An architect’s guide to buying new-build family homes

What should you keep in mind when buying new-build family homes?

Residential architecture is a vital sector of the industry that presents many interesting design challenges. I became an architect because I wanted to enhance the everyday lives of Canadian families. After 30 years in practice, I’ve learned that even the smallest design changes can have major impacts on quality of life for homeowners.

Here are a few key things that should be top of mind:

Attention to detail

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you walk into a space for the first time. Be prepared with a mental checklist. Practicality and efficiency are important, so pay attention to details. The smallest thing, like the direction a door swings into a room, can dramatically affect the room’s overall layout and reduce or increase the amount of usable floor space.

Also note the size and location of windows. Are you getting enough natural light? This is incredibly important to the functionality of the room, and effective natural light is good for the environment as you end up using less electrical lights.

Functional floor plan

A well-designed home must be functional first. Is the bathroom in a convenient location? Has careful consideration been given to the placement of windows and doors? Take the floor plan, print it out and measure your existing furniture. Does it fit?

Your own lifestyle should guide how you prioritize space. Does the allocation of space fit your needs? If you love hosting family dinners, consider an open-concept plan that provides additional space in key areas for entertaining.

I used to say a good family home needs adequate space for a large dining table. That’s not always necessary now for the modern family who spends less time at the dining table. A breakfast bar or kitchen eating area may be enough.

With our Canadian winters, a mud room can transform our entryways and transition spaces by providing dedicated space for dirty boots, dog leashes and bowls, and a place to hang coats, umbrellas and a knapsack.

NCH buying new-build family homes walnut

A well-designed home must be functional first. (The Walnut by Mattamy.) Photo courtesy Q4 Architects/Mattamy Homes

Complete community

While careful attention to interior spaces is important, it’s equally important to find a home in a complete and well-planned community.

Is there space for children to play outside? Are there sidewalks and bike paths? Are there parks nearby? Is the street safe? Is there neighbourhood retail nearby?

A successful community should provide all of the above, with both necessities and amenities easy to access. These details create the perfect conditions for a forever home, and something I teach my team to consider when they’re working on projects.

Feels like home

An important thing to consider in a new home is the feeling when you walk through the front door. Pay attention to your emotional response to a new house.

As residential architects, it is our job to create a welcoming feeling in a new-build home. We take pride in our work – the human connection is what makes a house a home, and an area into a community.

We think about the pride of homeownership and giving homeowners the dignity of having a front door. I believe families shouldn’t have to make the difficult decision between the extremes of a condominium or an expensive detached home. Mid-rise and stacked housing that is designed with care, thought and compassion can give the “feels like home” feeling without the price tag.

Experience

Your home is your biggest investment, so make sure the team behind it has experience. Not all developers and architects have the same level of expertise. Spend time researching their past built projects. Drive through the communities and experience them first hand. An experienced architect brings great insight to a new project from navigating complex building codes to understanding how to build a great streetscape.

Having worked in residential architecture for the past 30 years I have seen home design trends come and go, but one thing that never changes is the value of experience, and an experienced design team will take all of the above points into consideration and deliver a thoughtfully planned home.

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