Are you building a new home? There’s a lot of decisions to be made and you may be wondering what you need to choose first. Here are 10 steps (and more importantly, the order of decisions) for planning your new build.
In January and February we’re unusually busy in our eDesign department working on New Build packages because this is the time of year when planning begins for renovations or planning your new build.
If you’re planning your new build, you should be aware that colour decisions for the exterior need to be made FIRST. So don’t wait until the last minute (which often happens).
10 Steps To Planning Your New Build
Many people who are building a new home think “I’ve got this” but then when it comes down to the wire and the builder is hounding you for colour decisions, that’s when you start losing sleep, worrying that you’ve made the right decision.
We constantly receive emails with last minute requests for help with exterior because you started searching on-line for the right answer and then hit my website and started panicking when you realized you can’t just wing it with colour decisions.
To help you out, we have a new build and the link to the exterior new build is on the page.
If you have just finished a renovation or you are currently planning your new build and just found my website? Don’t read this post. It’s not fun when you realize you’ve made mistakes, as I’ve said in the past, ignorance is bliss. Read this post instead.
Just enjoy your new house and if all else fails and you really are cranky with the choices you’ve made, decorate to distract the eye!
The Order of the Decisions when Building a New Home
The order of the decisions that need to be made when building a new home is very important! Once you make a few key colour and design choices in the beginning, the conversation about what comes next is less about ‘What you love’ and more about ‘What will look good with what you’ve already chosen’.
If you feel like you have to fall in love with every hard finish choice you make, you might end up with a bathroom that looks like this one (below) with a thought process that probably went like this:
“Hmmm, I love grey, I’m going to love it forever, so let me grab one of these 12″ x 24″ grey tiles. Oh, I really love this horizontal accent tile, I need that right? Oh, and I need a small scale tile for the shower floor and these black and grey stones are gorgeous.” Check, check and check.
And then in the end, the walls ended up a blue grey when in fact the tile in this image has a green grey undertone.
Plus, this bathroom is so trendy it will forever say “I built my house inside the grey trend”.
Trendy not timeless (source)
So, if you are at the beginning of a project and you have not enlisted the help of a designer, here are the steps you need to follow:
1 | Choose your floors first
You have two options. Pale maple or white oak floors (or LVP that looks like that) or medium brown. The end.
Notice there is not a stitch of grey in these images. If you don’t want your house to scream “built in the grey trend” don’t install charcoal or grey floors.
Don’t even get me started on black hardwood floors (since black is the new grey). One of my readers sent me the on-line catalogue of a popular furniture brand and the cover had an emerald green sofa sitting on top of black hardwood floors. NOOOOOOOO. That is a life designed around dusting constantly.
And very far from a classic and timeless look.
If you want tile on your kitchen floors–despite the thousands of apparent options in the showroom–good options are more limited than you think, AND then it needs to relate well to your countertops, so if you don’t want a muddy, blotchy looking mess, this is when the rule of only one pattern in each room should be implemented, which is:
After you’ve chosen one pattern in your hard finishes for the kitchen or bathroom, that’s it. Your pattern quota is done.
It RARELY works to have two patterns in the same room.
And since most homes have traditional kitchens, a solid white tile will look too modern, so consider something like the following instead:
Related post: What Everyone Should Know About Porcelain Tile
If you are installing a stained wood kitchen read this post for the most timeless countertop.
Here’s another kitchen suitable for a more rustic style:
2 | Choose Your White Foundation Palette Next
Will your cabinets be a true-white, off-white, or cream? Or if you are installing a wood stained kitchen, which white will you choose for your trim? That is the next decision.
I have spoken with many clients who say “I don’t want stark white cabinets”. That is totally fine. No one ever said that you can’t have a classic and timeless house with a cream palette (see the above kitchen).
Unless I specifically state “True white” when I mention WHITE on the blog, assume I’m talking about the white that works for your house.
So when I say white, it could be anything from a blue-white to off-white, true-white, or cream. It should always be custom to YOUR home.
If you are choosing whites for your renovation or planning your new build and you haven’t bought my White is Complicated eBook which will teach you exactly which white you should choose? Download it here.
