The Modern Farmhouse: One Year After the Build

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Building a home is not for the faint of heart. Building a custom home, especially one in which you as the homeowner are acting as the interior design and final decision maker, well I'm pretty sure that's reserved for the truly crazy. There are simply so many decisions that need to be made that it's impossible to come out on the other side without a few things one might wish they would have done differently, but as I was putting this post together, I'm actually quite impressed with the small number of things we would change. We love our house, and I'm so grateful to call this place home each and every day.

Before we jump into the details, however, I did want to touch on a topic that I am asked all the time. MONEY. How much did it cost to build our house? While I realize so many of you would prefer that I just throw out a number or range, I truly don't want to mislead anyone. The amount of money we spent to build our home is extremely specific to our situation, and I am confident that if we were to build the exact same house in a different location, the cost would vary greatly. Why? Well there are a few big factors at play:

  • Buying 8.5 acres with no infrastructure in place
  • Rural Indiana
  • Architect fees
  • Energy efficiency selections
  • Running electricity back to the house
  • Well
  • Septic
  • 350' driveway
  • Doing a lot of work ourselves

All of that to say that I think it is quite possible to build a wonderful home on a wide range of budgets. Figure out what is most important to your family and stick to it. We had a to make a number of decisions throughout our build to stay on track. The home you see today is the result of a continual push and pull over the last 12 months, some things we weren't willing to budge on while others had to give in order to make the numbers and timeframe work. 

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Now let's get into the details! Tyler and I came up with our "Top 3" for each category and then provided a bulleted list of other thoughts in no particular order. 

Things we love and would do again:

  1. Set a budget and stick to it.We never went to a bank and asked how much money they would loan us. Instead, we decided what we wanted our mortgage to be and asked the bank for that amount. I have no idea how much we would have qualified for, but I'm sure it would have been way more than we were comfortable spending. We didn't ever want to put ourselves in a tight spot - especially with a mortgage that would be around for many years down the road (although if I have it my way, we will pay it off as soon as possible). We determined how much we were comfortable mortgaging and paid cash for the rest. This made for some pretty tight days during the end of the build (hence why we slept on a mattress on the floor for 8 months), but we would do it again in a heartbeat.
  2. Find a builder you can trust. While finding a great architect was an important part of the process, finding a trustworthy builder proved to be the smartest decision we made. We worked with our builder continually for over 12 months (so many emails!), so it is critical that you find someone you can trust, understands what is important to you, and has your best interests at heart. Side Note: Our builder actually came to every single meeting with our architect. He was an invaluable resource during that process because he was able to jump in and say if a certain design decision would be really costly and offer alternative build options. 
  3. Semi-custom finishes. You can get a custom look without paying custom prices - you just might have to put in a little sweat equity to make it all come together. We used IKEA cabinetry throughout our home, and I would recommend it to anyone. The organization is fantastic, the prices can't be beat, and there are so many companies offering "custom" fronts, panels, hardware, etc. meaning you can achieve a high end look on a tight budget. We saved tens of thousands of dollars on cabinetry and instead, put our money into all of the areas no one sees - insulation, mechanical systems, infrastructure, etc.

A few other thoughts in no particular order:

