Some things everyone should do before building (and most of these should be done before buying an existing home as well):
  1. Determine the BUDGET  & TIMELINE
  2. Choose a NEIGHBORHOOD
  3. Establish a PROGRAM
  4. Plan your HOME
    • Planning by committee: What if "YOUR" is "OUR?"
  5. Gather your TEAM

1.  Budget & Timeline

Astronomical clock, Prague, built ca. 1410.

Budgetwise, how much house can you afford? This is a question with a complicated answer. Please read this article for more information.

Timewise, do you need to secure financing, sell your current home, get it built ASAP?
Do you have other aspects with hard deadlines to conform to, like a new job or the beginning of the school year?
Consider adding a bonus to your contract if the team finishes "substantial completion" on time.
Your contract should be clear about what kinds of items are typically not complete by that date, so that you are not surprised.  Examples: repairs, touch-up paint, some aspects of landscaping, etc.

2.  Neighborhood & Site

What are you looking for in a NEIGHBORHOOD?  

  • streetcar or light rail stop
  • family
  • work
  • schools
  • community garden
  • worship
  • parks
  • restaurants
view of Salt Lake City

what situation suits your lifestyle?

  • urban (downtown in any sized city)
  • historic suburban (mostly residential communities very near a city, historically accessed by streetcar)
  • modern suburban (mostly residential communities within ~30 minute drive of a city; with some commercial development typically near a freeway entrance; cul-de-sacs)
  • small town or village (often with its own main street)
  • rural (the proverbial one-light town)
  • isolated: homestead, farm
  • natural environment: cabin, camp

walkability / bike-ability:

  • is there anything to walk to within a 1/4 mile radius?
  • are the sidewalks protected from vehicles by a park strip?
  • are there connected bike trails and lanes on streets that can get you where you need to go?
  • is the vehicular traffic heavy or fast or is the location separate from major thru-streets?

safety & security:

  • are streets & other public areas well lit at night? 
    • caveat: lighting doesn't do much good if there are not eyes on the space.  If you are near businesses that are deserted at night, lighting does not make it safer.
  • is there a history of crime? (In SLC, see this map.)
  • do neighbors spend time in their gardens or on a porch?
  • is parking in garages or driveways, on the street, via an alley?
  • are there dangerous physical elements?
    • busy streets without crosswalks
    • steep drop offs with no rail or other guide
    • fast flowing creeks or rivers
    • wild animals
      • presence of wild animals typically indicates natural habitat has been encroached upon by development.  If we're talking a cabin in the woods, it is easily tolerated.  If it's an entire neighborhood, expect problems.

relative location

  • consider which direction you may have to drive for a commute; will you be driving into direct sun in the morning and in the evening?  
  • 1. top of hill; 2. steep slope; 3. gentle slop; 4. level ground
  • microclimate changes relative to tree cover, elevation, proximity to bodies of water, sunrise/sunset adjustments due to adjacent mountains, prevailing winds.

new subdivision vs. established neighborhood

  • established: mature tree-lined streets, small neighborhood parks, continuity of families that have lived there for generations, communities with tradition, gradual transformation of character over 100 years
  • new: few aged amenities that might need replacing, all families are "new" and looking to make friends, communities looking to create new traditions

What are you looking for in a SITE / PROPERTY? 

  • Views (consider far views, medium and near views as well)
    • mountains or valleys
    • creeks or lakes
    • cityscapes
    • specific monuments
    • near: your own garden or private outdoor space
    • medium: what is visible across the street or on the other side of your backyard?
  • Landscape character
    • form: naturalistic, formal, modern, lush
    • context: greens, flowering, veggies
    • front yard function: shield from street, curb appeal, play area, edibles
    • back yard function: sports, garden, tool shed
  • Outdoor Living
    • courtyards, verandas, sun spaces, patio/deck, outdoor kitchen/BBQ
  • Land form
    • level
    • valley, foothills, mountains
    • tiger, turtle, dragon, phoenix (Feng Shui siting principles)
  • Water access and drainage
  • Solar access
    • for garden
    • passive solar gain in winter (PassivHaus, solar orientation)
    • renewable energy like PV cells

3.  Program

An architectural program is usually defined by a list of required spaces and their size.  For a home, this is often abbreviated down to number of bedrooms / bathrooms and square footage.  (Ex. 3bed / 2.5bath, 1800sf)

Evaluate your current home:  acknowledge its amenities while listing its deficiencies.  Why do you want to move in the first place?

