How to choose a floor plan for your home

how to choose a floor plan for your home

Choosing a floor plan is obviously a crucial decision. My advice for this topic: really think about your lifestyle and how you want to live in your new home. One of my biggest pet peeves in any home is wasted space (formal living room with plastic seat covers, anyone?). It also helps to consider how long you plan to be in this home and what your lifestyle will be like over those years. Case in point: we’re considering this the “teen years” home. We have at least 10 more years of kids in the house, and we really want our kids and their friends to feel comfortable hanging out in our home during the high school years. We wanted lots of open space, but a defined kid hang-out area and an area the adults could use for relaxing, entertaining, and watching tv at the same time.

choosing a floor plan

We ended up using an existing Pepper Viner floor plan, which saved us thousands of dollars that we would have had to pay an architect to design a home from scratch. Pepper Viner had built this home as a model a few years ago, so we were lucky enough to have been able to walk through it in real life, which was a huge benefit in getting a feel for the layout. Unfortunately that’s not always possible, but you can always spend some time touring model homes to get a feel for the size of rooms and layouts you like so that when you’re viewing floor plans, you have an idea of what you’re looking at.

The floor plan we chose has a large open living/dining space, which we will use as the kid area and for extra dining space when we entertain – but our approach to this space will be casual, not formal. Formal spaces just aren’t necessary for the way we live and entertain in our family. The kitchen is open to the family room, and I love being able to cook and work in the kitchen and still be with my family. There are doors from all of these living spaces onto the back patio, which is perfect for Arizona since we spend a lot of time outside.

2016-05-08 13.11.54.jpg

We did want to make a few changes to the plan, so we went to the architect who designed the original plan to make those modifications. We added a walk-in pantry – it’s more spacious than the cabinetry that had been designated as pantry space in the original plan. Again, this is an example of thinking about how you like to function in a home. In my case, I like deep, open shelves where I can see everything all at once. I not only store a lot of food (I like to stock up at Costco) but I also store big appliances like my crock pot and blender and large serving dishes in my pantry. We like to entertain and I like to make it easy on myself. To eek out the space for the pantry, we had to lose some cabinet space, but it was worth it to me. Another change we made was eliminating a small door and window along the back of the open living/dining area, and instead installing a large 18-foot sliding door. This required some engineering on that load-bearing wall, so again, we need the expertise of the architect to map that out. In making that change, we realized one of the patio columns would be right smack in the middle of the view from the door, so we had him reconfigure the column placement as well.

Overall, choose a floorplan that suits the way your family lives instead of trying to force yourselves to function in a space that doesn’t make sense. Consider whether you entertain, host houseguests, how much storage you need, and how much maintenance you're willing to deal with. Once you have that basic layout in place, that’s when you can have some fun choosing finishes and touches to really make it your own. More on that soon!

Choosing finishes: the bathroom edition {how to choose plumbing fixtures}

photo credit: BHG

With building a house comes SO MANY decisions. One of the big debates I had was deciding on the finish for the plumbing fixtures (faucets, shower heads, etc.). Part of the struggle was that I wanted to carry that finish throughout the house — towel bars, door handles, hardware, etc. — so it wasn’t going in just one place. During my debate, I posted this photo (--->) on Facebook and Instagram, and I had to laugh, because I don’t think I’ve ever gotten such a response on anything I’ve ever posted before. People are PASSIONATE about their plumbing fixtures.

Here are some inspiration images I found as I trolled Pinterest and Houzz for hours on end while I debated:

We’ll have white cabinets, and I wanted something classic that I won’t hate in a few years. The trick, I suppose, is that it’s hard to know now what you’ll hate then. The majority of responses to my informal survey were in favor of brushed nickel or oil rubbed bronze. I like them both. I had thought about the beautiful champagne bronze finish — sort of the matte gold that is so popular right now — but vetoed that because it’s pretty pricey, especially when using it on everything, and I wasn't completely sure I would continue to love it for years to come.

