Laying Showhouse Plans

Remember we mentioned the show house that we’d be working on to benefit Habitat For Humanity over the next ten months? Well, we’ve been itching to give you guys an update but we haven’t broken ground quite yet. It’s not that we’re behind schedule (the goal is to be under-roof by Christmas) but it turns out there’s a whole lot of prep before a house is even built. So as people who have never built a house or been part of that process before, it has been really interesting to see what goes into it.

Over the last few months we’ve been having lots of planning meetings and have even made some site visits to look at some finishes/materials (more on that in a sec). So we thought it would be fun to share an update on the floor-planning front. After about five rounds of revisions and tweaks, we’ve arrived at this: the final floor plan!

Getting here was a process with lots of cooks, so the final plan is by no means one person’s sole influence. The builder, John Waters, and his architect, T M Vavra, originated the plans, but they also had to factor in requirements from the neighborhood’s review board. To make sure it fits nicely within the look of the larger community, they require specific things like a certain square footage, and can even veto features on the front and inside the house if they don’t like them. There’s also input from the Homearama show team (to make sure it’s not too similar to other homes in the show, since the goal is for each house to have a variety of features). So lots of it was set before our eyes ever laid on it, but we were welcomed into the process early enough to still make some suggestions to help achieve some of the ideas that we had brewing. So here’s a quick rundown of some of the tweaks that we made to the floor plan, with the help of the builder and the architect after we all put our heads together.

  1. Moved the coat closet. To make the foyer feel more open and provide an unobstructed view into the family room when you walked in the front door, we borrowed space from the study for the coat closet instead of putting it under the stairs (which cut into the line of sight a lot more than being a door in the hallway that would be flush with the wall when closed). It wasn’t a perfect solution (we actually debated scratching it entirely at one point) but as we’re learning – this is a process of collaboration and compromise.
  2. Hello pocket doors! We upgraded the doorway to the dining room to include glass paned pocket doors with a transom window across the top (like this) to make that space feel a little more special.
  3. Goodbye french doors. As much as we love french doors, the original set of ’em planned to open into the dining room from the porch, which felt a bit impractical. It would cramp the dining room unless we picked small furniture, and we figured that access to the porch from the nearby foyer made it easy enough to get out there while allowing for more room, flow, and a larger table in the dining room.

  1. A simpler island. The original had a raised, curved bar top and columns to the ceiling, but we all agreed that a big open, rectangular island would probably be more functional and less visually busy, especially if the architect could devise a way to lose the columns that would have obstructed the view to…
  2. The star of the kitchen. We wanted to achieve that quintessential view of the kitchen with a beautiful exposed hood as the centerpiece. This meant shuffling around some of the appliances so the range could sit centered across from the island. Now when you look in from the living room you won’t see a fridge one one side and an oven on the other side – the fridge will be more tucked into a built-in cubby further down, and the backsplash and range hood will be center stage.
  3. A bigger butler’s pantry. That appliance shuffle also accidentally earned us more space between the kitchen and the dining room for a larger dry bar area. Plus, by moving it to that wall we’ve earned another pantry/closet under the stairs.

  1. More windows, please! We first considered turning this whole wall between the family room and the porch into french doors, but Builder John reminded us that it would cut into the function of the family room to make clearance for all of those swinging doors. So instead we just added large fixed windows beside the original french door for the appearance of a wall of glass without all that stuff swinging out and hitting potential furnishings.
  2. A built-in breakfast nook. This is the hardest change to see based on the floor plan (since it looks like we just made it a foot smaller). But that’s actually because we’re planning an awesome built-in breakfast table with a feature window behind it. Something sort of like this, but with a big interesting window in the back like this. More on that table in just a moment…
  3. Pantry door tweak. We thought it’d be fun to make these two frosted glass doors instead of just one (like this). But enough about that, let’s talk about the table for the breakfast nook…

Remember when we mentioned making a site visit to source some materials? Well, Builder John and Justin from Homearama introduced us to this place just down the road from us called Dreaming Creek Timber & Frame, where they craft incredible stuff from all types of wood. And they’re going to custom make a raw-edge table (kinda like the in-progress one that we saw during our visit, shown below) to contrast against the otherwise crisp and white breakfast nook that we’re envisioning.

They’re also going to provide some other focal points to the house, like the open A-frame rafters on the front porch, which you can see in the rendering of the facade at the top of this post. If the color had been right, we totally would’ve ask to used these boards they snagged from Coney Island. That’s the old wood boardwalk just chillin’ in the Virginia countryside. Sherry was feeling the NYC love.

Okay, back to the floor plans. Let’s go upstairs, shall we?

  1. Some fun towel storage. Since the jack-and-jill bathroom between the kids’ bedrooms didn’t really have (nor did it need) a formal linen closet, we made room for a narrow vertical cubby (for some casual rolled towel storage).
  2. Go big or go home sink. Again, since it was a kids bathroom we thought it’d be fun to put one big trough sink in there instead of the traditional setup of two smaller sinks. It’ll still have two faucets so it’s easy for two people to use at once, it’ll just be extra wide for some added fun. I think Clara would play for hours in there.
  3. Light-filled homework spot. Rather than the bench seat that was originally planned for this spot, we decided that a built-in desk would probably get more use and give the room as much function as possible.
  4. Defining the playroom space. We’re actually thinking of this room as a “Kids Reading Room,” so it will have more of a quiet, curl up with a book (okay, or maybe video game) kind of feel. So we opted to close it off with a wall, but still give it an open feel with pocket doors. We’re envisioning something kind of like this.

