Size vs. Level of Finish - Where to Compromise?

katmuOctober 15, 2013

I've been going back and forth with the builder about plans, how big to go and the level of finish that I really want to have. We're still trying to arrive at a final plan and what the bottom line might be, but if you had to compromise on less space (in this case losing 1st floor office space) vs. reducing the level of finishes I'm curious how other people went about making their decision.

I'm building a one level with a walkout basement, so there would be the option to finish off additional space later. For the level of finish, I really want hardwood floors throughout (other than baths and mudroom), quarter sawn oak cabinets, solid wood doors, wide simple trim, quartz countertops, higher efficiency mechanicals, cast iron for the bathtub, etc.

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Personally I would never compromise the level of finish I wanted just to go bigger, particularly if the need to go bigger was really just an option.

If I had to build a big house it would be at a different, consistent, level of finish, probably not as high end as I would go in a smaller house, because of budget.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 11:58AM
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Don't downgrade things that can't be easily changed or added:

Efficient mechanicals
Good layout and traffic flow (if you need that office, get it, and give up something else)

All the rest can be upgraded and changed over time with a bit of effort.

Post the plan and people can probably show you how to knock off cost without too much pain.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 11:59AM
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I don't think anyone else can make this decision for you.

Do you need the office space or not?

I believe economists have found that people get used to the size of their home very quickly, so unless you have a real need for a home office, odds are you would adjust to not having one fairly quickly, while the durability of the higher quality finishes would impact your life for years to come. Also, a smaller home would save money on heating, cooling and maintenance for as long as you own it.

Having said all that, I think an office in the basement is substantially less useful than one on the main level, so I would think long and hard about whether or not you would use/miss the space before I took it out of the plans.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 12:08PM
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The builder's plans are copyrighted so I'm not sure if I can post them or not.

I work in IT so the office is important for when I'm on call (about 1 week per quarter). I currently work in the dining room in my current house. Although at some point shortly, I'm going to be an empty nester so being able to close the door to the office might not be as much of an issue. And I would still have the 2nd BR.

I live in Minnesota, so compromising on insulation and mechanicals usually isn't a very good idea.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 12:17PM
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I would take quality over quantity every time.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 12:21PM
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Will you have a guest room on the main floor? I'm guessing you wouldn't have overnight guests during the weeks you're on call - perhaps you can incorporate a small office area into the guest room space, without devoting an entire room to a function that isn't used daily.

Empty nests sometimes fill in again...

And I agree with Zone4 - we do expand to fill available space, but if it isn't there, we don't burst out the windows. We've lived in our 3-bedroom, 1900 sq ft house for 24 years, and while we talked many times about building an addition as our children got bigger, we have managed to get by just fine in the space we have. A careful design that minimizes wasted space might easily suit your wants and budget.

If you can't post the architect's drawings, can you give us a sketch on graph paper? It doesn't have to be perfect, but if you can include dimensions of rooms and overall layout, you might gets lots of suggestions for cutting costs and maximizing space and function.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 1:20PM
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You mentioned you have a second bedroom on the main floor? And that you are soon going to be an empty nester? Can you do away with the second bedroom/bath on the main floor and have the teenager in the basement walkout level? Then you could have your office and finishes. Also, if your child needs to come back for whatever reason, s/he would have a more private space.
What is your overall square feet footage on the main floor? If you are not comfortable posting your floorplan, maybe list the room sizes to see of any seem overly large? Or take a closer look at the plan yourself and see if you will be sacrificing the finishes or office for other space that may not get used? A very large master bedrooms for example.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 1:40PM
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I would keep the office and the high level of finish...and rethink the walk out basement. If you're about to be an empty nester, do you need a basement? Will the stairs be a problem, if you kept it and put the office down there?