Left (true-white) | Right (cream)
3 | Next Choose Your Countertops
If you’ve already skipped the last step, that’s okay because your countertops will dictate whether you should choose a true-white, off-white or cream palette anyway.
In the above photo on the top right, you can see that the countertops are Carrara marble which have a blue undertone. So you could choose a blue-white (which will read more like a colour than a white) or a true-white for the cabinets.
The kitchen on the right is cream (above). With cream, honeycomb backsplash tiles. There’s nothing wrong with a pattern that’s different from subway tile as long as it’s plain and leaves you with the option of switching up the colours in your kitchen anytime you want.
The definition of classic and timeless design is “Will I be stuck in a specific colour scheme forever?” If the answer is NO, you’re golden.
Or with pattern, the question to ask yourself is “Will I get bored of this in 10 minutes?” (below), um yeah.
Hilary Duff’s kitchen (And if you have money to burn, you can change it 10 minutes later, no problem)
4 | Backsplash Tile
And this brings me to the backsplash, now that you’ve chosen the floors and the countertop, you can choose the backsplash.
Yes, it will be installed last so it’s not absolutely imperative that you choose it next, however if you are committed to a classic and timeless palette, you easily could.
Here’s another backsplash with geometric white tile that still gives you lots of flexibility with colour. However keep in mind this is modern which goes best with quartz, NOT granite.
Related post: The Best Backsplash Tile For Your Kitchen
If you are ONLY renovating your kitchen, you can buy our Create a Classic Kitchen eDesign package here.
5 | Living or Great Room Fireplace
This is not obvious to everyone, but your kitchen should coordinate with your fireplaces.
Unless you are planning your new build and its a beach house or a house in the country, I would stay away from stacked stone, as it’s stone (from the earth), so it’s not white (unless it’s manufactured) and that means the colours are generally earthy and will boss around your colour scheme just like a busy granite countertop or busy, colourful tile in a bathroom.
Related post: Should Your Great Room Fireplace Relate to the Kitchen?
You can install millwork even if you have vaulted ceilings, or a double story height great room (see image below).
I don’t know about you, but I would much prefer to have options when decorating my living room rather than having to consider the fireplace colour and add whatever that colour is to my colour scheme.
6 | Bathroom Tile & Countertops
After the kitchen and great room, bathroom tile is next. If you’re after a classic and timeless design, stay away from all the busy, patterned, trendy tile unless your house fits this exception.
Here are some guidelines for choosing tile:
A black and white basketweave (or something similar) is always a classic choice. Why? Because this is what you expect bathroom tile to look like.
Notice how the black has been repeated in the framed art and towels. A black countertop would work here too.
However, if you love the look of the flat black hardware in bathrooms, choose black for the faucet ONLY and go with chrome for the shower hardware. Especially in a white bathroom. It’s prettier (and looks less bitty) to repeat the black in framed artwork instead.
Small scale tile is expensive to install so if you’re on a budget, choose a faux marble tile (below) and install it everywhere.
For more examples of classic and timeless bathroom tile, shop my Pinterest boards here.
BONUS TIP: How to Coordinate White Bathroom Tile
Those of you who are fixated with getting your whites right (as I am), notice that the 12″ x 24″ faux marble is not as white as the white hex on the floor underneath the tub or the subway tile on the wall. Don’t try to match it, you won’t be able to do it. Better to contrast it instead. This combination works because the true white tile relates to the bright white bathtub (below):
By the way, notice how hard we are working to coordinate whites! Imagine trying to do this with NEUTRAL undertones. It’s no wonder most bathroom tile doesn’t match or just looks plain bad in the end.
Related post: When Should you Rip out Brand New Tile?
If you need help selecting all your bathroom choices, you can purchase our Create a Classic Bathroom here.
7 | Bathroom Cabinets / Vanity
Consider wood stained cabinets in the bathroom. It adds contrast and looks elegant with any white (or off-white or cream) tile.
8 | Hardware
Hardware for your cabinet doors looks easy but here’s the guideline to keep in mind.
