Know when to say when

Building a house is a big deal and you want to get it right. Trust me, I've been in your shoes. Other than client projects, I've been an owner-builder on five personal homes. There's so much to think about and so many details to consider. Will the home be your full-time residence or a rental? Will you keep it for many years or is it ultimately for resale? Those are the some of the "big-picture" considerations. Then there are the questions of style, function and overall use.

Starting out right

It's important to think of how you really live in a space and what makes that use comfortable & practical. Do you have a large family or like to entertain often? In that case, you'll want to concentrate on a larger kitchen and bathrooms. If you're a person who likes to stock up on groceries, then you'll want to consider a well-sized pantry. However, if you prefer to shop as you go, then you can use that square footage in a different way. How will the bedrooms be used? Do you need to integrate built-in bunk beds?

Then there are the detail & design elements. Shower design, lighting preferences, audio/visual requirements, etc. While I realize this can all seem overwhelming, it's also important to learn the art of making the best decision for a given item and move on. I've seen it happen many times that a homeowner will decide on a very functional plan and then, through a sequence of changes, tweaks and re-tweaks, end up with a plan that is much less so.

Lean on the pros

Architects and designers aren't infallible in their process, but they generally do arrive at a particular design through a series of logical steps. There is usually an intrinsic talent for space and scale, as well as years of training and experience. These are valuable commodities which you as a homeowner are exchanging your hard-earned money for. Just in the way you wouldn't ignore advice from a tax attorney, it's prudent to listen to your team of home design professionals.

Very often, when walls are moved or roof pitches altered, these changes set off a chain of events that must be thoughtfully considered. Home design is definitely a discipline where one thing leads to another. This is when it becomes very important, therefore, to have a second or third set of eyes review the plan. Architects, interior designers and contractors all look at a set of blueprints from a different perspective - and each can help ensure that the home not only meets certain architectural guidelines, but is also structurally sound and beautifully livable at the same time.

The value of a plan review

So far, I've discussed changes during the design phase. These are the easiest and least expensive to implement. Where homeowners really get into hot water are when changes are made once construction has begun. Earlier this year, I was brought into a project after the home was framed and siding was on. During my first site visit with them, they had just given the contractor a list of window changes they wanted, which cost them several thousand dollars. And honestly, had I had any input at that point, I would have suggested a few other window changes as well.

On another project that I was brought into several months after construction began, the owners had moved a wall to make additional space in an ensuite bathroom. Admittedly, this did create a lovely nook for a soaking tub, however once sheetrock was installed and we began discussing furnishings, we discovered that while they were concentrating on the bathroom, they didn't realize they had eliminated crucial square footage in the adjacent bathroom rendering it nearly useless for even a queen size bed. Regret is heavy...especially when it's also expensive.

Know the plan, stick to the plan

Then, there's also the very real phenomena of "paralysis by analysis". It's distressing. It keeps owners up at night. It can cause a construction project to come to a grinding halt. But the good news's also totally avoidable! We all know there are a million choices out there and they're flooding our inboxes, web searches & cable channels. It seems that each month, there is a new "trend" that is the "must-have" look. These are all nice to consider, but the most important thing to get to the core of is - Is this you? Dorothy Draper once famously said, "I believe in doing the thing you feel is right. If it looks right, it is right."

As a designer, I always try to identify my client's personality in combination with the design and overall use of the home. Part of my job is to keep the train on the tracks and keep my clients focused on the goals we identified at the beginning of the project. The constant distraction of shiny objects or the next cool thing is hard to resist. It's also sometimes hard to resist the peril of getting hung up on the smallest of elements. Yes, details matter. My career is largely based on focusing on the details. However, it is very possible to spend three weeks considering a door knob simply because you're afraid of making the wrong choice.

Relax & enjoy!

Draper gave us another nugget of wisdom which she said, "I always think out a problem as clearly as possible, and then act on it. My theory has always been to get started." I can't tell you how many times a client has compared two light fixtures to death only to finally decide on one and later barely remember the second. In reality, both were very good choices - the difficulty was in the anxiety of making the decision.

As an ending note, I'd encourage homeowners to rely on their trusted professionals, make the most informed & logical choice at the time and relax & enjoy the process. I truly love home design & construction and want each of my clients to love it as well. Lastly, I'll leave you with a final word from the legendary Draper, "Good liquor is not cheap. Cheap liquor is not good." Not sure that it has anything to do with design, but it's true & made me laugh so...


At Lemongrass, I offer a flat-fee plan review service that can help eliminate potential headaches, missteps and potentially thousands of dollars in change-orders and delays. Contact me today to schedule your review.