    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 1:41PM
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The lot is a walkout lot. The basement would not be finished at this point. And in Minnesota, a single family house without a basement will not sell if I ever had to resell (they have to dig down 4' anyway just to get below the frost line). I wanted a walkout as my older son (who is now 22) is autistic so the walkout give me the potential to make that space a mother-in-law type suite if he needs that at some point in the future.

The total square footage on the main floor is going to be between 1500 and 1550. I will try to draw up the plan tonight as is. I know that I will be modifying the master bath (to be smaller) and the mudroom from the existing plan for sure.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 1:51PM
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Katmu- That makes sense. We have the same frost requirement here (eastern Washington). Maybe have the office upstairs and the guest room downstairs? Or swap them if office needs to be upstairs in the future?

    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 1:53PM
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Would putting doors on the dining room solve the problem for the next couple years?

    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 8:20PM
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I've attached my handdrawn version of the plan. I didn't have a plan of this version with dimensions so I started with the rooms I knew the dimensions of and went from there. It's close but I think the dining room is a bit narrower than what I have here and the living room is a bit wider.

There is another version of this plan with a wider kitchen with an island. I'm trying to decide if the island version of the pennisula version would function better for me.

I drew the master bath as is but I would prefer a smaller tub. I'm only 5' 3" so a 6' tub isn't very comfortable for me.

The front elevation is currently pretty plain (gable roof, forward facing garage, the one bay window in BR 2). I'm trying to keep the roof lines simple, but I would love to be able to add a front porch. I really like Craftsman style homes but I'm not sure that look fits with this floor plan.

Any feedback is welcome. Would this be too much house for 1 person, and a very spoiled black Lab?

Edited to delete picture

This post was edited by katmu on Thu, Oct 17, 13 at 19:43

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 11:10AM
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Since you already have two full baths, maybe you could get away with eliminating the half bath off the laundry room and making that a pantry closet or an office nook.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 11:23AM
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Annie Deighnaugh

We struggled with this issue a lot. What we learned was, finished basements offer the biggest bang for the buck as the walls have to be there anyway, so put your money into finishing it...probably sooner rather than later.

We also learned that there is expensive and cheap sq footage. Expensive is kitchens and baths, cheap is 2x4s and sheet rock. So if you can eliminate a bath and add some sheet rock for an office, it's probably a good idea.

I'm assuming those stairs just go down to the basement.

I'd suggest sketching in some looks like there is a lot of unused space between the foyer and the actual seating areas of the LR and DR. Can you nestle in some walls around the staircase to add a study? Even if it's only a nook? Esp if you eliminate the 1/2 bath? Or consider changing the stair orientation...a straight run of stairs is also a space saver.

Also, we learned that we need to keep the finishes up on the things that are hard to change. The things that are easy to change can be done later as the wallet allows. But we also learned that it's a lot easier to get stuff done when all the trades are on site, so we decided to add things like the cabinetry in the craft room and the plywood flooring in the attic as we knew it would be a long time before we got to it if we didn't just do it.

Landscaping other than what was necessary like the driveway was postponable.

BTW, in your sketch the front door is not centered on the there a reason for that?

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 11:45AM
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I thought the half bath off the garage might be a good idea if I'm coming in from doing yard work, but there is another version without the 1/2 bath.

The front door was definitely drawn off center. There is a transom on one side of the door, towards BR 2.

The builder's model is a bigger version of this plan, and now that you mention it Annie there is a lot of wasted space in that front area.

What if I eliminate the 1/2 bath and have the stairs in a straight run going down from the mud room? I'm wondering if that might give me enough space for a small office.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 12:14PM
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I'd put a small office nook where the stairs are shown (extending into the powder room space), and run the stairs straight down. If the top of the stairway is on the kitchen side, the bottom of the stairs come out near the middle of the basement, which gives you more flexibility for finishing that space.

Putting an office (or library) in the current stair location closes up the entry and makes it feel more intimate - and I think it would do the same for the living and dining rooms.

