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  • Writer's pictureScott Clark

Ten Things to Look for in a Good Cottage/Home Design - Before you Sign

The Canadian Home Builders Association (CHBA) provides free information about building new homes and renovating existing homes to ensure that you have all the necessary information to make the right decisions when choosing products and service providers. The following tips, adapted from (CHBA) will help you choose the perfect design to meet your family’s needs for years to come.

Good home and cottage design begins with an understanding of how people live in their homes. Good home builders and renovators offer plans and designs to meet the needs of today's consumers, using modern technology to build homes that are attractive, highly functional, and feel good to live in. Often a design is just a starting point. Many builders will customize your cottage or home to your family’s specific needs.

1. Efficient use of space

Many new contemporary cottages and homes incorporate spacious design rather than opting for square footage so a space may be smaller but feel more open and include all of the details and amenities of traditional builds.

High ceilings of nine, ten, and even eleven feet, and sloped or cathedral ceilings, add to the sense of space. Adding larger windows and opting for a layout that opens up as soon as you enter the front door, can also give a sense openness and grandiosity. Good designers and builders understand how to create the most effective use of space, allowing for even some of the smallest spaces to seem much larger.

2. Open layouts

One of the more popular design trends is the open concept, or the great room – a large informal space where you might gather to play, eat, entertain, or just relax. Partial walls, bulkheads, lighting and floor treatment help to define and add character to individual areas within this space. Depending on the size of the home, the great room may replace or complement formal living and dining rooms.

3. Natural light and viewscapes

Thanks to advances in window and door technology, today's new homes are bright and airy, allowing the use of natural light without the traditional problems of heat loss in the winter and overheating in the summer. The view out of your front windows is just as important as the view of your house from the street. Consider where windows are located and what you might see when you look out of them. For example, you do not want your largest window looking out at your neighbour’s brick wall or a streetlight shining through your bedroom window.

4. Kitchens that work

With today's open layouts, the quality and finishing details of a new kitchen are done with careful attention to match or complement the surrounding spaces. Enjoy attractive well-appointed, organized workspaces, separate eating areas, and great natural and built-in lighting.

5. Flexible space

New home and cottage layouts should be intelligently designed to accommodate changing household needs over time. A den can become an extra bedroom or a nursery, large closets can be redesigned into bathrooms, and basement rooms can be converted to a home office or a family entertainment area. These and other FlexHousing approaches, pioneered by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, build adaptability right into the home at the time of construction. FlexHousing features can also accommodate special health and mobility needs – for instance, wide doorways and reinforced bathroom walls for grab bars.

6. Built-in convenience

Living in a brand new home is easy, by design. Look for direct access from the garage to the kitchen on hard-surface flooring, mudrooms with large closets, and a ground or second-floor laundry room. And, check out details such as extra-large pantries, lots of storage space, and built-in recycling bins.

7. Lots of storage

A good home or cottage is designed with plenty of built-in storage to eliminate clutter, such as ample closet space in bedrooms, drawers, cupboards and shelving in the bathroom, linen closets, and room in the kitchen for appliances of all sizes, pots and pan organizers and pantries.

8. Ambience

New looks good, and that makes you feel good. Shiny, gleaming surfaces, clean lines, warm natural materials, pleasing curves, attractive accents, and lighting are all part of a good design that incorporates how you feel when you are in the space. Try not to overlook this important aspect when choosing a design.

9. Surroundings

A new home or cottage never stands alone. You have neighbours, trees, landscaping, and roads to consider when incorporating the exterior into the design. How the home sits on the lot is extremely important. Factors like natural topography, neighbourhood character, natural colour palate, prevailing wind direction, and sun exposure should all be considered in a good design.

10. Environmental Responsibility

Great advances have been made in building products that contribute to the "greening" of new homes. Good designers and builders know that environmental responsibility, energy efficiency and healthy indoor living go hand-in-hand with comfort, convenience and great design. Further, environmentally friendly products may cost more upfront, but pay for themselves in lower operating costs. Examples of environmentally friendly products include on-demand water heaters, radiant heating, sustainable lumber, and recycled steel products.

What to expect from the design process

A growing number of builders have either a designer on staff or work with multiple designers from their network of associates on a contract basis. This makes the process easier by providing one-stop shopping for all of your home or cottage building needs.

Having the builder involved at the design stage helps to ensure that your design is practical and feasible from a construction standpoint. Good designers understand the importance of incorporating a construction perspective early in the process.

Typically, the design process begins with a discussion of your ideas and a look at photos, drawings, or product literature that you may have collected or that the designer has provided. Professional designers should require a tour of the lot or existing house to consider site specific conditions such as topography, landscape, and municipal by-law regulations. Excellent designers know to include the builder in this process.

Based on this information, "concept sketches" are developed. Often additional fine-tuning is needed to finalize the design of your choice before detailed architectural renderings are created. At the end of the design phase, you will have a set of drawings or plans that are the basis for getting cost estimates. The drawings should show clearly what the final project will look like, including close-up details, and may be accompanied by a specification list of the products and materials to be used. The drawings should cost approximately 2-2.5% of the total value of your project.

Occasionally your project will require structural changes or other work that requires a building permit, working drawings or blueprints are required for approval by your municipality. Professional builders can take care of all the details, including dealing with building officials. This takes the guess work out of building your own custom dream home or cottage.

Source: Canadian Home Builders Association (CHBA).

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