Characterize how you want your home to feel.  Party house?  Sanctuary?  Link this idea to places you have been before; try to deduce why they felt the way they did.

4.  Your Home

My dream home doesn't have a specific number of rooms or a determined size.  It does, however, have a library, lots of natural light (well-managed so there is no glare), a garden, and a kitchen with enough countertop for two to bake.  Its ceilings are taller than 8ft, there are some lovely near and far views out my windows, and I can see my children playing in the back yard. Our power is subsidized by solar panels, subtly incorporated into the southern roofline.  There is a generous porch for Southern-style porch sitting.  You see where I'm going with this.

What makes a home YOUR HOME?

Start a Pinterest board or an Evernote notebook of homes & places that interest you and caption each image with the specifics of your thoughts -- WHY you like it.  Get screen shots of favorite places in movies.  Alternately, go old-school and cut out of magazines.

Recognize that most folks do not have the vocabulary to describe styles and spaces and how a space feels.  Use available images to communicate with your team.
"A picture is worth...."

Planning by Committee: What if YOUR is OUR?

A note on what architects sometimes call "complex clients:"  It is much more difficult to design for a family or for a committee than it is to design for one person.  Before you go to your team with your program, get on the same page.

Joe may want a yoga studio and a private patio while Billy wants a courtyard and an entertainment room. It comes down to communication.
Step 1.  Use a whiteboard or some other large writing space to discuss what each member of the family's needs, wants, and can't do withouts.
Step 2.  Edit, edit, edit.

Example of negotiating, even on something you can't do without: the library in my dream home (a nonnegotiable for me) does not have to be a huge space.  It could line a hallway as long as there was some acoustic privacy and places to read quietly & comfortably.

  1. the budget (you can't afford everything), 
  2. the site (you can't fit everything), and 
  3. the goal is to have a well designed home (you don't want a patchwork quilt of rooms, you want a home that functions well, with delightful spaces regardless of their use, which may change over time).

Talk about tradeoffs.  For example,
  • if we do the hot tub, we won't be able to afford the cool lightwell
  • if we have a "great room," we won't also have acoustic privacy in our public spaces
  • if we incorporate daylighting, we spend more on windows but less on electricity
  • if we choose cementitious siding instead of wood, it will last longer & require minimal maintenance, but we might not prefer the aesthetic

5.  Team

There are many different types of building teams.  A few are listed below:

  • architect- or designer-led team; after the design phase, they are your advocate with the contractor, with whom you have a separate contract.
  • design-build team; construction begins almost immediately, one point of contact, design phase is typically limited.
  • contractor only; typically "custom home" built from standard plans with some choice in finishes/appliances
  • real estate team can help you find the right neighborhood and property

How to hire an architect, part 1 & part 2  (I never got around to writing part 3)

Note:  Never ever ever agree to a price without a contract.  Do not be tempted to shake on it.
A contract (and its associated set of drawings and specifications) makes sure that the communications with your team are clear and binding: both what you are paying and what you will get.
Without a contract, the builder does not need your permission to incur unlimited additional costs. Without a contract, you may not get what was agreed to verbally, and there is a high possibility that communication on both sides will be unclear.

happy building,

How to Find Your Inspiration: Two Other Sources

Both of these books are on outdoor spaces, because that's what I happen to be reading about this year.  But their approaches to discovering what you really want are very applicable to homes!

1.   From a book called Garden Retreats: Creating an Outdoor Sanctuary

by Barbara Blossom Ashmun (2000)

Chapter 1. Finding Your Style

Inspiration comes in calm and quiet, from dreams and daydreams.
Center to focus by doing something ordinary & repetitive like weeding or raking.
Fertilize your imagination with images of beautiful gardens, in person or in pictures. Photograph or sketch what pleases and frame the scenes you like.
All the arts to inspire.  A painting by Monet?

Start with what you love.
My own musings on this section:  I miss the South.  I love lushness and an abundance/variety of greens.  (Especially since the desert can feel so sparse and grey).  I miss Spanish moss and the canopy of live oaks.
Place Appropriate:  I love landscapes that fit their place, though.  I don't want to transplant Louisiana here; I want to develop a lushness that fits Utah.  I have begun to find leafy plants that can thrive in dry shade.

Echoes of childhood
Images from the natural world that we knew in youth carry strong feelings that echo within us years later and make us feel at home.
Granny's house:  I loved the "nature" that was the fenced pasture, and the freedom to explore its limits combined with the safety they provided.
Where did you go to relax and just be, to get away and let your mind drift?  Where did you spend the long summer days and evenings when you were seven and seventeen?
Where did you wander to explore new places, to hike or swim or bike?  Picture a few of those places and remember how you felt, what your sense told you.
See how you could invite some of those feelings and images into your garden retreat today to bring back the mood.

