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Affordable Modern Design

by John McMillen last modified Mar 30, 2007 08:55 PM
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Affordable Modern Design

Posted by John McMillen at December 20. 2006

My wife and I would like to build a "2000 sq ft." modern home on a shoe-string budget (wouldn't we all).  But I actually believe we can do it with a little creativity.  The more design I see, the more I'm convinced that it perpetuates wasted space (which eats up the budget).  

People don't really want space, they want livable room.  3000 sq. ft may sound good to the neighbors, but if that space isn't all that functional or is wasted -- what's the point? 

My question to everyone is, "Can we maximize our budget by maximizing our space?"  Afterall, isn't isn't it space that's expensive?  Everyone knows that building up is cheaper than building out.  But why stop there?  Why not create space that is multi-fuctional?  For example, does anyone really need both an eat-in kitchen and dining room?  But even that's only 2 uses for the same space.  A truly multi-functional space would have 3 or 4 uses (or perhaps unlimited uses).

I'd be interested in anyone's thoughts on this design:  an open floor plan that uses age-old design to make it look like it has more space than it really does (tall windows, rugs, etc.) with rooms that fully open up the outside.  Since that outside space has already been paid for, why not extend the living space out there?  For example, if we would like 400 sq. ft. for the living room, could we not acheive this same "feel" by determining what space is essential and then create a design (i.e., sliding glass doors) that relies on the outdoors (i.e., paid for space) to provide the rest of the  enterior space?  So often I see home design overlook this opportunity.  In my opinon, great architecture incorporates the outdoors, most designs, however, seem to make it an afterthought. 

I realize that I haven't said anything unusual, but I'm convinced that by usuing affordable materials, creative design, and extending what would be small living spaces to the outside, we can acheive our 2000 sq. ft. modern home on a shoe string budget.

Thanks for your thoughts/ideas.  John (johnmcm@bgsu.edu)

Re: Affordable Modern Design

Posted by Don Whitten at December 20. 2006
How tight is the string? see: http://www.contextmodern.com/services.html

Re: Affordable Modern Design

Posted by Scott Mason at December 20. 2006
The Japanese routinely achieve this kind of multifunctionality in their
spaces. A tatami room is one good example of this. It functions as a place for formal entertainment, formal dining, and can typically sleep four or more. It also can function as a media room.

Japanese houses often incorporate a courtyard that contains both a little garden and a deck. This might be surrounded by wide aperture sliding doors, to achieve that indoor/outdoors thing. A privacy screen accross the remaining side makes this workable even in an urban environment.

The great master of all this is architect Denso Sugiura, who has done a whole series of 300 s.f. houses, which all seem much bigger. You might want to browse around his site and pick up some ideas from the pictures.

http://arts-crafts.jp/works/tiny/index.htm

Re: Affordable Modern Design

Posted by Scott Mason at December 20. 2006

Previously Scott Mason wrote:

The Japanese routinely achieve this kind of multifunctionality in their
spaces.

Also, achieving multifunctionality in a smaller space actually costs much more per s.f. in Japan, and elsewhere. I think this is one of the ideas expressed in the Not So Big House.

Have you seen that book by Kira Obolensky on building modern for less? "Frugal but not cheap" being the maxim.

Re: Affordable Modern Design

Posted by John McMillen at December 20. 2006

Thanks for your suggestions/links.  We'd like to spend $300k, including the land, house, and all building/construction.  The biggest variable is the cost of the lot (we're considering moving to Fresno, CA) so that will determine a lot of what we can afford.  Either way, we're convinced we can do this.  Are we crazy?

Re: Affordable Modern Design

Posted by Jason at December 20. 2006

John - it all depends on land cost and finishes. We are building 2,200 square foot homes for $105 per square foot above ground in a major metro area in Texas. If you take the time and effort and foot the bill yourself, it can be done - at least here. They are modern homes with very nice finishes - nice but not extravagant. I suspect costs are a lot higher in California.

Re: Affordable Modern Design

Posted by Don Whitten at December 21. 2006

John-

When considering development opportunittes & custom design, I would not begin to think of constructing any residence for less than $100/sf + land cost + a lot a free and cheap labor; & I am in the coastal swamp of SE north carolina.  Case in point:  http://www.contextmodern.com/4122.html

Site cost:                    33K - very  reasonable

Contruction cost:       245K  or  $107/sf

Contractor fees :           0 - owner contractor

90% finish carpentry:    0 - owner carpenter

                                   278K or $120/sf

However this house may retail for $375k-$450.

Re: Affordable Modern Design

Posted by Dustin Ehrlich at December 21. 2006

If you can act as GC/Builder you will save a lot of money. There is a reason they exist though, it is a tough job, but it's still possible to do it yourself. Also, look into faster construction methods such as modular or SIPs to save on labor costs and speed up time in construction.

