custom Home Guide

A Florida Custom Home Builders Guide To Building Your Custom Dream Home

As one of the only Florida custom home builders that can draw plans for my clients’ homes, I have put together this series of how to guides to design your custom dream home; or simply the home you want. Keep in mind, I am a custom home builder in Tampa, Florida, so some concepts presented may be specific to this area.

Many customers choose to start with an architect. It is always a surprise to me how often customers then come to me full of frustration when the architects’ plans are not what they want for one reason or another. Instead, IF you can find a builder, like myself, who will sit down with you, help you refine your wants and needs, and fully design your customer dream home, why bother spending money on an architect?

Many of my customers are at the stage of their life where they simply don’t need the McMansion. But some do, and that’s ok. There is no right or wrong answer, a home is unique to each customer. Still, about half of my customers take one of the pre-designed plans from my website and have me modify it to their liking. The other half have a completely different idea of what they want, so sometimes I get hand drawn sketches or cut and paste collages.

To help you and my future customers, I have put together this series of steps to assist you in designing your custom dream home; or just the home you want now. The goal of this guide is to assist you in collecting your thoughts and ideas for your home in one place. During this whole process, the most important thing to remember is: BE FLEXIBLE AND HAVE FUN!

To start building your custom dream home, print off this PDF with our Home Design Questionnaire.

custom Home Guide

Building Your Custom Dream Home – Home Design Questionnaire:

How Many Floors?

One story, two story, three story, or more. You should first think about how many stories you want for your custom dream home.

Many people believe two story homes save money but this is not the case. Two story homes in a direct comparison to one story homes are not more efficient primarily because:

  • Square footage is wasted with excess hallways and stairways
  • Typically, a 2nd air conditioning system is needed for the 2nd floor
  • Materials for the 2nd story walls are expensive. As one of the top custom home builders in Tampa, I try to stay away from stucco on wood for any 2nd story exterior walls. That type of construction is very problematic and numerous class action lawsuits are currently ongoing for stucco on wood failures in Florida.

The #1 reason why my customers choose a 2-story home is because the property size is simply not large enough to have the size of the house they want in a single story. So many custom homes built in Tampa are 2-stories to efficiently maximize the size of your home. There is no right or wrong answer for this question, some customers simply want a 2 story home.

Here are a few considerations for anyone looking into 2 stories or more for their custom dream home:

  • Do you want to climb stairs?
  • If yes, will you want to climb those stairs in 5-10 years?
  • Is it a problem for you to continuously carry laundry and other items up and down the stairs?
  • Do you want the master upstairs or downstairs? A downstairs master is the most popular 2 story option nowadays because of the above questions.
  • Do you want the children’s/guest bedrooms upstairs or downstairs?

The Overall Design Concept

There are a series of questions that should be answered to determine the flow, style, and overall concept of your dream home. These are basic lifestyle questions and reflect your lifestyle, family size, and overall preferences for how and where you will spend time in your home. There are no right or wrong answers, the design concept is specific to each customer.

Many houses fall into the following basic styles:

Open floor plan: An open floor plan gives you more space throughout your home, but you won’t have much privacy (Space VS privacy).

Bungalow house plan: Bungalow homes include one and half stories with a low-pitched roof and most living space on the first floor. They position the living room in the center of the floor plan, making them truly family friendly.

Split bedroom plan: A split bedroom plan places the master bedroom on a different floor from the other bedrooms, or if it is a 1 story home it is remote from the other bedrooms. This is great if you want additional privacy.

Some of these questions include:

  • Is privacy within your home a top priority?
  • Do you prefer open spaces/do you want to maximize your space?
  • How many floors?
  • What room do you spend the most time in? (Living room, kitchen, basement, bedroom, etc)
  • Are you looking to downsize or is your family growing?

These questions should act as a guide to help you determine the overall design and style of your custom dream home. As custom home builders in Tampa, we have an existing repertoire of floor plans that we have created that can help you visualize how your custom dream home might look.

custom home design concept

Room Count – types and sizes of rooms

Many of my customers are at the stage of their life where they simply don’t need the McMansion anymore. Downsizing is very common nowadays, however, there are still many customers that want the more extravagant mansion and turn to us to help design your custom dream home.  All plans start with a room count, so myself and my team can sit down with you and piece together exactly how your custom dream house will look.