The winner? Brushed nickel. Several of my friends who have oil-rubbed bronze warned me that the finish wears off, so that decided it for me. Added bonus? Brushed nickel doesn’t show water spots and fingerprints as much as shinier finishes, and with two kids, every little bit helps. And since it’s been around for a while, there are tons of options for brushed nickel — different styles, price points, etc. In a future post, I'll write up a list of links to tons of places where you can comparison shop for fixtures.

We ended up choosing Kohler faucets and are buying them through Ferguson Kitchen & Bath, the vendor used by Tucson Plumbing, who is doing all of the plumbing in our house. Chad has been working with Tucson Plumbing and Ferguson for years through his job with Pepper Viner Homes. We’re so glad we were able to source our choices through a local vendor, and we love that Kohler has a lifetime guarantee on all of their items. Once everything is installed I'll post some pictures!

So to sum it up, here are the factors to consider when choosing your finishes:

  • Style (Does the finish go with your color scheme and cabinetry? Do you like the styles that are available in that finish?)

  • Cost (Some specialized finishes are really pricey — take that into consideration when you're deciding where you want to spend your money!)

  • Durability/Quality (Does it make sense for your lifestyle? Is it easy to clean? Will the finish hold up if it's somewhere where it will get a lot of use? Is there a guarantee on your selections?)

  • Availability (Are there plenty of style options available in your price range?)

Which finish do you like best? Any strong opinions out there?

Want to read all of our homebuilding posts? Find them here!

The lot we chose for our new house

the lot we chose for our new house

I told you I’d fill you in on the lot we ended up with – here goes! After months of searching, then having not one, but two lots under contract and then fall through for various reasons, we ended up putting in an offer on a lot we had previously disregarded. It was in a great location, but on a busy road, and it looked like it might be a tough build with some hills and lots of rocks – not to mention that we couldn’t see it that well from the road and there wasn’t a real access to it to check it out in more detail. As our frustration grew with the lack of options in our price range, we decided to take a closer look. Chad called me over to his computer one day to look at the Google aerial view of the land, and he showed me where he thought there was a ridge set far back from the road that was flat enough to build on. We went out there and walked the lot (well, hiked the lot), one thing led to another, and we decided to place an offer.

Doing our homework

We asked for a 90-day closing – I wasn’t happy about that because we had waited for so long and was growing impatient – but Chad insisted we needed plenty of time to do our due diligence and make sure we could build the way we wanted to and that there wouldn’t be any huge surprise costs associated with that piece of land. He was right. It took just about the whole 90 days to do the research. He had his land development guy go out there and consult with him, and they agreed they would need to “move some dirt” (read: bulldoze literally tons of dirt) to flatten the build area, but that it could be done. The soil had to be tested to make sure a septic tank would work. The architectural review committee of the homeowners’ association had to approve our plans. The municipality zoning had to approve our site and house plan within their requirements. Fun fact, for example: our roof was NINE inches too tall - so we had to redesign the roof trusses to get under the 18-foot zoning requirement. They also inspected the lot to see how many trees we would need to move to build – and the city requires us to plant new trees to replace them.

Saving as much time as possible

Because it would take us a few months to close on the lot, we did as much as we could prior to closing so that we would be able to hit the ground running and start construction as soon as possible. While we were still in escrow, we finalized the house plans. We’re using one of Pepper Viner’s existing plans, but a few adjustments we wanted required architectural review and sign-off, so we went ahead and took care of that. We also submitted our site plan to the town so that we would have a permit to begin clearing the lot as soon as we closed – there is a fee associated with that, so we were taking a gamble that everything would go fine and we would, indeed, ultimately close on this lot. If the deal had fallen through, we would have been out that money. Chad also got the various subcontractors tentatively scheduled. Despite all of our well-intentioned planning, we did encounter a few delays out of the gate: it took more time than expected to clear the lot, so we lost a few days, but after waiting for years, I could handle a few days’ delay.

The benefit to the hilly, not flat lot? We loved the beautiful views! Unfortunately we are located on the west side of the road, but we wanted our backyard to face east. Enter some creative site planning. We consulted with a draftsman and he worked on a grading plan that would include a long driveway up the hill, and an unusual but smart turn of the house – so our front yard won’t face the road like a typical house, but because of the way we’re turning it, our backyard will face east and we’ll be able to enjoy mountain views and afternoon shade – a big benefit in hot, hot Tucson.