Re: Affordable Modern Design

Posted by Splatgirl at December 21. 2006

Previously John McMillen wrote:

I realize that I haven't said anything unusual, but I'm convinced that by usuing affordable materials, creative design, and extending what would be small living spaces to the outside, we can acheive our 2000 sq. ft. modern home on a shoe string budget.

Thanks for your thoughts/ideas.  John (johnmcm@bgsu.edu)


the only thing you left out was "be willing to work our butts off"

Have you read my blog here?  Perhaps you will find it comforting.  Those were some of the very same thoughts I had, and although I knew I was right I would have been hard pressed to get anyone to agree with me. 

It IS possible.  For us, working our butts off and then some was by far the biggest factor in being able to achieve our goal of modern, unique, energy wise, and functional all on a sub $100sq/ft budget.

Of course you have to be reasonable and accept the fact that this is more or less achievable depending on where you want to do it.  And also realize that compromise is a big part of it.  In our case, that meant not having every detail and finish in place from day one and being willing to live in a space that will evolve as we have the time and money (not to mention having given up over a year of our regular lives, free time and weekends and a healthy dose of our sanity).

Re: Affordable Modern Design

Posted by John McMillen at December 22. 2006

We more than willing to roll up our sleeves.  As some of you have suggested, if we can do some of the work ourselves (and we can, I've remodeled most of our house) or even serve as our own General Contractor we can save on costs.

Splatgirl, I couldn't find your blog.  I'd be interested in reading it and seeing some photos.

Previously Splatgirl wrote:

Previously John McMillen wrote:

I realize that I haven't said anything unusual, but I'm convinced that by usuing affordable materials, creative design, and extending what would be small living spaces to the outside, we can acheive our 2000 sq. ft. modern home on a shoe string budget.

Thanks for your thoughts/ideas.  John (johnmcm@bgsu.edu)


the only thing you left out was "be willing to work our butts off"

Have you read my blog here?  Perhaps you will find it comforting.  Those were some of the very same thoughts I had, and although I knew I was right I would have been hard pressed to get anyone to agree with me. 

It IS possible.  For us, working our butts off and then some was by far the biggest factor in being able to achieve our goal of modern, unique, energy wise, and functional all on a sub $100sq/ft budget.

Of course you have to be reasonable and accept the fact that this is more or less achievable depending on where you want to do it.  And also realize that compromise is a big part of it.  In our case, that meant not having every detail and finish in place from day one and being willing to live in a space that will evolve as we have the time and money (not to mention having given up over a year of our regular lives, free time and weekends and a healthy dose of our sanity).

Re: Affordable Modern Design

Posted by Splatgirl at December 23. 2006

Previously John McMillen wrote:

We more than willing to roll up our sleeves.  As some of you have suggested, if we can do some of the work ourselves (and we can, I've remodeled most of our house) or even serve as our own General Contractor we can save on costs.

Splatgirl, I couldn't find your blog.  I'd be interested in reading it and seeing some photos.

http://livemodern.com/Members/splatgirl/blog

Note that the posts are in newest to oldest.

Re: Affordable Modern Design

Posted by Splatgirl at December 23. 2006

http://livemodern.com/Members/splatgirl/blog

Note that the posts are in newest to oldest.


 I forgot to mention that the the pictures associated with all my blog entries seem to be MIA following the site updates.  I know that this is being addressed by admin, but if you're interested in these in the mean time, I have a Flickr set entitled "Modern in MN" that is more or less a chronolgical essay of our process...

http://flickr.com/photos/splatgirl/sets/185957/

Re: Affordable Modern Design

Posted by John McMillen at December 23. 2006

Splatgirl~

Wow.  I'm impressed!  As my wife says, "you're a legend."  You're truly an inspiration to all of us hoping to do what you've already done.  In fact, we've already taken some of your advice and found some land online that we're interested in.  It's out in the "boonies" though and I'm wondering if you or anyone has suggestions on what in the world we do about plumbing, electical, and water?  It's a beautiful area, but are we going to end up paying a fortune to get the essential utilities hooked up?  I'm not even sure it can be done.  Eeks. 

Also, how do we go about finding out all the local code requirements & restrictions?

Finally, do you have a photo of the outside of your house?  LOVED the inside and what I could see of the outside material.  Would you mind me asking, how many square feet is it and what's the breakdown of your costs:  materials, labor, & land?

Merry Christmas!

johnmcm@bgsu.edu

Previously Splatgirl wrote:

http://livemodern.com/Members/splatgirl/blog

Note that the posts are in newest to oldest.


