Decisions, Decisions: Design Centers Take the Overwhelm out of Building Your New Home

Home | Decisions, Decisions: Design Centers Take the Overwhelm out of Building Your New Home

By Kelly McCall Branson, writer for New Homes & Ideas


You’ve visited dozens of models, pored over countless floorplans, and now finally, you’ve signed the contract to build your dream home. You’ve made the first big decision; now you’ll need to make dozens and dozens more. And these are the choices that really make a home your own.

The myriad selections you make during this process are every bit as important as choosing a neighborhood and a floorplan. These are what make your home truly yours — in terms of putting your own personal style-stamp on the house, as well as crafting an environment that works best for the way you and your family live.

Brick or stone? Stainless steel or matte black? Levers or knobs? The sheer volume of options in a new home can be daunting, but Triangle builders are making what could be an arduous chore so much simpler, with design centers that bring everything together under one roof for new buyers to see and touch, contrast and compare. And their skilled designers know how to streamline the process, expertly navigating buyers along their own unique home-outfitting path.

Homes by Dickerson offers its customers three design centers, two of which are inside model homes. “They can walk upstairs and see options right in place in the house,” says Pam Craig, V.P. of Design. Design centers are typically outfitted with multiple vignettes. “We have two kitchen vignettes, complete with islands,” says Christine Brown, Design Gallery Manager at HHHunt Homes.

And you’ll find samples galore. “We have an entire wall of faucets and one of backsplashes, one of shower tile and accents,” says Emily Paul, Lead Design Consultant for Meritage Homes. “There are exterior doors, samples of brick and stone siding, different colored HardiePlank, even a stone fireplace.”

At the design center at David Weekley Homes, buyers get high tech demos. “Customers can see a real-time LED lighting system display or play with the control board for the digital shower controls,” says Monique Bolling, Senior Design Consultant at David Weekley Homes.

Photo Courtesy of David Weekley Homes

Doing the Legwork

Best of all, these design professionals have done all the research for you. They stay on top of trends and new technologies. “Every year, we attend the weeklong International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas,” says HHHunt Homes’ Brown. “This is where you really find out about the latest trends.” David Weekley Homes’ Bolling concurs, “so many companies participate in this show. It’s a great opportunity to get a national perspective and a really good download to bring back and apply at home.”

“We’re constantly gathering information,” says Meritage Homes’ Paul, “through social media, bloggers, HGTV, Houzz.” And vendors ensure these designers are up-to-the-minute on their latest products; Sherwin Williams briefs them on the hottest colors, Electrolux on the most in-demand features for appliances and Moen on the newest finishes for faucets.

“We actually pay close attention to Fashion Week in Milan, Paris and New York,” reports Homes by Dickerson’s Craig. “Believe it or not, what you see on the runways there — colors, shapes, styles — will find their way into homes down the road.” Craig and her team also attend the High Point Furniture Market to pick up on design trends. She keeps a bulletin board in her office, pinned with the latest colors, textures and patterns she’s seeing.

Photo Courtesy of Homes by Dickerson

Doing Your Homework

Before you set foot in your builder’s design center, you’ll do yourself a huge favor by doing a little homework first. At David Weekley Homes, buyers have their own personal website to get them started. At, they’ll complete a lifestyle questionnaire to help design professionals guide their choices and there’s a wish-list function to assist with prioritizing and budgeting. “We encourage buyers to bring in pictures from magazines, fabric samples — some even have whole workbooks full of ideas,” says Monique Bolling.

“I encourage people to begin with a wish list,” says HHHunt Homes’ Christine Brown. “Tell us what you must have, and what you must not have, to start with.” HHHunt Homes provides their buyers with a catalogue of all their available options, along with pricing, to help them prioritize.

Pam Craig of Homes by Dickerson recommends her clients set up a Pinterest board and Google kitchens. “Scroll quickly through the images, and pin any that make you feel good,” she says. “Don’t overthink it; just go with your gut.” Once you’ve pinned 20 or so images, look them over, and you should see patterns emerging that reveal your personal style and preferences. Maybe it’s the overall feel, or the placement of appliances or the color palette — this is all information that will help your designer to home in on the best choices for you.

Different builders handle their design meetings differently. Homes by Dickerson likes to hammer out the bulk of the decisions in one long session. “We find it works to stay focused and just immersed for four to five hours,” says Craig. “When buyers come in from out of state or out of the country, we’ll have ‘mega-meetings’ — two solid days of decision making.”

At Meritage Homes, the design appointments are typically split over two days. “We really don’t want buyers to feel rushed, and we want to give them as much one-on-one attention as they need,” says Emily Paul. “Buyers have invested significant dollars into their new home. We think an investment of time in making it their own space is really worthwhile.”

Exterior options are often the first on the design to-do list. “A New Home Advisor walks buyers through their structural options on-site,” says HHHunt Homes’ Brown. “Homeowners associations generally require approval of exterior options, so it’s good to get this permitting process going as early as possible.”

Your design professional, sometimes along with your project manager, superintendent or New Home Advisor will walk you through wiring and electrical layouts. Be prepared to think about where you will place televisions and sound systems and which lights and fans you might want controlled from which switches.


Asking the Right Questions

Expect to start the interior design decision making with the kitchen. “Because the kitchen truly is the heart of the home, it sets the tone for everything else,” says Homes by Dickerson’s Craig. You’ll typically begin with cabinet selections, then layout, appliances, backsplash, counters and flooring. “We provide you with 3D renderings of your kitchen,” says Craig, “and you have the option to schedule a one-on-one meeting with a kitchen designer.”

At David Weekley Homes, buyers can see kitchens outfitted in different styles. “We have a traditional kitchen, a more modern kitchen and two more transitional styles,” says Monique Bolling. At HHHunt Homes, buyers can mix and match cabinet doors for upper and lower cabinets, islands and throughout the house and see how the actual samples look together.

Photo Courtesy of HHHunt Homes

“We ask a lot of questions,’ says HHHunt Homes’ Brown. “How do you think you’ll use this room? Imagine how you will live in it. How do you want it to function?” You’ll likely be asked about your family: children? What age? Does extended family visit for long periods? Pets? How many, How big?  How do you entertain? Formal sit-down dinners, or gather-around the island and graze? Your answers to these questions will inform your designers about the best options for you, from flooring to light switches to the shape of the dining room chandelier.

And though the myriad choices can at first seem overwhelming, “Once you’ve made your first selection — say your kitchen cabinet doors,” says Brown, “you begin a process of elimination that narrows your next choice and really cascades down through all your selections.”

The beauty of the design center is you can see and feel all of the possibilities, together. “I’ve had buyers take their shoes off and walk barefoot on the carpet to make sure it felt right to them, “says Meritage Homes’ Paul. At Homes by Dickerson, buyers receive a “granite bag” — a big sack with samples of all their kitchen selections that they can carry with them to pick out the actual slab of granite that will become their counters.

As choices are made, they’re typically spread out on a counter or table so that buyers can see how everything works together. Often, some particular item can become a sticking point, and this is where the design professional can be invaluable. They can ask the right questions to tease out your priorities, counsel you on potential resale implications and sometimes, just invite you to step away and look at something else for a while. Coming back with a clear head can be all you need to make up your mind.

Ultimately, the goal of the design centers is to guide you through the process of creating the best feeling, looking and working home for you and your family — within your budget. “When all is said and done, says Homes by Dickerson’s Pam Craig, “we want you to walk into your new house and say, ‘I’m home.’”