If you’ve decided to build a new home, or are thinking about building your new house, it’s a very exciting prospect. Being in control of the design considerations that are most important to you is empowering!
It can also be intimidating – building a home is a big undertaking and investment – and you want to ensure that your new home will live up to your vision.
Below, we’ve set out some key questions to ask when designing a house to help ensure that you are thrilled with the final product.
Whether you plan to purchase a house design online, or engage an architect or other design professional, it’s a good idea to start with a design brief.
Sometimes referred to as a “functional program”, a design brief is simply a document that describes your background information, space needs, any specific requirements you may have for your home, and aspects that are important to you when you picture living in your new home.
When designing a house, the process of working through your design brief is invaluable as it gives you an opportunity to reflect on how you live, what you value, and how your home will support your lifestyle and values.
A functional program is also a great tool to get alignment with your partner or family – as it can often unearth considerations that you may not have been aware of and allows you to create alignment of vision before you make any major decisions about your home design or construction.
Think of your design brief as a roadmap: it’s a tool that is going to help you get to your destination (that amazing dream home you’ve worked so hard towards) without too many wrong turns or detours along the way.
Going through the process of completing a design brief will also give you the opportunity to identify which spaces and aspects of the functional program are ‘must haves’ and which are ‘nice to haves’ when designing a home – for some folks a large kitchen is a must have, while for others accessibility and a main floor bedroom is the number one priority.
A design brief will help you to determine the ideal size of each room in your home, based on how you will use those rooms and who will use them.
When developing your design brief, be sure to identify any furniture, art, appliances or equipment that you want integrated into your new home. Is there a special piece of art you would like to be a centre piece in your living room design, for example? Now is the time to identify these important items to ensure you take them into account when designing your new home.
Aside from helping you better understand your needs, all of this information is also helpful in establishing a budget and prioritizing space and design aspects to fit your budget.
If you are working with a design professional, the design brief helps your design team paint a picture of you, their client, and design around that picture. If you are purchasing a home design online, the design brief is the tool you can use to assess various plan options and make sure that the plan you purchase will measure up to your needs and your expectations once it is constructed.
There isn’t a right or wrong way to prepare a design brief – make it fun and meaningful to you.
If you are a lover of words and text, use language to paint a picture of how you wish to feel in your new home.
A really great design brief takes into consideration the things that are most important to all the members of the family.
Sharing ideas with your partner and amongst household members is exciting and encouraging alignment at this early stage can really streamline the design and construction process. It’s also the best way to ensure everyone in the family is happy with the end-product (your dream home!) and reduces the likelihood of costly changes and delays during design and construction.
Now that you know why a design brief is important, what questions should you consider as you create it?
Nope, we don’t mean “what is the value of my new home?” – rather, “What do I value in my life? What gives it meaning?” No, this isn’t a therapy session (though certainly a great opportunity to reflect and to connect with your household) – we really just want you to love your home because it supports what is meaningful to you and adds richness to your life. And those considerations are as individual as each one of us.
At its best, a house reflects our values and supports the aspects of our lives that are important to us.
When designing a home with a design brief, write a bit about yourselves in your brief. This lets you evaluate if you are being honest with yourself about what you want and need. For example, many people believe they want a house that is well suited to dinner parties; but when reflecting on how they most enjoy socializing, casual gatherings in the living room, kitchen, or outdoors are when they have the most fun.
Some example considerations to get the ball rolling when designing a home are set out below:
While it is exciting and engaging to think about our values and envision how our home will support how we aspire to live our life, eventually we all need to address some “big picture” considerations that will frame some firm criteria that you have for your home design, and influence other key decisions in your home design process. We’ve outlined some of these important considerations below:
Most new home customers need to do a cost/benefit analysis when building a new home. This may be due to lot size constraints, budget considerations, or both. Below is a list of aspects to consider when tough decisions need to be made. We recommend that you:
There are likely great reasons that you purchased your property. Reflect on these aspects and consider how the placement and orientation of your house can take advantage of those reasons. Consider your house design and how it might provide access to views and connections to the outdoors
Also consider how different features of your property can benefit your home design, and your experience living in your new home. For example, do you have a large tree or trees on your property that can provide shade? Given your local climate and lifestyle, where should outdoor living spaces be located?
Do you love basking in sunshine, or would you prefer keeping cool in the shade?
One question that many new homeowners neglect to think about is how they feel about daylight. Most people love the idea of basking in sunshine, but in reality they often prefer seeing daylight but not having that light shining directly into their home.
Consider the orientation of your windows, window coverings, and whether your windows are shaded by overhangs, trees, or exterior shading devices to suit your relationship with the sun.
You may be surprised to know that the distance that daylight will penetrate into your house for north-facing windows is very similar to that of a south-facing window (approximately 1.5x the window head height). Some other useful facts for you to consider are set out below:
Click here for more in-depth information on daylighting.
You may ask yourself different questions and prioritize decisions differently if this is a house you plan to grow old in, or if this is a house that you plan to sell in 5-10 years.
Aspects related to resale, the residential market and target buyers will come into play if this is not your forever home, but you still want to love this house and it needs to support you and your family while you reside there.
If this is your forever home, you’ll want to consider how this home supports your life now, while it remains flexible as your lifestyle and needs change, and as you age.
It’s often a good idea to picture life in five-year increments. When reflecting on your golden years, consider how easy or difficult it will be to perform every-day functions to ensure that you love your home as much then as you do now.
Building on the above, it’s often a good idea to reflect on life in five-year increments.
Now that you’ve taken the time to create a design brief, and frame out your priorities, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty questions that must be answered before you decide on your new home design.
