Modern house design is not only popular — but can be affordable too.
We love modern house design, especially SIMPLE modern design, but not because it’s trendy, in style, or because all the cool kids are doing it. We don’t drink that kool-aid. We love it because we see so much potential for simple modern design to be affordable! And we’re all about helping you create an affordable home! So if modern design can help you achieve your goals of creating a dream home, we’re all for it.
Of course, many modernist houses are NOT affordable. We’re not trying to kid ourselves or you. There are very expensive ones that end up in fancy magazines and on TV, but all modern houses don’t have to break the bank. We’re not going on a crusade here, but we think that if you want an affordable house, a modernist approach may be a great place to start.
And here’s why:
To us, modern architecture is defined by simple design and construction, which is inherently more affordable than complicated design.
But, before we dive into how modern house design is affordable, we should first talk about principals of modern design (for any of you who aren’t familiar). Modern residential architecture developed during the early to early to mid-1900’s with the advancement in new construction technologies like glass, metal, and concrete. Using basic materials and forms, early pioneers of modern architecture broke away from historical architecture types and invented something purely functional and new.
Modern design soon became characterized by simple floor plan layouts made by pure geometric shapes and horizontal roof lines. Because of the developments in glass, steel, and concrete, spans could be further, entire walls could open up, and structure could be exposed. This led the way to open floor plans, exposed columns and beams, and large expanses of glass that emphasized views to the exterior and daylighting.
To take this one step further, early modern architects pared down designs to design for only what was essential. As Mies van der Rohe so famously stated, “less is more.” Most early modern architects lived and breathed by this concept creating simple details and using a basic material palette.
With an understanding of the basic tenets of modern residential architecture, we can start looking at how it relates to affordability.
How is a simple modern house affordable?
It’s easiest to explain the relationship of cost to modern residential design if we break down the conversation into modern fundamentals.
Modern house designs have simple floor plans.
Simple house plans are much more affordable than complicated ones that have a bunch of ins and outs, changes in elevation, and complex angles or curves. Because most modern homes have rectilinear walls and volumes, walls line up floor to floor and across the same floor. As a result, construction is faster.
Less time framing walls results in lower labor costs AND a reduction in the overall construction schedule. The impact of a shorter construction schedule is huge because there are associated overhead costs like supervisor salary, job site trailer rental, and portable toilet rentals that are based on total construction days. If the construction schedule is reduced, all those overhead costs and fees will be lower, also.
Open floor plans
Modern houses typically have open floor plans. Open floor plans eliminate unnecessary interior walls. They create shared spaces making everyday living more communal. Living, dining, and cooking areas are closer together and the separation between each function is blurred.
Creating an open floor plan can reduce construction costs by eliminating entire interior wall constructions, meaning less material cost and labor cost. It also has the potential to reduce the overall square footage of the house because spaces can be combined. An open floor plan creates shared circulation space around furniture and tables that otherwise wouldn’t be possible with walls in place.
With a more compact and efficient floor plan comes other cost saving opportunities. Aside from reducing construction cost, operating costs may also be reduced because there’s less square footage and volume to heat and cool. You aren’t wasting energy heating this extra space you don’t need. In addition, a more compact floor plan reduces site work, foundation work, and roofing area so construction costs can be reduced even further.
Daylighting & views
Daylighting and views are important components of modern architecture. This feature of modern house design is probably the least likely to result in a cost-effective design, but there are some things that will help keep your modern house affordable.
Modern houses are characterized by large expanses of glass to either let daylight in or highlight views. Now, we know that window walls can be very expensive, but if you’re strategic in the placement, size, and product selection, glazing doesn’t have to be a deal breaker.
Window walls are usually a larger item in the budget, we admit. But if you’re saving money in a whole bunch of other areas of the project, this feature might be the one you let yourself splurge a little. While large windows can be pricey, the benefit is that they allow a lot of natural daylight to enter your house. Exposing more areas to daylight reduces your demand for artificial lighting (at least for a majority of the day) so lighting loads are less. It also improves mental health and well-being so there may be a savings in medical costs.
It should be noted that window wall design can be tricky. You have to consider more than just the benefits of large expanses of windows when you incorporate them into your design. There’s definitely a compromise and it must be acknowledged and understood that windows are less energy efficient and more expensive than solid walls, but there are ways to improve performance. Energy bills will be more and construction cost will be more. Yes, natural daylight and solar gain can help with some costs but it won’t completely offset the costs. For us, the indirect benefits of daylight and views outweigh the direct costs. For you, it may be different. That’s for you to decide.
Simple detailing & material palette
Modern houses are also defined by simple detailing. The “less is more” approach to design is apparent in the lack of adornment of many of these homes. You won’t find complicated trim work or ceiling details or reliefs. Trim, if there is any, is modest and basic in design. Walls and ceilings are smooth painted finishes. And materials are simple like painted sheetrock.
Reducing fussy construction details makes construction easier and faster. It reduces material costs and labor costs. Imagine how much time and money you’d save if you had drywall returns at windows, simple flat stock base trim, and no crown molding at the ceiling. It all adds up. So finding ways to reduce those construction costs and still create a great home is important to us, and a modern house design helps get us there.
Modern design is good design.
We should pause here while thinking about affordable modern design and remember that affordability is not just a series of dollar transactions while constructing and maintaining your house. Creating an affordable home is more than just creating a house to inhabit. It’s creating a comfortable, secure, and healthy home for you to live in, feel inspired in, and grow in. It’s a place where you can be your best self and live a life you’ve always dreamed.
Remember that spaces affect our health and well-being. Good architecture and well-designed spaces can have a positive effect on our lives – a transformative effect at times.
There may not be a direct correlation in dollars saved but studies show that good design and exposure to daylight and views has a positive impact on people’s health and well-being. People perform better, are happier, and have better mental health when in spaces that make them feel good.
Living in a well-designed house, when compared to traditional housing that many people settle for, can create vast improvements to your life. You may find yourself being more productive, getting sick less often, feeling happier, and engaging more with family and friends. These benefits in our opinion are just as important as actual dollar savings and why we feel strongly about creating good architecture.
When you can create a great home that’s affordable and makes you a happier, healthier you, we see that as the ultimate goal. And, simple modern house design is how we can best help you achieve that end goal.