Working on a Dream


Do you think about one day owning your ‘dream home’, one that’s perfect for you and your family? Do you have a few ideas but need help creating a concrete design? You could come close to your dream by purchasing a new spec home that satisfies some of your needs, or buying someone else’s house and remodeling the kitchen and bath, etc.

Homeowners can design and build a new home from the ground up. This requires careful planning but will be an experience you’ll remember for a lifetime. To start the process of making your ideas a reality, you’ll need to work with an architect. We interviewed Mark Elster of AOME Architects to ask about the process of planning and building your dream home. 

Mercer Island City Lifestyles (MICL) What are the benefits of building a custom home versus buying a spec home?

Mark Elster (ME): When you buy a home designed and built for someone else you can move in immediately, but it won’t be tailored to you and your family without additional work. You may also find that the total expense will be less. Building your own custom home might mean you’ll have to wait a couple of years to move in, but you’ll have a home tailored to your family’s needs and goals. You also benefit from playing a key role in the making of your home, a process that invests your custom home with much more personal meaning and purpose than you can achieve by purchasing someone else’s home. Ideally, it becomes an experience you will treasure for a lifetime.

MICL: What steps are required to build my custom dream home?

ME: Clients are eager to occupy their finished custom home, which can bias their choices to select professionals willing to rush the process at the risk of causing problems and unwanted compromises later. Prudent clients take the time to select professionals that will help them more fully define the scope and goals for their project, assess its feasibility, and develop design concepts enabling the client to truly visualize the finished home. Once these pre-design steps are completed the architect will help the owner assemble the project team of consultants and general contractors so design work can begin. This process requires several meetings to solicit the client’s input and confirm the design team is on track. During the documentation portion of the work, necessary permits will be obtained, after which construction can begin. Your full-service architect should remain involved to answer questions and to help guide the client through the many remaining decisions that are made during construction.

MICL: What is the role of the architect?

ME: The architect will assist with selecting the project team (including your contractor) and then lead them through the design, permitting, and documentation process until construction can begin. Then the contractor leads the team through the construction process with the architect acting in a supporting role until you move in!

MICL: Where in the process should I hire an architect? Should I wait until after buying a lot?

ME: Ideally the architect is the first professional you engage, even before your realtor. The architect will elicit information, and answers to questions you haven’t even thought of yet, that will be relevant to defining what the ideal property should look like. Without this preliminary important step, we have seen clients purchase a property that otherwise seemed perfect only to learn that they couldn’t build the home they wanted because they didn’t know about an obscure flaw that restricted development (among other potential points of failure).

MICL: When I’m ready to engage an architect, how do I get started?

ME: You know you want a dream home and have thought about it quite a bit – but likely don’t know how best to start, whether it is even possible or how to avoid the many pitfalls that await. Before you launch into an expensive design service it is important to establish a great relationship with your architect so they can lay the critical groundwork for the home and property — there lies the road to a successful design and construction process.

Before the design of your project can begin, several dimensions of your project must be evaluated. Our Pre-Design process provides the answers we mutually need to proceed prudently. It consists of three basic elements:

  1. Requisites and Opportunities Brief: An exploration targeted to precisely understand your requirements and potential roadblocks.
  2. Conceptual Design Analysis: Building on these results we begin analysis of your goals and how they are impacted by various constraints, ultimately producing a conceptual design. 
  3. Feasibility Study: It makes no sense to proceed if a project is not feasible — our study of feasibility is tailored to the specifics of your goals, your property, and the jurisdiction, summarized in our feasibility findings report.

Article by Michael Stein

Photography by Ben Benschneider Photography & Mike Jensen Photography

Originally published in Mercer Island City Lifestyle