A Tale of 3 Craftsman Homes: Tips on building a house – best upgrades to spend money on

Well we’ve been super busy finding a place to build a house, pulling together the plans for our house, scouring through various tax calculators and estimators, and applying  for a loan.  So if everything goes according to plan, we should begin building at the beginning of December.  The only thing that’s got us worried is this home to land ratio that our loan officer told us about.  We are planning to build on almost 7 acres and apparently the house has to be comparable to other comps in the area for home value vs the land value.  I guess we’ll see.

Other than that we’ve been trying to decide what upgrades are worth it and what aren’t.  In our quest to make these decisions, I visited almost all the homes in our recent Parade of Homes trying to figure out what is the difference from lower-end homes and luxurious custom homes.   I mean they are all build with 2 by 4 and drywall right?

Seriously, here is a picture of a room under construction of a 500,000 house in a desirable high end neighborhood here:

 10 foot ceilings during construction

This is a picture of a room in a home that costs 170,000…..I don’t see too much of a difference, do you?

lower end home comparison

More builders are adding brick, wood floors, crown molding, granite counter tops to all price range of homes these days.  So what really makes the difference in a higher-end home and a entry level home?  I wanted to find at what exactly was going to give us that custom look so I could just spend money upgrading that and not waste money in areas it isn’t noticed as much.  I wanted to make sure we got the “bones” of the home right so that we could add our own DIY upgrades later to achieve the look we wanted.

We toured some homes in the $700,000 price range which is close to the upper level around here.  They all had 10 foot ceilings and I started to think that we’d need to have 10 foot ceilings if we ever wanted to achieve that look.

 10 foot ceilings

But as I toured the Parade of Homes, I found out something interesting.

Here are 3 houses that have a lot of similarities, they all have:

  • Brick/stone
  • Wood floors
  • Crown molding
  • Granite counter tops
  • Siding of some sort (the lower end has vinyl and the other 2 had cement siding but you can’t really tell from the pics)
  • 9 foot ceilings

Lower-End Home:  Cost – $200,000 (this is the upper end of the lower-end homes around here)

 lower end home exterior

Mid-Range Home:  Cost – $300,000 (this is the lower end of the higher-end homes around here)

 mid range home exterior side

 Higher-End Home:  Cost – $650,000

 higher end home front exterior cement siding

(okay so this one looks a little more country but it had some craftsman touches)


Each of these homes had a majorly different in the feel when you walked in.

Let’s compare some rooms:


Lower End:

lower end home foyer

The 2 story foyer gives is a nice spacious feel when you walk in but something about it feels kind of stark and cold (this picture shows perfectly the lighting inside the house, even when the light was on it still felt cold).  Nice railing, you can’t see from the picture, but the plush carpet on the stairs kind of distracted from the handrail and picket upgrade.  There was wood flooring in the foyer going down the hall.

Mid Range:

mid range home foyer

This foyer is extremely similar to the Lower End Home but it had a much warmer and higher-end feel to it.  I think the wood stairs helped a lot, along with the warmer paint colors.  But there is still something else that had a huge impact…..

Upper End:

 higher end home foyer

This picture doesn’t look too impressive but it had a super high-end look, probably because you could see into the super nice dining room right when you walked into the door.

Dining Room (both the Lower-End and Mid-Range Home had no formal dining room)

Lower End:

lower end home living room2

That would have looked so much nicer it they had done all wood floors, I’ve noticed that rooms look a lot bigger when all the flooring is the same.

I swear when I went through this house there was crown molding, I don’t know if it’s so skinny you just can’t see it or if I was just imagining things…..hmmmmm….

Mid Range:

mid range home breakfast nook

Upper End:

 higher end home dining room

Living Room

Lower End:

lower end home living room

Mid Range:

mid range home living room

Upper End:

 higher end home living room


Lower End:

lower end home kitchen2

Mid Range:

mid range home kitchen

Upper End:

higher end home kitchen

(This picture is kind of dark but the kitchen appeared much brighter especially with the lights on)

I did notice in my Parade of Homes tour that the new trend in kitchens is a large island opened to the living room.  I like to call the kitchen in the first house a “corner kitchen” because it’s tucked away in the corner with that bar hiding it.  I’ve seen kitchens in this layout in all price ranges even the higher-end homes but that was only in homes that are a few years old NOT the new ones.

 So what did you notice?

It might not be too apparent from the pictures but the Lower-End Home, even with the updates it still felt like your starter home.  It still felt like new construction houses around here that are in the low $100,000. I was very surprised that it had 9 foot ceilings because I was thinking that 9 foot ceilings were going to make a huge difference.

When I took my husband to see the Mid-Range Home he was greatly impressed and stated several times he could be very happy in a house like that.  Then I showed him the Higher-End Home just to show him how different 2 houses with nine foot ceilings could be and he was blow away…..What, you might ask made the biggest difference????

Here it is and it was extremely apparent when you went to one house right after the other…….drumroll, please…..


Molding and Lighting

So if you are contemplating upgrades and have a very limited budget, keep these two things in mind.  You will never achieve that high-end feel if there is not enough lighting.  Windows and recessed lights are important.  Windows aren’t that expensive to add when you are building a new house.  I can’t remember the exact amount to add another window but I think it was $300.  We also wanted to take it step further and add transom windows on top to give us even more light.  The transom windows would add an extra $200 but to upgrade to a bigger 6 foot tall window was only an extra $30 per window, so that is what we decided to do to save money but get maximum light.

Our builder has given us 10 recessed light in the budget and each additional one is $65.  We will not be skimping on adding extra recessed lights because no matter what else we add, if there isn’t enough light it won’t look nice.

