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3 Questions To Answer Before You Start Designing Your Mountain Home.

So you've decided you want to design a get away home in the mountains? It's no surprise—if you are like most prospective home owners, you have a picture in mind of just what your “dream home” would be like. It's natural to be eager to dive into the creative work ahead, but before we put 'pencil to paper' let's pause to answer 3 questions to make sure you will get the home you envision.

  1. What is my budget?

It’s best to start with what you are comfortable spending. From there, we can determine what type of home can be created.

Which of these 3 statements best describes your situation?

“I know roughly how much I can spend.” We recommend setting a budget range. Choose a dollar amount you feel comfortable with, then add and subtract 10% to determine your total range. While it's not feasible to design to an exact dollar figure, we’ll seek to design your home targeted to the midpoint of your range.

If competitive bid prices return over your maximum budget we will work at our own cost to bring the design back into in line. That means we have skin in the game and good reason to honor your budget!

“I have an absolute maximum budget.” Make that amount the top of your range. Subtract 20% to find the bottom of your range. You can elevate the budget if you choose, but we’ll help you stay within your stated goals through the use of smart design decisions.

“Staying within a set budget isn’t a priority.” You want what you want, and you have the means to produce it. In this case we can assist you to determine what will define success of your specific desires.

Keep in mind that the total cost of designing and building a home includes hard costs and soft costs. Your project budget is the total of the hard and soft costs. Your hard cost is the cost to erect the building and averages 75%-80% of a typical custom residential project budget. Your soft costs are your architectural and engineering fees, insurance, financing costs, landscaping budgets, furnishings and decorative items. Soft costs will average the remaining 20%-25% of the typical budget.

We also recommend that you carry a contingency budget that’s equal to 10% of your hard cost to protect against unexpected expenses. If we successfully deliver the project at the midpoint of your budget range, then the contingency will remain under your total range. That’s good planning!

Now that you’ve pinned down the budget range for your new home, the next question we need to address is ...

2: What kind of home do I want?

When you think about designing and building your new home, you’re probably thinking in terms of the building's total expense. But when architects begin the design process, they need to understand the quality level in proportion to the size of the finished footprint. An easy way to arrive at this information is a tool called the cost-per-square-foot ratio. Of course not every square foot in the building will cost the same amount. It's an average. Kitchens and bathrooms will be more than the average and bedrooms will be less. It can be difficult to think of your new home in such a way, but determining the average cost-per-square-foot will set the expectation for the level of quality, detailing, material usage, and even the application of architectural style.

For example, a 3,000-square-foot home built for $350 per square foot would cost the same as a 2,000-square-foot home built for $525 per square foot. In this case, the smaller home with the higher cost-per-square-foot will be of a higher quality and be more refined than the larger home with a lower cost-per-square-foot.

Your decision depends on your priorities. Maybe you want a lot of room and aren’t concerned about the quality level. Or perhaps you are willing to advance the architectural qualities of your home at the sacrifice of some of its size. Through this exercise, you may realize that you desire more than you can afford. It happens to all of us! You’ll need to choose which aspects are the most important so the budget can be spent wisely.

Let’s walk through what you could expect for each of the following cost ranges:

Tier 1: $300 to $400 per square foot

“Economy grade” construction is best described as the starter home. The lower end of the range may utilize vinyl siding, reduced use of windows, and doors, and pre-manufactured interior finishes. Any masonry would be limited to thin veneer products typically used only on parts of the home that face the street. There is very little customization in a Tier 1 home, and a great deal of restraint may be required during design.

We generally recommend a simple two-story structure so you can benefit from the cost savings of shared roofing and foundation work. If the site is sloped, a walk-out finished basement may help you save on exterior siding. Basement square footage isn’t “free” real estate, but finishing a basement may be more cost-efficient than building equal square footage above.

Tier 2: $400 to $500 per square foot

“Quality grade” construction provides the opportunity to raise the quality of materials used and to introduce greater detailing. The floor plan and building volumes could be more complex than in a Tier 1 home. The exterior could display additional visual interest, such as faux lookout beams. Floor plate heights could be 9 to 10 feet.

Tier 3: $500 to $750 per square foot

“Custom grade” construction is marked by high level design and craftsmanship. A Tier 3 home is designed to impress, inside and out, and we’ll need highly skilled contractors to carry out our vision. Imagine load bearing timber-frame construction, upholstered or hand plastered walls, or internationally sourced components. Roofing materials might upgrade to standing-seam metal mixed with cedar shakes depending on style. Mason-built chimneys would be favored over metal-flue gas inserts. Kitchen and bathroom cabinets would be plentiful and hand-milled.

Some of our more impressive projects have been created at this tier, and includes much of what you will find in the home design magazines.

Tier 4: $800+ per square foot

“Premium grade” construction is essentially unrestricted by budget. It’s a design-first, pay-later approach. The Tier 4 home is marked by its luxurious materials and components, its generous allocation of space, and its use of advanced and non-residential building techniques.

Now that we have a better understanding of what to expect based on your cost-per-square-foot ratio, we have one last question to consider...

3: How big will my home be?

You’ve determined your total budget. You've carved out a contingency, and adequate funds for soft costs. You’ve determined your desired level of quality via your cost-per-square-foot ratio. Now, the size of the building reveals itself! Let’s say you've decided the midpoint of your hard cost budget range is $1,500,000 and you'd like to be in the Tier 2 level of quality, at a cost of $500/sq.ft. With those decisions made you'll see that your home will be about 3,000 square feet.

If you are feeling pinched on size, the budget can be raised or the quality can be lowered to serve your need, but you'll know that on the front end. These initial decisions won’t be written in stone, but every subsequent decision throughout the process will be weighed against these goalposts. Any two selections will help us answer the third. And although it would seem natural to choose the building size and the budget as a first step, we recommend this different approach.

When the home's size is the project driver, the overall quality of the home is lessened each time more square footage is added to solve a problem. Our approach identifies budget first, followed by quality, which leads to the total size. That lets us approach creative solutions within the predetermined area, such as reading nooks or custom-built storage under stairs, rooms within rooms, or blurring lines between interior and exterior to allow the perceived space to feel larger.

As purveyors of quality architecture, we at Golden Design ARCHITECTS encourage an understanding of your cost-per-square-foot buying power. Having this information will ensure that the finished product that we create together will be the home you've initially set out to achieve. It will also mean that your reasons for hiring us will be satisfied, because we are committed to producing quality designs in every size.

Jason Golden R.A. Owner, Golden Design ARCHITECTS

9 Swiss Lane

Cashiers, NC 28717


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