Bought a new house, what should I expect at the design center?

So the missus and I are going to the homebuilder’s design center in a couple of days to pick out colors and carpet and counter tops and whatnot. I’m worried that with no interior design experience, my home is going to turn out ugly if I don’t prepare. It’s just hard for me to visualize the end result by just looking at carpet swatches and paint squares. I’m also afraid of unnecessary upgrades and I want to know what’s good to get.

I know it’s nice to get a carpet padding upgrade, and someone told me to get the glossy paint over the cheap stuff because it’s easier to clean off stains (we have 2 little boys).

I sure a lot of people out there have been through this part of buying a new home, and I’d really like to hear what they’d do or not do if they had to chance to go through it again.

It’s a Centex home if anyone has any specific experience with them.

Since the OP is looking for personal experiences, this will go best in IMHO.

General Questions Moderator

Haven’t been through this part of the homebuying experience, but as a homeowner who has renovated two homes, I can say this:

  • Padding makes an enormous difference in carpeting. You want something that’s thick and will hold up under traffic. I would consider looking into making sure that you get the good stuff for high-traffic areas such as hallways and near doors (such as a living room opening off the front door) and lesser stuff for bedrooms. This is a budgetary decision that only you can make. If I had money to spare, however, I’d want the good stuff everywhere.

  • We adore using high-gloss paint on the walls. It cleans up very, very well and helps spread light throughout the room. The only disadvantage is convincing room painters that you’re serious about wanting the high-gloss, not semi-gloss.

Making color choices is difficult, but not impossible. It’s a matter of being comfortable with your choices, no matter what anyone else thinks. Our first home was small, so we went with white and bare floors (we prefer using area rugs to wall-to-wall; it’s much easier to clean and doesn’t trap dirt). The home we live in now alternates between light green and yellow in the public rooms (hall, living, kitchen). I wanted tropical colors, like you’d see in the Caribbean, so the greens tend toward the yellow end of the spectrum and the yellows are bright (no shift to green or red/orange in them).

If you can, take home color chips and put them on the walls. You’ll get to see them in their natural state, throughout the day, in sunlight and lamplight. Your reactions will tell you what you like. Trust them.

Good luck.

I wouldn’t worry too much about paint color. Re-painting for another color is very easy to do. But I do prefer gloss paint over flat, as it is easier to clean and a bit cheerier. I remember my builder didn’t offer any color but white, but did offer an upgrade for gloss paint throughout the house. We passed on that because we knew we were going to change all the colors anyway. It is easier to paint over a flat finish.

We upgraded carpets, counters, cabinets, light fixtures, etc, but if we could do it again, we’d make sure to focus on more little stuff. We passed on a lot of piddly stuff because it seemed it was cheaper to have it done later, but once you figure in the hassle of having someone come out and do it, and possible loss of use in the interim, it would be much nicer just to have it all ready when you move in.

I would recommend a cable drop on every wall in the rooms you might want a TV in. There’s nothing worse than having your room design being dictated by where you can run cables and plugs. You may want to do the same with phone drops, and I wish I had taken up the builder on having ethernet run through the house (didn’t see the need in 2000 - would love it today). Since you’re in AZ, have every room boxed and blocked for ceiling fans.

For interior design ideas, tour some open houses and see what you like.

For colors, I’d look at magazine and find rooms you like, keeping your furniture in mind. The should be able to color match from a picture. I second getting higher quality padding on your carpet - it helps your carpet last longer. Get your upgrades/add-ins now, because you won’t want to have to wait for installers, move stuff and still be waiting for installers. And you’re likely to find that stuff you don’t get now will just never get done.

Congrats on the new house! Thanks for helping the economy.


Are there showhomes to tour? (I’m not sure if that’s the term used in the States) I’m talking about the houses that are built already that you tour to decide on which new house you want. It’s always a good idea to look through as many of those as you can to see what they have done with the decor. They do tend to follow trends, but you can get a good impression of how something will look across a whole house, rather than just a carpet patch or paint swatch.

