Design A Custom Home for the Holidays


I love the holidays as we decorate our home with what I call our story teller’s theme. Our holiday ornaments are a wonderful collection reflecting each year’s milestones for our kids as well as souvenir ornaments from all our travels and trips to Disney World. We even have a few precious ornaments that date back 5 generations.  Once we have decorated, it is time to open our home for gatherings with family and friends. Yes Christmas is a big tradition at the Atkins’ home. It is such a cherished time of the year that we planned “Christmas” (or shall we say entertaining) design features in our personal home. In the spirit holiday of giving, I will share some of those with you so that you might add a few of them to your custom home wish list.

Planning electrical for the holidays is easy. Where will you plug in your Christmas tree(s)? Be sure to map out enough outlets in just the right locations to eliminate unnecessary extension cords running across the floors. Be sure to think beyond just the Christmas tree if you have other holiday décor that requires plugs. I had a client that loved to have an electrical candle stick in each window of the front of her home. It had been a family tradition so we included an outlet under each front elevation window.


Do you like a lit garland on your banister? How nice would it be to not only have an outlet at the top or bottom of the stairs, but also have that plug switched with a timer. How about electrical in your fireplace mantle? Typically we plan the exterior electrical the same by placing outlets in the roof overhangs for Christmas lights and connect these plugs to a timer switch in the garage. If you love the festive holiday décor throughout your landscaping, adding just a few strategically placed exterior outlets down low to help eliminate electrical cords running across sidewalks. The timer switches are not only convenient, but help save energy by automatically turning the holiday lights off every night at your preset time.

Now lets talk the next best thing about the season, great conversation and food. We all know no matter how large or small a home is, the kitchen is where everyone gathers. When planning your kitchen be sure to think about these special gatherings. Plan coffee and desert space out of your work triangle. A butler pantry is the perfect solution. As shown below, this butler pantry is located out of the main work triangle but between the kitchen area and formal dinning room.


Map out food service flow for buffet style gatherings so that you have easy movement. In my kitchen I have plenty of space on each side of my stove so that plates and silverware are on one side to start the line. Then they can either serve right off the stove or island. Then I place napkins, salt and pepper and other misc. items at the opposite end of the line. Lastly, I planned space for drinks and glasses beside the fridge, but still out of the work triangle.

If you have multiple cooks in your kitchen to add fun and conversation to your gatherings, consider that when designing your personalized kitchen. An extra veggie sink with disposal, second pull out trash and barstool space for helpers to sit while chopping fruits and vegetables are just a few elements to consider. With just a bit of planning your holiday festivities and decorations will have that special touch that makes your custom home extra special.

Merry Christmas!

Tips for Selecting a Designer and Contractor.

This is huge! Find a designer or architect that also understands current cost of construction. Our industry is full of stories of designers or architects that have no concept of current construction and amenities cost. They just design away. They stay within your square foot limit, but have no idea how much of their client’s money they are spending. The homeowner spends months planning every detail of their dream home and finally starts getting bids from contractors only to be completely devastated at the cost estimates. This same concept applies to the selecting a builder just based on price. Some contractors only build cheaply constructed homes with a couple of pretty popular features like granite and stainless steel appliances and they bid according to their standards. Please, please, please ask yourself “what am I NOT getting for my money”!!!! Why is this person so much cheaper than the other guy? If you disregard my warning all I can say is “you get what you pay for” and this is especially true when it comes to selecting a contractor. Knowledgeable and experienced designers, architects and builders are truly priceless during this process. I absolutely love what I do, but it still surprises me when people plan their dream home by shopping price and get so excited that they find a designer or builder that can get them a smokin’ deal.  The best case is to have your designer/architect and builder work with you as a team throughout the process. Consider selecting a builder first to insure construction costs are being properly tracked during the design phase. Knowledgeable professionals are great resources for researching what makes a quality home.

Planning A Custom Home Tips


Make a List of Your Current Home’s Love/Hate List.

