Seven Keys to Building a Great House
by Nicholas Cusano
Bigger isn’t better, Better is better
In most cases, even if the resources are there to build bigger, it is not to the betterment of the
project. From the perspective of usability, maintenance, taxes, scale, and aesthetics, larger houses
become much more demanding and difficult. The moderately sized, well-designed, detailed and
constructed house will always outshine its cavernous oversized cousins.
Quality will always hold its value
The housing market will rise and fall, trends will come and go. Often homeowners are left wondering
what they should do to protect their single largest investment. My advice would be not to try to
follow the trends, but look more towards your individual needs and remember that quality will
always retain its value. Houses built less then 30 years ago are now being knocked down because
of poor quality construction and “out of fashion” designs (example: the once hot “Split Level”)
whereas 100 year old houses are being lovingly restored and updated because of their character,
design and detail.
Someone saying its Quality doesn’t always make it so
When trying to assess “quality”, whether it is in terms of design, construction, or materials, one
should always remember we live in a world of salespeople. Everyone will tell you that they are
honest and represent quality. Unfortunately it just isn’t so, and because most homeowners are
new to this world they sometimes get taken for a ride. It pays to do your homework upfront rather
than retelling your “saga” at dinner parties for the next 5 years. Call multiple references, and seek
out people’s advice that are knowledgeable and you know you can trust.
Build the best team you can afford and listen to them
From your realtor, architect, landscape designer to your builder it pays to put together the highest
quality team you can afford. Each piece works with and depends on the next. Under the best of
circumstances the whole will be far greater than the sum of its parts. Yes, this takes money, but it
also takes delegation and trust to get the most out of your team.
It all starts with the site
The placement of the house on the site should be studied intensely to take advantage of approach
views, sunlight, prevailing winds, passive solar heating and cooling, existing landscape features,
grading, privacy, and among other things, possible future expansions. A poorly sited house will fail
over time no matter how successful the rest of the design. Sadly, this is the aspect of house design
people spend the least amount of time considering.
Creation takes time
We live in a fast food, need it yesterday society, but the fact remains that great works take time,
energy and focus. The time you spend planning, analyzing, and adjusting will be vital to the
projects long-term success. Rushing the pace only leads to mistakes, stress, costly changes and
For many people this is a one in a lifetime experience. Enjoy it. It should be exciting, interesting,
and fun. Like raising children or any other labor of love, there will be days that leave you weary,
but in the end, if you do your homework, put together a solid team, manage your time and
expectations, you will create a home of enduring quality that will bring you and your family joy for
generations to come.
Architecture + design