To start, make a list of all of the types of rooms you would like included in your home. From there, you can start to think about the number and size of each room. it is important to remember that the more rooms you have, the more square footage it will be – and the more square footage is going to be more of a cost for you.

Here are some common rooms that people have in their homes:

  • Garage (how many cars do you want to fit?)
  • Lanai/Patio/Other exterior areas
  • Bedrooms (master, childrens rooms, guest rooms)
  • Bathrooms (powder room, full bathroom)
  • Kitchen
  • Dining Room
  • Great Room
  • Den/living room

Cheat Sheet for Building Your Custom Dream Home

Since the early 2000’s I have been one of the top custom home builders in Tampa. In my years of experience I have seen it all – from crazy mansions to your more classic American home. No matter the home, there are certain features that most people have in their home.Knowing common measurements in a home can be an important factor in how you design your custom dream home.

Below is a collection of common features that you might include in your new home, and their measurements.


  • Ready to Assemble Cabinets vary in length in 3” increments (15”, 18”, 21”, 24, etc.), and vary in width and height. Custom Cabinets are made to any dimensions.
  • Base (bottom) cabinets are a standard 36” high (including 1-1/2” of countertop) x 25” deep (24” deep cabinet plus 1” of countertop), with or without a 4” backsplash.
  • Wall cabinets are a standard 30” high x 12” deep. Taller versions are 42” high x 12” deep and the top of 42” tall cabinet at 8’ above the finished floor. Wall cabinets typically are installed with bottom of wall cabinet 18” from countertop below OR in other words; bottom of wall cabinet 54” above finish floor (AFF) 


  • Refrigerators are a standard 36” wide with a 15” high wall cabinet above or 27” high for 42” upper cabinets. We allow a 38” wide space in cabinets or refrigerators unless you have a special-order refrigerator such as Subzero brand for gourmet kitchens.
  • Ranges are manufactured in a 30” standard width. We install a 15” high wall cabinet above a range hood (27” high for tall cabinets) with a range hood or a microwave/range hood combination. Specialty ranges vary with your budget and culinary ambitions, in gas or electric.
  • Dishwashers are manufactured with a standard 24” width, adding a 3” edge piece of cabinet if the dishwasher is in the corner. The dishwasher is 34 ½” high. Adding 1½” of countertop brings the dishwasher space to 36” above the finished floor. Consider putting the dishwasher in close proximity to the sink to make dishwashing efficient and convenient.custom home dishwasher placement
  • Trash compactors are 15” wide, the same height as your dishwasher.
  • Sinks are manufactured in a standard 32” width and require a base cabinet of 33” or 36”.
  • Bar tops may be set at 30” (table height), 36” (counter height) or 42” (high bar height for that south Florida tikki bar feeling). Bar tops are 12” wide for most homes and 16” or 18” wide for higher end custom homes.
  • Pantries in our homes are usually a 5’x5’ walk-in and 6” shelf width.
    walk-in pantry dimensions

Dining Room

Our minimum dining room size is 11’ x 11’. For more upscale, larger homes, we recommend a minimum of 12’ x 14’. Of course, the size of your dining room might depend on your family size and whether you envision yourself entertaining guests a lot.

Because dining rooms tend to be more formal, some customers choose to go the extra mile and add more details into their dining room. These include things like crown molding, a tray ceiling, or other wall moldings.

custom dining room

Breakfast Area:

A breakfast area is a more casual dining space than a dining room and is often in or near the kitchen in your home. The breakfast areas in our custom homes are a minimum of 8’ x 8’ center to center (CC), giving you a clear 7’-6” x 7’-6” of table and seating area.

Breakfast areas are a unique way to bring the family together. However, there are certain considerations you should think about before committing to a breakfast area. For example, bigger is often better for these types of spaces so they feel more open. Another consideration is if you already have a large enough kitchen island, is a breakfast area necessary? This space in your home could be utilized for something else if you already have a possible seating area in your kitchen.

breakfast area design options

Family rooms/great rooms:

18’ x 22’ is usually a comfortable size for a family room or great room. The size of this can greatly vary depending on your lifestyle, size of your family, and if you plan on entertaining in it.

For example, if you have a large family where you enjoy spending time together around the fireplace or watching tv, then a larger family room will best suit your needs. If you have a smaller family or prefer to entertain outside or in your kitchen, then you might consider a smaller family room.

family great room options

Specialty Rooms:

As Florida custom home builders, we understand your home might require some special rooms that you might not find in your typical home. What sort of rooms are you interested in having to suit your lifestyle?

