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How Architects Save Money When They Build Their Own Homes

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If one can be sure of anything, it's that when architects design their own homes, the end result is going to be high on style. And with a new piece that interviews several architects who've recently built dwellings for themselves, the Wall Street Journal would like to suggest that, compared to structures built for clients, these personal projects are actually quite practical. Granted, architects get to save on design fees and trade discounts, but as this Austin couple has demonstrated already, it's also all about knowing where to spend money and where to conserve. Read on for three quick money-saving takeaways from WSJ's exploration into various architects' "simple, sophisticated structures that merely look expensive."

The general consensus among the architects featured is that less is more, particularly the principle that "streamlined designs take less time to build and are easier to maintain—yet are still more aesthetically appealing." But basic design aside, here are a few specific ways they keep their projects in check:

1. Prioritize—Duh.

"We worked really hard to get to the essence of what was important to us," Jeff Stern, from Portland-based firm In Situ Architecture, tells WSJ, "rather than starting the process wanting it all and having to compromise." For Stern, splurging on super energy-efficient triple-glazed windows meant incorporating a mix of budget-friendly solutions like concrete floors, fir cabinetry, and plastic laminate countertops.

Thomas Gluck of NYC-based firm Gluck + Architecture gave the exterior of his Tower House (↑ ) a tinted-glass treatment usually only used for commercial projects. "Even though the glass itself is inexpensive, the technique of applying the tint can be costly," WSJ's Nancy Keates writes. Still, this was a calculated risk that's central to the design of the home; the dark glass exterior allows the structure to blend in with its woodsy surroundings. Inside the home, he kept the design and finishings simple (↓ ).

For his upstate New York weekend retreat (↓), Manhattan architect Doug Larson used "a factory-built stove pipe instead of a brick chimney with a fancy surround and a mantle."

ah1.jpgPhoto by Tim Street Porter via Larson and Paul Architects

Speaking of cost-effective alternatives...

2. Find off-price steals—it's like bargain-hunting at T.J.Maxx but for building supplies.

According to David Wagner of Minneapolis-based firm Sala Architects, considerable savings can come from purchasing materials that are discounted for negligible imperfections. For example, the white-oak flooring he used for an 1,000-square-foot addition to his house was a few grades lower than what most clients demand, but he knew that "the flaws were just some 'character knots' in the wood."

3. Think ahead—anticipate how design decisions will affect labor cost.

For his ultra-modern T-shaped home (↓), architect Marc Manack from Silo AR+D in Fayetteville, Arkansas "made the infrastructure as easy as possible for contractors" by grouping utility hookups and connections together in an easily-accessible location. And because Manack did not plan for any "ornate millwork" or "high-end finishes" in his design, he was also able to reduce labor costs by hiring rough-in carpenters instead of more expensive, highly-skilled carpenters.

Below, a video tour of the architects and homes featured in the WSJ piece:

· Architect Homes: Streamlined Yet Sophisticated [WSJ]