10 Tips on Building a Custom Home

Building a custom home is exciting but also incredibly stressful. I’ll be honest, the process is not always fun but is very rewarding and absolutely worth it. I had a pretty clear vision of what I wanted as far as layout, neighborhood, style, and size. If you don’t, that’s ok! These 10 tips should get you there.

Oh, and by the way, most of these were taken with my iPhone ?.

Home Construction

Obviously, I created a Pinterest board and stayed up late pinning details of custom houses that I loved. I searched for paint colors, flooring, fireplace design, trim work, mudrooms, tile and lighting for hours at a time. Then, I scoured design blogs for inspiration and wanted to be involved every single step of the way. I even had my husband draw my mudroom concept! We were that annoying family who showed up on the lot daily to see the progress Lol. I believed it was important to monitor the construction to avoid any surprises.

Mudroom Build-Ins Concept

Mudroom with Herringbone

Brick Floors

Custom Tip #1

When choosing a builder, make sure you find one that is reputable and do some research. If you plan to be heavily involved (like I was) warn your builder in advance to make sure it won’t cause conflict. I know I annoyed ours but building a custom home is a huge investment and there was not one thing in our house I left for anyone else to decide. Sometimes I would joke that I could be a construction project manager because I was so involved! I even scheduled installation dates! I think it’s important to make sure you communicate your planned involvement ahead of time so you can find a builder that you can work with for the next year. Establishing expectations can be beneficial to both you and your builder. Also, I strongly suggest keeping documentation of any correspondence between yourself and your builder. It protects you and him from any misunderstandings.

Deck Construction

Custom Tip #2

Create a Pinterest board not about decor but about architectural styles and details you like. For example, the staircase railing, crown molding, front doors, flooring. Ignore the decor in the photo and pin the photo of the bathroom layout you like.

Custom Tip #3

Create an old-school binder with tabs. Yep, I found my builder actually appreciated this. You can’t really say, “I want a coffered ceiling” because there are hundreds of coffered ceilings that are all different based on room size, budget, and style. Having physical photos your builder can reference allows him to build it to your specifications. I had tabs for each room of my home.

Coffered Ceiling in Formal Dining Room

If I knew a very specific product I wanted to be used, I would print a picture along with the appropriate vendor and keep it under the file tab to that room. I was also very specific with paint color, brand and included the color number as well.

Building a Fireplace with Built-Ins

Fireplace With Built-Ins

Arm Sconces

For example, I printed out three photos and filed them all under “fireplace”. So, for my ideal fireplace, I’d really like the trim work on one photo, the other photo has the cabinet doors with the shelving I like and the last one I’d point out the fireplace stone I wanted used. I took a black marker and circled each specific detail on each photo to make it very apparent.

Custom Tip #4

Try not to overwhelm your spouse/partner. Depending on how involved your partner or spouse is, I’d suggest limiting your options to no more than 4 when asking their opinion. My husband was more interested in what superhero movies are coming out soon than in eighteen similar tile options for a bathroom. When I started to dwindle down my options, he was more interested in helping me actually select something. Also, just because your favorite topic might be discussing the house, it may not be his/hers ?.

Custom Tip #5

Expect delays and going over total budget. They obviously go hand in hand. As our home was being built, I decided to add 2 windows to our stairwell. I knew this was a decision that should have been made prior to installation but didn’t realize I needed them until I saw it completed. So, adding the windows caused delays. He had to order the windows, cut into the house and postpone production on installing the brick. But I will be honest with you, from a financial standpoint it is more affordable to get it done while building instead of hiring it out later. I wish I paid more attention to things like that beforehand. So, if you are building and have a stairwell, add a window or two before they start framing! Plus, it makes a huge difference.

Entryway Construction

Open Entry Way Concept

Door Handle | Wood Bead Chandelier

Custom Tip #6

Source your own finishes and choose your vendors. Some builders may ask you to choose from a list of their preferred vendors. There is no way I could do that, it would end up more expensive for me to have my husband take them all down and buy new ones to replace the builder grade ones.

Farm House Sink in White Quartzite

Kohler Farmhouse Sink

I found a builder who allowed me to choose my own. I sourced almost all of my own finishes. In fact, if you can purchase things “out of pocket”, I suggest doing so. We purchased every light fixture, our farmhouse sink, all of the faucets, fence, door knobs and freestanding bathtub ourselves (This also enabled us to use the budget for these items to be used elsewhere). It definitely adds up, but we were able to use the profit we made from the sale of our previous home for everything (and paid off all debt! Bye student loans!). This allowed us the opportunity to get what we really wanted. We had several months before the builder needed them for install so I took my time. It was very rewarding to see the house evolve as they installed everything we had been buying. My vision was coming to life!

