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How To Design a House Like an Architect (Complete Guide)

In Design Theory by Giovanni ValleLeave a Comment

Designing and building your own house is no small task. It comes with many unforeseen costs and challenges. But by learning how to design a house as an architect would, you can make the process simpler and easier.

To design a house like an architect, follow these rules:

  1. Know what space you’ll need before you get into the details.
  2. Think about the physical layout of the lot.
  3. Use sketches and lists to organize your ideas.
  4. Prioritize natural lighting.
  5. Think about your home’s position relative to the sun.
  6. Plan a good storage space.
  7. Take your time.
  8. Consider using digital sketching software.
  9. Consider your future needs.
  10. Research zoning laws.
  11. Figure out what architectural styles appeal to you.
  12. Go forth with confidence!

Read on to learn more about the ways that you can design a house as an architect would. This article will cover what you need to know to start your home-building process.

1. Know What Space You’ll Need Before You Get Into the Details

As you start designing your house, think about what overall square footage you want the house to have and how you want to allocate space between different parts of the house. An upgrade in one area can mean a sacrifice somewhere else, so make sure you know your priorities as far as size is concerned.

Different room flow patterns can give rooms the illusion that they’re bigger than they are. For example, an open concept kitchen and dining room will make each of those rooms feel bigger than if they were sectioned off more fully.

Also, consider how many bedrooms and bathrooms you want to have. Although these take up significant space, they can make the difference between entertaining guests and having nowhere to put them. Most homeowners prefer to have at least one guest room and an extra bathroom.

The space available to you will also depend on the physical makeup of the lot. Some lots are larger than others, and some have more buildable areas than others.

Remember that a bigger house doesn’t always mean a better house. Plan for your needs without going over the top. This won’t just save you money during the build process but will also save you time and money as you maintain your house and pay bills regularly. A larger house means more heating and cooling costs and more cleaning.

What matters most is that the spaces are connected well, and there’s a natural flow to the home. Ensure you have enough room for your furniture, and make areas that should be private separate from the main flow of your living areas. You may wish to create physical barriers between certain spaces that block sound and light while keeping other areas open.

2. Think About the Physical Layout of the Lot

What you can and can’t build will depend greatly on where you’re building and what the land is like. Building into the side of a hill, for example, presents design challenges and unique opportunities.

You might decide to build outdoor-facing doors on the first and second levels of the house, and you might find that some of your wants for the property are not possible.

An architect is well-prepared to analyze the land and determine what design features are possible and what will optimize the space and quality of the land. To design a house like an architect, you need to consider these physical features, too.

Take note of physical features you want to highlight, and plan rooms based on which ways you want the windows to face and what sounds you want in a given area. Bring the outdoors in where you can, and try to connect indoor and outdoor spaces to make the most of the space you have.

3. Use Sketches and Lists To Organize Your Ideas

While going through your home-building process, you’ll find that you often need to communicate with design and construction teams about what you need and want for your house. It helps to have visual aids and a clear sense of what you’re after.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes early on. You might find that some of your ideas aren’t feasible, but by brainstorming freely, you can unlock your creativity and come up with something great that’s feasible.

There are also software programs you can use to make the early design process easier. However, some experts recommend getting as far as possible with paper and pencil before diving into complicated software.

4. Prioritize Natural Lighting

When designing a house, architects typically figure out how and where lights will flow through the rooms. They may plan windows, skylights, and see-through doors as a way of making sure the room is well-lit without needing too much artificial lighting.

That said, too many windows and glass walls can make it more difficult to control the house’s temperature, which can, in turn, increase your energy bill. Ideally, you’ll find a way to prioritize natural lighting without forgetting that you need insulation from the cold or heat, too.

Reflective surfaces like mirrors are a good way to make the most of natural lighting without sacrificing temperature control. While designing your house, think about where you might be able to put mirrors to maximize the light coming into each room.

Having a view of the sky from your home makes it feel more spacious and open, and it adds a dramatic, interesting component to a room. Create a contrast between the intimacy of a small space and the added volume of a window.

5. Think About Your Home’s Position Relative to the Sun

The sun rises in the East and sets in the West, shining light and warmth into some rooms but not others. Consider where you want natural light coming in and where you don’t before you get started.

Typically, homeowners who think like architects will put garages on the south and west sides and living areas north and east. Having daylight just during the morning keeps the east side of the house warm during the day and cooler at night. The opposite is true for the west side of the house.

