7 Steps to Building a Custom Home

Building a custom home is an exhilarating adventure that requires meticulous planning and a solid grasp of the process. In today’s diverse construction landscape, understanding the principals of hospitality architecture on residential designs can significantly enhance the functionality and aesthetics of your custom home. A budget is crucial as it sets the parameters for what’s possible and steers all future decisions. The key to a successful build lies in selecting a well-respected Architectural  firm that brings together skilled designers and a trusted team of local builders. This local small buisness approach guarantees a smooth and cohesive construction process, ensuring your dream home meets and surpasses your expectations. Expert craftsmanship from your design and construction teams makes the journey from vision to reality seamless, transforming your ideas into a tangible, exquisite living space.The steps of a design project below are all essential steps, but the order may be unique based on your project;s needs. 

Step 1: Dream and Plan Your Custom Home

The journey to building a custom home starts with dreaming and planning. During this initial phase, you’ll gather inspiration and envision your ideal living space, researching architectural styles and functionalities and perhaps creating a vision board for your future home. Assembling a dream team is vital at this stage, usually involving an architect, a builder, and possibly an interior designer, landscape architect, mechanical, civil and structural engineers. Choose these leading professionals for their expertise, communication skills, and ability to grasp your vision.

As planning progresses, you’ll focus more on setting a budget, laying out timelines, selecting land, and finalizing design elements with your active involvement. Essential considerations include room layouts, energy efficiency, technological requirements, sustainability practices, material choices, construction methods, and security and privacy measures. Your design team will ensure that the project complies with zoning laws and building codes, all while fulfilling your desires for the home.

Step 2: Assemble Your Home Building Team

After initial dreaming and planning, assembling your home-designing team is a critical next step. This team, comprising various professionals, will guide the project from concept to completion. They ensure the dream of your custom home materializes efficiently and to your satisfaction. Choosing individuals and firms who align with your vision and have a proven track record in the custom home sector is essential.

Architects and Designers

First, an architect or designer is pivotal in bringing your ideas to life. They translate your requirements into detailed drawing set and construction manuals, considering aesthetics and functionality. When selecting an architect, look for someone with experience in custom home projects similar in scale and style. Review their portfolio and request references to ensure their design philosophy matches your expectations. For more guidance on selecting the right architect for your project, consider reviewing the essential questions to ask, detailed in “Questions to Ask When Hiring an Architect”.

Builders and Contractors

Next, a builder or general contractor is responsible for the actual construction of your home. They’ll manage day-to-day operations on-site, overseeing materials, labor, and construction timelines. The right builder has a network of skilled tradespeople and is adept at keeping projects within budget and on schedule. It’s crucial to select a builder known for quality craft and reliability. Interviews and past project inspections can help in making an informed decision.

For a custom home project, involving specialty contractors is crucial for areas requiring high craftsmanship, like custom millwork or cutting edge smart technology. Your architect and builder can recommend trustworthy specialists. Additionally, partnering with a financial advisor or owner advocate in construction loans is essential to navigate financing, understand costs, and avoid financial issues. Assembling a skilled team comprising these professionals ensures your project’s success, allowing for a seamless construction process that brings your dream home to life.

Step 3: Design Your Custom Home

custom home design

The design phase is a pivotal step in your custom home-building journey and involves shifting focus squarely into collaboration. This stage is where dreams and ideas start taking a tangible form. Designing your custom home isn’t just about aesthetics; it’s about making informed decisions that shape your future living environment. The process typically unfolds over 6-20 months, ensuring every detail aligns with your vision and lifestyle needs.

Understanding the Design Phase

The design phase creates your project’s blueprint. It begins with developing and finalizing design plans, which include sketching the initial concepts and refining them into detailed 3d models that facilitate visualization in addition to actionable plans. Homeowners collaborate closely with architects to ensure designs meet their desires and are practical and sustainable. It’s a thoughtful orchestration of spatial planning, aesthetics, and functionality.

