LUDC Guide: Building Your Custom Home Today

A landscape sketch of the Laura Umansky's family home in Houston, Texas

Designing your custom home can be more rewarding than purchasing an already designed space. However, proceeding with a custom build can present a number of challenges. Lack of robust knowledge of the process or choosing the wrong team for the job might compound these challenges. For more about working with a design team — like a full-service design firm such as ours — head over to our article on working with a residential architect.

As with any design project, there are a variety of factors to consider: function, timeline, budget…it can become overwhelming pretty quickly. For our clients, we manage every detail, big and small. This alleviates most of the pressure and uncertainty surrounding a new construction design. Today, we are sharing our guide to the custom home process, as well as take you inside one of our full-service projects, Riverside Manor. Follow along for lots of sage advice from our Creative Director, Gina Elkins Brown, and discover the many benefits of working with a full-service design firm.

Benefits of Working with a Full-Service Design Firm on Your Custom-Designed Home

One of the first steps to take before embarking on a custom build project is researching — and choosing — your design team. From architects to interior designers and from builders to landscapers, you will want a team that works together seamlessly. This team should simultaneously understand and execute your vision. As a homeowner, your time, energy, and passion can become consumed by a build project.  – not to mention your investment. But when working with a full-service firm, you will be able to rely on one point of contact to manage the design, administer construction, and ensure the dreams you have for your custom home are executed to perfection.

A full-service design firm helps homeowners build their new home from the ground up, offering expertise at every point in the home-design process. We want the experience of designing your home to be an inspiring and enjoyable one.

What to Know Before Building Your Custom Home with a Full-Service Design Firm

1      Determine What You Hope to Achieve through Design

When you decide to build your custom home, understanding your expectations is important. It may sound obvious, but there are so many considerations that we often take for granted or overlook. Even something like a dedicated drop zone for your purse and keys will have a major impact on your day. Because when you walk through the door, you want to be greeted with comfort and ease. All the little details — a coffee bar in your primary suite or a perfectly manicured path for your morning walks with your pup — are design elements we take into account from the very beginning.

There are also the factors of purchasing a lot for your new build. You will likely need land surveys, permitting and soil samples. Understand that clearing and leveling land might also be necessary — and could place a heavy auxiliary price tag on the build. It is during this assessment period that prospective builders should lay out exactly what they want from the space and make sure they have the land to support those needs.

For our Riverside Manor project, located in the historic Riverside Terrace community in Houston, our plans include tearing down the home currently on the lot and building a new residence to support a multi-generational family. We consulted with the client on storage needs, how they prefer to entertain, where their home offices should be located, and where the bedrooms should be to maximize privacy. But we also think of how they want their home to feel – what emotions will arise when they are together in the home for the first time?

As a multi-generational residence, Riverside Manor presents a wonderful opportunity for us to create a comfortable retreat for the family’s matriarch on the first floor. Even if this isn’t in your current plan for a new build, it’s important to think about what kinds of functionality your home should have in the future.

2      Establish a Budget and Timeline

A necessary element of establishing a budget and timeline is understanding the length of time and expenditure of resources needed. From less glamorous costs like plumbing, electricity and foundation pouring to aesthetic choices like tiling and lighting design, everything adds up. You should consider long-term functionality of the home — e.g. innovative roofing materials or green-tech building materials. These innovative materials might contribute to a healthier home over time, making the investment a good one down the road.

It is vital to balance your goals for a custom home with your budget. In addition to this, it is also important to note that there are three major cost elements at play in each design choice made. First is the cost of materials, second is the cost of shipping, and third is the cost of assembly and installation. You might mitigate these costs if you select to work with a full-service design firm. This is because the firm will likely have more industry connections and be savvier about the process overall. LUDC Creative Director Gina Elkins Brown explains the three “major driving components in new construction that drive price.” These are “foundation areas, materials, and plumbing.”

