Things We’re Glad We Did in Our House + A Few Things We Regret 
07/28 The McGee Home

Things We’re Glad We Did in Our House + A Few Things We Regret 

Here’s what we learned

Now that we have taken you through the first round of rooms in The McGee Home, we thought it would be fun to talk about a few things we learned building a custom home for ourselves. Plus, a few things we regret.

After years of living in rentals and building/remodeling homes for our clients, we had a lot of dreams about building our own home, and we couldn't wait to make our vision a reality.

We had more time than we probably would have wished for to plan everything, but that allowed us to truly think through each detail.

As a designer, I knew I would be particular with all of the little details, and I was. We drew sketches of everything from our cabinetry to our window sills, and I couldn't have been more excited to see it all come to life.

It's hard to choose what we love the most in our home, but here are a few things I am especially glad we decided to carry out:

Our vaulted ceilings

I'm so happy we pushed hard on our plans to incorporate vaulted ceilings. It makes everything feel so open and airy, and I love the dimension they bring to the home. Honestly, they are one of my favorite features.

The fireplace in our master

We have a fireplace in our great room, and our master backs up to it, so we already had the venting to do one in our bedroom too, and I couldn't be happier with it. It just adds so much hominess even when it's not on. We have loved it so far.

Our ice maker

This one sounds funny, but it's true! I love our pebble ice maker; it's just one of those things that makes the everyday a little bit better, and now I don't think we would be able to live without one again!

Our windows

I feel like sometimes people think they can go cheap on their windows because it's such a big ticket item, but I'm so glad we went with higher end windows because it really does add so much to the home. I love natural light, and I like to have the shades open, so it's been nice not to want to hide our windows and let them shine on their own.

Things I regret:

Since we thought about every detail of our home for so many years, there is not very much I regret, but here are a few things I would probably do differently next time:

Our windowless pantry

Syd always laughs at me for this one, but I was not able to figure out how to put a window in our pantry, and it's literally the only room in our house without natural light. Our house plans made putting a window there almost impossible, but it is something I wish we could have incorporated.

Our backyard landscaping

When we were planning our home, I was so focused on the inside and the front that I didn't really think longterm about our backyard landscaping. Although it's been fun to see it evolve as we go, it definitely would have been nice to have a better idea of what we wanted to do with that space before moving in. We’ll be putting a pool in soon, so we’ll have to redo several things to make it work.

Our hidden doors

I tried to hide doors in the side of our entryway barrel arch, and we used push latches so that there wasn't any hardware. The problem is that they are so difficult to open that we have to body slam them to get them open, lol! Lesson learned, sometimes you have to choose function over form.

Our basement

We haven't finished our basement yet, and now that we're starting to design it, I'm realizing that we should have planned a few more plumbing details ahead of time because we’ll now have to trench the concrete which is going to be a mess.

Building our home was such a great learning experience, and I'm so glad that we were as thorough and meticulous as we were. The truth is, no matter what you do, there are always going to be things that don't go the way you thought they would, but when it's all said and done, seeing your vision come to life is more rewarding than you could imagine.

What's the biggest lesson you've learned from building your home? Let us know in the comments below!

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43 Comments
Studio McGee
  1. Your home is so beautiful! It’s been a huge source of inspiration for me. I hate windowless rooms, too and currently have a windowless laundry room. I’ve been considering adding a transom above the door to get some natural light in there. Is that something you could have done for your pantry and is it an option you would or would not consider? I’d love an input you’d be willing to share. Thank you!

  2. Crazy as it sounds, I would have placed my garbage/recycle drawer in a different place. I thought I would want it near the dish sink, but we tend to prep and cook on the other side of the island. And I wish we had placed a sink in our bar area. It’s just around the corner from the kitchen, so we didn’t think it was a big deal. But it’s slightly inconvenient. We built 20 years ago and spent a year planning. So the majority of the details are still current and relevant today. It’s been easy for me to update a little at a time as my design evolves and changes. Recently purchased property on a lake in TN. Your modern lake house is my inspiration starting point! Can’t wait to build again. Love everything about the experience!

    Sherry

  3. We learned it’s hard to plan a house for a growing family. We soon realized that with the kids being so little, we don’t need as much square footage as we thought. Turns out less square feet, planned out better for our needs, worked soooo much better. We left our new build and tackled a renovation. It’s the perfect fit for us now! ?

  4. I appreciate your honesty. It’s like a much a you plan, you can’t plan enough it seems! Your home is truly beautiful and I’m so happy you’ve been willing to share it with us.

  5. Love the home you’re in. I spent a lot of time focusing on the regrets at some point (would have put my laundry room in my master closet instead of two floors away). At the end of the day so happy to call this place my home.

  6. While I am not a designer, I have now built two homes. One thing I have learned, I hate having a sink on my island and prefer an empty island which leaves lots of prep space. Also, I am all in on a windowless pantry. While I too have a great love for natural light, windows in the pantry mean you have to really be careful placing items. Things will melt, dishes can fade…..function over beauty!

