How to Create a Custom Home Program

How to Create a Custom Home Program

Programming is the first step in the architectural design process, and creating a custom home program is the first thing you’ll do when you begin to work with an architect. The architectural program defines the scope, features, purpose, and functionality of your home and is essential in communicating your vision of the project to the architect. It’s a combination of words and pictures describing your needs, wants and wishes for your new home, and a great opportunity to get organized around budgets, documents and consultants.

Right about now you’re probably thinking “wow, this sounds like a really important step”…well, you’re right! We can’t emphasize enough the importance of taking the time to create a well thought out program for your home. A good custom home program saves time, money and countless headaches down the road. If this looks overwhelming, don’t worry – you don’t need to figure everything out on your own. That’s what we’re here for! It’s important though that you give your architect as much information as possible about how you envision your home. That’s why we’ve created this guide to give you a head start on creating your program.

Table of Contents

Free: Custom Home Program Template

A good custom home program can save you time, money and countless headaches down the road. That’s why we’re sharing our custom home program template that we use with our clients.

Step 1: Site

A truly custom home is designed with a specific building site in mind. Depending on where your site is located, it will play differing roles in the architectural design of your home. If you’re building on an infill lot in the city, there will be height restrictions, setbacks, etc. to consider. If you’re outside the city in a more rural or mountainous area, there are additional factors to be considered such as views, topography, vegetation, drainage, etc. Regardless of location, the architect’s end goal is always to maximize your lot according to your lifestyle preferences. In order to help your architect do this, some important items to consider for your program include:

  • A description of your site and its views, amenities and any other unique features to be considered. When doing this, get specific – for example, if your site has an incredible view of the mountains, which rooms should have this view? Is there mature landscaping that you’d like to keep? It isn’t unheard of to design a home around existing trees or other landscape features.
  • You or your builder will need to provide a land survey, which includes the legal description including streets, alleys, rights-of-way, restrictions, easements, encroachments, zoning, boundaries and topography of the site, dimensions and complete data pertaining to existing buildings, improvements, trees, utilities, etc.
  • For further reading about site considerations, check out the first section of this blog on the cost of building a custom home.

Step 2: Character and Style of Home

When you close your eyes and picture your home, what does it look on the outside? On the inside? Maybe you prefer a rustic mountain feel? Is your style sleek and modern? Have you always dreamed of a shingle style home that conjures images of Cape Cod in the summer? Gathering ideas for the character and style of your home is one of the most fun parts of building a custom home. Tools like Pinterest and Houzz make it easy to search for, collect, and share your ideas online. If you prefer a more traditional approach, there are thousands of home design magazines filled with beautiful images to inspire you. Either way, we highly recommend collecting pictures of homes and rooms that you like. In this case, the old adage is true – a picture really is worth a thousand words, and will be extremely helpful in communicating your vision to your architect.

Step 3: Lifestyle

At KGA, we like to say that your home should live for you – and not the other way around! The advantage of building a custom home is that it’s 100% tailored to fit your lifestyle. There won’t be any rooms or spaces within your home that aren’t specifically designed for you, which eliminates wasted or awkward rooms. Start by telling your architect about your family. How many people will be living in the home, and how old are they? This can have a considerable impact on the design, especially if aging-in-place features are important to you. Next, discuss your lifestyle. Whether you’re a gourmet cook, an avid traveler, or always the hostess, these things are important to share and can be reflected in the design of your home.

Step 4: Size and Rooms

Once you’re clear about style and character of your home, and what lifestyle considerations are important to you, it’s time to start thinking about the over-all size of your home, what rooms you’d like to have, and if the size of your home is commensurate with your budget. Are you looking for a home that’s 3,000 SF or 13,000 SF? How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you want? Will you need a home office? A formal dining room? What existing furniture will you be bringing with you? If you have a grand piano or 12-piece dining set, it’s important to let your architect know. Make a list of what rooms you envision in your home, along with notes on their size, location (main level or 2nd floor?) and relationship to each other.

Other Programming Considerations


A design you love is of little use if you can’t afford to build it. Establish your budget (you may want the help of your financial planner) early in the process. Sharing a realistic budget with your architect and builder will go a long way towards ensuring you’re able to achieve the results you’re after. If you’re unfamiliar with how construction loans work, you can read more about them here.


What is your anticipated time schedule? Discuss your expectations with your design professionals. Be aware that in today’s busy market, most good professionals have lead times of anywhere from 2 months to 1 year.

Final Note

The above is to give you a head start on thinking about questions that will arise as you design your custom home. Remember, you don’t need to figure everything out on your own, your architect will guide you through the process.

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