3      Do Your Own Research and Trust Expert Help

One of the most comforting — and overall beneficial — elements of working with a full-service design team is the access to well-rounded expertise. While you may be well acquainted with the legal issues, budgetary constraints and safety requirements, nothing compares to receiving expert guidance. Establishing an elementary understanding of the home build process is important for any homeowner. However, trusting professionals is vital in ensuring all legal and safety steps are taken to produce the best result. In his article, “6 Reasons to Hire a Home Design Professional” for Houzz, Jeffrey Veffer, B.Arch., MBA explains the necessity of expert advice. Veffer writes that “architects, interior designers and others…bring a wealth of knowledge and skills.” Combined, these experts “make sure all aspects of remodeling and custom home projects go as smoothly as possible.” Without this wealth of consolidated knowledge, the homeowner is often left with any information they can glean from the internet. It’s a great start, and we love clients who have done their homework! Together, we’ll help you identify exactly what you need to design a home you will love.

Megan Strasburg of the Laura U Design Collective looking over architecture plans in the Houston studio

4      Hire the Appropriate Team for the Job

Choosing the right full-service design team can mean the difference between success and a cavalcade of delays and complications. In a recent article for The Washington Post, architect Matthew S. McDonald outlines the importance of choosing the right design team for the job. McDonald notes that hiring a full-service design team can save money and time. He explains that, “the design-build approach can be more cost-effective and efficient than the traditional method.” Of course, writes McDonald, “you can achieve the same result by hiring your own architect and contractor separately.”

This is how we work at LUDC. But we definitely guide the contractor bid process and help you identify the right builder for your home. We have been in the industry for over a decade and are happy to chat through the list of builders we’ve worked with successfully. You can be as hands off or hands on as you prefer. We sometimes meet with clients bi-weekly at the construction site of their new home. We also have other clients who would rather stay out of the construction entirely, and that is also perfectly fine! What matters most is that our team handles all the communication between design and construction, giving our clients complete peace of mind.

All in all, McDonald recommends “shop[ping] around” for the right firm, “mak[ing] sure you are working with licensed” professionals,” understanding all contracts, “being honest and upfront” and “determin[ing] whether speed is more important than control.”

5      Communicate Well and Often

When working with a design team of any kind, communication is key. The article “18 Tips for Communicating with Contractors” from Oregon Home Magazine outlines how to express one’s needs and expectations throughout the design process. Firstly, it is important to communicate well and often with all members of your household involved in decision-making for the build. And even the kiddos! We absolutely love how involved the kiddos are in the design of their rooms. From selecting a color palette to picking out the drapery, little ones and teens adore being included in the process. And their rooms are so much fun to design!

You are going to have a lot of meetings with your team over the course of your new home design. It’s always important to come prepared with questions — believe us, the more questions the better, as we want you to feel comfortable and heard. We like to bring an agenda to every meeting and at the end, we make sure everyone understands the action items. It keeps everyone accountable.

6      Avoid Shortcuts at the Risk of Extending the Budget and Timeline

In a recent article for Spivey Architects, Michael Spivey outlines the dangers of cutting corners when building a custom home. Lower quality building materials and less thorough construction processes. This might be attractive from a budgetary and time expenditure standpoint. Unfortunately, homeowners often end up exhausting more time and money in the long run. As such, even if budget and timeline are exceeded during a build, cutting corners and leaving important steps behind, unrealized, can have disastrous consequences. Spivey notes that “you may not notice the difference until years down the road.” However, homeowners will likely suffer the consequences when cheaper or poorly installed “materials start to fade or rot.” As the homeowner, one should be wary of “‘builder grade products,’” which simply refer to “bare-minimum quality.” They should also be wary of “incorrect installations,” “systems that are too small,” “improper supervision” and inadequate conduct overall. Hiring a full-service design team mitigates much of this risk and “both a quality experience and a beautiful home.”

At LUDC, we always advocate for the highest quality materials and craftsmanship. This is, of course, an absolute must with construction. But we also take this into account when designing custom furnishings. We had a client in Southampton fall in love with a desk she saw at a boutique. The look was exactly what she wanted, but the quality left a lot to be desired. We turned to our woodworking team and designed a similar-looking desk, using only the finest oak and iron accents.