The kitchen seems really big, though it's hard to tell without dimensions. As Annie said, that's very expensive square footage. Do you have adequate room in the laundry/mud room for all your winter coats/hats/boots/etc? You might be able to expand that space "north" a bit, and maybe move the fridge to the range wall, eliminating the third corner.

A pocket door between kitchen and laundry would be more convenient, especially if it ends up being open most of the time.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 1:06PM
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The kitchen is about 10' X 15'. The laundry room as drawn currently doesn't have a bench of anything for coats so that's one of the things I want to add.

Am I better to try to work with this plan or look at some simple stock plans I could modify?

I was originally looking at the plan below, making BR 3 the office and changing the front to be more of a Craftsman style.

Here is a link that might be useful: Design Basics Caspian

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 1:32PM
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BR 2 seems like it is in a really nice place for your office. If it was me, I would adjust what you can out of the floorplan to make a little smaller for finishing the basement. Keep your son in BR 2 for the next 2 years or so. Then in a few years, when he visits or comes back, he can have a nice suite downstairs and you can convert BR 2 to an office. If you are able yo do his suite downstairs during the homebuild, maybe he will gravitate towards that anyway?

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 8:54PM
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Size vs. Finish is a very individual choice. My overall (feeling) is that people tend to weigh size too heavily for fear of resale value. In other words we have this fear that everyone else in the world prefers size and or can afford more than we can. It becomes an arms race and so we tend to build at our maximum (plus some) budget.

We do also tend to fill all available space. We are just back from Venice Italy where people there are used to living in a much more compact environment. It is not uncommon to have to walk up stairs and old people have been managing there for many centuries.

I have seen granite countertops thrown away after 15 years of use because they are a bit stained and I have seen Formica countertops in use for much longer than that.

For me the 1/2 bath while convenient is a luxury, I have a big master tub also that has not been used in 4? years, two fireplaces that are hardly ever used and in general a house that is much larger than what we want to retire in.

In the end my advise would be to do what is important to you and disregard what I or anyone else says -as long as you still have some money left for a rainy day.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2013 at 12:25PM
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I found a stock plan yesterday that is similar to the builder's plan but smaller at 1436 square feet. I'm going to make the following changes:

1) Remove window from bath 2. I don't like having a window over the tub like that.
2) Change 1st floor ceiling height to 9' throughout; no vaults.
3) Move fireplace so it's centered on the wall between the great room and the MBR. Add cabinet space for TV to left, and built-in bookcase to the right.
4) Kitchen would have 30" gas range, instead of cooktop and double oven.
5) Change dining room slider to french door; remove small gable over french door.
6) Change elevation to be more Craftsman style. Roof to be simple gable, also remove small gable over MBR window. Remove 1/2 round windows in both BR 2 and Master. BR 2 would have a triple front facing window. (I'm working on a drawing but I'm not done yet.)
7) Add 3rd stall garage - required by covenants. I guess it will be space for the lawn tractor I will need to buy.

I know the master is small by today's standards but I think it will be plenty big enough for me, and I'm still doubling my closet space and getting my own bath that I don't have now. I would prefer to have the space in the living areas and the kitchen. I like to cook and usually host my family for holidays and other events so that is important to me.

I plan to keep the built-in bookcases already shown.

Similar to what I went through with my lot, I knew as soon as I saw this plan that it's the one. The smaller size, and the good deal on the lot (tax forfeited) means I should be able to stay within budget and still get the level of finish that I want.

Here is a link that might be useful: 1436 Square Foot Plan

    Bookmark   October 17, 2013 at 12:46PM
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I like it a lot! Especially with the changes you proposed.

Since you'll be adding a third garage stall, but not a third car, and you're in MN (IIRC), I would expand the laundry room further into the garage, to provide more room for coats, boots, etc that I know you'll have. Or cut some space out of the pantry for that purpose.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2013 at 1:05PM
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I like the new plan!