Definitely upgrade your underlay (carpet pad).
Definitely put cable and phone jacks in every room you even think you may someday want tv and a phone in. At the same time, watch where they go - I have a phone jack in the middle of my kitchen wall (above the counter) and it’s most inconvienient. (I added an extra bank of cabinets and didn’t think to move the phone jack. Stupid me)
If possible, two basins (sinks) in the master bath is a wonderful thing.
Unless you are really fond of cleaning, white or cream cabinets are a serious pain. Wood grain hides many sins.
Stainless steel appliances are really in fasion, but the fingerprints…oy. Ours are black, and it was a good choice.

Good luck with the visit!

We did look at a model and got a few ideas from that. I tried looking at home and design magazines but everything I looked at was too pricey or ultra-modern looking. I think I’d be better off picking simple colors and carpet samples when I get there.

I was debating between stainless and black appliances but now that you said that about the fingerprints, I think I’ll go with black.

I was going to put cable & ceiling fans in all rooms (at least the prewiring), so it seems like I’m on the right track so far. Thanks everyone for the help!

Damn, wrote this whole long post yesterday and the stupid board freaks out…sigh…ok, let’s see if I can remember it all.

My wife and I are in our second house now. The first one was similar to what you’re doing…the design center where you pick stuff from their selection and try and put it all together, the second house we chose it all ourselves.

I’ll start with kitchen counter tops. Have an open mind about the material you’ll be using. As we were trying to decide if we should spend the money on Corrian, my cousin gave me some good advice. He said that if you put in a very expensive counter top, like granite, or corrian then you’ll never want to change it because it cost so much. Put in something less expensive like Formica, and you can change it every year. A lot depends on the quality of the work they’ll put into it. The guy that did our counter tops was wonderful…they look great and we couldn’t be happier. Formica has a ton of colors/textures to choose from…so you have a lot of flexibility. If all your builder offers is the solid colors, then it’s not going to look at nice.

Our first house didn’t give us a choice on different colors for each room…that’s more work for the builders, so they may or may not offer you that choice. What you probably can do is what we did in our second house. We chose an off-white but still neutral color as the base color for the entire house. That way we didn’t have that stark-white builders color on the walls that seems cold when we moved in. This way we don’t feel absolutely compelled to paint right away.

I see a lot of comments about cable runs. Put a lot of thought into this before you do is. How do you get your TV signal? Cable? Satellite? Do you have a DVR like TIVO? Are you planning on getting one? DirecTV DVRs for example require two signals to come into them plus a phone line to dial out…so you’d need two cables and a phone plug on each wall. Will your builder do that? Plus run them all to one central point and label them? Is that central point close enough to the outside so the cable/satellite company can get their cables to it? I ended up doing all of our video/network/phone cabling myself in the second house. I put four RG-6 cables in each room, this allows me a lot of flexibility in moving video signals around the house. For instance our daughter has a TV in her room, but the video is fed from another room where there is a DVR. So I record all her kids shows, but she can’t play them herself when she wants, only when I turn them on.

I also ran CAT5 cable to every room…sure it’s easy to set up a wireless now, but as digital entertainment files become more common and larger, it’s going to be harder pushing stuff just over wireless. While I can copy a 350mb video file with no problem over the wireless, it’s much harder to stream the video to a remote source for viewing over wireless. Keep in mind that your CAT5 cable can also carry your phone line…so you may be able to get dual use out of only running one set of cable. I ran separate, but that was just my choice.

I highly suggest that if you look for a professional company to do your video/network cabling. It’ll be much easier on you, and done a lot better.

Don’t forget about speaker wire if you’re thinking about surround sound in your living room. I also ran speaker wire to outside the back so I could have speakers for outside when we’re entertaining, or I’m just working in the yard. It’s easy to run wire when there are no walls up…after that it’s a pain.

I would advise staying away from ceramic tile floors. If carpet gets stained, you can do a lot to get it out. A tile gets cracked…not a lot of options. With two boys, dropping stuff is pretty likely.

