General Mom

Mom-of-5, building a home in California, step by step, with Faith and Feistiness ~ by General Mom Contractor

Month: November, 2013

Tips on Designing a Home

Surprisingly, designs on paper are sometimes very different than what it becomes in reality. Most people say that they can’t “picture” how it will look. I have a few tips to help minimize the surprise and expense from design to reality.

Since I’m on a nail-biting budget, the structure of the house needs to be designed right the first time because change orders are super expensive and cause delays. Here are some practical tips to get what you want, get what you need and most importantly, you aren’t surprised when it’s too late.

1. Plan for the future. Try your best to think ahead to future lifestyle. That may include more children, bigger children, elderly parents or retirement. Make a list and scrub your plans with that list in hand. We designed our first house with one toddler in tow. We never imagined five children, so we outgrew that house quickly. At the very least, we could have designed the kids bedrooms to accommodate bunk beds for future kids! Thankfully, in the shared bathroom, we designed a door between the toilet and sinks. When it’s bedtime…that is essential! So we kept these lessons in mind and implemented them into the current design.

2. Take an inventory of what drives you crazy at your current house or past houses. Mine include overlapping doors or doors that you have to close one to open another, not enough closet or pantry space, outlets in the wrong places, and narrow walking paths.

3. Pick your favorite rooms and take note of the size of the room and give that to your designer. For instance, 5 x 9 is my favorite size for a private bathroom with a tub. 12 x 12 is my favorite minimum bedroom size for two children. You may want to visit some model homes and bring a tape measure! Beware of those tricky decorators that somehow make a 9 x 9 bedroom look big with a twin and one dresser!

4. Get some blue painter’s tape and lay out room sizes on your floor. With 7 bodies in our house, I love a 4 foot max – 42″ minimum walking path, since I always have someone following and tugging on me.

5. Make cut outs of your furniture to the scale of your design. Place them on the drawings and make sure you cut out a segment to allow for your favorite or minimum walking path. This will ensure the flow is good. If the piano doesn’t fit on the drawing now, it won’t in reality. You don’t want to be surprised at how uncomfortable you feel when it’s all framed!

I haven’t been too surprised during first floor framing, since I have scrubbed every inch of the plan. The second floor may be a bit surprising, since I have an “innovative” laundry room plan. I’ll take picture when it’s finished at the end of the week. I hope I’m right and it’s genius! If not, I will be annoyed at how small it is. The master closet may be a foot too small (yes you should know what bothers you) and I may have too much room around the tub. So we will see if I will be moving a wall back to accommodate. My framer is alerted to this possibility. As soon as the perimeter is framed, then I will remeasure and adjust it. Pulling an interior wall in 6″-1′ is not creating more work in this instance, so there is no change order needed.

One HUGE surprise was the foyer on this house. On paper it seemed average in size based on our old house foyer, past neighbors, model homes. But I am shocked at the height! It’s 20 feet high! I just didn’t envision it. Well, it’s dramatic to say the least. The foyer doubles as a music conservatory. Our piano is nestled under the staircase. I have a romantic notion of the children having recitals with our family watching in the foyer. A Juliet balcony extends over the foyer for a trio or viewing area. It will marvelous. Even seasoned owner builders like us are still surprised and thankfully in a good way!






Second Floor Framing

The last stair was nailed and I got to climb up to our new second floor. I just put my hand over my heart and the view took my breath away.


That is the view from the kids bedroom and our master bedroom is to the right of the scaffolding. This is the balcony looking over to the front door and front stairs.


Framing the second story begins tomorrow and the lumber was delivered today. We still have water, electric and septic to trench before it rains. We should have our roof on in 4 weeks but I’m shooting for 3.5 weeks. Windows will be delivered December 2! I had last minute final decisions that had to be made about door heights, closet heights, pocket doors and newly found usable space. Never a dull moment when building a home!


First Floor, Stucco and Custom Cabinets

And there we have it…a first floor! Woohoo! The opening on the right of the front cement stoop is where our staircase will be. That will be framed when scaffolding arrives on Monday. Since it’s over 20 feet tall in the foyer, there isn’t a way to stack it without the scaffolding.




I finalized our stucco contract today. Stucco is a type of exterior finish that leaves a brick and siding kind of girl spinning. Stucco is essentially a mixture of cement, sand and water. There are fifty million options for finish and trims that this General Mom has to decide on, quickly. So I selected a light sand finish with a color coat mixed into the stucco. I am having the trim made locally out of casted concrete which looks like limestone. This will give it a nice Mediterranean look.




My cabinet maker stopped by today to measure the kitchen. I literally was so focused on our discussion of ideas, that we both didn’t notice the framers were putting a huge 400 pound beam over our heads! He will get shop drawings together and then it will take several months for him to make the cabinets. So exciting! I can’t wait until you see the secret pantry door!



Don’t let my framers kid you…they love all the photos I take of them! I’m like paparazzi following them around taking pictures.


Just Keep Building

Pretty much all our married life of 15 years, we have been in some kind of construction mode.

We bought a fixer-upper after our first year of marriage. We gutted it ourselves and worked inside and outside for 4 years.

Year six, we decided to buy an acre of land and build a custom home in IL. We had a one year old at that time and I was the General Contractor. From beginning of design to moving in was only 9 months! Mind you, it was unfinished when we moved in. What a adventure to have plywood floors and countertops with a toddler!

Year 12 of marriage, we made the big move to CA. We looked at houses to buy but nothing seemed right. Then God brought us to our property and it just melted our hearts. It felt like home. We’ve been on this journey since June of 2012 and 13 years married. The saying is true, ” A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor!”

So now when I see the framing, it really feels surreal. I have every inch of the house memorized on paper. But when I stood at my kitchen window today, I was so thankful and overwhelmed with gratitude and peace.

Picture the scene out of Mark chapter 4. The disciples are in a fishing boat, the sea is raging and Jesus is sleeping and the disciples have lost their minds.

Mark 4:35-41 Jesus Calms a Storm
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

I just love that Jesus was sleeping. (Some kind of omnipotent fake sleeping I bet.) Without any fear or hesitation but out of love and concern, Jesus awoke and pronounced over the raging sea, “‘Peace be still.’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.”

I don’t know what the sea ahead of me looks like, but I know The One who has navigated us through many waters. I pray you do too. Trust Him.