Choose knobs for your cabinet doors and pulls for the drawers. If you coordinate both, and even go so far as to choose custom lengths for the pulls (depending on how large your drawers are) it will look like a designer was here.
If you are on a budget or you just don’t have time to figure out what goes where, choose knobs instead of pulls (below). Visually, less is more when it comes to hardware. A kitchen full of 4″ long pulls on all the doors and drawers gets busy looking very fast!
9 | Lighting
Choosing lighting is hard. It look me many years of being in the design industry to get good at choosing lighting.
It’s the reason why builder lighting is usually bad and all match-y. Lighting should be chosen to coordinate with the style of the home and each light should coordinate with the other.
View my Pinterest board for classic and timeless lighting ideas.
I don’t understand why more builders don’t just install a simple drum shade chandelier for dining rooms. They go with everything and in a pinch, if you’re on a budget you can live with it until you find something more interesting:
I usually don’t specify lighting with bare bulbs (unless it really works with the style of the home) because the light is softer and more consistent when there’s a shade around it.
As lighting choices are custom to the style of the home, I’m not choosing lighting for this post, however if you purchase a New Build Consultation, we include coordinated lighting.
10 | Paint Colours
Notice that paint colours are dead last!
Because now we have chosen all the hard finishes.
Related post: Are you Waiting for your Paint Colours to Propose?
It would be even better if you had a colour scheme for the living or great room at this point but most people can barely keep up with all the above decisions to think about which colour their sofa will be.
If you need help with your colour scheme, get the help you need here.
I didn’t think the trend to painting walls white could get any bigger but it is. I receive more and more questions and comments every day about white and most importantly, readers who have painted their walls plain white and ended up disappointed with the result.
So here’s the thing, most people do not have a house that will look good with true-white or off-white, in other words, art gallery white walls, this statement says it the best:
White is a snob, white walls create an art gallery effect, spotlighting attention on every object so each must be worthy. White walls highlight shape and colour and tolerate no chaotic mess. Each object is part of the composition and so has to be selected and positioned with a curatorial eye for arrangement.
If you are a designer and think you’re off the hook because your client has requested a white, think again.
When My Clients Say White
When my clients say white, I automatically hear greige or complex cream because most homes need SOME colour in order to look finished instead of that the walls have been primed and are still waiting for colour. Go back to the above quote and read it again if you still didn’t get it.
Which greige you choose or specify should be based on the existing neutral undertones of your house, here’s a post I wrote about greige, scroll down to the end.
As you can see this post gives you the order in which choices need to be made, it barely scratches the surface on all the decisions that need to be made and how to coordinate them.
If you want to learn how to choose the right colours and finishes for your exterior renovation or new build, you can purchase my online training (watch the first lesson FREE here). Or, if you want my help choosing interior or exterior finishes, shop my eDesign services here.
Create a Colour Plan
If you want me to help you create a colour and hard finish plan for your renovation or planning your new build including coordinating lighting and hardware, here’s the eDesign consultation for this.
Whatever you decide, DO NOT go about spending thousands of dollars building a new home WITHOUT any training or guidance. You would never get hired as a buyer in any company responsible for spending thousands of dollars without training.
It works the same way for your very expensive house. And every day for as long as you live there, you’ll have to live with hasty decisions, made under pressure.
My best advice for building a new home is to not make risky choices on your own. Go with the safe option and get crazy with wallpaper and fabrics instead! And then the chances are much higher that your house will fill you with happiness every time you walk in the door.
Here’s a lovely testimonial we just received from a happy client:
A while back, I purchased assistance in choosing new paint color for my pantry, kitchen, and living areas. I went with the suggestions, and they were spot on! Today the painters got the first coat on in the kitchen, and it’s perfect. Thank you…it was worth every penny to have your input. Anne, Bartlett TN
‘I’ve Got This’ and Other Unrealistic Thoughts about Decorating
Why Stone and Accent Tile are not as Important as You Think
Do’s and Don’ts on Decorating an Empty Room
oh Maria, this is to true! I try and try to tell clients when I’m building or remodeling for them the steps and choices to make first, but many times they don’t listen until it’s too late. and unless they’ve hired me to build AND design it for them, I just have to bite my lip. sigh.
great and timely article. perhaps more in the future about the importance of first selecting appliances in kitchen renovations –
then moving forward.