This little trick is thinking a bit out of the box for some, but can be very helpful in the design. Most people are driven to design a custom home because of things that bug them about the current place of residence. By letting the designer know what to avoid in the beginning can save design time. This list may have common things like: hate having to walk thru my laundry from the garage” or “hate having a door to the bathroom right of the dining room”. The list might also include: hate having no place to put the Christmas tree without running extension cords across the floor” or “ hate for people to see all the kids school stuff piled by the back door”. On the other hand, despite oddities in your current home, you may have a few things that you love. Making note of these will be worth listing.

Budgeting for a Custom Home

Write down your budget!

Let’s talk about the sticky subject of budget. I realize this can tend to be a total downer when talking about designing one’s dream home, but it is important to begin by writing this number down so that all parties (architect, contractor, interior designer, etc.) are all on the same page. It is very very  important to have your home designed by someone with current knowledge of construction cost. This is true regardless how large or small your budget is. I consider it a tragedy when family spends precious time and money designing a home only to find out from a contractor that they can’t possibly afford it.

How Budget Numbers Work

To look closer at how budget numbers work you have three main elements that set your total construction cost: the site, the structure design and the finish level. It’s very important to consider all these elements to establish the final project cost.

The site cost:

  1. The site obviously has the cost of purchasing the lot or land.
  2. There is the cost to prepare the land for construction? This can vary a great deal. As a good rule of thumb, flat lots with no trees are the least expensive. The more trees and terrain changes the more expensive the land prep will be.
  3. H.O.A. and city requirements for finished landscaping and fencing will need to be planned for.

The structure design:

  1. One story plans are more expensive than two stories due to more foundation and more roofing.
  2. Structure shape is a factor, with simple box to rectangle being the least expensive while U-shape or design with lots of ins and outs are more expensive. This is due to more perimeter material required and typically a much more complex roof design.
  3. Covered porches, outdoor living areas and oversized garages skew the cost per square foot numbers. The cost per square foot is figured based off of the interior living space or “conditional space”. Conditioned meaning air conditioned or heated space. These extra elements added to a house cost extra money that will raise the overall cost per square foot calculation. Many production homes are advertised at very low prices per square foot which make them very appealing at a glance. However, the base prices advertised will not typically include these features.
  4. Exterior materials range a great deal in cost as well. The lists of options are long and vary by regional. Homes clad in a vinyl siding will be considerable less expensive than and home with stone. That number can sky rock more if it’s an imported stone with cast stone accents. Doors and windows also vary tremendously based off quality, style and quantity.
  5. Roof design. The higher the pitch or slope the more expensive. The materials selected have an even greater impact. A low sloping asphalt shingle roof will be considerable less than a metal roof. If you go up to a tiled roof you not only have the cost of the tile, but also the cost of the additional structure to support it weight.
  6. Insulation, energy efficiency and mechanicals. I could write an entire book on the importance of this subject and many people have. I strongly recommend planning to budget for this. Not only will your dream home feel more comfortable but your monthly expenses for utilities will be considerable less. Your payback starts month 1. A knowledgeable contractor can put together an energy package that is easily tailored to your budget. There are many great options available.

The finish level:

  1. What products and materials used to dress the interior seem almost endless these days. The price ranges are vast.
  2. The amount of built-ins/cabinetry and their materials.
  3. Appliance choices.
  4. Lighting design.
  5. Plumbing selections.

All these elements combine together have impact on the cost per square foot of a home.  So you are probably asking, why is that such a big deal? Well let’s look at 2 very basic examples. In this example, let’s say we have a 4000 s.f. single story house and we will just compare a few elements.

Example A: small kitchen with 40 linear feet of painted kitchen cabinets with a basic white kitchen appliance package of $3500 dollars, plastic laminate counter tops throughout the house. The flooring is all carpet with sheet vinyl in wet areas like the kitchen and baths. No covered porches or garage space.

Example B: large kitchen plan with 80 linear feet of stained cherry wood cabinets. Half of the cabinets to have custom inserts, like a pop out shelf for a large mixer or butcher block carving knife organizer. The commercial grade stainless steel appliance package is $35,000. All counter tops throughout the house are granite. All flooring is wood flooring with travertine tiles in all the wet areas. Lastly, let’s add a covered porch with built in grill and fireplace and a great 4 car garage.

Now we are still talking a 4000 s.f home, but we certainly are not talking the same cost per square. By establishing your budget in the beginning your custom home can be designed and finished to fit your budget. Trust me a home design and built with in budget is much more enjoyable to live in.

