cool modern on a budget 03/2015


Modern design can be expensive. The large open spaces, floor to ceiling windows and high end finishes typical of modern design all contribute to modern designs being more expensive than conventional designs. Here are our guidelines for keeping costs under control:


Size Matters 

Design for daily use, and don't let the exceptional once-a-year gathering drive the design. Let uses overlap, combining the kitchen, dining and living rooms for example, to create open flowing space. On the other hand, too small does not always save cost: A bathroom with the same fixtures and finishes is not half as expensive when made half the size; in fact it may be more expensive as it is too small, it is more difficult for workers to install the finishes. High ceilings can add great style and proportion, but also add to the homes volume. Going from an 8 foot to a 10 foot ceiling adds 25% to the wall and window area and requires additional structural support to make the house stable. Avoid large open spaces; they are expensive to build and heat. Consider using maximum room sizes of 16 feet so standard framing materials can be used.



Avoid redundant rooms, such as en-suite bathrooms. Have one guest bath to share for every two or three bedrooms. Halls add space so instead have rooms flow from one to another.


Windows and doors

Glazed openings, windows and doors are more expensive than solid walls. Prioritize windows facing south, and limit windows facing north. Construction costs are limited in the beginning and energy is saved through the whole lifecycle of the house. Keep windows to 25% of the wall area. A good value are windows made of wood and clad in painted aluminum on the exterior as supplied from one of several reputable manufacturers.


Degree of difficulty

Consult with local builders during design and understand their go-to finishes and construction techniques. Approaches that are unique to the builder take more time. Precision, trim, such as recessed baseboard and trim can be elegant but cost a premium.

Flat roofs with internal roof drains are expensive. It is better to gently slope the roof to one side with conventional downspouts.



There has been tremendous innovation in porcelain tile. It is both economical and highly durable. Keep it natural: flooring is beautiful in its natural state. Avoid costly custom stains.


Building Systems

The most economical heating and cooling is to have a standard furnace with ducted air distribution. Wood frame construction is industry standard and is far and away the most economical, as opposed to masonry or steel. Wood framing is also highly adaptable to accommodating electrical, plumbing and other basic services.


Text by Colin Flavin AIA

Flavin Architects