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After two years of living in Portland, Oregon it was time to buy a house and I just couldn’t get excited about the options at hand. We looked into an old re-model, a few slightly outdated fixer-uppers, and some new homes but they all seemed overwhelming and extremely overpriced for what we would be getting. After a series of fortunate events, we found a great builder who was willing to work with us at a more affordable budget and could still offer us the flexibility of a custom home with a wide variety of finishes. We decided to go for it and build our own home for a change, and let me tell you that “designing on a dime” has taken on a whole new meaning. We’ll break ground in just a few short weeks and are excited for the adventure to begin!

to build or not to build…

Building is not for everyone, but in certain parts of the country building a new home can be affordable if you are smart about the types of products you use and the way you finish the home. As a designer who typically works with high-end clients with little or no budget, embarking on a home with a budget seemed like a big task. It has taken research, planning, and legwork to maximize style at the best possible price. I have learned that there are certain elements that are worth investing a bit more money on and there are others that you won’t get back when you re-sell. I thought that building wouldn’t be an option for our first home, but I’m learning first hand that skimping on budget doesn’t mean you have to skimp on style.

stock plans, working with an architect, & choosing a builder

Most builders will quote you a price per square foot, so start by shopping around with a few builders to find out what they charge and how they make their margins. You may want to look at buying a stock floor plan online, which are completed floor plans that can be slightly customized to save money. Keep in mind that if you have some skill and creativity, you can still build a beautiful home with a few special features that isn’t completely custom. I decided to go the route of a custom floor plan that I created with an architect. Choosing and working with an architect can be a long and painful process but nowadays there is a lot you can do on your own to research and work through ideas before hiring the architect. Start with online floor plans within the square footage you want and rework them to meet your needs. I knew that I wanted a traditional colonial home, so it was going to be a symmetrical floor plan. I traced the outline of the house and rearranged the rooms while keeping them inside the general shape. I was able to save 25 percent on the architect fees by coming to the architect with my floor plan mostly intact.

planning ahead for furniture

One of the perks of a new build is the fact that you can plan and design around your existing furniture (which saves money too!). To start, create a list of all the items you want to keep in your home by numbering them and then drawing each one to scale in each desired room. This way you can determine whether walls or niches need to be adjusted to fit furniture that you already have and want to be incorporated into your new home. From there you can use a ¼” furniture template to determine the size of other items you’ll want to look for as you fill your new home with furniture. You can purchase a large set of magnetic templates, but this $5 plastic template will do the trick and the ¼” ruler will be your best friend throughout the process.

finding inspiration to create room (wallpaper or fabric)

When I design spaces for my clients, I often work backwards by designing a room around the items I love most, which is usually fabric or wallpaper. I think about each room individually and determine what will be the feature of that room. It may be a bold fabric or wallpaper, a beautiful chandelier, moldings/wall paneling, or interesting flooring, so it’s equally as important to imagine the flow of the rooms as you move throughout the house. That will determine the placement of those different features in each room and will help you decide where you may need to add windows and architectural details to complement the room. You will save a lot of time, frustration, and money by designing your rooms in advance.


  • creating a budget – whether building or renovating
  • Organizing your materials and schedules, etc.
  • Transitioning paint colors from room to room
  • Favorite sources for tile, countertops, flooring, plumbing