Building a Contemporary Home on a Budget

Building a Contemporary Home on a Budget

Many of us dream of designing a home that’s striking, comfortable and affordable. And there’s the rub — cost. Yet there has long been a movement among architects to bring high design to ordinary people by creating artistic single-family homes for small budgets.

Architect Gar Hargens and his clients Peter and Julie Eigenfeld, of St. Paul, Minn., found a way to build the American Dream on a budget.

If you’ve ever dreamed of building a modern home, here’s how you can do it on a budget:

Hiring an architect is a cost-effective choice

“Hiring an architect is a way to maximize your investment, to get exactly what you want for the least amount of money,” says Gar, of Close Associates Architects in Minneapolis, Minn.

Gar adds an architect can work with challenging sites like the lot Julie and Peter bought to build on, which was small and irr egular.

The way an architect gets paid varies. An architect may charge an hourly rate, a lump sum, a percentage of construction costs, a sum per unit of what will be built or a combination of these methods, according to the American Institute of Architects.

Include the contractor early in the home-building process

“I’ve found it’s much better to have the contractor on the team from the get-go, so that they are able to help you with the estimating, help you think about ways to save money,” Gar says.

Think outside the box: Use creative solutions to save money

One way to cut costs is to be flexible with materials.

“One of the neat things about modernism is you use a material that is fairly common, but you use it in an unusual way,” Gar says.

Gar used materials like corrugated steel panels, pre-cast concrete panels and pre-fabricated louvers to shave thousands off the final bill.

Another way to keep costs down is to keep the square footage of the house in check, Gar says.

“We spent a great deal of time squeezing the footprint of the building to keep it as, just as economical as we could,” he says. “Techniques like building in furniture, like using the landing of the stairs as a function activity space, making sure the powder room is no larger than it had to be, because that’s the measure that the contractor uses primarily for pricing.”

Applying the concept of value engineering — “taking different elements of the project and making sure that they’re providing the right value for the money that’s being spent,” according to Gar — is also key to home building on a budget.

For example, Gar looked at the high cost of materials and labor to make the window trims in the Eigenfeld house. To reduce these costs, he deleted the trim and casing and concentrated on the windowsill.

“We did the sills in a cultured marble, which was attractive, very durable,” Gar says. “The sheet rock wraps in and against the window itself — a good value-engineering solution.”

Financing an affordable, modern home may take some patience

At first, financing was a challenge for the Eigenfelds when the appraised value the mortgage lender gave the home was far lower than what the construction costs would be.

“It really was the system, I felt, that was beating us at the time and feeling that the banks and the mortgage companies, everyone just had this simple formula, and nothing unique, nothing out of the ordinary fit into that formula,” Julie says.

The Eigenfelds, with Gar’s help, went to another lender to land a mortgage.

“We went to a bank known for its ability to get things done, said, ‘We can do this,'” Gar says. “We realize that these buildings, modern design, have value, have enduring value, and we were able to get the mortgage.”

You can build your dream on a budget

“It’s possible to do it,” Gar says. “You need to be organized and have a good process where you have a good architect, [a] good contractor. You’re a team.”