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Spend on the design, save on the extras.

For this small one-of-a-kind house, the owners cut costs selectively

You've found the perfect lot and retained an architect whose plan delivers everything you'd hoped for. There's just one catch: to build the custom house you've dreamed of will cost $100,000 more than you've budgeted.

That's what Martha Ann Booth and Tim Price faced three years ago when they decided to build a house in Montara, California. "We really clicked with our architect," says Ms. Booth. "He understood just what we wanted: an open-plan house that would continue to surprise us." David Maglaty of The Ratcliff Architects created a plan that supplied what the owners had asked for, with a twist. Mr. Price explains: "In most inexpensive houses, rooms are positioned at right angles to one another. David found that boring, so he rotated key elements, skewing them to the rest of the house-and raising the cost of construction. He sat a loft above the kitchen, but cocked it at an angle. He ran the fireplace across a corner. Even the window seat was offset."

When the owners realized their wish list outstripped their budget, they faced some tough choices. "The house was small to begin with, just 1,700 square feet for four of us, so scaling back wasn't an option." They decided that if economizing meant sacrificing the one-of-a-kind features and spaces the architect had designed, there would be little point in building a custom house.

Finding ways to cut construction costs

The owners chose to preserve the plan's architectural integrity but let some surface refinements go until they could afford them. They decided to skimp on finish materials, figuring they could upgrade these later. In place of kiln-dried cedar siding, they used exterior-grade plywood. Standard windows replaced snazzy red anodized windows from the original design. Instead of hardwood floors, they put an inexpensive grade of industrialcarpet in the living room. In the kitchen, they used inexpensive cabinets and vinyl flooring, and (temporarily) substituted laminate for granite countertops.

A second cost-cutting strategy relied on postponing completion of less-than-essential elements. For example, the owners waited a year to build the table and benches for their kitchen breakfast area, and two years to finish the deck on the south side of the house. They had their electrician cap exterior wiring until they could afford to buy the handsome but rather costly fixtures they'd selected for the entry.

They also saved money by doing a lot of the work themselves. During the ninemonth construction period, they were on the site every weekend, monitoring progress, cleaning up and helping where they could, and laying the groundwork for landscaping. As the project neared completion, they did the interior painting, installed interior light fixtures, and began landscaping in earnest.

Deferring the choice of permanent finish materials gave the owners time to get acquainted with their new house and rethink their preferences. After living with slate-like vinyl tile in the kitchen, Ms. Booth opted for bleached oak flooring instead of the dark Mexican tiles she had originally wanted. And, discovering they really liked carpeting's warmth and sound-muffling qualities, the couple decided to upgrade the living room carpet rather than replace it with hardwood.

In all, the cost cutting saved $80,000; the homeowners paid $73 a square foot for a house that suits them to a T.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:house design
Date:Apr 1, 1989
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