Since you have to put in a three car garage, could you push the third stall back a little to reduce it's impact on the front elevation?

    Bookmark   October 17, 2013 at 1:34PM
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The 3rd stall will be pushed back a bit. I'm not sure yet how much.

I like the idea of bumbing the laundry room into the garage or taking a bit of the pantry space for an area for coats and boots.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2013 at 11:10AM
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here are some ideas I had

hmmm, I will have to learn how to do multiple images.

I gave it a craftsman-ish feel. tried to de-emphasis the garage and give it a bit of decoration.

Main change on the floorplan is the stairs.

Here is a link that might be useful: floorplan

    Bookmark   October 21, 2013 at 2:47PM
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I really appreciate the time you took to make sure a detailed drawing. That is very helpful, and you are apparently psychic as your elevation is similar to what the builder and I were drawing up a bit yesterday.

BR 2 has one large window and 2 smaller flanking windows (about what was originally in the master without the 1/2 round on top). A band of trim across above the window. Board and Batten above the band in the same color as the siding below.

The roof is a simple gable for the main portion. The roof pitches for the front 2 gables are a little bit steeper at around 8:12. I'm not sure what you call the small roof right above where the garage door would be, but he didn't draw that. It would again have the band of trim above with board and batten for the upper portion.

I am going to bump out the laundry room a bit into the garage to get more of a mudroom space. The fireplace plan looks like what you have. I am planning on Craftsman style carriage doors for the garage to tone it down a bit.

I'm still on the fence about sliders vs. french doors towards the back. I'm going to look at the millwork/windows/doors showroom on Saturday so I'm hoping I can decide then.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2013 at 4:37PM
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katmu, I'm in North Dakota, so I can relate to your weather. We have a sliding patio door, and I don't think I'd do it again. You can get a much better seal with a hinged door.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2013 at 7:09PM
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That is a Dutch gable that I used above the garage.

I always try to make the garage less prominent -the Dutch Gable sits further back and so does not dominate the front as much. But I felt the elevation needed two gables and the Dutch gable made it smaller and somewhat equal to the bedroom gable.

Yes I also considered changing material on the gables but I get a little bored with the same old so I decided on a little gingerbread and wainscot on the porch instead.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2013 at 8:06PM
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I keep feeling that the built-in bookcase in the dining room seems a little awkward. What about doing something like this between the DR and Great room, except with just an oak beam near the ceiling to connect the sides? Not neccesarily with leaded glass, although I do like that look.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2013 at 5:28PM
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Yes I agree, I took it out because it was it was too long but I think that your idea is a better solution

    Bookmark   October 24, 2013 at 11:47AM
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I love that. Perfect!!

    Bookmark   October 24, 2013 at 1:40PM
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Personally I wouldn't cut corners on the finishes. Another option would be to build your desired square footage and leave a room or two unfinished (if any aren't necessary right away). That way you can get both the square footage and quality materials that you want and down the road can finish the house out.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2013 at 3:19PM
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Compromising on the level of finish isn't happening. About the extent of what I might do would be:

- solid oak mission style cabinet doors instead of solid quarter sawn oak mission style cabinet doors. I want top quality boxes either way.
-the flooring I picked is red oak #2 common in the 3 1/4" width so that's not too expensive
-the baths are back to back, and stacked over the rough-in in the basement, and fairly standard size baths so that should help a little
-trim is going to be stock oak trim, but still wide trim.
-doors will be stock 2 panel solid oak doors
-looking carefully at countertop pricing between granite and quartz
-I'm doing a patio now and I'm debating if I'll see if my brother (a contractor who lives out of state) could help me with the deck and some of the landscaping.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2013 at 4:28PM
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Here are some more interior shots

Here is a link that might be useful: interior

    Bookmark   October 24, 2013 at 5:17PM
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Thanks Chris. Those were very helpful in picturing what my changes will look like.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2013 at 6:41PM
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