Display homes make me angry.

Sometime in the next year my husband and I are going to start building a new house. We’re very lucky to have this opportunity and are determined to stretch our small budget as far as we can in terms of value so as not to squander it. I’ve been heading towards this my entire adult life, madly devouring home and interior design magazines for over 20 years, enrolling in an Interior Decoration and Design Diploma at TAFE, and starting a residential construction company with my builder husband. The excitement is intense, but there are doubts and nerves lurking. What if it’s not perfect? (Nothing ever is, silly.) What if we waste money? (Like everything, live and learn, honey.) What if we make mistakes? (Make them spectacular and learn from them.)

I’m a crazy perfectionistic over-researcher, and despite the fact that as a team we are ably equipped to take on this task, I feel I’m doing a last-minute panic-dash around Houzz and the like for that one essential piece of inspiration–That Thing I Don’t Want To Miss. In this over-researching zeal, one Saturday I headed out to three display homes with my mum. I’ve never been a huge fan of display homes. Being in the building industry, every now and again I’ll stop in at one if I see one is open on my way somewhere else. Almost without exception they are uninspiring. They are usually blockish boxes decorated in bland style with little regard for how people actually use space. That said, it had been a few months since I’d seen one, so it couldn’t hurt, right?

The first one was pretty good. It had lots of features and real books (ones that I would actually read!) on the bookshelves in the study. The way the space worked wasn’t to my preference, but they’d clearly thought about the design and details. Some things didn’t make sense to me–why was the en suite bathroom bigger than the main bathroom?–but in the main I can see why this particular company has earned its reputation for design thinking. A major issue was that the display home we saw would cost over $1m to build (not including land). Whoa!

The second two display homes had been recommended to me by a friend as having medium- to high-end finish and great display homes full of ideas. They were around the half-million-dollar mark to build–still out of our budget, but getting closer to the right end of the spectrum, money-wise. Frankly, they made me cranky. Take this example: in the first display home, the kitchen was absolutely enormous. I get it, the premise is “look what a huge show-offy kitchen I can afford”, but on a practical level, if you’re taking something off a stove and want to put it on a bench, you don’t want to be taking three or four steps to do that. The very notion of trying to prepare a meal in that kitchen exhausted me. In the second display home there was a retreat/office-like space on the top floor that I actually didn’t mind. It had four windows across the front of it which afforded a lovely view across the street. But one of the bottom window sills was out of level out with the other ones and it made my crazy. You cannot be taking $500K from a customer and give them windows that are out of level! There were countless other examples, but the disregard for detail made me really angry.

Needless to say, I’ll not be visiting any more display homes. I am pretty confident that I have all the tools right inside my own head to create my own living space. (And one day when our residential construction company is in a position to build a ‘spec’ or ‘display’ home, I promise all our future customers that we’ll take all the details really seriously.)


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