What kind of wall finishes are offered? The first house had a fish-tail pattern in the plaster which looked nice, but would scrape you pretty bad if you rubbed against it wrong. The new house has knock-down finish which I like better. We did have the kids room finished flat, so that when they’re playing they don’t have to worry about scrapping themselves. On the same note, we had the rounded edges put on the corners, instead of the squared off ones. Easier on cords, and kids.

Do you have an attic space? If so see if you can get them to put in the pull down stairs. Even though we don’t actually have an attic space in this house, the HVAC stuff is up there and I’m unfortunately spending a lot more time up there than I’d like. A stair would be a hell of a lot easier to get up and down rather than pulling the ladder out.

I see ceiling fans mentioned a few times. If you have any sort of vaulted or cathedral ceilings, I’d highly advise you to have the builder go ahead and install the fans. I never did put on in our first house because I wasn’t standing on top of a 16 ft A-frame ladder trying to hold onto a ceiling fan. For the second house we went ahead and had the builder install them all.

Your builder may offer package options for some upgrades like a luxury master bathroom upgrade with a jetted tub and separate shower. I’m of two minds about this. We chose that option on the first house, and used the tub maybe 12 times in 5 years. But I did like the layout of the bathroom much better than the standard package had. So consider those options in light of how your family is. If you don’t have anyone that takes long baths now, then you probably won’t have in the future. It was $5k that we probably could have spent on something else.

Along those lines, try and think about everything you want, and get it in the beginning. There were a few things that my wife and I thought “Oh we’ll do that later, or we can do that ourselves”…snort…fat chance. Get it done during construction. Finding $3k to put in a tile shower afterwards can be difficult…adding $3k to a 30 mortgage isn’t that big a deal. Spend a lot of time thinking about what you want in the beginning and get it all in there. Change requests are expensive…and you’ll most likely find things during construction that you forgot about anyway…so the more you think about and plan for up front the better.

Spend time at the site when construction is happening to make sure things look right. If something isn’t going right, you need to identify it before it gets too far.

Good Luck!

Damn missed the edit window, forgot to add:

Ohhh…just saw the comment about upgrading light fixtures ect…See if the builder will allow you to purchase your own fixtures for some rooms and then install them for you. We picked out every light and plumbing fixture for our second house. Sure it was a pain trying to think about what we wanted every room to have in it, but we love the end result. Same with your kitchen faucet or bath fixtures. See if you can work some sort of deal if you pick that stuff up yourself. The fixtures the builders put in are crap…and while you can pay for them to upgrade you, you won’t be able to pick out the exact fixtures you want. Better idea is for you to stay with the standard, but see if they’ll install stuff you buy yourself.

I’ve never bought a new home but I’ve been updating things in mine. I would get the good countertops simply because it is easy to trash a formica countertop.

I don’t know that you’ll want to go for the high gloss paint since it will tend to show any little imperfections in the wall in addition to being very shiny. We’ve painted all of the walls in the house an eggshell finish with the exception of the bathrooms.

I would get as many electrical outlets and as many phone jacks and ethernet jacks as you can installed. We only have one phone jack and it really isn’t enough. If you can afford the nicer upgrades go for them, because it is a lot easier to swing them on a thirty year mortgage than pay for them out of pocket.

I don’t know if the builder offers it, but crown molding really finishes up the rooms nicely. We just had it put in the living room, dining room and master bedroom and it makes a huge difference.

Still about cabling:
Might not suit everybody’s needs, but: we installed in our house Elko Link Home system, where same wires/wallplugs can transmit TV, data, phone etc signals. Moving stuff around is easy, just change the connections at central “switchboard”. We got wallplugs almost in every corner of every room…

Our version did not support satellite signals, though (too high frequency or something); dunno if that is still the case.

Also seconded: there is no such thing as too many electrical outlets.

If you have conduit installed, you can run new wiring in the future, should you need it, much more easily than if they were just bare wires.