Some examples of speciality rooms we can design include:

  • Crafts or Exercise Room
  • Home Office
  • Den or Man/Women Cave
  • Wine Cellar
  • Playroom
  • Library


Your bedroom will be the place you spend a lot of your time at home. The size and shape of your bedrooms will change depending on your needs and your budget. However, here are common measurements of our custom bedrooms:

  • For a mid-range house, a standard bedroom is a minimum of 11’x12’ with a 2’-6” door minimum (use 2’-8” width door for handicap access in the future).
  • Master bedrooms are no less than 12’, 13’ x 15’ on average with a 2’-6” door minimum, or 2’-8” for handicap access.
  • Bedroom windows use 3050 SH window for ingress/egress


Bathrooms are one of the most important rooms in your home. You have the potential to make your bathroom a unique place for you to unwind, relax, and enjoy. Below are some considerations of things you should include in your custom bathroom and common measurements:

  • Vanity Cabinets are 31” high and 21” deep, with a 22” deep countertop.
  • Toilet area is a minimum of 2’-6” plan view for toilet area 2’-6” in clear, use 3’-0” in clear.
  • Bathtubs are usually 2’-6” (30” wide) x 5’-0” (60”) with a rough opening of 5’-1/2” x 33” in the clear.
    • Standard garden tub size is 42” deep x 60” long or 42” deep x 72” long, add ½” to length for rough opening size.
    • Corner garden tub 60” or 72” on each side add ½” to rough opening.
    • Tub enclosure 59” above lip of tub.
  • Showers have a minimum area required by code of 1040 square inches. They must be 30” in the clear, and 36” x 36” is the minimum size, 36” x 48” is the best size.
    • The enclosure is a 69” high standard, but increase to 75” high if there is no shower pan (sunken into slab – ground floor).
    • The shower door width standard is 24” – rough opening – 24-1/2” wide.
    • Handicap Showers: must have a recessed floor with a ramp from the regular floor level to shower floor at 1’ per foot slope.

custom bathroom checklist

Other Interior Room Considerations


  • HVAC closets: DEPTH: 32” clear minimum, 3’ cc and WIDTH: 48” clear minimum, 4’-4” cc.
  • Clothes closets: 2’-4” cc for clothes closet depth minimum.
  • Walk-in clothes closets: see illustrations below. There is a 5’-6” in clear minimum for clothes on both sides, 4’-6” in clear minimum for clothes on one side of the closet.
  • Linen closets: Use 2’-0″ center to center (c.c.) depth or 1’-8” in clear. 3’-c.c. width w/ 20 door, do not use smaller than 18, giving 28 c.c.

closet design considerations


  • Must be a minimum of 3’-6” c.c. width 3’-2” in clear for hallway width.
  • If the door is at the end of a hallway, make the hall center to center  width one foot wider than the door (if 2’-8” door, use 3’-8” cc wide hall).
  • 3’-6” works on the average size homes (2000 SF approx. heated) but 4’ would be desirable


  • Width of stairway:  36” minimum width permitted within R3 dwelling units
  • Treads & Risers: Florida Building Code says: Sum of 2 risers + 1 tread = 24”-25”.
  • Risers (the height of each step): is a maximum height of 7 ¾. The risers may vary a maximum of ¼” plus or minus from the design height.
  • Treads (width of each step): must be a minimum of 10” and there is always 1 less tread than riser.
  • Open risers are allowable so long as a 4” sphere cannot pass between treads.
  • Headroom: 6’-8” minimum from the edge of nosing to ceiling continuous
  • Landings: Distance between floors cannot be greater than 12’ tall or need a landing.
    • Therefore, cannot have a stairway from first to second floor without a landing if the ground floor is 12’ ceiling, because then height from Ground to ceiling = 12’-1”, then floor system of 1’-3” added to that.
    • Landing width equals stair width.
    • Minimum length of landing equal to stair width as measured in travel direction of stairway but not more than 4’ long.
    • Exception for SFR dwelling with area serving less than 50 people, door can be at top of stairway but cannot open over stairs.
  • Handrails: Located between 34” to 38” above the leading edge of tread.
    • Exception, handrails that are part of a stair that is not req’d to be accessible may be 42” high (balcony overlooking 1st floor).
    • Ramps/balconies/porches >30” above finished ground level must have a guardrail/handrail – rail at 42” above platform