You may be surprised that we don’t suggest you lead with these considerations. While practical considerations like budget and lot size will almost certainly be at the back of your mind as you work through questions around values and priorities, we don’t want you to end-run your values because you started out by feeling like these practical considerations are limiting factors.
With this in mind make sure you answer the following questions before deciding on your home design:
The size of your site along with your municipality’s bylaws and regulations will impact how big of a house you can build on your property.
You can find information about your lot in your real property report or a legal survey of your site. This information is often provided along with your title documents when you purchase your property.
Your municipality will publish the required setbacks for your site – this is typically governed by your land use zoning. Municipal bylaws will also typically limit the maximum height of your house, as well as the maximum amount of area (ie: percentage of lot coverage) your house can cover on your property.
Helpful note: Municipal bylaws are usually written in a way that is easy to understand. You will want to determine what your land use zoning is and read the general residential requirements, followed by the specific requirements for your zoning.
Architectural guidelines, also known as design rules or architectural standards, establish a community’s requirements for homes built in that community. Guidelines often include aesthetic considerations when designing a house, which may vary from one community to another.
These architectural standards may also impose set back, height, or other design limitations that will impact the design and construction of your home. Ideally, you will be aware of these standards before you purchase your lot.
The number of stories you chose to build will be influenced by a number of factors:
In addition to the more practical considerations outlined above, lifestyle and longevity may also influence the type of home you build:
Use your budget as a way to understand and determine what (how large, and to what finish quality) you can build.
Some preliminary research can give you a good understanding about typical construction costs in your area. Consider checking out the links that we've provided below.
You may also consider asking people in the construction industry such as local home builders, material suppliers or design professionals so you can understand a reasonable construction cost per square foot for the type of house completed with the type and quality of finishes you are looking for. As we’ve noted above, we recommend prioritizing aspects of the design that can’t be easily changed or upgraded down the road as you prioritize your budget decisions.
Another reliable approach would be to engage a cost estimating consultant (quantity surveyor). If you choose to go this route, cost consultants are typically engaged throughout the design process in order to estimate the cost of the design at various stages. The accuracy of their cost estimates become more precise as the design matures and is further documented. This can give you much more confidence about your design decisions as you are able to evaluate the cost of certain decisions and prioritize your values throughout the design process.
At My Modern Home, we have partnered with leading cost consultants to help you obtain more cost certainty and to select a qualified and reputable builder for your My Modern Home plan. Contact us for more information.
The most common type of residential construction in North America is wood platform-framed, and with good reason:
(This is why MMH designs their homes using standard wood frame construction.)
Nevertheless, other considerations may lead you to consider other construction types for your home:
We have touched on this in the “Create a Design Brief” section above, but some more specific questions to consider in answering what may seem like a straight-forward question are set out below:
The number of bathrooms you have in your home will be influenced by considerations such as:
Your home will include a kitchen, living room, bathrooms and bedrooms – but what about the other spaces that support the life that you live (or want to live)? Think about what works well for you now, and in the past, and try to understand what made it so. Also think about what hasn’t worked and why.
There are a number of considerations that impact how soon the inaugural shovel can break ground.
For example, if you choose to walk into a land developer’s show home and find a design that suits your needs and is ready to go, you could be moving in within the year. If you work with an architect on a bespoke design it is typical for a complete custom design process and associated architectural drawings and product selections to take approximately one year before documentation is issued for construction pricing (ie: out to tender).
Note: MMH’s business model with pre-designed plans gets you into construction mode as quickly as working with a builder, and with more certainty than retaining an architect We also work with clients who would like a custom home design that fits the needs and values set out in their design brief.
Pro-Tip: It’s worth having your design professional provide you with a project schedule that identifies key milestones. This ensures that they have planned the entirety of your project delivery and allows you to understand how your project is tracking. But most importantly, it’s a huge red flag if your designer is reluctant to provide this – it could mean that they are inexperienced or are unprofessional and sloppy in the delivery of services. It is also a red flag if the project schedule is unrealistically short (their budget may also be unrealistically low).
Aside from the type of design service or product that you choose, the main factors that impacts how long the design process will take are:
Pro-Tip: Minimizing changes to your home design as your project progresses will save you considerable time and money. The saying in the design and construction industry is that an addition during the construction phase costs twice as much, and a deletion or removal only saves you half! A well-considered design brief will help you avoid costly changes.
It may be helpful to understand that most custom home design-bid-build processes go through the following stages:
Now that your design brief has provided you with clarity on your needs and wants, it’s also important that you make the most of this tool. Continue to reference this document when you are evaluating design options and when you find yourself faced with tough decisions. Share it with your design team. Your functional program will also help them stay on course throughout the design process.
It’s also important to understand that you can lean on your functional program if your designer gets carried away and moves in a direction that you are unsure about or unhappy with.
Revisit your design brief at each major stage or decision point in your home design or home selection process. It is easy (and normal!) to get distracted or overwhelmed when designing or purchasing a home. Returning to your design brief will allow you to refocus, reframe, and stay on -course throughout the design and construction process.
Pro Tip: It’s always a good idea to have the functional program included in your design contract so that it can be referenced on a legal basis for redesign if your design and needs are not aligned.
Not only does My Modern Home offer a range of pre-designed home plan collections, we believe that your home’s design should reflect your values and support the aspects of your life that are most important to you.
That’s why our architects are always available to help you tweak our home plans to align with your content brief and vision for your dream home.
We also know that many customers want to work with a designer to create a custom home plan to achieve the vision that their design brief has helped them to create. We provide a range of design services regularly working with homeowners and their builders to provide just the level of service that is needed by individual clients.
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