Building 101 – The Design Studio

Ahh the design studio; home and host of every finish that will go into your new build. Soak it in; there’s a lot to unpack here.

Once you’re contract is complete, you’ll be assigned to a design partner through the builder to guide you through this critical process. I cannot express enough how important this relationship is. You will only get 2-3 appointments if you’re lucky. So, if you don’t vibe with the designer you’re assigned to, don’t be shy to ask for someone else to work with.

Makenzie and I at the Quadrant Homes Design Studio – #COVIDSAFE

The design studio can be overwhelming if you don’t go into your first appointment with some kind of plan or vision. This doesn’t need to be a comprehensive plan but you should have a few things sorted out prior to your first meeting:


How much are you willing and able to invest in upgrades? $5,000? $15,000? $50,000? $150,000?

Going into your first meeting with this budget established and communicated to your designer, loud and clear, will save you from a lot of heart ache during this process. A general rule of thumb for upgrades with a semi-custom builder is between 8-15% of the contracted price of the home.

So for example: if your contracted price, which includes the base model plus lot premiums, is $800,000. You’re looking at $64,000 – $120,000 in upgrades.

Know What’s Included

When you met with the sales office team, you (hopefully) discussed and were shown what the base finishes for the home would be. This looks a lot different than what you saw in the model homes and I talked about it in this post: Model Homes 101 – and Questions to Ask Before You Buy.

The included features are typically builder grade – nice, but underwhelming.


What’s you’re style? Modern European? Beach cottage? Modern farmhouse? A mix of everything?

It will be beneficial to both you and your designer to know the answer to this question so they don’t waste your time showing you super modern finishes if your style is more relaxed and rustic.

Do some research, browse Pinterest, research Instagram hashtags and save inspirational images to your phone so you can show your designer what you like. You may say “modern” but what you really mean is “new farmhouse”. Having images to convey what you really love is critical and will prevent any confusion.


Have a general sense of what your priorities are. Unless you are extremely wealthy and a budget is not an issue, you’re not going to be able to get everything you want. Sacrifices are going to be made. Repeat that with me: “Sacrifices are going to be made.”

Do you absolutely want white shaker kitchen cabinets? Cabinet upgrades are expensive and add up really fast. Do you want those trendy white oak hardwood floors? Plan on flooring to eat up a good chunk of your budget. What about quartz counters? You get it… those are expensive too.

Can you survive without air conditioning? What about a gas stove?

You absolutely need to know what your non-negotiables are and work backwards from there.

Don’t Rush

Take your time, touch the materials, ask questions about their features. What you select at your first appointment is not what you’ll end up with by your final appointment.

This is due to decision fatigue and becoming overwhelmed. You ultimately will get home, scroll through all the images you took and realize that you want to change something. It’s inevitable.

Take Photos

Speaking of scrolling through photos… TAKE LOTS OF PHOTOS. Not just of the options you select, but of the runner up options and even ones you may not have considered.

When you get home, spend some time reviewing your choices. Are they cohesive? Does your design style flow through the entire house, or are things choppy and different in each room?

Don’t feel bad to ask the designer to help you lay out the materials for each space in your home so you can snap a few photos of each. Try to get them near natural light too. Design studios are notorious for using LED colored lights that skew the real tones of the finishes.

Still Need Help?

I’m here to help! As part of my services I offer an initial 30 minute consultation free of charge. This will give me a sense of what your needs are and allow me to recommend additional support. A breakdown of my consulting fees can be found on my Design Services page.

I have consulted with many families who are also first time home builders and all have found my guidance and planning tools to be extremely helpful in planning a beautiful home within their budget.

Stay tuned! Next up is Building 101 – Flooring.