The west side is often the hottest part of the house, so make sure you save this space for bathrooms, laundry rooms, or storage areas, where you won’t be spending as much of your time.

6. Plan a Good Storage Space

Make room for your things. Not only should you ensure your furniture will fit, but you should also plan for overflow. We naturally accumulate many belongings, and your great plans for open rooms and a natural flow can easily be ruined by excess belongings taking up the space.

Instead, plan a storage attic, basement, or extra room where you can keep items that aren’t in use. That way, you’ll leave plenty of room in the main areas for your house for living, and you won’t have to live in a constant state of clutter.

Remember that your storage space should still be temperature-controlled, even if it doesn’t matter if it runs slightly hot or cold.

7. Take Your Time

Architects know that a good design takes time. Plan to put together extensive notes and do plenty of research before you even get started talking to a design and build team. Collect photos of inspirational spaces and think about your needs carefully before starting.

As you move forward, be patient as the design team works with your ideas and helps you bring them to life. Their goal is to help you make a livable house that’s not prone to disasters, and your job is to bring them ideas and work alongside them. Part of that is working with their timetable.

A house is a long-term project, so be prepared for that regardless of how ready you are to move into your new space.

8. Consider Using Digital Sketching Software

Digital sketching programs like RoomScan, Floorplanner, and MagicPlan allow you to put together a digital model of your home, planning the layout down to minute details. These programs let you visualize your ideas to figure out what you’re looking for early on in the process.

Architects use modeling software to develop their ideas all the time, and using these tools will help you see designs the way they do.

Each of these programs comes at a cost, but the reward of visualizing your home for yourself and the design and build team makes the price well worth it for many users.

9. Consider Your Future Needs

In addition to considering your current needs, make sure that you understand your needs in the years to come. Do you plan to have kids, or will you care for your parents someday? You should be prepared to answer these questions so that you can design a house according to your current and future needs.

Architects always have a long-range view of a property, and they design with the future in mind. Do the same, and you’ll be able to have a functional house to support many happy years of life.

10. Research Zoning Laws

One of the ways that architects understand the limitations of different projects is through their knowledge of local zoning laws. Make sure that restrictions on building won’t apply to your home project before you get started, and you’ll be saved a great deal of heartache later.

Zoning laws may cover all kinds of home features, including engineering requirements for wind speed damage and seismic zones. Height restrictions may also apply in some cases.

Generally, a home needs to be authorized by an architectural review board before it can be safely built and the plans implemented.

11. Figure Out What Architectural Styles Appeal to You

Once you’ve figured out what kind of space you need and how you want light and air to flow, you can start thinking about what building materials you’ll need and what kinds of specific features you want your home to have.

Different architectural styles include any of the following:

Cape CodThis is a 17th-century style designed for harsh New England winters (steep roofs, single-story designs, central chimneys).
CoastalThis style is designed for a beach lifestyle (back-facing windows, raised foundations).
ColonialOriginated in the 1600s-1800s, this style includes Dutch Colonial, Spanish Colonial, German Colonial, or French Colonial.
ContemporaryThis is a modern architecture that includes large windows, dramatic roofs, open spaces, and asymmetry.
CraftsmanIt features wood trim and wrap-around porches, as well as roof rafters and gabled roofs.
EuropeanUsually made with a stucco, brick, or stone exterior, it combines features of different European styles into one home.
Prairie SchoolIt’s simple, sleek, and well-integrated into the natural environment; indoor/outdoor focus as expressed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
RanchIt’s a popular house style in the 1920s in the U.S.; long, low profile and big windows.
VictorianThis is a common style from 1825-1900; Decor including gable trim and corbels features such as two-story turrets and railings.

12. Go Forth With Confidence!

One thing that architects have is confidence in their ability to make an idea come to life. If you can build enough confidence in yourself, you’ll be all the more well-prepared to go into conversations with designers and builders.

Know that your home is ultimately yours to design, and trust that members of your home-building team will ensure that you’re able to do it safely and without spending a fortune.


Designing a house like an architect takes attention to detail and careful consideration of many factors. You must consider cost, space, energy use, and numerous other things when thinking about your proposed design plan for the house.

These are some ways that you can design a house like an architect:

  • Do what you can to maximize natural light without raising energy costs dramatically.
  • Design for the layout of the land (hilly, flat, etc.).
  • Keep your ideas organized from the start to have brainstorming notes and ideas to draw from later on.

Good luck!


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