Houseplans.com owner Stephen Williamson believed that by offering quality house plans online, he could make building custom homes from scratch affordable -- but how could he be sure? The best way, he decided, was to use a plan from the site and build the house. So Stephen and his wife, Alexandra, built a house from a Houseplans.com plan, and it came in at an affordable construction cost --
by California standards -- of about $225 per square foot.
Stephen and Alexandra bought acreage near vineyards and farmland, and went to work building a house from the plans for Ranch House 508-2
by Nicholas Lee, a rustic yet elegant gable-roofed house inspired by the early modern houses of California architects like William Wurster and Joseph Esherick.
A key feature of the house is the generous summer living room with window walls opening fully to the garden, along with a great room that includes an open kitchen and a dramatic cantilevered hearth for extra seating and display.
“Since I’m selling the product, I should be the most experienced user,” Stephen explains. “I said to Alexandra, ‘Let’s be a typical user and see what we can learn.’” The predominant lesson was that, by asking questions and thinking ahead, they could save a lot of money.
They purchased the plan, then modified it to make the house more affordable, and to make it fit the property and their needs.“We wanted to maximize the view,” says Alexandra. “We also wanted skylights like we had seen in Mexico,
high ceilings, and other modifications. We customized it to make it exactly how we wanted it. We could do that without spending too much, because the initial plan was so affordable.”They were also able to save on any number of smaller details by asking themselves, “Do we really need this?” Stephen says, “I would love to have radiant heating, but we chucked it. I’d love to have fancier windows, but the windows we have are fine.” The floors were cement rather than wood, and the lighting was simple – except for a few “wow” elements to use as accents.
The couple also added other features that were important and still saved money, like an outdoor “living space” by the pool rather than adding an extra room, and picture windows looking out on the landscaping to make the house feel larger. They put doors on either side of the house for cross-ventilation rather than air conditioning.
“It’s like having a custom house without having a custom price tag,” says Alexandra. “Instead of feeling the clock ticking every time you make a change, the way you would with a custom design from an architect, you’re looking at floor plans that already exist, then altering them.”
They’re on their third house from a Houseplans.com plan, and all have been done inexpensively based on building costs in California. Perhaps just as important, says Alexandra, “It’s a ridiculous amount of fun. I feel so lucky that we’ve been able to do this.” Now that Stephen knows Houseplans.com successfully gives consumers an affordable, customizable way to build a home, the website continues to evolve. “Building your own house without an architect means there are decisions to make that require time and diligence,” he says. “We’re creating a community, tools that allow people to share best practices.”
For example, someone making decisions about doorknobs could benefit from the countless number of doorknob decisions that are always being made. “We want people to be able to see what other people have done, filter the options down, project them to see how they look, and do it in a systematic way. The whole thing about building a house is, ‘Oh, I like that, I’m going to copy it,’” Stephen says. “Nobody sits down and says, ‘Okay, I’m going to build my own doorknob.’” Stay tuned for more from Stephen and Alexandra as they continue the adventure of building custom homes and creating a community of shared experiences and ideas.
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