Good point. Choices in appliances are extremely limited compared to the other choices one has. Although I would choose the general type of kitchen I wanted (white, wood, color) and then choose the appliances that work best with it.
Hi Sandra, yes appliances are definitely the first item to purchase in a kitchen renovation, I didn’t mention them in this post because I was talking about New Builds. Here’s a post I wrote about appliances: https://mariakillam.com/appliances/
Ooh, super breakdown. This information is worth money but those who are wise will see its value and take your excellent advice even though it’s free!
Interesting about the white walls trend and your take on using white vs greige – even though a long time reader and re-reader I don’t remember hearing that. In my home I did the main spaces’ walls, trim, and kitchen cabinets in Snowbound (off white). The semi-open-plan kitchen walls are pale greige to provide a little contrast. I love my white walls – with an 8 foot wide window facing west and a 12 foot wide window facing south, plus a vaulted 12′ ceiling, there is so much gorgeous California light. It definitely does what you said: “White walls highlight shape and colour and tolerate no chaotic mess.” And I really like that – I like looking around at the shapes and angles of the various walls, and the way my blue chair and green sofa cushions are brought out, and I LOVE that I have half as many things in this house as I did in the last one and have no desire to add clutter because this room is peace and calm and brightness.
I saw that black and white kitchen backsplash and front face by the white barstools on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens, and thought that high contrast kitchen feels chaotic and busy to me. Not to my taste, even though I like the colors. I just didn’t like the amount of black and the amount of the pattern. Nice rundown on planning your new build.
I hope many people take your advice… When I started replacing hard finishes for the house we bought and live in 10 years ago the stone colour of my fireplace dictated the flooring choices of not just the Family room but the Kitchen and now the hallway. I did put natural maple hardwood in the living & dining room as I knew that was classic in my Mom’s home.
Oh how I wish I had read your mid town brown hardwood advice back then as I would have had the classic look that would have made all future choices so much easier. Or I wish that the really experienced designer who came to the house had given me your advice instead of just giving me the cork option of what went with the fireplace tile. I think of your advice to fellow designers that sometimes you need to tell your clients what they need to hear not what they want to hear.
Instead every time I have to make a new flooring choice I carry around my floor colours trying to find something that goes with what I have and it is not fun or easy… it is hard.
My kitchen that I listened to you on gives me pleasure everyday and I got the whites right. Every flooring tile I’ve looked at recently for the hallway I’ve looked at through the eyes of “that’s from the gray trend and it’s only got 3-5 years to run and I’ll be stuck so nope we need something different. Then I try to convince my husband which is easier when I point to the kitchen decisions.
Thanks for your advice! I hope it saves many others from bad decisions.
This is my all time favorite of all your posts! Thanks, Maria
LOVE LOVE LOVE everything in this…well said and pictures to back it up (as usual Maria!) I want to copy and paste this to my for head for people to read EVERY where I go! SO many bad decisions made out there…that we as designers are undoing now! I guess it will keep us in business!
Can you elaborate on your comment of putting faux marble tile everywhere in the bathroom? I have a master bath with no tub. I will have faux marble tile in the shower with basketweave on the shower floor. Faux marble on the floor of the main bathroom floor. Do I need to do a faux marble on the walls like a wainscoting or leave the walls painted? My vanity is in a corner, so I would like something on the wall to avoid a 4″ backsplash. Would the faux marble be too much it added to the walls?
Hi Barb, Your question needs an image in order for my advice to be accurate, it will be totally custom to the design of your bathroom. You can purchase the help you need here: https://mariakillam.com/product/hard-finish-selection/
EXCELLENT POST, MARIA! I wish there was a way to get this to every builder and flipper on the planet (including HGTV!). I feel so bad for how a lot of homeowners have spent their hard-earned money on messes because they either thought they were in good hands or thought they could do it themselves without training. Your post summarizes perfectly “you don’t know what you don’t know”.