While the lot was in our budget, we’re pushing it a bit with the cost of land development. Now for the fun part – trying to recoup some of those costs in other parts of the house. Next up we’ll talk about some of the ways we’re saving money on construction of this house.

Want to read all of our homebuilding posts? Find them here!

the kids on the lot we chose for our new house - land development

Finding a piece of land for a new home (more than you ever wanted to know about buying a lot)

I mentioned our long process of finding a lot in my last post. This is a crucial decision and one that should be carefully considered because so many factors are involved. Over time, after looking at lots, we consolidated our “wish list” to help narrow our search, rather than considering every crazy piece of land that popped up on the MLS. Having said that, we agreed that getting every item on the list would be unlikely, so we had to be prepared for making concessions.

Here are the things we had to consider:

  • Price – what could we afford to pay for land considering the cost building of the floor plan we wanted? If you’re looking to build and are flexible about your floor plan and the size of your house, you may be willing to spend more on the land and sacrifice some square footage for it. Since we had our hearts set on a certain floor plan, we didn’t have a lot of wiggle room with our land budget.

  • Location – we have learned how hard it is for our lifestyle when we have a long distance to drive for everything. We knew we wanted to be within a short distance of the kids’ school, and in the direction of Chad’s work. Not only that, but we wanted to be within the district boundaries of the high school that we want Luke and Maggie to attend, as that will be an issue a few years from now and we don’t want to move again any time soon! Also consider: traffic, proximity of shopping, hospital, doctors, etc.

  • Size – many, many houses in Tucson are built very close together. Again, this is a lifestyle thing, but for us, especially coming from back east, we knew we wanted some elbow room – preferably around an acre or more with room for a pool and backyard entertaining. On the other end of the spectrum, maybe you’re looking for a low-maintenance lot and a small yard would be perfect for you so that you’re not tied down to a lot of yard work and upkeep.

  • Neighborhood – having said we want a large lot, I also like being in an actual neighborhood. These two factors are often at odds with each other, as many large lots stand alone and aren’t in a neighborhood. I just love for my kids to make friends and to be able to ride their bikes or walk to hang out with other kids. Plus, I feel safer with some neighbors nearby. However, the downside of a “subdivision” is having to deal with CC&Rs. These guidelines and rules are put in place to keep the neighborhood nice and maintain property value - but they also mean you don’t have free reign to do whatever you want with the design of your home. And if you have Sanford and Son tendencies like my Georgia farm-raised husband, you’ll have to hide your junk from the street view. And they’ll yell at you if you’re lazy and leave your trash cans out. Guilty.

  • Schools – in addition to the neighborhood factor, you need to consider where you want your children to go to school, and whether the lot is within the boundaries for that district. Open enrollment, where you can enroll your children in a school outside of their district, is an option in Tucson. However, that is a conditional thing and can be unavailable if your school is too full – I didn’t want to count on being able to open enroll and then panic if the high school didn’t have availability when it comes time for ninth grade. And whether or not you have kids, you will want to consider the quality of the school district for resale value for your home.

  • Orientation – I never paid as much attention to this until we got to Tucson, but here, view is everything. I really wanted an eastern-facing backyard with a view of the Catalina Mountains from the back of the house. In addition to nice views, the morning sun is a lot more tolerable, and the afternoon shade is a huge perk during our 6-month long summer. In our current house, we get a lot more afternoon and evening sun than I realized, and it is brutal during much of the year, making afternoon entertaining pretty uncomfortable at times. Also, mountain views are a boost to property value in Tucson. All of that considered, we had to think about how our house would face on any lot we considered.