Choosing Finishes and Fixtures

Selecting finishes and fixtures represents a significant portion of the design phase, infusing your custom home with personal style and character. Choices in materials, colors, and textures for floors, walls, cabinetry, and lighting fixtures are made during this period. It’s an exciting process, allowing homeowners to see their personal touches come to life. The process can include visiting multiple showrooms with your architectural and interior design team. This stage requires careful consideration to balance quality, cost, and aesthetics, ensuring the final product resonates with the homeowner’s tastes while staying within budget.

Finalizing Project Details

Finalizing additional project details and drawings marks the culmination of the design phase. This step involves ironing out the finer points of the construction drawings, obtaining necessary permits, and preparing for the construction phase. It’s about ensuring that every element, from electrical layouts to plumbing schematics, is precisely planned to avoid potential hiccups during construction. This stage also sets the stage for a seamless transition to construction, with a solid, detailed blueprint in hand.

The design phase is collaborative and cyclical, demanding open communication between homeowners and their design-build team. By frontloading decision-making and ensuring meticulous planning, the design phase lays a robust foundation for the actual build, setting the pace for a seamless and efficient construction process. It’s a phase where vision evolves into a plan, ready to be turned into reality.

Step 4: Financing Your Project

Securing financing is a crucial step in building a custom home, as it defines the project’s scope and what can be achieved within the set timeline and budget. Homeowners need to arrange their financing early on, influencing decisions during each phase of the design and construction process. Exploring various financing options, including construction loans that cover both construction costs and land purchase, helps determine the best approach for their needs.

Construction loans are complex and involve detailed planning, with funds released in stages based on construction milestones. These loans often become permanent mortgages once the home is completed. Homeowners are advised to engage with reputable financial institutions or mortgage brokers early in the design phase to discuss loan options, including interest rates, terms, down payment requirements, and approval timelines. Involving a financial advisor or design-build team member in these discussions can help align financing with project goals and budget.

Step 5: Obtain Necessary Permits and Approvals

Your design team will begin the process of obtaining the necessary permits and approvals. It is an essential part of the custom home building process, signifying compliance with local and state regulations for safety, sustainability, and community standards. The architect plays a key role as the homeowner’s advocate, handling all required documentation and submissions to authorities, including securing building permits and neighborhood association approvals. This stage also involves selecting appropriate construction insurance coverage to protect against unforeseen events and confirming financing arrangements with lenders who require proof of permits and insurance. Additionally, at this stage the builder may engage critical subcontractors for essential services like roofing and plumbing to ensure availability throughout the construction timeline. This phase emphasizes a well-coordinated effort to smooth the path toward construction, focusing on compliance, preparation, and setting a solid foundation for the build process under the architect’s careful management.

Step 6: Construction Phase

custom home construction

The construction phase is a critical part of custom home building, where careful design and detailed preparations are realized, turning concepts into physical building. It begins with site work such as land clearing and foundation setting, and initial grading which are crucial for ensuring the longevity and safety of the home. The construction progresses with the erection of the house’s core and shell, which includes framing, floors, roofing, exterior walls, windows and doors, giving a first glimpse of your home’s final shape and size. Interior work follows, encompassing the installation of plumbing, electrical, low voltage and HVAC systems essential for modern comforts and efficiency. Insulation, radiant tubing in underlayment and vapor barriers are added to enhance energy efficiency, leading to comfort and cost savings. Finishing touches like drywall, painting, flooring, custom millwork and cabinetry infuse personality into the home based on homeowner preferences. Communication between homeowners, architects and builders are key throughout this phase to keep construction aligned with visions while addressing any challenges. This phase demands expertise, craftsmanship, and professional coordination to meet technical specifications while managing timeframes and budgets effectively.

Step 7: Post-Construction

The post-construction phase marks an essential concluding segment of the custom home-building process, focusing on ensuring homeowner satisfaction and the overall quality of the new residence. It involves completing any outstanding tasks or repairs identified during final walkthroughs (punch list completion), conducting a final inspection by local authorities to ensure compliance with building codes and regulations, and providing warranty provisions that cover various aspects of the home. This phase emphasizes addressing every detail to transform an almost-finished project into a polished home ready for occupancy, ensuring safety through mandatory inspections, and offering peace of mind through comprehensive warranties. Ultimately, the post-construction phase signifies the completion of construction and a commitment to excellence and customer satisfaction in delivering a beautifully crafted, thoroughly inspected home backed by solid warranty support.