We are two weeks away from completion of our new build. I am so sorry I didn’t find you a year ago!
Like others, I wish I had known what I know now before I built our farmhouse we hope to have in our family for generations. I will over the next decade make changes applying what I have learned from your ebooks, video training, and blog. I understand that boring and simple now is classic and timeless later. I did not know how to style and layer a room before to add interest and color in ways that can be changed with the seasons or after a few years. I previously thought a well dressed house came from interesting tiles and countertops. After reading several of the links included in this very useful blog post, I wonder what you think of glass or beveled Subway tile. Are you a fan? Or does that get too busy, epecially with a busier granite countertop like new Venetian gold? I laughed out loud watching the video link I found In one of your linked posts where you said you absolutely should not put travertine tile with new Venetian gold. The house I recently purchased of course has exactly that combination! Apparently the previous home owner isn’t the only one who made that choice. I am currently making my way through this new house to make finishes simpler and more timeless– aka more appealng to home buyers as we will move within a couple years. The trick is making the less expensive changes that will make a big impact. Obviously I did not know enough before I bought this house to even be offended by travertine tile with new Venetian gold granite. Ignorance was Bliss! Maybe my best hope is to find a buyer who hasn’t found your blog yet! This post contained excellent information with terrific links. Thank you for all of it.
Beveled subway tile is beautiful, and I thought about it briefly for my kitchen but decided against it because it will catch dust. The tile goes to the ceiling, and the last thing I wanted to do was to have to climb up and wash all those surfaces periodically.
Wow, what a generous post this is! Your wisdom is always spot on and appreciated, but this list is a download/keeper!
Maria, I feel so lucky to have found you a few years ago, right at the tail end of a new build. Although it was too late to correct a lot of my trendy mistakes (gray on nearly every hard surface), I did at least get all undertones right which I believe helped us get multiple offers (including an offer on day 1!) when we sold 2 years later.
I never stopped following your blog, bought your E-BOOKS and soaked in as much as I could. So as we built our next house, I felt like I had an arsenal to create a classic and timeless house. I followed your advice to a “T” and it turned out wonderful! I even have my husband (who is a builder) noticing things and quoting some of your advice 🙂 Thank you for all you do!
This is a wonderful post, packed with helpful information. I’m so grateful that I found your blog early this decade, before I started renovating.
This is so helpful. I think it might be one of Maria’s best ever blog posts!
LOVE Love love this post. Thanks for your wisdom, so freely and generously shared with us all! What I think is especially valuable is the order of the decisions. It is SO easy to get sidetracked by a seductive finish and then realize you did things backwards and have to re-do, or worse LIVE WITH a combination that doesn’t work.
WOW! What a wonderfully informative and helpful post. Thank you so much for such thoughtful advice. At some point I am hoping to complete a new build, and you will be one of the first people I consult.
This is an awesome post Maria! I took your True Color Expert seminar in 2015 and it has helped my decorating/color consulting business tremendously! I am so much faster in choosing colors and finishes for my clients because I now understand the undertones and how to identify them as well as which white to specify. I am building my first spec house and this post came at the perfect time! Why is it so easy to choose for a client, but when it comes to my own project (even though I am designing it to sell), I get caught up in the multitude of choices… this post has brought me back to staying in my lane… choosing finishes that will be classic and timeless. Love you… so please keep it all of your pearls of wisdom coming!
Maria the information in this post is timeless! You hit every button. I wish you had been around when we bought our present home and even though I was a designer I still made plenty of mistakes. For one thing I put in travertine tile through the entry, kitchen, family room and all bathrooms. Now I am tired of it because it is too busy. I can’t afford to tare it all out and I would like to upgrade bathrooms and kitchen. It goes to show that timeless is always the way to go. It is the KISS rule or the simple black dress rule.
Love this post! You are amazing!
This is a wonderful post – thank you so much! I have purchased your Renovate with Confidence course but had to stop for awhile. I am now needing to get back to my remodel plans (due to a dishwasher leak and subsequent damage) and I always get hung up on what order to do things. This is exactly what I needed to hear today! Thank you, again!