  • Cost of development – the cost of land isn’t necessarily what it seems. This is an area where Chad’s experience helped save us, because I sure wouldn’t have known better with a few of the lots we looked at that seemed like a good deal. Some lots are seemingly affordable, but in order to place a house on them, they may require tens of thousands of dollars of land work - moving dirt, raising the pad, etc. Also, there can be environmental restrictions; for example, there was a 1-acre lot we liked, but you could only actually disturb such a small percentage of the lot due to restrictions that we couldn’t have fit the house and yard we wanted. Not only that, but there can be requirements that you re-plant certain plants if they’re moved during construction (saguaro cactus, anyone?), and that should be factored into the budget. In addition, you have to see if water, electric, gas, and sewer are available, or you’ll need to be prepared to account for the cost of bringing those utilities in, which isn’t cheap.

Overwhelmed yet? Even just writing this, I’ve been going back and adding more as things occur to me. And this is just the LOT – we haven’t even gotten to the house yet. Clearly there are times early in this process where we’ve already been questioning what we’re getting ourselves into. But the benefit is us working together as a family with a lot of patience and a lot of effort to create something we’ve been dreaming of for years. And how are you supposed to know all of this about the lot? A reputable builder will help you through the process, and a good realtor will know how to find you the right lot. I’m happy to know some of the best - contact me for recommendations!

Did we get everything on our wish list? Nope. What did we end up with? Stay tuned. I’ll tell you about the lot we chose in our next post!

Why we're building a new house

Why build a new house / new home construction / building a new home in Tucson, AZ

For a long time now Chad and I have been ready to build a new home. We’ve built three homes together in the past – two in Georgia and one with Pepper Viner Homes, the company he’s been with here in Arizona for the past 12 years. The house we’re in now has served us well over the past nine years; we moved into it when Maggie was only one month old. The kids are approaching their teen years now, though, and we need a little more elbow room. 

Over the past couple of years the stress and hassle of commuting to work, school, and activities for all of us has really taken its toll. We started looking seriously at lots about a year ago, and the process of finding a piece of land in the right location at the right price has been much more difficult – and much slower – than we anticipated. More on that later.

Another reason – with the housing market on an upswing after several rough years, prices and costs are going up. We’re hoping to get moving along with this process sooner rather than later.

Our Work in Progress - why we're building a new house

Luckily, with Chad having worked in the homebuilding industry for most of his life, we’re coming at this process with a pretty clear picture of what we want to do. We’re excited to be using one of Pepper Viner’s existing floor plans with a few tweaks to customize it for us – that alone will save us time, money, and angst. We know the plans are well-designed and engineered. Our floor plan was built as a model home at one of their communities last year, so after touring it several times, we knew this was the one. It will give us the space we need, with plenty of room for a home office, guest space, and for the kids to hang out with their friends.

To sum it up, building a house is the right decision for us because it will save us money, allow us to customize our home, give us the space we need, and allow us to choose our location.

We’re so excited to get started – and I’m going to chronicle our process right here. I hope you’ll follow along and chime in with your thoughts, questions, and suggestions as we go!

Decorating for Fall

Fall is my favorite season, and I'm always ready to break out fall colors and decorations in August. This is even more comical since I've been living in Arizona for 10+ years, and fall weather begins sometime around....November. So I hold off until around late September and inevitably decide that I'm not waiting for a change in weather to change some things around the house. I don't do anything that takes tons of time or money, but I love the results when I add some little touches of fall.

First off, I pick up small pumpkins in orange and white and place them here and there. I like mixing the real ones with the rustic brown ones that I bought at Michael's years ago.

This year I balanced a few of the white pumpkins on candlesticks in front of Maggie's little abstract art canvas. I remembered that I had this black tassel garland left over from a birthday party, and threw that up on the wall since it looks sort of Halloweeny. 

My assistants wasted no time stretching fake spider webs anywhere they could. I let them have fun with it.

I also put out the canvas trick-or-treating art that Maggie made a few years ago, along with this little candy dish that my grandmother made for me when she was taking ceramics classes years ago. Still makes me smile when I look at it.

After Halloween, I'll take down the spider webs and jack-o-lanterns, leaving the pumpkins and fall leaves for Thanksgiving.

For more simple decorating ideas, seasonal or otherwise, check out The Nester's series on vignettes. I love to use her ideas - like incorporating some simple kid-made art and sentimental items - when I change things up. How do you decorate for fall? 

