5 Key Steps for Successful Home Design

When planning a new home or remodeling project, there's more to a good design than just having some plans drawn up to build from.  Read on to find out why these 5 Key Design Steps need to be included for your project to be successful.

5 Key Steps for Successful Home Design

Have you've decided to pursue updating that kitchen or bath that's just not working for you anymore?  Or perhaps you're wanting to take the plunge and build that custom home on the perfect lot you found by the lake?

As a next step, you've probably been scouring the internet for ideas and plans for the project.  If you've been lucky, you found a great home plan on one of the websites that jumped out at you ... and with just a few tweaks it might be perfect.  Or maybe you have an armful of pictures of cabinets, tile, and appliances saved up and are ready to get started with that kitchen remodel. 

So you're thinking that your next step might be to find a builder, sketch up some plans, and get started. 

What could possibly go wrong?

Well ... a number of things actually.  Building projects often turn into nightmares because there were some key steps in the process that were overlooked. Here are a few of the common issues that come up all the time ...

  • Spaces Are Too Small or Too Large = Wrong Plans
    Should that island be 6' or 8'?  Will our king-sized bed fit between the windows?  Why does the open refrigerator door block the entry into the kitchen?  Why does the new great room feel so cold and uncomfortable?
  • Limited Specifications = Incorrect Budgets
    Why is the fireplace a small builder-grade unit, when you thought it would be a cool horizontal model?  Why is there only budget for carpet in the living room when you had talked about wide-plank wood floors?  And of course you wanted the rooms painted a different color besides white!
  • Change Orders = Budget Killers
    That window is just too small to see the view ... or too large for privacy from the neighbors ... can we change that now?  This dining room won't fit my farmhouse table for Thanksgiving dinner ... can we move that wall over 2 feet?  
  • We Can't Afford Our Dream Plan = Giving Up. 
    Unfortunately this is all too common ... the design process went great and you got everything you wanted down on paper with beautiful drawings.  But then the bids came back and now you have to cut 30% (or more) from the project to fit your budget, crushing your dreams.  

You get the idea.  

In working with dozens of clients for new homes and remodeling projects, I've found that most of these issues can be headed off by using a standard process during design like you'd use for any type of professional project.  By using this process I've been able to help clients get the right design for their home that maximizes the way they really want to live in the space, while also maximizing the investment they're about to make. 

When using these 5 Key Design Stages when I had my design/build firm I was able to get the clients dreams and needs incorporated into the designs, while also keeping our projects consistently within budget.  In fact we only needed a 4-5% contingency portion of the budget vs. a typical 10% or higher allocation, avoiding those dreaded Change Orders that no homeowner or builder wants to deal with. 

So here are the 5 Key Design Stages that I believe every new home and remodeling project needs to include:

Stage 1 - Initial Consultation

Home Design Puzzle

Every project begins with the free Initial Consultation.  This stage is typically a 30-60 minute conversation where you and I can get introduced, talk about what you'd like to accomplish, and exchange some information as to how we might work together.  Some of the details I like to understand at this point are ...

  • What's your big picture goal for the project?  ... Do you want to build a new home but aren't sure where to start?  Have you just bought a condo and want to figure out a remodeling plan?  Or are you just looking for input to determine what's possible?
  • Where are you at in the process? ... You already own a lot and are ready for a home design?  The current kitchen is way past it's prime so you want to know what a remodel might cost?  You want to do a whole house remodel and need to create a phased approach?
  • How would define success for a design project? ... You want to be ready to build in 3 months.  The contractor is chosen, but now you need final plans.  You want to decide once and for all whether to build, move, or remodel.

The other major goal of the consultation stage is to make sure we're a good fit for each other, and we generally will both know by the end of the conversation.  If you determine I'm not the right designer for your project, then great ... hopefully I've given you some new information that you can carry forward.  But the goal is to make sure we're both comfortable with the project and each other, as the ultimate outcome is to make sure your project is successful! 


