Building an ideal home

So the housing bubble burst, and with it might have gone your dreams of someday living in a custom home designed and built just for you. Certainly the near-term economic landscape looks bleaker than it did five years ago, but this reality check might be just the thing some of us need to refocus on exactly what our homes can and should be.

But while the financial equations may have changed, homes are still central to our personal lives, and the habit of imagining an ideal one is a fundamentally human trait that is unlikely to disappear soon.

That’s the take of New Orleans architect George Hopkins Jr., and his book “Creating Your Architectural Style” is a guide to the processes involved in designing and building a custom home. Even if the original ambitions or time line for your project have changed with the struggling economy, good planning decisions and the right professionals are still critical to making any building or remodelling venture a success. Hopkins’ book is aimed at guiding his reader through that process and providing a context for architectural design decisions that will drive it.

To his credit, Hopkins sidesteps a common pitfall that snares many home building authors — that of oversimplifying the subject to make it easier for beginners to understand. There’s no ominous tone or priestly class mystery in his approach, just a nod to the complex realities. Homeowners who want a great custom home will have to educate themselves about the planning required, about the roles each member of the design/build team will have, about design elements and terminology, and even about some of the engineering requirements their visions may involve. Here are some highlights he covers:

The design team. This starts with the architect but ultimately can involve specialists such as a kitchen and bath designer, a landscape architect, a lighting consultant, and even some of the individual builders or artisans who will do the fabrication and construction.

Your personal design inventory. On the simplest level, this means your personal tastes will enter the picture, but plan on broadening that scope by compiling a photo file of homes and architectural styles and features that you like.

The commitment.

The decision to create a custom home often follows an unsuccessful search for a suitable existing home. If you go this route, plan on making a serious commitment of time, talent and resources.

Balancing priorities.

Where couples are involved, each person tends to have different priorities as to what they want in a home. Gender differences typically emerge as women focus on the home’s daily function and operations, while men tend to zero-in on exterior finishes and leisure spaces. Be prepared to coordinate and compromise to develop a design that works for everyone.

Start general

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ork to specifics. Keep in mind that the initial “plan” for your new home won’t be a drawing or blueprint, but rather a written description of the required spaces and functions for living there. Setting these objectives to paper first will initiate later stages of the planning process and building program, which will flesh out the details of your general ideas.

Once the design process is underway, Hopkins explains, the project architect undertakes the task of creating a site plan and a floor plan that groups the home’s spaces and zones according to the written template you’ve created together. This will include a conceptual design that defines the “massing” (proportions of large components) of the home and its particular architectural style or theme.

Once chosen, the architectural theme determines many of the home’s design details, exterior materials, overall proportions and even colour schemes. There is a dizzying range of choices that includes American Colonial, Georgian, Greek Revival, Italianate, Victorian, Arts and Crafts, Mediterranean, French Classical, Contemporary and many more. With hundreds of illustrations and photographs, the book provides a comprehensive overview of these many styles, many of which have overlapping features or other similarities.

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