Building a custom home is a journey that demands attention to detail, commitment, and a focus on quality from start to finish. The process continues after the completion of construction. Instead, it extends into the post-construction phase, where the final touches ensure the home is built and crafted to meet the homeowner’s vision. With the punch list addressed, regulations met, and warranties in place, homeowners can rest assured their new custom home is ready to welcome them. This careful method underscores the dedication to not just designing houses but also creating homes that stand as a testament to the homeowner’s dreams and the builder’s commitment to excellence.



Emily Warren, AIA, NCARB

Emily is celebrated for her insightful commentary and technical expertise. As a licensed architect with over a decade of professional experience, Emily boasts a rich background that spans high-end design, historic documentation, and sustainable development. She honed her skills with the National Park Service’s Historic Documentation Programs, mastering complex projects completed to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards.

Emily’s work is distinguished by meticulous attention to detail and a passion for advancing architectural knowledge. Her leadership and teaching capabilities, demonstrated by her guidance of interns and management of multimillion-dollar projects, underscore her commitment to fostering growth and excellence within the architectural community. Emily’s compelling narratives and technical prowess make her an invaluable voice in the field as she continues to inspire readers with her dedication and vision.

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Charlotte R. DeChant



As a young artist, Charlotte tailored her pre-architecture undergraduate degree at Colorado College, in Colorado Springs, and completed her Master of Architecture at the University of Colorado, Denver. With her fresh eyes, she is an observer, analyst and critic of our processes, and her imagination inspires and contributes to our creativity. Of the partners, Charlotte’s willingness to raise the children fostered Doug’s ability to focus upon the practice.

She is a lifelong resident of Colorado, skied Vail in the early years as a child and remains an excellent bump skier (if the sun is shining). She was an original teammate of the Vail Breakaways, Vail’s first women’s hockey team. Charlotte’s vision includes an amazing gift for seeing, rescuing, restoring and placing cast-off furniture and other elements, giving the pieces valuable, renewed lives.

Douglas M. DeChant

Founding Partner/Principal


Architecture is more than a profession for Doug, our principal designer; it is a calling, understood since childhood. While a modernist at heart, his work reflects the necessary context of each setting and the voice of each client. He trained in the program of modernist and former Bauhaus Director Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, at Illinois Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture in Chicago. After working throughout the nation and overseas, Doug settled in Vail in 1985, where he met his wife, Charlotte. Together they founded the practice in 1989 and have enjoyed raising four amazing children.

Doug’s service has included the Eagle County, Colorado, Planning Commission; the faculty of the Byron Fellowship, an annual sustainable communities conference; panelist at the Summit for Creativity in La Jolla sponsored by The Design Futures Council; participation in local design review boards; youth sports coaching; and various lay-leadership positions in his church. In 2004, he conceived ‘Benevolent Architecture’, a proprietary service offering low-cost or no-cost architecture and consulting to worthy ministries and non-profits.  In 2005, Doug began to develop an intimate, artistic retreat and conference venue, Wellspring Ranch, LLC, relocating and restoring several historic Colorado structures upon a remarkable property outside of Buena Vista, Colorado.

He is a member of the American Institute of Architects, certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, and has been licensed in numerous states, including Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Indiana, Georgia and Pennsylvania. He finds balance in guitar, sculpture, hiking, snowshoeing, golf and crafting various elements of his retreat venue. 

Tom Bashford


Tom, one of our most valued, gifted leaders, passed away unexpectedly in March 2017. Together with his joyful spirit and hilarious dry wit, he enhanced our studio with a wealth of design and management experience. Tom will never be replaced. He was the type of person, father, leader, and mentor to which we all aspire, and the fruit of his efforts will live on, in his son, in us, and in our projects.