  • Custom quartz countertop in master bath
    • Just because we used IKEA vanities doesn't mean we had to use IKEA countertops/sinks. We chose to spend our money on a custom quartz countertop with under mount sinks to achieve a high end look on a budget. 
  • Engineered hardwood flooring throughout
    • Not as expensive as real hardwood yet extremely durable. Plus, unlike hardwood, you can use engineered flooring sub surface meaning we can use it in our basement when we finish it one day. Our floors even have a thick top layer meaning we can refinish them down the road, if needed.
  • Quartz in shower
    • We used leftover quartz from our kitchen/bath counters on the shower niche ledge and curb (the part you step over to get into the shower) instead of tile. HIGHLY RECOMMEND! These are the areas where water and soap typically sit, and this means no dirt and grime in the grout. Kudos to our builder for this awesome suggestion.
  • Size of shower
    • We aren't bath people, so a big shower with an oversized window was perfect for us. Ours is about 4'x6' which is plenty large but not so massive that it's cold.
  • No shower door
    • I really didn't want a door on our shower, so we made the glass as big as possible and used a rainfall shower head to minimize overspray. Worked like a charm!
  • Smart storage
    • Our house isn't huge, but we did try to maximize every square inch and add storage wherever possible. IKEA systems really help keep everything organized. For instance, instead of simply adding a rod and some doors to the closets in our guest bedrooms, we asked our builder to leave the closets unfinished and left it as a project for us to complete later. Once we saved up some money, we added IKEA closet systems and fully maximized the space.
  • Pocket doors
    • I am obsessed with pocket doors! They save SO much space. As you will see below, this is actually something I wish we did even more of.
  • Quiet dishwasher
    • We are really fortunate that Tyler has family that work for Whirlpool, so we were able to get an incredible deal on our appliances. Even if we didn't, however, I would spend the money to buy our dishwasher again. You can't even hear it when it's running - very important when your house is as open as ours!
  • Media nook
    • I hate cords and seeing all of the "stuff" that comes with TV, internet, etc. Our media nook hides all of that stuff out of site - leaving our TV wall clean and free of cords.
  • Adding a basement
    • We didn't intend to have a basement, but it was a last minute add due to how little it was going to add to our overall costs. It has proved to be a really smart investment because all of our mechanical systems can be down there and allow us a bit more room for laundry and a powder bath on the main floor.
  • Versatile selections
    • We kept simplicity, durability and function in mind at all times when making the "big" decisions during our build. Things like flooring, cabinetry, and layout. We wanted to reserve the "trendy" selections for decor - the places where things can easily be switched out when I inevitably change my mind. 
  • Keep some projects for later
    • I realize this might not work for everyone, but we saved so much money by leaving a lot of projects for later. Things we knew we could do on our own and didn't need when we moved into the house (closet systems, landscaping, built-ins, deck, etc.). Don't feel like everything has to be 100% perfect at move-in!
  • Varying windows
    • I don't know if this is normal or not, but we chose a number of different windows throughout our house. We have double hung windows upstairs, awning windows downstairs, and then several casement windows throughout. Choose the window that is going to function the best for the space!
  • White Paint
    • Oh, the controversial topic of white paint. I get asked all the time what color/brand we used, and I would recommend our selection to anyone. We used Dunn Edwards paint throughout our home. Our walls are "Droplets" in eggshell finish, trim/cabinets/doors are "White" in semigloss finish, and our ceiling is also "White" in flat finish. 
  • Metal Roof
    • Installing a standing seam metal roof was on our "must have" list from the beginning. We loved the durability and look of metal, so we budgeted to make sure we could incorporate it in our build. Lucky for us, my Dad was a roofing and siding contractor, so he knew about some really affordable metal roofing companies not far from our hometown. Their pricing was SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper than any estimates we received from companies closer to Indianapolis. My advice? Do your research!
  • Hardie Board Siding
    • We have loved the durability and look of our siding. Cement siding has so many benefits, and although a bit more expensive than other options on the market, we chose the paintable kind to save a bit of money. We are really happy with our selection. I also like that we used varying selections - board and batten on the house, lap siding on the garage.
  • Wood Accents
    • We always knew we wanted a white house with black accents, but we didn't ever want things to feel cold or sterile. Our solution? Warm things up with wood! Whether it be the exterior of our house or the interior, we followed this theme throughout. 
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Things that popped up during the build that we wish we had known or thought about before:

  1. Electricity. We bought raw land. There was nothing but dirt, grass, and trees here before we started to build. No electricity. No water. No septic. No nothing! We had to pay to put all of these systems in place. THAT. IS. NOT. CHEAP. We knew this going in so we budgeted for it, but we should have budgeted even more. Running electricity all the way back to the house proved to be much more expensive than we anticipated. When buying land with absolutely nothing on it, plan to spend WAY more than anticipated on infrastructure.
  2. Stone. We spent more than double our budget on stone. Stone! Our driveway is over 350' long, and it just takes so much stone to create a base - let alone something that looks nice at the end of the build after all of the construction equipment has ripped it to shreds. We also had to "build up" the garage and house area a bit to account for the grade down to the septic field. Things just add up quickly!
  3. Expectation that there would always be someone working on the house. There were days at a time when there was no one at the house during the build. It could be frustrating, especially if it was a really nice and sunny day when it felt like a ton of work could get done, but there are so many moving pieces and parts that sometimes all of the puzzle pieces just don't line up. And that's okay. Sometimes there may be four trades at the house all at once, and sometimes there may not be a soul around for a few days. 