  1. Freed the tub. We thought the tub would have more presence if it was centered under the back window and freestanding (instead of built into the corner), so we changed its angled placement so that it didn’t block the shower as much (which also allowed for the entire front of the shower to be glass, instead of being walled in with just a small glass door for entry).
  2. Freed the vanities too. We also thought the twin vanities would be nice and stately if they felt less like angled cabinets with granite on them and more like pieces of furniture set in the room, so we squared them off and are hoping to find some cool dressers or something to convert.
  3. Balcony, baby! When the builder realized there would be unused roof space on one side of the master bedroom (the breakfast nook is below it) we all thought it would be awesome to add a private balcony up there. We originally had one off the front of the house (attached to a kids room) but the placement off of the master made a lot more sense.

There were a few other changes not mentioned, but those are probably the easiest to show at this stage. But I can’t believe we spent so much time talking about the inside without even addressing what happened outside. I don’t have the original version, but here’s where we ended up.

  1. Ix-nay on the alcony-bay. As I just mentioned in that last bullet, the original plan had a balcony with a pergola on this front window (incidentally, it was the presence of this pergola that helped us know that Builder John was the right partner for us). But the neighborhood’s review board killed the pergola, which made us reconsider the presence of a balcony on a kid’s bedroom anyway (for safety and mischief reasons). So it became a regular window, but that’s where our built-in desk is going to go, so we’re cool with the swap.
  2. Fake frenchies. Remember how we got rid of the french door in the dining room? Well, we’re going to try to capture the look of french doors with big floor-to-ceiling windows on both sides of the front door instead. That way both rooms get lots of light and easy access to the porch through the entryway door, but they don’t need to account for the clearance of swinging doors (which would impede on the size of the furnishings and their placement in those rooms).
  3. Open frame. We suggested an open frame look right above the front door. Builder John was all about it and was the one who suggested that we get the Dreaming Creek Timber guys to get us some really awesome accent beams to top things off out there. We think a big hanging glass pendant will look so great shining through that framed detail over the front door.
  4. Go navy! We said early on that we were leaning towards the idea of a navy house with crisp white trim and cool gray-toned stonework around the foundation. Builder John said “dude, I just sold a house that was tan and the realtor said if it was navy she thought it would have sold faster. Say no more, I’m sold on navy!”

We still need to settle on an exact navy color, and we’re actually meeting this week to look at a few options along with choosing the exact stone and brickwork that will make up the exterior. We’re also thinking of going glossy red or bright yellow for the front door, maybe bringing to life the exterior color combo that Sherry told HGTV magazine she was crushing on a few months ago?

Sorry there aren’t more real pics to share at this point. All of this talk of the house is really making us excited to see it come to life in person! Have any of you guys built a house, or been involved in the process through a relative, friend, or work project? It’s amazing how much there is to think about, but insanely exciting to think that scribbles on a piece of paper can actually become rooms that you can stand in someday.

P.S. While we often take on side gigs like this to help pay the bills, this one is a purely creative endeavor for us. Homearama compensates their designers for their year of planning and work, but we’ve opted to donate our entire fee to Richmond’s Habitat for Humanity, a cause that Homearama will also be supporting in other ways throughout the event.


  1. says

    I’m really liking that raw-wood-edge table, such a nice contrast in a finished space. And I usually don’t like navy, but for some reason the one you chose for the house exterior is muted enough that it doesn’t scream “NAVY!” (it’s more of a navy whisper). What a fun project!

  2. says

    What a cool opportunity for you guys. I have to say I won’t be surprised if you end up building the forever home down the road (I know you say you see yourselves living in this one forever but things change!).

  3. says

    Appreciate the collaborative walk through from ideas to reality-ish.

    My uncle is an architect and when he built their second home, he studied the land for 3 years before building it. Do you know that in some areas you don’t need a foundation?

    He was shocked to learn that, disputed it with the contractors, and even pulled his credentials. (He’s behind some big name buildings like GM’s headquarters.)

    Yet, he listened to them and when it was all done, he had an amazing little cabin that is built into the land. His driveway is where the winds are the strongest, so he rarely shovels snow in the winter- even in snow heavy Michigan.

    • says

      I’m not 100% sure, and just Google’d it but didn’t find a best link to post.

      For reference, though I don’t think it makes much of a difference, his house is 2 bedroom cabin. Nothing with extreme square footage.

      He noted that the collaborative process was quite awesome. In all of his professional years, he’d never experienced anything like it before. He was humbled, learned a ton, and his house is a true home as a result of the many hands that worked on it.

    • julie says

      My grandparents lived in a house on the water that was only a concrete slab…no foundation! The soil there is also very sandy (Berlin, MD).

