, they are always standing on the back foot, and as a result, spend a lot of time trying to find and understand the project bearings, client’s expectations, needs and wants. They are often putting forward design solutions that have already been evaluated and decided on. It can get messy, cumbersome and information is often duplicated. It frustrates everyone and in the end, the Client pays the price.

The project management team needs to have as much information as possible. As a client, making a decision about the project management team early on is critical when building a custom home.

At FrankFranco Architects, we have built a project management division. From experience, we know the benefits of having a PM on the team from day one through to project completion. Further, the integration of the PM team in our office generates a swift response to site issues. We are agile in communicating with the client’s site circumstances, propose solutions that are in line with the design intent, and effectively coordinate with the design team and consultants.

FrankFranco Architect's office studio beautifully designed with custom wood millwork. Contact FrankFranco when building a custom home today!
Frankfranco Architect’s Studio

For more information about our in-house project management services send us an inquiry via this email link or simply give us a call.

The Construction Start – Assembling The Build Team

Many months of planning and countless decisions have been made up until this point. Now it’s time to see your dream – which has only been on paper so far – come to life. Your Architect has developed a design and the fundamentals of building a custom home are sorted out; the project manager is in the loop and knows the design well. So, what can go wrong? It all comes down to who is steering the ship and the planned route or construction path.

Construction site while building a custom home designed by architects FrankFranco Architects on their Woodland Ridge project.
Construction at our Woodland Ridge project

The Project Manager

Let’s start with the who of building a custom home. Typically, the project manager is the one in charge of sourcing, scheduling and obtaining any construction approvals from the design team, consultants, and the client. Once they have the required permits and approvals, they hire and schedule the work. In simple terms, they are the go/ no-go gatekeeper, and that is enough of a job to keep any PM busy to the gills. The responsibility of keeping a project on track is the PM’s role, so it is vital that everyone respond to the PM’s requests in a prompt and as accurate manner. It is that simple.

The PM also needs to ensure the right people get all the information pertaining to their part of the work, then follow up to confirm that the work is built according to the information that was provided. When the work does not conform, they need to double back and recalibrate if the work is acceptable. This means they need to confirm that what was built will not interfere with work going forward. If it does interfere, the PM needs to find out if any accommodations can be made in the going forward work to compensate for the as-built. As I said, the PM’s job is very rigorous.

The Construction Team

When you’re hiring for any part of the construction and are evaluating the individual costs, the one thing that you should always consider is: Will this person be able to service me in the future? There are a few things to consider when answering that question:

  1. How long have they been in business?
  2. Does the cost presented make you comfortable that they will be in business when you need service?
  3. How did you find this company?

There are a lot of renovation sites that connect contractors with owners and many have reviews like HomeStars, and eRenovate to mention a few. Another way to find a contractor is to find out who is building a custom home in your community and ask questions about their work, look at local web classifieds or ask friends. The most underutilized referral is from the architect. They know who is capable of what type of build. I would recommend you and your architect to vet any contractor together before moving forward with hiring them.

Any contractor should be able to show you examples of past works and be able to discuss the challenges and solutions relating to the project they are referencing. It is your job to evaluate the character of the contractor and the project they are presenting and decide if it is similar to what you are intending to construct. You should also ask the contractor for a list of references so you can hear first hand what their past client’s experiences were.

The Architect’s Role In A Home Design

The project manager may also rely on the Architect to provide construction details associated with components of the building a custom home. The best way to ensure smooth communication between all parties is to retain the Architect and the consultants for the construction phase. The Architect will provide input and the PM executes. For example, the designs call for a floor to ceiling glass wall but there is a condition at both the bottom of the window and the top that need design clarification. At the bottom, we need to manage how the floor terminates against the window and the same goes for the ceiling but at the top, it is further complicated by deciding how the window covering going to be managed. In this instance, the Architect supports the PM by providing the construction details associated with this part of the build.

Final Approval Process

Now that we have gone through the construction roles of all the lead consultants, let’s talk a little about the client. The client often is the key to many decisions during the building of a custom home, including cost approvals, final design approvals, changes, change order approvals, etc. I won’t lie, it can be daunting, but not if you rely on the consultants you have hired to guide you and give you the pro/con analysis of any decision that needs to be made.

The construction plan needs to accommodate the client with the time to make decisions. You need the runway to evaluate and that means knowing what information is depending on you and when it needs to be decided by. Your meetings are best scheduled with an agenda and start with a summary of the previous decisions. This process will keep you informed, organized, and calm because you know you are in control and you can see the road in front of you. If you do this your construction will be exciting and a lot of fun.

Obtaining Warranty On Your New Home

Congratulations, you have made it through to the other side – your home is constructed and you are living in it happily. There was a moment when you thought this day would never come. The first 6 months may have been a little rocky, as every project has some gremlins to work out but you are now in year one of occupancy and you have a roof leak! What do you do?

First thing is to call the project manager. The PM will call the roofer who was hired for the project to find the leak and patch it up – but the cause must be determined. In this case, a raccoon tore the roof vent off. Not much we can do about that. But what if there is a leak because the roof was not finished properly? How does that get resolved?

It comes down to the choices that you made – who you hired and how you evaluated the hire. All warranties at the end of the day rely on good relationships with the constructor, project manager, architect and trades. It is very hard to get service done when there is no revenue attached to the work or effort required to repair something that has failed. Warranty considerations start at the hire.

The other warranty approach is to split the PM fee to include a post-construction fee. This will keep the PM or Architect involved in the project for the duration of the warranty period. An example of this would be reducing the principal PM fee by a set percentage, for instance, 12% and disperse 1% of the fee over the following 12 months post-occupancy. Most PM will ask for an additional premium to be added but that is a reasonable expectation and a negotiating point.

I hope that this ultimate guide to building a custom home provided some insights on things to expect and avoid or prepare for. We are here to help wherever we can. If you are having a warranty issue and you need an architect’s opinion, feel free to contact us.

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