Laundry Areas:

  • The doors from the garage area to any living area (including laundry rooms) must be a solid core exterior door for added fire protection. The door must be 2’8” minimum width for easy access including handicap access.
  • You will need a 6’ width for washer/dryer space (5’-6” minimum in clear). A typical washer is 30”x30” and a typical dryer is 30”x30”.
  • Direct vent through the wall for the dryer vent is best. It can also go through the roof if the laundry room is not on the exterior wall, but this is not preferred.

dream laundry room options


  • A 6’ minimum width entryway/foyer should be used, 5’-6” minimum width on smaller homes.

custom entryways or foyers


Ever thought about pulling up to your new home in your dream car, into a garage filled with all of your favorite luxury automobiles? It starts with designing a garage that can suit this lifestyle – or whatever other lifestyle you desire.

Some considerations for designing your garage include:

  • Should be a minimum depth of 21’ and minimum width of 20’.
  • 21’ x 21’ garage works great because then you can convert from front to side entry by merely moving the door.
  • The minimum width per car = 10’. So if you want to have a 10 car garage, you will need a lot of space!
  • There should be a 2-8 solid core door into the garage from the living area.
  • You must make the curb 2’-6” from edge of curb to center of rear wall – this gives sufficient distance for the front of your car to hang over curb and leaves room for you to walk in front of the cars.


If your dream home includes several stories, consider an elevator. A home elevator is truly a luxury whether you are carrying heavy things, for handicap accessibility, or simply because you do not want to take the stairs, an elevator is a game changer in a custom dream home.

Some things to think about if you would like a home elevator include:

  • They require a 12” pit dug into the concrete foundation, so the elevator car lies flat with finished floor on ground level.
  • They need a 9’-6” tall ceiling on top landing for an 8’ tall elevator car – that way can fit equipment on top of the elevator instead of needing a storage closet for it.
  • You need a 220 V 30-amp dedicated circuit for elevator equipment and 110 V 15-amp dedicated circuit for elevator lights.
  • A phone line is required in any elevator.
  • Can do a wooden frame – 2×4 wall on 3 walls and then 2×12 wall on the fourth wall where the rail the elevator car rides on will be located.
  • As of 11-25-22 use $35,000 allowance for an elevator in a new home.
  • Need 5’x5’ clearing for an elevator shaft – make 2nd floor in shaft wood that can be knocked out, then have shaft for future elevator if not install one when built.

Site & Exterior:

Beyond the interior of your custom dream home, below are considerations for your exterior land:

  • Septic Tanks/Wells: Should be located minimum 5’ from property line, 75’ from well on the new home or adjoin wells on neighbor’s properties. Wells used to have to be 25’ from house, now they can be 10’ from house.
  • Driveways: Must be 16’ wide minimum at the garage area and 12’-14’ leading up to the garage.

your custom home exterior

Concluding thoughts – The Guide To Building Your Custom Dream Home

With my years of experience as a Florida custom home builder, I have always found it is important to provide my customers with as much information as possible. This guide is a way to get you started thinking about how to design your custom dream home.

The first thing to think about when designing your dream home is how many floors do you want. As custom home builders in Tampa, Florida, we often are seeing 2 story homes, although single story homes are still very popular.

Next, you should think about what the overall design concept you are looking for in your home. This should be a reflection of your lifestyle, wants, and family size. Popular design concepts include open floor plans, bungalows, or split bedrooms.

Once the number of floors and design concepts are planned out, you can begin piecing together your dream home room by room. There are certain rooms that most people include in their homes such as bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen, living room, dining room, garage, etc., but there are other speciality rooms such as playrooms, home offices, workout rooms, and much more. Think about what types of rooms you want in your home and the relative size of each.

Finally, we have provided an extensive repertoire or cheat sheet of measurements and features in many custom Florida Homes to help you conceptualize and build your custom dream home.

Customers have been coming to me for years to design and build their custom dream home. We are custom home builders in Tampa, Florida that have the proven track record of building magnificent homes. To get started today on building your custom dream home, you can contact me (Mike) directly at 813-486-9099.

Download and fill out the Home Design Questionnaire today to begin designing your new home!


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