Joining the linkup at! Stop over and check out the ideas over there.

Easy and Budget-Friendly Lavender Chevron Birthday Party Theme

My daughter's birthday was in August, and this year she requested a small family birthday party, which was just fine with me! That gave me an opportunity to focus on some cute details without stressing over a big, expensive bash. 

girls'  chevron maxi dress

Maggie's favorite color is lavender, so we used that as our starting point. She asked to get a comfortable maxi dress to wear for the party, and when I came across this dress on Lolly Wolly Doodle, we decided to purchase it and use a chevron print in the decor too.  If you're looking for cute girls' clothes, whether for a party or not, I recommend checking out Lolly Wolly Doodle's website and Facebook page - I love supporting another mom-owned business, and they have a fantastic success story about how they grew their business! They'll monogram their items very inexpensively, so that adds a cute personalized touch.

I designed a simple invitation that we emailed to the family - similar to this chevron invitation I'm now carrying in my Etsy shop - I'm able to customize it for whatever color scheme my clients need, so it's a really versatile design.

We set up a little drink and snack station within easy reach for all of the little cousins, and decorated with some inexpensive and cute tissue paper flowers, crepe paper streamers, and a banner I designed to coordinate with the theme:

I got the chevron paper drinking straws from this Etsy shop - I loved that it was another Etsy seller from Arizona, and she has tons of color options and other cute items (treat bags, washi tape, twine) that are perfect for parties.

Rather than ice cream, Maggie wanted a make-your-own sundae bar like Luke had for his birthday party earlier this year. 

It was a very relaxed get-together and we all had a great time - and I had a happy eight (!!) year old.

Color for warm weather months {decorating the living room}

coral ombre throw and floral pillows for summer

I'm a big fan of light, bright neutral palettes for home decor, and I have an official fear of color  -partly because I'm afraid I'll get tired of it. The up side to having a neutral backdrop is that I can work in little pops of color that can be easily changed out, so I jumped in and did just that this summer. I'm loving these bright patterned pillows and coral ombre throw that I picked up from Marshall's for this summer, and I can tuck them away when fall comes and I'm ready for warm earth tones. 

Patterned Wallpaper Accent Wall in the Office {removable wallpaper from Target}

I've been working on an office makeover for way too long – it's one of those projects that I got started and then kept putting on the back burner. My office is also the guest room, which always presents decorating dilemmas, but more about that in another post. 

Today I wanted to talk about the one small project that we did that made a huge difference in the way this room looks. We put up some patterned wallpaper - Devine Color Diamond Wallpaper in Twig from Target - just on the window wall. I love the mod pattern and the soft grayish taupe color scheme, which looks great with the brushed gold accessories and curtain rod on that wall. The wallpaper has a sticky back and is supposed to be removable and repositionable – perfect for commitment phobes like me who have always shied away from wallpaper because of what a task it is to take it down when you tire of it.

Chad found that it was a little tricky to work with, which resulted in one visible seam and a few bumpy areas – this would totally drive a pickier person crazy, but I was able to disguise the imperfections with the wall art and bookshelves that are placed in front of the wall. The result? A big difference that took less than one afternoon to accomplish, and that can easily be undone when needed. What do you think?

removable wallpaper - Devine Diamond in Twig by Target

removable wallpaper - Devine Diamond in Twig by Target

Has anyone else tried this removable wallpaper at Target? Check out their other great patterns and colors!

Fairy birthday party

One of my favorite birthday party themes that we've done for my daughter is her fairy party. I designed a cute fairy invitation, with a pink watercolor background and silhouettes: 

For the cake, I bought the delicious chocolate round cake from Costco and just spruced it up with a bunch of sprinkles and a topper I designed to coordinate with the theme. We placed it on a dessert table decorated with a banner and tissue paper pom-poms. I purchased fairy wings, tutus, and wands for the girls to wear at the party and take home as favors (comment below if you want the source - great prices!). It was fun, cute, and a great memory for my daughter!

fairy themed little girl's birthday party