The next important item to upgrade is molding.  I was blown away with the difference in the Mid-Range Home and the Upper-End Home, they had so many things in common but the difference in the molding was noticeable.  The Mid-Range home did have thicker than average molding but it was the same molding you see in almost every home.

The Higher-End Home had even thicker molding AND it was something different.  It had really wide cove crown molding:

crown molding

and this great craftsman style molding around the windows and doors:

craftman door and window molding

It also had the 8 inch baseboards.

So you don’t have to do all these upgrades.  Since your builder will already be putting in baseboards and window and door trim, this is what you should upgrade.  Our builder didn’t charge anything extra to do the 8 inch wide baseboards, the wide cove crown molding, and the wide flat molding around the doors and windows.  He did charge an extra $600 (for the 1st floor) to add that narrow piece above the door and crown molding on top of that, but those can be added later as long as you get the flat molding, like this:

basic craftsman molding

So here are my minimum suggested upgrades:

  • 9 foot ceilings
  • 8 inch baseboards
  • thick flat molding around the windows and doors
  • add more windows and upgrade to taller windows
  • add recessed lighting everywhere

If you have these good “bones” you will be able to create a high-end look later when you have the money.  Just as an FYI, our builder said that it would be about 2500-3200 to go from 9 foot ceilings to 10 foot and we have a little over 1600 feet on the main level.  So I would assume that to go from 8 foot ceilings to 9 foot ceilings would be something similar.  Another side note too is that the 8 inch baseboards have a wider edge at the top than regular sizes, which will help because I plan to add beadboard wainscoting later one and I don’t want to have to remove the baseboard.

I thought for sure the 10 foot ceilings were what we needed but when I when into the Higher-End Home (which has 9 foot ceilings) and compared it with other similar homes that had 10 foot ceilings I really couldn’t tell the difference.  The only room that did have a different feel was the living room, the 9 foot ceilings did feel cozier than the spacious 10 foot ceilings with that big room.  However the dining room and kitchen I had to ask in every house we went in because I couldn’t tell.

So that’s my 2 cents, what are your suggested upgrades?

Stay tuned for EXTERIOR upgrades….

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7 thoughts on “A Tale of 3 Craftsman Homes: Tips on building a house – best upgrades to spend money on

  1. There are general formulas to determine proper proportions of crown and base moldings. Lindsay Daniel and Sarah Andrews have a great recap of the rules, excerpted below: http://www.lindsaydaniel.com/library/dos-and-donts/mouldings.html

    Rule of proportion: Consider the height of your ceilings when selecting baseboards (this guide works for typical, 8’ – 10’ ceilings). One good rule of thumb is to observe an approximate inch/foot ratio (1:12) or slightly less; for example, if your ceilings are nine feet tall, a nine inch tall baseboard could best anchor the room and provide a substantial visual “foot.”
    Rule of proportion: In selecting a suitable crown moulding, one should also take into account the ceiling height – a three inch crown in a room with ten foot ceilings looks like a very tall man with a very tiny hat! You have to test this one since the shape and color of the crown affects the perception. However, a comfortable proportion would be somewhere between a ½ inch/ foot (1:24) or an inch/foot (1:12) ratios. This means for a 10 foot ceiling a crown assembly height should be between 5” and 10”. Keeping an appropriate proportion is the key to the success of crown moulding.
    Rule of proportion: For lovers of chair rail, use a fractional proportion of 1/3 to 2/3 – meaning that the chair rail is placed in the lower third of the wall to make the ceiling appear taller. Take care not to bisect the room – for instance, if the ceilings are eight feet tall, keep the chair rail well below four feet to maintain a pleasing proportion. Bisected rooms appear to have lower ceilings.
    Remember: Even though these “rules” are not iron clad, these ratios will bring dignity and order to your interiors. By using rules of proportion, you can control how your room is perceived.

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  2. Hi. Just found your blog on Pintrest we are building a home this year and I have been trying to also figure out where to splurge and where to hold back. Thanks for writing this, I have one question for you I want solid doors throughout the house but wonder if through your research if you found the extra cost to be worth it.. thanks in advance and I hope you are enjoying your new Home..

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    • Thanks! I’ve been in a lot of high end homes that have all the bells and whistles and none of them had solid doors on the interior. It’s not something people are really going to notice, so if you were going for resale value, I don’t think you’d get much back for them. However, for the house we built, yes I did think about resale value but somethings we did just for us, regardless of whether other people saw it as value. But if you are just looking to get the biggest bang for your buck, I’d splurge on a thick, solid wood front door (which was noticeable in the higher end homes) or coffered ceilings or something. Good luck!! Near the end of our home build, I was so sick of making decisions that I couldn’t even make simple ones. It’s taken me this long to even be able to begin to make decisions about decorating!

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  3. Some other questions to ask are what type of wood flooring was used? Is it white oak, faux wood and even plank lengths affect pricing. Is the wood flooring throughout or only in public spaces? If throughout this can really hike up the price. Most areas in home where pricing makes huge impacts are appliances used in the kitchens, faucets, cabinetry construction, what features do you have within the cabinetry itsself? Is the cabinetry interiors particle board or birtch construction? Bathrooms also will hike pricing up. What flooring is used? What kind of tub? Tubs range widely depending on maker and material. Millwork is a huge chunk. Is there a lot of storage in the home? Any built-in bookcases for example. These items among minute sutble differences that many untrained eyes may not notice like quality of skill used for plastering ceilings and walls etc.

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  4. Awesome article! Thank you so much for the detailed research and clarity!

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  5. Nice tips really helpful to plan and construct a beautiful home

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