Pam, Peraya Mongkolwongrojn


Peraya, Pam, is originally from Bangkok, Thailand, where she first became interested in Architecture from the rich spatial environment.  She explored Canada before moving to the States to pursue her passion for architecture. Pam went to the University of Arizona to earn a Bachelor of Architecture professional degree. During school, she energized a passion for the arts and drawing. 

In her free time, Pam enjoys exploring the great outdoors, hiking through Colorado’s scenic landscapes, and finding inspiration for her designs in nature. With a keen eye for detail and a creative approach to problem-solving, Pam has been involved in many of our custom residential homes. Her passion for the arts and drawing has influenced her design style, which incorporates elements of beauty and functionality. Pam’s commitment to excellence and her love for architecture make her a dedicated professional who strives to make a difference through her work.

As she continues to grow and learn in her field, Pam remains devoted to creating innovative spaces that enrich people’s lives and leave a positive legacy for future generations.

Brett Lehr

Project Manager

Brett is a designer with a unique blend of expertise, holding an undergraduate degree in Media Arts from the University of Nebraska-Omaha and an M.Arch degree from the University of Nebraska. His diverse educational background has ignited a passion for utilizing realistic virtual environments to enhance the efficiency, enjoyment, and overall success of architectural design processes.

Beyond his professional pursuits, Brett finds joy in a variety of hobbies, including snow skiing, biking, fly fishing, golf, and hiking. Embracing the scenic wonders of the Vail Valley, he has found the perfect lifestyle fit, drawing creative inspiration from the surrounding natural beauty.

Laurie Baggott


Our studio is fortunate to have Laurie bring her considerable experience in business and finance to our daily operations. Among her many administrative responsibilities, she manages accounting, payroll and invoicing for us. When not busy here or as a private chef, she avidly hikes in our beautiful summers and snowshoes in the winter.

Patricia Marcine


Earning her Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Houston in 2016 was just the beginning. From there, Trish headed to Europe, to study at the Graz University of Technology in Austria and work at the Aedes Architekturforum. Then she determined it was time to return to the Rocky Mountains. We became beneficiaries of her delightful, collaborative spirit when she joined our studio in early 2018. Her savvy technical support and inspired design voice enhance each project, while her design comprehension and growth demonstrate that she has a future with much to offer the profession. As a lifelong artist, Trish’s search for a practical art form and meaningful profession has been fulfilled by custom residential architecture, where “…not a day truly feels like work.”

Trish grew up in Northern New Jersey, playing club and varsity soccer, enjoying ski club with friends, and learning to snowboard at a young age. As a teen, she competed in various equestrian events, highlighted by working for Frank and Mary Chapot to train Olympic-level show jumpers. Eventually, faster hobbies were necessary, and Trish became a driving instructor for the SCCA and track-day rider on her CBR600RR. She’s also been an enthusiastic racer on our company’s ‘ski team’. When a new project surfaces, she’s pleased to slow down enough to collaborate with the team.

Emily Warren


Emily joined us from the DC area, lured by the mountains, our core values and our creative environment. She earned a Master of Architecture and Bachelor of Science in Architecture degrees from SUNY Buffalo’s School of Architecture & Planning, with a minor in Earth System Science.

Through her wonderfully infectious spirit, Emily eagerly contributes diverse knowledge and experience, having worked on historic National Park Service documentation, and urban high-density residential projects facing strict constraints. She is a productive and dedicated team player who thrives through learning and contributing to the growth of others. Her detail, project management and organizational skills are exceptional. Emily is licensed in Maryland, and nationally accredited by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.

Emily is passionate about youth empowerment, with considerable experience teaching and mentoring in schools and camps. She’s an ardent weightlifter, hiker and nature enthusiast, embracing the Vail Valley’s active, outdoor lifestyle.