 I forgot to mention that the the pictures associated with all my blog entries seem to be MIA following the site updates.  I know that this is being addressed by admin, but if you're interested in these in the mean time, I have a Flickr set entitled "Modern in MN" that is more or less a chronolgical essay of our process...

http://flickr.com/photos/splatgirl/sets/185957/

Re: Affordable Modern Design

Posted by Thomas Zdon at January 03. 2007
This is a funny post in my mind. All I want to do is alter my house just enough to give it a "modern" look update from the 1948 Miami Modern ranch style that it is. I'm being told by almost every local firm I speak with that a 6 figure budget is underfunded and would only cover windows and doors and plans and that they aren't interested in such a "small" project.

Re: Affordable Modern Design

Posted by Gregory La Vardera at January 03. 2007

Previously Thomas Zdon wrote:

I'm being told by almost every local firm I speak with that a 6 figure budget is underfunded and would only cover windows and doors and plans and that they aren't interested in such a "small" project.

Man, what's with these people? I am nowhere nearby, but if you can't find a local firm to help you I'll do it, at least what I can from here..

Re: Affordable Modern Design

Posted by Thomas Zdon at January 04. 2007

Previously Gregory La Vardera wrote:

Previously Thomas Zdon wrote:

I'm being told by almost every local firm I speak with that a 6 figure budget is underfunded and would only cover windows and doors and plans and that they aren't interested in such a "small" project.


> <br>Man, what's with these people? I am nowhere nearby, but if you can't find a local firm to help you I'll do it, at least what I can from here..

Gregory, Thanks for the willingness. Actually - I can quote you from one gentleman I spoke with last night for about an hour. I discussed changing the windows and what would be best - altering the doors to a more modern look. Making zero structural changes to the home. He suggested I should budget at lease 18-36k for plans - and that the work would start from there. Mind you - thats just to replace windows and doors - no windows or doors included... just to figure out a look that would do the job. In addition to this - he wasn't an AIA architect. He was a designer whose site claims you don't need "the cost" of an architect. So - I'm terrified to call actual architects because I assume their costs would be even higher just to help make decisions on windows. I'm sure some of this relates to the attractiveness of the building boom down here - and why focus on homes when you can do condo conversions and large buildings. Plus - most contractors would prefer to work as a sub - more steady work - less hassle. And with cranes all over our skyline there is no shortage of work. I guess I'll be one of the only people I know praying for a real estate crash so all this will end and I can get some work done on my house

Re: Affordable Modern Design

Posted by Gregory La Vardera at January 04. 2007
Its a case of supply and demand. You apparently have lots of high budget projects for the available architects and designers. So in that context they can't serve the smaller projects at lower fees unless they opt to not take the best paying work. And, well, that rarely happens.

Re: Affordable Modern Design

Posted by Ty Jones at March 04. 2007

Hi Thomas. I currently in the process of doing this to a duplex I own in Santa Rosa, CA. It is a very not descript late 60's box. With new windows, redesigned from sliders to a modern look, new doors, some great exterior window shades and new color, I am taking the worst house on the street and creating a great building. It can be done!



Previously Thomas Zdon wrote:

This is a funny post in my mind. All I want to do is alter my house just enough to give it a "modern" look update from the 1948 Miami Modern ranch style that it is. I'm being told by almost every local firm I speak with that a 6 figure budget is underfunded and would only cover windows and doors and plans and that they aren't interested in such a "small" project.

Re: Affordable Modern Design

Posted by Jason Hammond at March 30. 2007

I don't know building costs in Fresno but if you're willing otto scower the internet for products, think outside the box on what you use for materials and do some of the work yourself then you might not be crazy.

I think you're a little off the mark on the square footage notion.Construction materials come in round numbers (4x8 sheet of plywood) so you might trim a foot here and a foot there and it actually will cost you the same as if you'd have left it in, except now you have less room. Most people lose their minds when the get to the construction phase and start ignoring their budget allowances. $1000's here or there ads up faster than you think.


I'm writing a story and blog for the Minneapolis Star Tribune Newspaper cover this exact idea. Can you build a modern (somewhat green in my case) house on a reasonable budget. I've set a number out there to beat which is about $25 less per sq ft. than the average home in my area but I'm hoping that I will be able to drop that to closer to $50 to $75 less.

http://www.startribune.com/blogs/newhouse


I've talked to several people who I have met on Livemodern who have put their minds to doing it and got it done for way less than what people said they could do it for. My biggest tip is do your research before you do anything. You'll know what you're paying for and what you want and need. This will give you a real idea of where you'll need to "value engineer" on your project. And another big key don't cut corners on things like windows and foundation that are not easy to fix down the road.


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