A Builder Checklist, 1999

I’ve been a member of NAHB’s design committee for a few years.  This year, as part of that committee, I served as a judge for the Best in American Living national design competition.  What an eye-opening experience that was! I looked at the very best product our industry has to offer.  I worked with the other committee members to identify the trends in residential architecture and design.

Now, I want to share with you – one builder to another – a checklist of the most important design features to include in your product in the year ahead.  I know that these touches will help my product stand apart from the competition and lead in my market rather than being just another me-too builder.

  • Pick up the local design flavor. Before building, drive around.  Look at the residential architecture and build homes that fit with the surroundings.
  • Focus on textures and detailing.  Mix natural materials like stone with tile, plaster, and iron railings.  Natural finishes are everywhere.
  • Create a strong sense of neighborhood. Think about the relation of a house to its neighbors and the overall land planning in the community. Consider the features consumers want that create a “sense” of neighborhood – cobblestone streets, alleys, village greens, etc.
  • Don’t only think inside when designing a house.  Courtyards and outdoor living spaces are an extension of the home today and must receive a lot of design attention as well.
  • Rethink entrances.  Forget the soaring, vertical entry designed to impress the neighbors.  Go with a more human scale, but create multiple entrance experiences, i.e., the courtyard, then the doorway, through the foyer, etc.
  • Nobody wants a track-looking house. Think about offering custom housing options on production built units.
  • Add depth to your elevations with more detailing at the cornice line, at the frieze and on soffits and window trim.
  • Think about garages. Three- to four-car garages aren’t unusual today, but creating spaces that large look good takes skill. Try recessed, split, turned and detached garages.  Maybe a porte cochere, or a tandem garage in a t-shape. Think about creating livable space above the garage to pull the eye up.
  • Round shapes are in. Circular elements and rotundas are very popular.
  • Keep the focus on the kitchen. It is still the center of the home. Make it special.
  • Luxury is-and always will be – in fashion.  For the custom home buyer, think full-fledged home theater, home offices that function and don’t just look good, flex spaces for aging parents or boomerang children, and a well-appointed master suite.

None of these ideas are revolutionary. Rather, they are a good reminder of what sells your home instead of the one down the street.  Happy building. 

Jeb Breithaupt, Jeb Breithaupt Design/Build, Shreveport, LA.  Originally published in the January 1999 edition of Professional Builder magazine.

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