How to Design a Custom Home: Important Questions to Ask

How to design a custom home: couple looking at possible house designs

Part of the challenge of buying a new home is figuring out how you can reasonably change things the last owner did. Knock down this wall, lose that offensive carpet, and get some natural light into the back room for morning yoga. 

When you’re designing your own home, you aren’t constrained by the existing structure. You get to create every square foot of the floor plan in a perfect way for you. For many people, this creative process is the most exciting part of building their own custom home. This is when the possibilities are endless and your ideas can flow freely. 

Unfortunately, this boundless space for creativity can become a little daunting. It sometimes sets the stage for unrealistic expectations, soaring costs, and decision fatigue. 

Learning how to design a custom home will give you a framework to keep your home construction moving in the right direction. It will also help to make sure you’re thrilled with your new living space and the entire custom home building process

Let’s explore some questions you should ask yourself and other things to consider about the custom home design process.

What Are the First Considerations for Designing Your Home?

How to design a custom home: beautiful country home surrounded by nature

When you start thinking about your perfect home it's easy to get lost in the details. Maybe you just keep imagining what it’ll be like to have a pantry or how you’ll finally have a place to hang your tools so they don’t keep getting lost. 

While these features are motivating, they aren’t the most productive places to start your house design process. Starting with higher-level questions will help you figure out what’s important and why. After some of these questions are answered, we can move on to specific questions about your design choices.

Do You Already Own the Land You Want to Build On?

If you have the land you want to build on, the first step is to research local regulations so you know any building limitations. How much of the lot can you build on? Can you build multiple stories? Are there hills or parts of the soil that might affect your plumbing or foundation? What orientation would you like your house to have on that land?

If you don’t have your plot already, you can skip right to the design process and have an experienced real estate agent or builder help you find a plot that matches the design you create. 

What Is the House For?

Is this a house for you and your family to live in full time? Is this a second or vacation home? Maybe this is just meant to be a wealth-building rental? Knowing what the home is for is critical to deciding the design you’ll need. For example, if it's a home for short-term rentals, maybe you don’t need a garage.

How Many People Will Live in the House?

When deciding how to design a custom home, one of the biggest considerations is how much space you’ll need and how long you’ll live there. Thinking about who will live in your new custom home helps you figure out how many bedrooms, bathrooms, and other space you’ll need. 

What Do You Do in Your Home?

What are your daily activities? Do you work from home or expect to in the future? Do you have small children you stay home with? Do you want a place to work out, a workshop for hobbies, or a quiet spot to read? How you spend your time at home can tell you a lot about where your priorities should be when creating your custom home design

Will You Entertain Often?

Do you host a lot of dinners? Is your house the spot to be when the holidays roll around? If so, you might want to factor that in when deciding the dimensions of your house. Do people stay over? You may need extra bedrooms. If they don’t stay over but you do entertain a lot, that may mean you want a larger dining room, living room, or patio area. Maybe it means an open-concept barndominium will suit your needs. 

Are You an Outdoors Person?

How you want your house to interact with the outdoors is an important consideration. This could be as simple as window size and orientation to let the most light in and get a great view, or you could design rooms that seamlessly transition into outdoor spaces. 

You can also consider your climate and weather to determine how much of your time you’ll spend outdoors vs. how much you’ll be inside. If you’ll be outside a lot, maybe you can get away with less indoor space. 

Let’s Consider the Costs

If you’ve answered the questions above, you’re probably starting to form a picture in your head of what you want when you build a custom home. Next, we should consider costs at a high level to make sure you’re in the right ballpark. 

What Is Your Budget?

Now that you have some idea of how many rooms you might need, we can start to think about your budget. The average price per square foot of a new home is $244.50. If you use that to approximate the amount of house you can afford, you can start to figure out how to allot that square footage. You can use DEN Outdoors’ Construction Cost Calculator to help you figure out your budget. 

What Materials Do You Want Your Home to Be Made From?

Depending on what your budget looks like after determining your space needs, you may be able to make some adjustments to material quality. At DEN, we’ve found that even though we design our houses with high-quality materials in mind, because the materials we use are easy to get, the costs of our houses average a much lower $153 per square foot

How Does Your Home Work With the Land?