Custom Tip #7

Give special attention to the layout of your home. Not just for your lifestyle today but for the future too! Think about how this home will evolve with your family. For example, I knew I wanted a playroom for my daughter off the upstairs living room. I wanted it to be a more open space and not necessarily a bedroom so that it is visible if we are in the accompanying room.

Large Frame Doorway

I decided to go with sliding doors but asked my builder to case the opening to fit french doors. Eventually, I will tire of the sliding door trend and replace them with double doors. She will also outgrow her playroom one day (which she adorably calls her “office”).

Sliding Doors

At that point, we may turn it into her bedroom since it is quite a bit larger than her current bedroom. We could close the opening to make it a single door but only time will tell. I wanted to make sure there was room for us to grow. Carefully plan your layout for functionality, like where your laundry room should go so it’s convenient or what floor the master bedroom should be. Think about how the rooms may change as your kids get older. Also, learn lessons from previous homes. What worked for you and what didn’t? Our first house had a tiny built-in pantry that hid most of what you were looking for. This house, we have a 7.5-foot walk-in pantry. I see everything and there is plenty of storage.

Custom Tip #8

Be wary of trends. I prefer to keep trends in decor (switch out a pillow cover, wall art or area rug) but not so much in the structure of a home. Look, all things will become dated at some point. Even the TV on your wall. I really tried to pick “classic” things that stand the test of time. Hardwood floors have been around forever and are always a good look! I didn’t want to invest in trendy fixtures. I’m not saying to not indulge in sometrends but unless you plan on forking over a ton of cash in 3-5 years for all new lighting, I’d limit it to just a few.

Living Room Construction

Open Kitchen and Living Room Concept

Island Pendant Light

Custom Tip #9

Get exactly what you are envisioning. My builder suggested a massive window in the living room to fill the wall space to our deck but I had envisioned another set of double french doors. I understood and respected my builder’s expertise but I had a vision of a perfectly symmetrical back wall with beautiful transoms above each door set. At night I would literally dream about fun deck parties in the summer where we could open both sets of doors! I also wanted glass-paned double front doors and refused carpet on my stairs when my builder was really pushing for it. Have you ever vacuumed stairs?! It is awkward and awful. I much prefer sweeping it all off and then vacuuming at the bottom of the staircase. So, my last suggestion is to stay firm about what you want as long as it is in your budget and you can afford it. The designer/builder relationship is notorious for being unstable at times(especially in custom builds). Both parties are experts but at the end of the day this is your house and your investment. Do what works for you and your family!

Double Set of French Style Doors

Custom Tip #10

You will likely lose sleep overthinking everything. I’ll preface this with the fact that I really had this house designed in my head before they even touched our lot. If I felt like it wasn’t coming along as I envisioned it, I’d panic. I’d talk incessantly to my husband about it (see tip #4 lol) and want to constantly text my builder to make absolutely sure there was zero confusion (fortunately my husband would stop me and tell me to be patient/relax/chill out).

For example, after the framing started, I was convinced it was smaller than what the blueprints showed. I’d even go out and measure like a legit psycho. It was always right on or in our favor. Our house is approximately 3,300 sq feet and actually ended up just a bit larger than expected. The point is, during the process you’ll question your choices because it’s so difficult to gage a final look while it’s in process. I’d lay in bed unable to sleep contemplating paint colors to door knobs. I wish I knew then that it would all work out. Just remember, your builder wants your home as beautiful as you do. It’s ultimately their business and reputation.

This process will undoubtedly be one of the hardest experiences you will ever face. Would I do it again? Absolutely, although my husband might say otherwise. This custom home is exactly what we want and need for the foreseeable future (husband says forever, but let’s not get crazy!) and I worked very hard for it. I love my home and hopefully, these tips will help you love your custom home as well!

Brick Stone Clay Siding and Shake


8 Responses

  1. Laurel says:

    Honestly, looks so great Katie…. and I love your tips. They really are focused and well thought out!!! XOXO Laurel (from Cutthroat)

  2. DecorKate says:

    Thanks, Laurel!!

  3. Laura Ainsworth says:

    Wish I had your knowledge when ours was being built. I have so many questions. The builder kept talking me out of things. It ended up being what he wanted and although stunning I wanted a bit simpler. We’ve since moved (lol)

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