Recreating a place visited
Perhaps you too have been struck by a place that felt just right.  It doesn't matter if it was a book, a film, or an actual country that transported you.
Consider the atmosphere and the mood of that destination.
  • What was the landscape like there--was it flat or hilly, forested or open, lush or sparse?
  • What materials were the houses, walls, fences and paths made of?
  • What trees, shrubs, vines and flowers grew there that you could include in your actual garden?
  • Imagine the scents and sounds that would remind you of this place.
  • Consider how you could bring some its unique atmosphere back home with you and make it part of your own garden retreat.

Remember that nothing need be duplicated.  Creating a garden retreat gives you a chance to borrow the essence of a place that grabs your imagination and use it as a jumping-off point.  
Recognizing the feelings that pique your interest will help you find the mood that suits you.  When you feel goose bumps or sudden tears or a sigh of pleasure, take note, and let your intuition guide you.

The old-fashioned country garden is a retreat for strolling, with many stops along the way.  Paths wind, inviting you to wander & explore, then rest & gaze.

Each person prefers a particular landscape.
One is drawn to rocky outcroppings while another favored the lush, damp forest.
A strong love for PARTICULAR aspects of nature helps clients make choices.  One woman remodeled her entire home & property because she loved the view of Mount Hood and wanted to maximize it.
  • Where have your favorite places in nature been? 
  • What did they look like?  
  • What were the scents & sounds of those places?
Be inspired by gardens as depicted by art.  Monet created his own garden inspired by Japanese wood block prints of water, bridges, mountains & trees.
Take note of your artistic leanings.  A love of sculpture might suggest garden structures and architectural plants with delineated forms.  Love of textiles suggest similar textures in foliage.

2.  From a book called Jamie Durie’s The Outdoor Room

2011, Host of “The Outdoor Room” on HGTV

Chapter One: From Inspiration to Interpretation
I believe that a practiced eye and an inspired spirit are more important than DIY skills when you first start to think about what you want in your outdoor room—na├»ve unaffected ideas equal raw creativity. Find inspiration in the everyday.
Become truly aware of what’s around you, or to hone in on what you love in terms of nature, color, style, form, and feeling.  It takes conscious effort to be aware.  After awhile, looking at the world through the lens of design and gardening possibilities becomes ingrained in your psyche—you just do it wherever you are.

Learning to Look
When anything—be it a song, person, story, or place—inspires you, it’s a message conveying something important about who you are and what you like.  
We sometimes underestimate how strongly we hold only the images and experience that move us.  Seemingly disparate, they very often form a cohesive picture when taken together.  Whether we realized it or not, we are constantly referring to our own personal “hard drive” of sensory experience.  If you do so with intension, you can collect enough inspirational moments to serve as the foundation of your personal style.  

Capture the ideas that occur to you with notes, sketches or photos.  If you don’t capture them, they have a habit of being forgotten.  
Take the time to analyze:
What is it about the object, scene, thought, or setting that is inspiring to you?  The shape? The color? Maybe it’s the texture or proportion?  Note that as well.

Create a scrapbook, mood or vision board of your design with photographs, rudimentary sketches, magazine pages, and color swatches of your favorite inspirational elements.  As you add these various visual components to your moodboard, you’ll begin to instinctively know when something isn’t right, is too much, or is incompatible.  
Edit yourself so you end up with only the best of all your inspirational elements—the most concise color and texture palette and well-curated list of key focal points, plants and design elements.  Transform your creative vision into a cohesive reality.

Inspiration can come from a weed in a crack of the sidewalk, from a shadow on a wall, the serration of a leaf.  Paintings, a visit to a beautiful garden…
It’s difficult to pick and choose the elements of these complex, layered, and awe-inspiring gardens, especially the elaborate public ones, and apply them to your own situation because the spaces are seamless.  Their “wholeness” is a hallmark of their success.

Ask yourself:
  • What are the roof walls and floors made from?
  • How is the lighting used?
  • What are the garden’s predominant architectural features?
  • How do people move in the space? 
  • What plants are used, and how are they placed?
  • How is the water used?
  • What don’t I like?

Picture the type of spaces you have most positively responded to.  Imagine its physical shape.  Mentally move it outside and add green.

No comments:

Post a Comment


It's somewhat ambiguous, but the definition of affordability has to be related to income, right? Income as well as other debt & ob...