    • Ashley says

      I would guess that what they used as a foundation is actually a monolithic footing. It’s very common in sandy areas for one story houses, like Florida. The 4″ slab would be thickened on the edges to 16″ minimum to carry the load of the bearing exterior walls.

  4. sarolabelle says

    I have never seen a modern two story house without what people in TX here call a “Gameroom”….is that something that is not standard in the rest of the country?

    • Rachel says

      The house I grew up in in New England had a “Playroom.” When I moved to Georgia for college, it seemed like every house down there had a “Bonus Room.” Maybe it’s just a regional difference of what to call the room?

    • Kate says

      I’ve heard of game or rec rooms in basements, but here in New England, it’s usually bedrooms on the top floor, living space on the main floor, and a finished (or partially finished) basement. The house I grew up in had a dirt cellar, root cellar in a door in the kitchen floor and an attic as well. No playroom.

    • Emily says

      Growing up in MD, everyone had basements which were your playroom/gameroom. I had never seen a house without a basement. And then we moved to North Carolina. Not many houses down here have basements (unless they are built into a hill). They don’t have to dig the foundations as deep so they don’t put basements in. Therefore, we have “Bonus Rooms” which are typically 2nd floor playroom/media rooms/gamerooms. I think it all depends on where you live in the country!

    • Ali says

      We just built a house 3 years ago and noticed that the thing in our area in NC is for builders to offer the option of having a “loft” or a “3rd/4th bedroom” – basically the same space but either having a wall/door or being open to the upstairs hallway. So perhaps the “loft” has replaced the “playroom”?

  5. Megan says

    Oh man I would love to live in that house! Can I sign you guys up to design my forever home some day? Love the navy color choice too. We are talking about painting our uggggly brown colored house blue and this, along with the blue house on the home tour you posted about yesterday, are really making me think thats a good choice! Can’t wait to see more as the project progresses. Great job!

    • says

      Thanks Megan! It’s so much fun to weigh what would look really cool with what’s really functional/helpful to have in a house. I think we like wearing both hats and sort of debating each other.


  6. Tracy says

    I think the walk-in pantry would be more functional with a door that opened out rather than in… I wouldn’t want to have to go in there, and close a door behind me to access the shelves (I’m envisioning shelves on 3 walls). The two smaller doors helps, but I still think a closet door should open out.

    • Elizabeth says

      I picture a swinging door on the pantry…easy to get in and out with your hands full. Love the plans, can’t wait to see it come to life.

    • Alice says

      My walk-in pantry door opens out and it works well for us. Also, when we built our house, we had automatic lights installed in our pantry and in the toy closet. The lights go on when the door is opened and go off when the door is closed.

    • Jennifer says

      We built our house in Australia – have been in it almost 7 years (we spent three years designing then it took another 2 to build). With regards to the pantry – our walk-in pantry also has a door that opens outwards – its great. Also, you can never have too many electrical outlets. In Australia its “standard” to have one double-socket in a large room – crazy! Our building company thought I was nuts when I showed them my electrical plan and I had added about 3 times as many sockets. Little did they know, I only had them add the ones that had to be put in by the builder (due to double-brick layered homes, not drywall). My electrician brother-in-law then came in and added more and upgraded doubles to quads. I had him put one in the pantry – great or the bread maker or other crockpot – can have them working and not in the way on the counter. He installed one under the ledge of our overhanging kitchen counter (where we have stools). We have an appliance garage with a quad socket. A quad socket in the laundry room, etc. You can never have too many!

    • Ashley says

      Keep the pantry door swinging in- an outward swing gets in the way of traffic outside the pantry, and it’s easier to push a door open than pull with your hands full.

      Be careful with outlets- they are usually not put into pantries or closets because it is a huge fire hazard… too much stuff gets crammed into those spaces & ignites quickly.

  7. Kari says

    If this blogging gig ever stops working for you, I think you would have an amazing career in helping design tract homes. The changes you detailed here are those that make the difference between functional and amazing. Thanks for sharing.

    • says

      Aw thanks Kari! It’s so funny because we still feel like complete newbies! But it’s really fun to dip our toes into the water and learn what goes into new constructions!


  8. Becky Wilson says

    We just painted the exterior of our house Sherwin Williams Outerspace and love it! It appears dark gray on the swatch, but it looks navy on the house with white trim. We have had so many compliments!

    • Tawnya Marney says

      Oh Angel I am a floor plan nerd too! I am the weird kid that loved the Sunday paper not for the comics, but for the Home section. I always cut out floor plans I loved and tucked them into a folder. I still look over them all the time and have a mental checklist of what I want, like, dislike etc.

  9. Tandy says

    This house reminds me a little of Katie Bower’s house! With the study and dining room at the front (I think hers has doors to the porch though?), and some of the upstairs with the Jack and Jill and the playroom. It looks like an awesome layout!

    • says

      Oh my gosh it does! I didn’t even think of that, but you’re right! It’s the builder’s favorite base plan (that ended up getting pretty heavily tweaked by everyone) so maybe he and Katie’s builder were inspired by the same one?


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