Being a steward of the land is important. It's up to us to make sure we work with nature instead of dominating it. How you design your home to work with nature can not only help the environment but also help you control your energy efficiency and cost. 

Do You Want a Low-Maintenance Home?

This might seem like a silly question. Who wants a high-maintenance house? But with all of the choices we make about materials and design, there’s a trade-off with how much or little upkeep will be required of you to keep your home looking new. 

What Are Your Non-Negotiables?

This is where we finally come back to that space on the wall for your tools or the bathtub you didn’t have in your last apartment. These are the things you refuse to live without and the reason you decided to build your own custom home in the first place. When you’re working with an architect later, there may be some things you’re going to have to prioritize over others. This is a great place to rank what's important to you. 

Let’s Think More About Design

DEN's Apline 2.2 house design

Now that we have some high-level questions and budgeting thoughts out of the way, let’s look at some more specific options for you to think about. 

What Style of House Do You Want?

You don’t have to know what color the trim is going to be just yet (although if you do know, go ahead and write it down), but you should be able to determine what architectural style of house you want. Knowing the shape and general vibe of the place can go a long way in getting the conversation started with an architect. 

Here are a few styles to inspire you:

Specific Room Options

Once you have a sense of the overall house’s style, you can think about the rooms you’re excited to personalize. Here are some common rooms that get extra attention when figuring out how to design a custom home


Do you want an island? Eat-in kitchen? What do the cabinets look like? Gas stove or electric? How much counter space do you need? Double sink or one larger basin?


Would you rather have a larger walk-in closet or smaller closets that leave more space for the actual bedroom? Should bedrooms connect to their own bathrooms? What about doors to a balcony or the back porch?


Tub or shower? Do multiple sinks seem like something you’ll want? Closed linen closets or shelves? If the bathroom connects to a bedroom, should it also be accessible from the rest of the house?


Are you dreaming of a multi-car garage? What about space for a workshop or washer and dryer?


Do you want a fireplace, a mudroom, or maybe a pool? How about any special rooms like a home office or media room? Maybe you want a loft for extra storage?

Thinking About Room Arrangements

You have some idea of what rooms you're going to need but where do you want them? Maybe you want your bedroom to be upstairs, or you want the laundry room close to the playroom so you can keep an eye on everyone.

Where to Get Inspiration

When you first meet up with your design team or architect, you’ll want to have your answers to these questions written out and presentable. But as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Finding photos of designs you love — as well as the ones you’d take a hard pass on — will help both you and your team understand how to get you closer to your dream home

Pinterest Is Your Friend

While it's tempting to go take a bunch of pictures of houses you like, that type of behavior may freak out your neighbors. Pinterest and Google Image Search are treasure troves of design ideas you can pull from. Spend a few hours going through photos and saving the ones that inspire you. Remember to grab a few you dislike too. Understanding what you don’t like can help the move-in date get here quicker. 

How to Design a Custom Home With DEN

DEN's A-Frame interior

DEN wants to be your partner early on in the home design process. The earlier we can begin to understand what you want for your dream home, the better able we are to make sure you start off in the right direction to meet your goals. From understanding the type of landscape you’re after to nailing the perfect countertops, we want the entire custom home building process to run smoothly. 

How Does DEN Make This Process Easier?

With DEN, you have the advantage of starting with a design you already love. Then you can work with one of our experienced architects to customize it in any way you want, or even hire one of your own. 

When you buy a DEN Complete package, we don’t just give you the house plan and blueprints. We give you everything you need to succeed, including extensive checklists, so you can ensure you hire the right builder for your needs. You’ll even have full lists of the building materials and fixtures so your builder knows exactly how to build your dream house from the ground up

Having your house plan first makes it easier to hire your general contractor and secure your construction loan since everyone understands what you’re building and what’s required to get it done. 

You Can Design Your Own Custom House

Learning how to design a custom home is all about being prepared. You want as much information as possible when you meet with the architect or design team. By writing down your answers to these questions and any others you find important, you’ll speed up the process and end up with a home you love. 

Our sought-out selections of DEN designs are fully customizable. Let our experienced team help you. Find the right house plan to start building your custom home today.