Home Planning Budget

Stage 2 - Dreams, Needs & Budgets

Often overlooked, this stage is one of the most important steps I work with you on before ever starting on a design.  Why?  Because I want to make sure that you're tackling the right project in the best way to meet your family's needs and budget.  

That means reviewing your dreams and goals, then digging into the details on how you want to live in your home and talking about high-level options that might be possible.  So we'll discuss the details that are important to you ... like how you interact as a family, where you watch movies, how many people you have for special dinners, unique furniture pieces or artwork, your special pets, key views from your home site, etc. 

The outcome of this stage is a solid list of needs, wants, and dreams balanced against an honest budget discussion of what you want to invest.  For example, we may find that your dream of a separate yoga room doesn't work, but a private space off to the side of the bedroom would be a great alternative. These discussions will serve to guide the design as we work through options and will keep things on track.      


Stage 3 - Concept Plans

Now that we have an idea of the project scope and a solid list of wants and needs, I'll put together the initial plans and options that make sense within your requirements.  This involves creating and evaluating various options and layouts along with initial 3D renderings of how things might look - which is when things start to get exciting as you see your home plans come to life!

Throughout this stage we'll review the plans together, discuss the pro's/con's of each, then set the direction for the final detailed plans ... with eyes wide open to how the plans mesh with your budget so that you're not finding you have to give-up key features later on in the process.

For some clients, this is the stopping point they were looking for in their planning process.  It may be because they want to be prepared for building when they're financially ready to go, which won't be for a couple of years.  Or perhaps this was an exercise to help them decide whether to build or remodel, and they've decided that the remodel fits this phase of their life better.  So having the right information is both critical and enabling.


Stage 4 - Detailed Plans

Detailed Home PlanWith a solid direction in hand, the next step is to create the detailed drawings including floor plans, elevations, and other specifications for your project.  We review these together at different points for your feedback and input as we clarify more specific details and make decisions on room sizes, cabinet layouts, and other components.

The detailed plans are what are needed by your contractors and suppliers to price out the project and get accurate proposals.  I'll work with you to provide clarification on details when needed, and also you assist with reviewing the proposals as they come back to make sure everything is included.  This is also helpful as you begin to compare competing proposals, and is intended to help you be confident in your final decisions in order to move forward with the project.

Optional Finish Material Schedules.  Along with the detailed plans, you'll also want to give your contractors and suppliers a budgetary list of finish materials to make sure the bids are comparable and accurate.   While some clients let the contractors include their normal "allowances" instead, that often leads to mismatched expectations and cost overruns later on in the project.  To avoid this, I offer an optional service that includes a detailed list of material schedules and finishes to be included with your plans. 

These schedules include line items for choices of flooring, lighting, plumbing fixtures, appliances, cabinets, countertops, etc. identified in the design.  This service simplifies the process for you, and makes it easier to compare proposals ... while giving you more control of the project costs and ensuring your requirements are met. 


House Blueprint Example

Stage 5 - Construction & Permit Drawings

Once you've selected the contractor and are ready to proceed with construction, you'll often need additional drawings for building and permits depending on your project and contractor. 

For example, most new homes require permit filings for the local energy code requirements (i.e. heat calcs, REScheck, etc.) and some builders provide those while others request that I do.  Likewise, your contractor may want more detailed cabinet layouts or feature elevations from the design, while others will use their suppliers to create those.  Or perhaps you're going to tackle your kitchen remodel on your own and just want additional guidance.   

As the designer, I assist in all of these scenarios to try to ensure that the design intent gets clearly communicated and that your finished home works for you as intended.


I hope that you found this list helpful in figuring out what you need to make your home design project successful!  There are so many pitfalls that often occur in these projects, many of which can be avoided.

Here are some resources if you'd like more info on specific services that I offer to help you with your planning ...

Custom Home Design

Remodeling Plan Services

Setup Initial Consultation


AIBD Resources (American Institute of Building Design)

  AIBD FAQ for Consumers

  Guide to Choosing a Home Designer (PDF)