Design-Build equals affordable architecture

Last time I told you about some ways to build a beautiful affordable modern home. One other big way to do it is to use a design-build firm. Design-build means that the architecture firm acts as both designer and contractor. When we built our house in 2013, we worked with Tonic Design & Construction in Raleigh, NC and everything they designed was thought about in terms of constructability and cost. Design-build really takes the theoretical and makes it practical. And it saves money in the end – some estimate about 10% savings in project costs. The way that I explain it is that with design-build you still get the great architecture that you want, but you can actually afford it now. We did a feasibility study with Tonic before we even purchased the land to make sure we could get the house that we wanted on our budget.

Read more about the concept of design-build if you’re interested. I was sold on the concept from the beginning mainly because it saves time and headaches over communication.

We ended up building our house for $150/square foot which means I can keep my part time job, working less and hanging out with the kids more. It’s that balance that matters to me.

Let’s talk numbers – how modest are we talking?

Many people ask me how we built our house for as little as $150/square foot. Here are a few ways we managed to keep the cost low but still create a beautiful and unique custom modern home:

  • We used a simple palette when it came to materials – same tile in the bathrooms, same flooring and closets throughout the entire house.
  • The spaces are simple and multi-functional so they can easily convert and accommodate different activities – a dining room can become a living room, a bedroom can become an office or art room.
  • We re-used the foundation and some of the walls of an existing house – and because we recycled all of the existing home’s materials at the Habitat Reuse Center, we received a substantial tax credit.
  • We chose a simple geometry for the shape of the house – a pure cube is the most affordable.
  • By selecting affordable Ikea cabinets, vanities and faucets we were able to save a bundle.
  • If you purchase materials (like windows and doors) in the standard manufacturer’s proportions like we did, you won’t run up the bill with custom cuts and sizes

But making compromises and sticking to your top 3 list of must-haves is the most important thing you can do to keep costs low. Our top 3 were Light (which meant windows); Space (obsessing over the proportions in the drawings and 3D models); and Energy Efficiency (to keep energy bills low and lower the impact on the environment).

Dwell featured some other homes built in 2014 on a budget. Building modern but affordably and within your means is clearly important to more and more people – it was to us.

The beginning of modest modern

My first blog post – yay and yikes! I’ll ease myself into this whole thing by starting with something easy, like what modest modern means. To me, it’s a style and concept that means unique and accessible; bespoke and affordable; streamlined and liveable. Lovely design should be for everyone, not just for the rich. And that includes houses, everyday products, art, technology, you name it. My hope with this blog is to show others how modern homes and the stuff inside it can be affordable and how constraints can actually stimulate more creative design and more thoughtful decisions.

I have 2 kids under the age of 8 and we live in a modern house. Both my partner and I work because we need to financially. We chose to build a modern house (on a tight budget) and to fill it with beautiful (but non-precious) objects, because we like the way modern looks. I like simplicity, no clutter, no kitsch. And I also like not breaking the bank. I want to have money left over to travel, explore and eat out once in a while. Because it’s not just about the house and the stuff inside – it’s about what living a modest modern life means too. And that’s what I’m hoping to share with this blog. So cheers to my first post – it’s hard to make time for this, but I like it and it feels good, c’est la vie!