A few other thoughts in no particular order:

  • Cost of energy efficiency (Passive Haus)
    • We went down this path and made a lot of decisions based on it until we realized the true cost. My advice? Do your homework and figure out what is the smartest option for your family and budget. We were able to build an extremely energy efficient house without spending the extra money required to be fully "Passive". We still have dreams of achieving net zero, but we plan to do so by supplementing our energy usage with renewable sources (solar or wind). 
  • Equipment and tools to maintain 8.5 acres are not cheap.
    • We knew we were going to need a nice lawn mower to maintain all of this land, but we didn't really factor in all of the other "stuff" that popped up. Chain saws, hoses, sprinklers, spreaders... The list goes on and on. Not to mention the tractor Tyler keeps hinting at... Did I mention you have to have a place to store all of this stuff? Yikes. 
  • Internet/Cable
    • Before we bought our land, accessibility to good internet was a top priority. I work from home a lot, so anything but great high speed internet wasn't an option. In Indiana, rural internet is poor at best. Luckily, we knew we could get good internet, we just didn't factor in how much it would cost us to run those lines back to the house.
  • Hooks in master bath
    • This may sound extremely minor, but it didn't even cross my mind until we moved into the house and realized we had no where to hang a towel in the master bathroom. We don't have a lot of "free" walls in our house. Actually, we just don't have a lot of walls! When everything is very open concept, the majority of the walls are exterior which means most have cabinetry, tile or windows on them. Therefore, hanging things becomes a real challenge. We ended up using 3M strips on the tile in the shower to mount some hooks which has worked out extremely well, but it's something I may have approached differently had I thought about it in advance.
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Things we would change:

  1. Door Swings. I don't even remember discussing door swings during our entire design and build process. It's possible that it happened, but I have no recollection. We actually have very few doors in our house, so that may have played a factor, but if there is one thing I could change right now, it would be the swing direction of our back door. From the outside, it opens from left to right. I REALLY wish it opened right to left. Our mudroom is directly to your right when you open the door, so right now you have to awkwardly walk around the door to get to that area. It's not a serious issue, just really annoying. 
  2. Powder Bath pocket door. Again with the doors... ha! We used a "normal" door on our powder bath and I REALLY wish it was a pocket door. I think pocket doors are the smartest option for small footprints. In all honesty, though, I don't think we would have the space for a pocket door because of all the ventilation/electricity/plumbing that runs through the walls by our powder bath, but it would still be nice to have. Also, we actually did discuss adding a pocket door back there, but our architect advised that a "normal" door would provide better sound dampening. That all may be true, but I still want a pocket door. Ha!
  3. Outlet placement. Lighting, electricity, and outlets in a new build are some of the decisions that I never dreamed I'd have to make. It's extremely difficult to know exactly where you're going to want an outlet or how you're going to want a light to function when you don't even have drywall up. The outlets in our kitchen and master bath, for example, are some I would rethink. I don't like looking at our range and seeing the outlets on each side - I understand the functionality, I just don't like it visually. The same goes for our master bathroom. We put outlets behind our vanity which are AWESOME. We can keep toothbrushes and hair dryers plugged in and out of site. I don't, however, like the outlet under the mirror between our sinks. I would ditch it all together and just keep the ones in the vanity. Honestly, I'm not even sure I COULD have changed some of these due to electrical code, but I'd like to. 

A few other thoughts in no particular order:

  • Powder bath faucet
    • I love the sink and faucet we used in our powder bath. I don't like that Kohler stopped selling their 6.5" spout that pointed straight down. I had to go with the 6.5" that kind of points out, and it can make a mess if you're not careful. If you want to use the Alape sink like we did, I would highly recommend a faucet that has a really short spout or at least one that points straight down. 
  • Laundry room sound
    • Our laundry room doesn't have a door. I actually don't mind that it is open, but I don't love the sound when I'm running the washer and dryer. With a really open floor plan, these type of noises become really pronounced. 
  • Mudroom/Laundry/Powder Bath tile
    • We chose to use engineered hardwood throughout our house with the exception of the guest bath and master bath. I love our floors and they are extremely durable, but I might consider using a tile in the mudroom, laundry room, and powder bath areas if I were to do it all over again. There is just so much water, mud, snow, etc. that hits this area - I think a tile may have been smart.

All in all, we couldn't be happier with our house. It truly feels like home, and there is nothing better than that.