“Home Building Guide”: Design


Most new houses (except starter houses) feature a fireplace or two. Standard settings include living rooms and family rooms, and you can also find fireplaces in bedrooms and kitchens. “We have even put them in bathrooms,” says Jim Buchan of Energy Products and Design.

Most new home owners choose gas fireplaces. “A typical high-efficiency gas fireplace costs about half as much as a high-efficiency wood-burning fireplace because you don’t have to buy the expensive chimney.” Nor do you have to lug logs in and sweep ashes out.

You can get gas hearth logs that glow with wood-burning realism, and you can select from a variety of fireplace designs. “Besides picking out the fireplace, consider what you want around it – brick, tile, stone – and the different mantle options.

“Gas fireplaces have come a long way,” Buchan says. Some even surpass heater status and merit rating as furnaces.

What about Lights?

Innovative lighting techniques, designed to make your new house beautiful and practical, call for early planning. “It’s hard to change the wiring once it’s installed,” says Karin Buechler, co-owner of Light Spot, LLC.

Here are some pointers to help you preplan:

  • A dining room chandelier doesn’t provide enough light. “Add wall sconces or recessed lights around the chandelier to highlight it — and so you can see to eat or serve.”
  • And so you can see to fix the food, put plenty of lights in the kitchen: a center-of-the-ceiling fixture, plus lights to shine on work spaces and the dining area.
  • Home offices also need brightening from multiple sources.
  • Outside lights accent your new house’s good looks and help supply safety and security. The police suggest lighting all four sides.

“If you have questions,” Buechler says, “talk with a lighting specialist.”

Wallcoverings – Paneling and Wallpaper

Will you take the do-it-yourself challenge or hire somebody else to hang the wallpaper? Either way, here’s the word on wallcoverings from Joy Lueders, interior designer at Struve’s Paint and Wallcoverings.

Color is big. People want to look at something more vibrant than off-white walls. “The trend is to coppers and golds, like the 1970s, but richer, more metallic and shimmery.” Or pick any color – they’re all in style.

If you decide to wait a year before you add wallcoverings, you’ll know which areas of which walls get the most abuse (the fingerprinted, bumped-into places), and you’ll be aware of the affects of sunlight in your house. Wallcoverings in cool colors complement warm, sunny rooms; warm hues counterbalance chilly rooms.

Approximately half of new house owners do their own wallpapering. Most of the rest, the hire-somebody-elsers, have papered before. If you do tackle the task yourself, put wallpaper-ready primer on the drywall, and remember to use sizing, too.

Warning: Anyone can call Himself a Painting Contractor

The way to pick a pro is to ask your potential painter some questions.

  • How long have you been in business? Longevity hints that a company will still be around if problems arise later.
  • Are you insured? If he isn’t and has an accident while working for you, you’re liable.
  • What kind of paint do you use, and does its manufacturer guarantee it? Problems with paint rarely happen, “but any product can have a flaw.”
  • Do you guarantee your work? He should, for at least a year.
  • Do you belong to the local builders association? “You can’t just pay dues and join. The builders association checks on applicants to make sure they pay their bills and that it looks as if they’ll be in business for a while.”
  • Will you provide references? “Nothing eases your mind like seeing the work for yourself.”

Paint Choices

Would you rather (1) see your new house’s walls keep their fresh-paint look for a few years or (2) repaint them much sooner? If option one has more appeal, pick high-quality paint, says Rick Brekke, store manager at Rochester’s Sherwin-Williams. “With better paint on the walls, a new home will look better longer.”

Paint comes in a choice of finishes, each of which is available in a range of grades. “High-grade paints last three to four times longer and make walls easier to clean.”

Durability and ease of cleanups also depend on the finish. Flat paint is least washable and most fragile. Satin, the popular choice, withstands scrubbing and fends off stains. Tough semi-gloss is recommended for bathrooms, kitchens and the most-used entryway.

Pick your paint (your high-grade, long-wearing paint) early, when you’re planning your house. “Know what it’s going to cost and include it in your building budget.”

Creative Painting

Creative painting techniques and special paint products can bring pizzazz to the walls of a new house. The most popular techniques are sponging and rag rolling, says Hirshfield’s Decorating Center manager Chad Grande. Sponging produces looks ranging from granite to mist, and rag rolling is versatile, too. Effects depend on the colors you use and how you wield the sponge or roll the rag.

A dual roller, two rollers on one frame, lets the painter apply two colors at the same time. “The colors should contrast. The result is a soft, elegant marbleized look.” Color washing also produces the appearance of marble, and you can use as many colors as you want. A suede finish calls for special rollers and two coats of paint. Crackling gives a weathered look; sand paint contains fine grains of sand which add texture to walls.

“When you’ve selected your colors and the look you want, get a piece of tag board and practice,” Grande said. “You might even invent your own special technique.”

Interior Trim

Interior trim, the woodwork in a house that finishes doors, windows, edges, and corners, was a cinch to pick five years ago. “Oak was about it,” says Wayne Eisen, a salesman at Stock Building Supply. “Take doors. You could upgrade from plain to four-panel or six-panel. In oak.”

Now options include maple, cherry, knotty pine, oak (of course) and, for painted doors, composites. Doors come with raised panels or flat panels and with one, two, three, four, five or six panels, and there are panel designs as well. “The options don’t cost a fortune either.”

You can get molding to match your doors or complement them. “People are mixing trims now: Painted doors and maple or cherry molding or a cherry door, painted woodwork and maybe a hickory floor. It has to be the right combination and when it is, you get a nice complementary look.”

Selecting Window Treatments

“What is a standard-size window?” his customers ask Greg McKey, territorial representative for Budget Blinds.

“There is none,” he answers. Windows come in such a wide choice of sizes that it is difficult finding the right-size window treatment in do-it-yourself stores. Window styles vary, too, which adds to the challenge because treatment type depends on window type. When you’re selecting a window treatment, allow for the window’s cranks, handles and other apparatus.

Consider your home’s decor, too, and what colors and designs will suit it best. Analyze your wishes and needs for each room. If, for example, you want to control sunlight in a room that doesn’t require much privacy, up and down shades aren’t the practical choice.

Ask the salesperson what happens if a blind breaks. “Look for a service warranty,” McKey says, “and find out if repair work can be done in the home.”

Copyright 2010 Rochester Area Builders, Inc. No part of the Builder’s Corner articles may be reproduced or printed without written permission from Rochester Area Builders. 108 Elton Hills Lane NW, Rochester, MN 55901. Phone 507-282-7698.