Insights from the LUDC Riverside Manor Custom-Built Home


When our clients at Riverside Manor came to us, they were in need of more space. A beautiful couple with two young children, the homeowners are hoping to build a new home that welcomes their expanding family. They would like to build a mother-in-law suite on the first floor that easily transitions into the communal spaces, while allowing for privacy.

Gathering with family and friends is very important to them. They love to entertain. They also love the holidays and are big decorators, so  extensive seasonal storage, with quick and simple access, was at their top of their design wish list. One exciting element involved in creating enough storage space and establishing appropriate access to that storage space was the inclusion of an elevator! All in all, each family member was successfully represented in the full-scale creation of this home, from the small children to Mimi.

Gina Elkins Brown poses in the Houston home of Laura U Design Collective Founder, Laura Umansky


from LUDC Creative Director, Gina Elkins Brown

1      When Establishing a Budget, Homeowners Should…

Figure out where they can “minimize the [home’s] footprint,” as the more homeowners lessen the house’s footprint, the “more economical things become.” Homeowners should also be aware of the fact that building materials and interior finishes vary widely depending on quality, availability, and necessary underlying structures. Gina notes that both material cost difference and preparatory and installation costs should be considered when determining a budget for building materials.

2      When Determining the Layout, Homeowners Should…

“Walk through a series of in-depth discovery questions [with the design team about the homeowners’] daily routines, family life, entertaining styles and more.” Gina explains that, “with these questions explored,” the design team “begins to build upon ideas in sketch format.” As they do so, they add necessary layers until the vision is realized. During the Riverside Manor project, the clients “wanted a home to entertain their large family and also feel cozy for their daily living needs.” They also wanted to honor the town they live in. Given all these elements, it was important to the LUDC design team to “give nod to the historic location of the home.” They focused on how the homeowners would “experience the spaces in expressions of compression and expansion.”

3      When Assembling a Design Team, Homeowners Should…

Allow prospective teams to propose “potential matches” for any empty slots. Gina notes that LUDC chooses team members for each client and project “based upon past successful projects, potential personality compatibility, working styles and budgets.” Afterwards, the LUDC team “makes suggestions to [their] clients about professionals they should interview, [offering] a guided design experience and help facilitat[ing] these meetings with questions and feedback.”

4      When Outlining Aesthetic and Stylistic Preferences, Homeowners Should…

“Start thinking about finishes and materials used early on.” Gina notes that the design team will not need to “know the grout materials in Schematic Design.” However, they do “need to define the building envelope materials in this phase and have those solidified” early on. Interior finishes will likely not be fleshed out more until the Design Development and Construction Documents phases. Interior finishes are further explored later in the Design Development and Construction Documents phases. Regardless, homeowners should keep them in mind from the start.

5      When Settling on a Timeline, Homeowners Should…

Consult with experts. As Gina explains, “working style, personalities, how they invoice (fixed fee vs. cost plus), quality level and more” will determine which contractors are hired. These elements may determine build time. Gina notes that “construction of homes varies depending on size, location, accessibility and builder.” However, LUDC advises “clients to budget 12-18 months for a 6,000 sq. ft. new construction project.” While “some may be more swift, and some slower…on average this is industry standard.”


Lastly, homeowners should try to be kind to themselves. Sometimes, no amount of planning can foresee or mitigate issues that pop up during the design and construction processes. Undertaking a brand new, custom build is complex, time-consuming and energy draining. It is also incredibly rewarding. Keep in mind that this space will house you and your family and entertain your friends for years to come. This will be so regardless of whether the team might need a few more months to complete the project. Trust that you have conducted proper research and hired the best team for the job.

LUDC clients should remember that — as Gina explains — the firm works hard to ensure that “each home is a unique reflection” of that client. The LUDC team is “in the memory-making business,” concerned with understanding each client’s needs and creating their dream home. No matter how small an element might seem to the homeowner, the LUDC team has considered it and optimized it. From the number of outlets to the access each beloved pet has to family spaces, all is considered.

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