Idea And Wish List Pictures

Idea and Wish List Pictures.

This is fun and can be a family activity that is combined with your prioritized written wish list. Most people have saved at least a few pictures over time. Now is your time to start a visual portfolio of your dream home. The question I often get is ” how many pictures and how detailed?” The number of pictures will vary depending on the size of the home. I think it’s better to think through categories of rooms and details. Important: you do not need find pictures of everything, just a few pictures to help convey the general style and any specific wish list items. My typical client initially arrives with 7 to 10 starter pictures with a few clients having as many as 20 for larger homes. I did have a client that had been saving pages from magazines long enough that she had filled at least two 3” ring binders. This is certainly information overload and very overwhelming. If you find yourself with too many pictures or images on your web account, I recommend thinning things out. If you find that hard to do, sit down with your designer or builder and discuss which items probably don’t fit in your budget.  There are lots of pretty pictures out there that look great but create construction challenges that can be expensive. For your photos, some specific examples that will be needed include:

Kitchen and master bath pictures that show cabinet doors styles, room layout, ceiling designs,


Doors and trim pictures,

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Exterior ideas that show elevations, materials (brick, stone, siding, etc), details (lighting, accent corbels, colors) and even landscaping

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Room details like ceilings, window arrangements, fireplaces, mantel designs, built ins,


stair handrail designs, light fixture styles, general color schemes or feel of a room and more. Again, not every little detail. There will also be items on your wish list that you won’t need pictures for.

Most of the time you will be selecting from items from showrooms or catalogs that are currently available unless you are fortunate enough to have a budget that allows for importing or craftsmen to custom make them.  I would like to highlight the importance of making notes on each picture as to exactly what you like about the picture. An example story, I had a client who saved an ad from a stair company for her handrail design. We bid the project based on the main picture which showed a standard wood design, but what she really liked was the small image of a custom wrought iron example off to the left. There was a huge price difference. Another example, you find a kitchen picture that you love the hood design, not the rest of the picture. Be sure to note that detail.

The final step in compiling your picture file is to organize into categories of rooms (kitchen, living,  garage, etc.) and details (doors, lighting, etc.). The online idea books offer this option as well. This information along with your finished plans makes shopping for selections much less over whelming by having options narrowed down by style before hand. As a final note, you will vary likely be adding pictures as you through the design process as questions are asked from your designer or architect. These added pictures are used to make details workout and for budget clarifications.

Starting A Custom Home Design.


So you want to build a custom home. In working with clients I love the design challenge of blending people’s wish list, budget and personal style into a final package they will call their custom home. It is the joy of creating someone’s “home” that really makes my work amazing. My goal is make designing a custom home a smooth process. The basics of getting started is to compile and organize information needed to plan your wonderful dream home. I would like to note that the information in my blog can often times apply to remodel designs as well. Let the fun begin!

Step 1: Put together a wish list and prioritize it.

Why prioritize it? Everyone starts out with a wish list and 90% of the time it is like a pile of pickup sticks just heaped up in front of them and they don’t really know what to do next. If you can put in an order of importance, #1 being the one thing you won’t compromise on and as you go down the list you end with the item that will be nice to have, but if it breaks your budget you can eliminate.

Step 2: You will need idea and wish list pictures.

As you have heard, a picture is worth a thousand words. In design that is even more important. Label each picture with specifics indicating exactly what you like about the picture. Pictures not only gives a designer an idea of your personal style, but also how expensive your style might be. With the internet you can set up idea accounts with such websites as Houzz and Zillow. More website options seem to come on line every month. These are great because your designer or architect can log in to your account and view all your pictures and notes. Later you can use this information for your builder.

Step 3: Write down your budget.

Let’s talk about the sticky subject of budget. I realize this can tend to be a total downer when talking about designing one’s dream home, but It is important to begin with this number on the table. It is even more important to have your home designed by someone with current knowledge of construction cost. I consider it a tragedy when family spends precious time and money designing a home only to find out from a contractor that they can’t possibly afford it.

In up coming blogs, I will give a bit more details the these first 3 steps on getting started. For today you can start the process to a dream home!