  7. I will share what we would do differently because I think it’s an important thing that people do not talk enough about. People need to make sure and interview the builder and check references and ask specific questions before hiring. I have been intentional with every detail of our home and I have worked hard to design every aspect If our home for the past 3-4 years. I have done my best to communicate those details with the builder but they never listen, do not have any processes or systems, and have ignored us throughout the project. We broke ground in June 2019 and our home is not done. We do not even have a driveway or AC in the house yet the entire house has been painted, custom cabinetry installed, expensive lights installed. The lack of climate control without AC in the middle of summer is taking a toll on our investment. They have never covered our hardwood floors or limestone tile floors, or anything at all this entire time. We have had to push for everything and beg them to please protect our home. The builder told us a couple of weeks ago they realize they are not meant to be custom home builders and need to stick to building neighborhoods. I just wish they had realized that before they took on our custom home. I think the wrong builder can make or break someone’s hard work and they can negatively impact someone’s future personally and financially. Hiring the right builder in my opinion is key to getting everything else in the house right.

  8. I have a question: I actually ordered the Cle Tiles carerra marble tiles like Shea put in Wren and Ivy’s bathroom for my own guest bath redo. Now I’m stumped on the grout. It looks like you used two different grout colors in the girls’ bathrooms – can you share what these were?

  9. Plumbing a sink in the garage has been a huge win. I’ve also loved the little hidden open nook in the master bath to hang things out of sight. In hindsight, I wish I would have increased the size of the windows.
    Thanks to everyone sharing. Hopefully it can help others building.

  10. Loved reading this! I learned that spending a long time on plans is worth it, and 3D cad renderings are really great for getting it 95% right. There will always be a few things I would tweak, but we got the major stuff right. I agree on the importance of Windows! When building, it’s better to invest in the unchanging architecture of your home and windows are such a huge part of that. I also never ever regret high end lighting, it totally elevates a home.

  11. Thank you for sharing these thoughts. Its encouraging both to know sometimes the splurge is ‘worth it’, like the master fireplace and upgraded windows, and that even experienced designers have some ‘regrets’.

  12. Make your mudroom, garage, pantry, laundry, and master closet(s) as big as possible…. We opted for a smaller master bedroom (w/ fireplace!) and XL closets — 8 years later we are thrilled with the results.
    We have cubed, clear ice maker and it’s a favorite, although it is loud and needs frequent cleaning to work properly.
    A generator is expensive but worth it…. as is a 42” front door in high gloss Hollandlac paint.
    One Change: When you go to the top of our second floor, the first thing you see is the door to a bathroom, and usually it’s open so you see a toilet! I would’ve re-oriented the doorway so that you didn’t see that entry when you get to the top of the steps.

  13. Your builder is number one priority! Do your homework and make sure it’s a good one with lots of favorable references. Make sure you get a builder who will work with you on the finish-outs. Ours let us find our own sources for tile, lighting, some trim work so that was a HUGE plus. If you are building custom be prepared to be onsite EVERY DAY to oversee things or hire someone who can. You have to stay on top of subs and OVER communicate. Some things I would do different next time: add a 3rd car garage, enlarge the guest room, extend the back patio and have custom built-ins in the dining room (something we can add down the road). Oh and wood floors in the master bedroom…again something we will add down the road. It’s always a balance between budget and must-haves. Definitely have to compromise on a few things. Overall, we are super happy with our custom build!

  14. We’ve lived in 10 different homes and have renovated 5. Windows are the biggest thing to me. Nothing make a home seem happier to me than lots of natural sunlight. And be mindful of your electrical outlets. In our current reno there’s a couple areas where we wish we would have moved them or added additional ones. It a headache to do after the fact.

  15. White trim, but we matched our baseboards to our flooring. (White oak) I now can wipe baseboards when I WANT to not cause I HAVE too;) I’ve done that in our last two houses and love it!
    TopHouseInteriors

  16. Currently building and thinking through the details! It was so fun following along with your home as it was built! My dad is our builder which is a dream come true! I’m definitely sketching out every detail and so excited to watch it take shape! Thanks for all the inspiration and always sharing so graciously Shea! Your home is beautiful!

  17. My biggest lesson is balancing form and function. As a designer, I tried to strike a balance, but I couldn’t help but view every angle and room through a "lens". As a result, the kitchen is big and looks great, but it takes me longer to cook and clean! My advice would be to get objective input from kitchen and bath designers who can help you balance your daily needs with beauty. Overall, I’m thrilled with how the house turned out – perfection is over rated and only on a screen anyway!

  18. If you can’t walk between your island and the dishwasher when the door is down, get dish drawers. No more walking all the way around the island when someone is loading the dishwasher.

  19. Push yourself to go as high end as you can on the permanent fixtures. You can do furniture and landscaping over time, you will likely never replace your tile and countertops as an example.

