Five Mistakes to Avoid When Designing Your Dream Home

After nearly three decades in architectural design business in Chicago, I've had the pleasure of helping hundreds of residential clients transform their idea of a dream home into reality. And I’ve also worked with a few clients who provide cautionary tales worth sharing. Read on, and you’ll understand how to easily avoid five mistakes even the savviest people can make when designing a house.


Mistake One: Thinking you must know what you want

At Morgante Wilson Architects, we find our clients get a lot of inspiration from home design and architectural magazines, Houzz and Pinterest. Our best advice for anyone looking for ideas? Undertake a two-pronged search, and base it strictly on emotion. If you love a photo, bookmark it. And if you hate a photo, bookmark that, too. A good architect will be able to sift through the good, the bad, and the ugly to help identify your wants, your taste, and your style, and turn those visual cues into an architectural program. Remember, part of the reason you’ve hired a residential architect in the first place is so you can utilize them as sounding boards in terms of aesthetics and function. Choose an architect who’s a good listener to ensure he or she will be able to make sense of what you’re drawn to.


Mistake Two: Skimping on infrastructure

The bottom line is that a big portion of your budget is going to be spent on stuff that’s not sexy. Things like mechanicals, heating, plumbing, electrical, insulation and foundation systems rarely get a client’s blood pumping the same way kitchen countertops do. Yet they’re the critical building blocks of a well-designed home. Be certain to allocate enough money for infrastructure to ensure your home is going to work the way you want it to for many years to come.


Mistake Three: Having “The Talk” just once

I’m happy to report that here on Chicago’s North Shore, it seems virtually all our clients are keen to have a no-holds-barred conversation about budget. Problem is, some of them have “The Talk” with us once, and assume we’re done with the topic forever. Nothing could be further from the truth.  In my experience, no matter how exhaustively we’ve discussed money at the outset, there is always – always – more that can (and should) be said on the subject. My advice: continue the budget conversation all through the process to ensure your goals are understood and are being met. It’s all too easy for costs to spiral out of control in bits and pieces along the way. Make sure every decision you make, from adding another 10 square feet to another bookshelf – aligns with your budget priorities.


Mistake Four: Setting unrealistic schedules

Partner with your residential architect to set realistic goals for drawing, permitting, construction deadlines – and that all-important budget. We counsel our clients to plan on going fifteen percent over in terms of both time and money. You may not ever spend those resources, but if it becomes necessary, you’ll be glad you planned ahead. The reality is that a host of factors ranging from weather-related construction delays to that extra fireplace you decide you simply must have are going to impact both the amount of time, and the amount of money, your project ends up costing. Your architect is not a magician – leave a little room for extras you decide you want along the way. There are always a few.


Mistake Five: Choosing the wrong contractor

Regardless of whether your sister loved her contractor, my recommendation is to work with the contractor your residential architect recommends. Why? Because your architect can vouch for the fact that not only is the contractor a good one, but also, a good one to work with. I can tell you first-hand an architect and a contractor who are comfortable and familiar with each other can expedite your project much more easily, quickly, and cost-effectively.

If you insist on hiring a contractor your architect hasn’t worked with before, then it’s your architect’s responsibility to talk with other architects who have. That’s the only way to be sure your contractor will be a team player, and an asset to the group. Then listen to your architect’s feedback, and trust his instincts. When your home is delivered on-time, and on-budget, you’ll be glad you did.

Building a home is a huge undertaking. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be a fun and rewarding one, too. If you’d like to find out more, give us a call. We’re always ready to listen. (Link to “about us” on website)

Fred Wilson
Morgante-Wilson Architects
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Morgante-Wilson Architects provides residential architectural services in Chicago, Evanston, Winnetka, Glencoe, Glenview, Highland Park, Kenilworth, Wilmette, Northbrook, Deerfield, Northfield, and Ravinia.

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