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May 7, 2024

Raffi Arzoumanian

Building a New Home? Here’s How to Determine Your Space Needs

Investing in the design and construction of a new home is an exciting option for homeowners willing to commit significant time and resources to the effort. Unlike buying an existing house, it gives owners the opportunity to work from a blank slate and imagine a truly customized environment for their needs and lifestyle.

As an owner, once you’ve made the decision to build, it may be tempting to start reaching out to architects or general contractors to get the process started. But before any conversation with a building professional takes place, there is one crucial step that must happen: determining your space needs.

The more time and thought you put into what you need and want out of your new home, the more fruitful your conversations with an architect will be.

Having worked with dozens of clients to help them realize their ideal homes over the years, this is what I would advise any homeowner to do at this stage:

  1. Settle on number of bedrooms first…

    The most basic function of a home is providing shelter and a place to sleep at night. Therefore, deciding on the number of bedrooms you need as a first step makes sense.

    Besides yourself, your partner, and your children, you will want to consider whether additional bedrooms for guests or extended family are necessary. A growing family should think about bedrooms for future children. Beyond coming up with a number, however, it’s important to think about use. For example, will any of your children share a room? How might the bedrooms be used other than for sleeping – e.g. for studying, playing, or spending time with friends? And do you want the bedroom to have capacity and flexibility to accommodate your children as they grow older? Thinking about long-term use alongside quantity will help determine how much space you need in each bedroom – and whether desired functions are best accommodated in the bedrooms or elsewhere.

  2. …then step back and think about your daily activities

    Once you’ve settled on the number of bedrooms, it’s time to think more broadly about how you live and how your new home can support those needs.

    What’s really important to you? What can’t you live without? Maybe it’s a well-equipped kitchen because you cook every day; a dedicated workspace if you work from home; or areas for gathering and socializing, if entertaining is a regular feature of your life.

    But I suggest taking this a step further. Think about “public” versus “private” areas of your new home. Where do you want enclosed, private space – areas to be used by you and your family only; and where might you want a more open feel, for guests and gatherings?

    There are many shades of public and private – for example, a semi-private kitchen can open into a main living space but also keep cooking facilities, or a smaller family space like a breakfast nook, out of view.

    Thinking through public versus private will help your architect visualize adjacencies and separate elements, allowing them to design a floor plan that fits your daily uses.

  3. Differentiate between needs and wants Once you’ve thought about your daily lifestyle and the spaces that will support it, it’s important to think seriously about needs versus wants.

    Unless you have a limitless budget, the house you will build will most likely be a compromise between the two.

    Some owners might, for example, overestimate the space they need for entertaining. Perhaps they occasionally have a dinner party with dozens of guests and think it would be nice to have a large dining room. But if those dinner parties are infrequent, how practical will it be to have a dining room sitting empty most of the year? Making a list of potential spaces and dividing these into “must have” and “would be nice to have” will help prioritize your wish list.

  4. Build smarter, not bigger

    Owners often think they need more space than they do – which can put a squeeze on the budget very quickly. The good news is, the right architect will help you find efficiencies so you build smarter, not bigger.

    As an example, maybe your child’s room is constantly messy, and you’ve thought that having a bigger bedroom would solve this problem. But in reality, perhaps your child’s current bedroom is just lacking appropriate storage for their belongings. In place of more costly square footage, you can instead add a well-planned closet.

    When it comes to building your own home, more space isn’t always the answer – sometimes, it’s just a little creative thinking.  

Conclusion: Creating a Program that Works for You

When you’ve made the decision to design and build your own home, thinking through your space requirements is vital. Sit down, have conversations with your family, and take notes. With the information you put together, you will be able to give your architect an accurate picture of your space needs. From there, your architect can better determine square footages for each space, create a program customized for your lifestyle, and move toward finalizing the size of the overall house.

With a program and a size set, you’re ready to start defining your budget. How can you make sure you’re accounting for all costs, even the unexpected ones, as you design and build your new home? Find out more in our next blog post.


Video: Raffi's Top Tip for Determining Space Needs

Make a wish list, and divide it into “must haves” and “would be nice to haves.” Understanding essential needs versus wants will lead to better decision-making and more accurate design. Watch the video below to learn more.

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