Building the perfect home for your family starts with choosing the right floor plan. Design websites and floor plan books offer an almost endless supply of plan ideas if you’re building custom, and many production builders have a wide array of plans — or plan options — to choose from. So how do you know what’s right for you? Here are a few suggestions to help get you on the right path.
Analyze Your Lifestyle
Before putting a pencil to napkin, do some self-reflection on your lifestyle. What areas do you use the most in your current environment? Which rooms do you never seem to step foot in, and what do you wish you had that you don’t? Create a top 10 priority list of your must-haves — but be prepared to pare it down to fit your budget. The reality is that most of us can’t afford nor need a huge home, and with good planning, you can get the most important features in a space that’s affordable.
Architect Ronique Gibson advises, “Before getting your heart set on one type of floor plan, know what the costs are associated with the layout. Ask a contractor or builder to help you determine costs as you narrow down to the floor plan that fits within your budget.”
If you love to entertain, think about how your living and dining spaces will flow, how much seating you’ll need around the kitchen bar or island and whether you’ll want a separate dining room or one incorporated into the living area. “We’ve not built a separate dining room in our custom homes for about five years,” says Keith Durio, whose company JKD Builder builds homes in the Austin, Texas, area. Instead buyers, whether retired empty nesters or young families, tend to prefer a combined living, dining and kitchen area that encourage conversation and togetherness.
If you have children, will you want the convenience of bedrooms near the master, or do you prefer a mother-in-law plan for more privacy? Are you comfortable with the kids’ rooms upstairs, or do you want a one story — and is your lot large enough to accommodate a one-story design? Talk to a builder to get expert guidance on what will work and the cost considerations — for example, a one-story build is typically more expensive than two-story construction. A single story requires more foundation and roofing than a two-story design, which adds to the overall cost of the home.
If you plan to entertain outdoors, consider how you want to balance interior space with outdoor living and dining areas. Even though they aren’t heated and cooled square footage, decks, porches, outdoor kitchens and pools add to your building costs. But it you love spending time outdoors, it may be a good trade-off to cut out some interior footage to afford more outdoor spaces.
If you’re building custom, involving an architect early on can help guide your decisions. Austin architect Elliot Johnson uses a preference guide as a starting point when designing for a new client. “I have an eight-page questionnaire that I ask each client to fill out,” he says. “This helps get us on the same page and acts as a frame of reference for everyone involved in the project. Once the client completes it, we have a meeting to discuss the questionnaire and talk about the specifics of each room and the overall design vision. This is also a good time for the client to develop a binder that holds all of their design ideas.”
Consider the Surroundings
Site-specific designs are ideal because they let you maximize the trees, contour and views on your specific lot. Says Johnson, “This usually involves getting a tree and topographic survey and then walking the lot with the client to discuss their vision of the house, and what views from what rooms are important to them.”
But also think about what will fit aesthetically with your surrounding environment. “Depending on where you live could dictate what type of floor plan will best suit your family,” says Gibson. “Dwellings such as single-family homes give the ability to have outdoor space for a yard and backyard and provide more space to spread out in. An attached home similar to brownstones or condos in an urban area could also meet your ‘single family home’ needs but divided amongst a multilevel floor plan. Split-level floor plans mean your entire floors are split to separate levels and don’t consume the entire footprint of your home. Decide which of these types are found in your city.”
Tour Other Homes
There’s really no better way to experience how a floor plan “feels” than to walk it. As you begin your process, invest time in touring model homes and homes under construction. “Think too about the future value of the property — an attached garage is more valuable than a carport, for instance,” notes Better Built Homes in a recent blog. “Make the decision based on how the home flows and feels functional for your daily activities. If you are viewing a display home, bring your family along to see their reactions and get feedback. How do they move through the space?”
But don’t get too hung up on all the bells and whistles featured in a model home. “Imagine the home in a ‘stripped down’ state and form your opinion from there,” advises Gibson. “A floor plan shouldn’t feel good because of the nice carpet that could go in the living room; it should feel right because the living room is a welcoming room off of the kitchen and foyer area for guests and family members.”
Freelance writer and marketer Sue Durio has been writing about construction, design and related products for more than 18 years.