  20. I chose design over function in our master bath and other private areas?. I knew we would be careful, and I am so happy that I have the exact look that I wanted. It make me so happy each and every time I walk into the space. Two, I got the most beautiful marble for my island. Don’t care if it etches!
    Three, leave 44” to 48” from your island to your perimeter cabinets and appliances. You’ll never regret the extra space.

  21. I wish we had finished out our basement when we built our house. It seemed like a cost savings at the time, but it’s taken us 15 years to start to do it and will probably cost more than when the contractors and materials were already here!
    Please post some basement kitchenette inspiration. I’m struggling!

  22. I want windows in every room as well! But, it’s probably a good idea to have one space without… especially an interior space. For us that means a safer spot from storms with tornadoes or hurricanes etc.

  23. Your home is spectacular. I think all of us find something we’d do differently after the fact. The windowless pantry is actually a good thing. If you store food in there as apposed to dishes and the like it’s better to be in the dark. Even though the light from a window is nice it can damage food items and heat the room to much. Again I love love love your home. Your new book is on order. Can’t wait

  24. My husband and I built our home too. We’ve been here 15 years and I can honestly say I have few regrets other than outlets, outlets and more outlets. I wish we had put outlets in our pantry and a few more in our computer room. Oh, and a doggie shower in the mud/ laundry room rather than a big sink that I never use except for the occasional place to rinse out paint brushes. Hope this helps.

  25. Your house is so amazing. I’ve watched your videos on YouTube at least twenty times over. Sometimes after a scan of Netflix I decide just to rewatch your videos ??? Your home is like the best of all the homes you’ve designed. I live in Ireland but if I was across the water I’d love to have your sort out my house!!!

  26. Shea, I’m so glad I read this post. I have followed you for a while now and have gone back to your older posts/videos for inspiration. I am currently working/planning to remodel my kitchen and wanted to incorporate a barrel doorway (we already have 2 in our house). Anyway, part of my concern about the barrel doorway was that it would take the place we currently have our pantry, but your idea to have a hidden closet is a great way to have both (with a door handle, lol). Thanks for sharing your regrets. It has inspired me to continue working with my vision of what I’d like my kitchen to look like.

  27. Funny you mention your pebble ice maker…I’ve just bee n looking for one over the past week! Would you care to share your source for that? Thanks!

  28. Your home is stunning!!! I’m actually looking at windows and doors right now. What company did you use?

  29. Very very validating! When purchasing our home from a builder (spec—boo, but ocean view—yay!) I opted to do wood downstairs, but not upstairs, bc it was a huge upsell (would cost us 50% less doing it on our own) and they wouldn’t do the stairs (Cali). It’s now been 7 years and I still havent redone the floor upstairs and it is a big pain now

  30. I built my custom home nine years ago and the items I regret are similar to yours! I wish I had a window in my pantry and another one in my master closet. I wish I would have left out all the techie items in my home, fancy lighting system, built in electronic stuff, security system etc. technology changes SO fast and if it’s inside your walls, it’s a pain to repair and fix.

  31. It’s funny because my husband thinks I’m so weird that a window in my pantry is a non-negotiable in our next home! But, it 100% is and apparently I’m not alone in my love of them!

  32. Beautiful home! I’m planning on redoing the windows in my house… what windows did you go with? Thanks!

  33. You’re home is stunning and your are one of my favorite designers to follow on IG! My biggest regret with our remodel was not to go higher end on the bathroom fixtures, especially the master bath – what was I thinking!

  34. I fall in love with your home.
    What learned when we build our home was to not choose suer quality faucet if you don’t like the design. I choose designed faucet with lower quality, (dur to the budget limits) having in mind that once it will break, we will have the budget to choose design and quality to replace it. I think that if you choose quality with disliked design, it will stay for years and you will see it every single day without pleasure… It’s 10 years now and the low price designed faucet are still there and functional. I just recently replace the kitchen one with a very nice, beautiful, quality and practical new faucet even if it was a bit expensive, I have the budget for it now 😉

  35. Your home is so full of inspirational design, and it’s clear you put your heart and soul into it. I often revisit these photos when looking for design ideas. Thanks for sharing.
    My tips for building;
    Never let your architect talk you into GC’ing the job too. You will need both the idea/design people (architects) and the builders (General Contractor) to keep each other in check. They both bring unique skills to the job. You can draw beautiful things that don’t necessarily work in reality.
    Also…..silly but true, put outlets in your pantry and all your walk in closets. I like to iron/steam in my closet and it’s amazing the things you’ll find to plug in if you have a walk in pantry.
    If you opt for pull out shelves vs fixed in a small space or pantry you will be giving up valuable storage space. Fixed shelves, while not as “fancy” are the best use of storage space if your looking to use every inch.
    Finally, don’t try to pick out all your fixtures and hardware in one go around. I know not everyone has the luxury of time but there is sooo much out there and I prefer a curated look vs coordinated. If you’re going to live there and you pick things you love, they will always work!

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