Cam Frey


Cam was introduced to Colorado’s rivers and mountains at an early age, returning annually from Michigan with his family to fly-fish and hike near the small mining town of Creede. His interest in design and architecture was ignited by his high school drafting teacher, who instilled a balanced approach to design through technology and craft. Cam received his BA from UNC, Chapel Hill, followed by a few years of medical research before heading West to earn his Master of Architecture from the University of Oregon. There he became interested in the interdisciplinary study of Biomimicry; an approach to solving design problems by looking to nature. Not coincidentally, this interest, the stunning landscapes, wildlife, and outdoor lifestyle led Cam back to Colorado in 2014. He joined us in 2017, quickly becoming a central piece of our culture and project management structure.

Cam serves on the Design Review Committee of the Arrowhead at Vail community, is a certified Biomimicry Specialist and licensed Architect in the state of Colorado.

His other pursuits include fly-fishing, skiing, hiking, and a good game of euchre…, and the list continues to grow. He is married to a wonderfully talented children’s book illustrator, and dotes on his young son.

Ben Marion


From an early age, Ben had a pen in hand and a curiosity for exploring both natural and built environments. Much of his adolescence was spent drawing what he observed, balanced with his passions for cross-country skiing the New England forests and playing soccer as far away as Europe. Like many of us, Ben arrived in Colorado as an adult, following a lifelong passion to further pursue the resort lifestyle. After graduating from the University of Colorado, he practiced with some of the finest architects and builders in the region, creating fine homes and other structures. His broad experience includes California mountain resort homes, as well as mixed-use and commercial structures, peppered with an interesting mix of furniture building and construction. In our studio, Ben is a strong design voice and outstanding project manager, leading by quiet example as he mentors our emerging leaders.

Ben remains passionate about skiing and soccer, coaching both youth sports locally. Travel remains in his blood as he and his family explore the west in their vintage 1967 camper.

Bert Willemse


Bert found a home away from home in the Vail Valley while exploring North America’s most beautiful landscapes on a post-graduation road trip…, from his hometown of Bellvale, New York to Wasilla, Alaska. He had completed his studies at SUNY Buffalo and apprenticed with two well-known firms in New York’s Hudson Valley area before joining our studio. As the son of a general contractor Bert gained practical construction knowledge with hands-on experience in the field. His many professional attributes are exceeded only by his wonderful, collaborative spirit.

Naturally, Bert is an active individual who embraces hiking, biking and skiing in our amazing Colorado mountains.

Adam H. Harrison

NCARB, LEED AP / Principal


After graduating from Illinois Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture in 1994 and working as an intern for three years at Fujikawa Johnson and Associates in Chicago, Adam packed his van and toured America to determine where he might settle; he found Vail and Shepherd Resources in September of 1997. After growing from intern to project manager to associate, Adam began transitioning into ownership in 2017 and became a principal owner in early 2020. As a dedicated designer, Adam loves collaborating with his fellow architects and interns while managing a busy studio.

His priorities are rooted in sustainability, strong leadership skills, and staff mentoring to uphold the core values of the practice. He is licensed in Colorado, Michigan, and North Carolina and serves as the chairman of the Red Sky Ranch Design Review Board. Adam enjoys golf, mountain biking, skiing, music, and any activity involving his daughter Bellalee. Adam has been practicing for a quarter century and looks forward to designing and collaborating for another quarter century; the opportunity to doodle a quick sketch, with the future opportunity of walking through such a doodle fuels his creativity and passion for design.

Adam H. Harrison

NCARB, LEED AP / Principle


As a young artist, Charlotte tailored her pre-architecture undergraduate degree at Colorado College, in Colorado Springs, and completed her Master of Architecture at the University of Colorado, Denver. With her fresh eyes, she is an observer, analyst and critic of our processes, and her imagination inspires and contributes to our creativity. Of the partners, Charlotte’s willingness to raise the children fostered Doug’s ability to focus upon the practice.

She is a lifelong resident of Colorado, skied Vail in the early years as a child and remains an excellent bump skier (if the sun is shining). She was an original teammate of the Vail Breakaways, Vail’s first women’s hockey team. Charlotte’s vision includes an amazing gift for seeing, rescuing, restoring and placing cast-off furniture and other elements, giving the pieces valuable, renewed lives.