A custom home is one that is specially designed to meet the specifications of the person who commissioned it. A custom home is constructed from architectural plans drawn up to meet the needs and stipulations of the owner - the first owner. Plans can be extravagant, drawn from a Pritzker Laureate, or modest from the local architect in your town. Custom plans are different from stock building plans, where the same plan may be sold to many different people.
Frequently a builder will customize stock plans by changing details. The builder may change the type of siding, move a doorway, or even add a dormer. However, the house is not truly a custom home unless a designer (usually an architect) has closely studied the land and interviewed the clients to create a one-of-a-kind home that is tailor-made for the people who will live there. Basically, if you don't have it built, a custom home will not be built.
Custom Home or Production Home?
To build a custom home, you will need a building site and an architect or a professional home designer. A builder who specializes in custom homes may also offer design services. A custom home builder may be a production home builder, but the process and results are different.
Because the process is a personal relationship, custom homes cannot be advertised. If the house was already built and ready to be sold, it wouldn't be customized to the buyer. Sometimes developers will leave parts of the interior unfinished to customize for prospective buyers (e.g., custom kitchens), but this is not really a custom home-it's more of a customized production home. Know the difference, and don't be fooled by marketing and sales pitches.
Examples of Custom Homes:
Many architects begin their careers designing homes for specific people. For example, architect William Rawn designed a house for a couple in Massachusetts and author Tracy Kidder told the whole story in his book House-a good exploration of the conflicts that arise in the scope of a custom home project. The commissioned plans of a custom home are tailor-made for the client and location, but also often reflect the design style of the architect. Here are some examples:
- The Vanna Venturi House by Robert Venturi was built for his mother
- Xanadu 2.0, home of Bill and Melinda Gates
- Graceland, well-known home of Elvis Presley, was built in 1939 for Ruth Brown Moore and her family
- The Robie House, Frank Lloyd Wright's most famous house, was built for Frederick C. Robie
- Maison à Bordeaux by Rem Koolhaas was built for Jean-François Lemoine and his family
- Mendocino County Wooden Cottage as a get-away designed by architect Cathy Schwabe
What Is a Custom Home Builder?
A Custom Home Builder constructs a one-of-a-kind home that is designed for a specific client and for a particular location. They may use plans created by an architect or by a professional home designer, so the Custom Home Builder knows how to read and interpret architectural renderings-a skill we assume all builders to have, but you'll find degrees of abilities in the construction industry.
Some Custom Home Builders also offer professional design services. Because each house is unique, Custom Home Builders generally construct only a few (less than twenty-five) homes a year.
In most cases, Custom Home Builders construct on land the home buyer already owns. However, some Custom Builders will provide the building lot.
If you own your own land or have plans for a particular home you want to build, you will need the services of a Custom Home Builder.