Maria, I think this may be one of your most helpful and practical blog posts of all time. I’ve followed you for several years and bought your materials because of information like this. I was wondering if you might consider turning this post into an entire series? Your perception and understanding of color applied to the new build process is so unique and useful. I would absolutely love more like this, and I bet I’m not alone! Thank you for sharing your hard-earned wisdom with all of us!
I agree with Pamela. We are just getting the plans finalized for an addition of a master bedroom, bath, closet, and laundry for our home. We will also add a new entry and garage to our home after we move the house a quarter of a mile. Total new basement too. Plus a kitchen remodel. This will be our last major housing project before assisted living. I want to get it right………..
This post is so timely!!! I have been going back and forth with the outside colors and have almost thought to save it for last. Today I have reordered my thinking and you have pointed me in the right direction. Thank You!
This post makes me wish I was going to start a new build. It would be exciting to have a new home with all the perfect finishes & colors. And everything new!
But I’m stuck in my current home for the rest of my time. At least I don’t have the stress of moving.
Great post! I’ve been working on two new-builds over the past year, and it’s been kind of a nightmare trying to get clients to follow any kind of logical process. In the first one, the builder kept trying to substitute cheaper tile and countertops after all of the hard work spent coordinating the undertones to go together – we picked the trim, then the counters, then the tile as you suggested. This was also an interesting project because they chose factory finish windows that were white with a decidedly green undertone. So, that dictated our white trim and so forth. In my second new-build, I had learned from that experience and recommended windows with paintable interior frames. Problem solved.
Hi Jillian, Thanks for posting this comment because it’s helpful to everyone! In the future, I would not let the windows boss you around that much. If they have a green undertone, I would choose the best white to coordinate and ignore the green undertone in the windows. Hope that helps, Maria
You are bloody brilliant! Thank God I found your site!
Maria, this is so awesome!!! You are truly the best teacher/mentor I could have ever asked for. I am so grateful for you and I know I speak for all the TCE’s!
When I saw Hilary Duff’s kitchen on the cover of this month’s BHG as an example of good design, I nearly had a heart attack! But of course, if you have the money to rip it out the minute you become tired of it (which is probably right about now), why not? That is the only kind of person who should consider a (temporary) choice like that.
Can you imagine if the house were for sale? How many people would want to live with that? Before they even put in an offer, they’d be calling in the contractor for remodel estimates.
After doing research on Pinterest the last two days, I just came across your blog. It is exactly what I need! We hope to start building a new house this year, but before I meet with an architect to design the home, I want to have a solid vision of what I want.
I do want the house to be classic, but looking at all the images on Pinterest left me feeling like my choices were endless. After reading your blog I feel like making classic selections is going to be so much easier – and I feel less overwhelmed!
Maria, love your site. I subscribe to BH&G and when I saw Hillary Duff’s kitchen, I immediately thought of you! That kitchen would drive me up the wall…..but to each her own.
Wow, fantastic post. This has an astounding amount of valuable information! Thank you so much!
Please come to Atlanta need your help….
Thanks for the post. It has lots of helpful advice. Do you know where to find that blue drum pendant over the kitchen island in your true-white example? It’s really quite lovely. Thanks!
Happy 2021 to you! What a wonderful article and a few years after you posted it, still very relavant. I have the opportunity build a house which is exciting and terrifying all at the same time. We live in a charming historic Northern California town made up of mostly early 1900s bungalows, craftsman and cottage. Over time, the town has evolved a bit but most new builds are custom and stunning in their own way. I’d love your advice and the advice of your great readers for the style I should think about – I don’t want tranditional craftsman, I fear that modern farmhouse is already on the way out. I read your article about my beloved black windows and wondered if I could live fully exposed to the world without window coverings, ha ha. The clean tidy look of those glorious black windows appeal to me but sure hope they won’t feel dated in 10 short years. HELP!!
I’ve been following your posts for years, but I can’t believe I never commented on this one. This one is definitely one of your most helpful posts ever, and you have written a ton of helpful posts! Thank you so much, Maria. We really appreciate it!