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Want to Build Modern Home? Find Out What’s Involved

So you want to build a modern home? You're probably overwhelmed with questions and wondering where to start.

Whether you already have blueprints or your dream home is still just an idea in your head, a great place to start is by speaking to an experienced modern house construction company and general contractor, like Fortress Homes in Chicago. They will be able to help you turn your inspiration into a reality and take your dream modern home design and transform it into a fully-fledged home for you and your family to enjoy for many years to come.

Speaking to a general contractor will help you answer questions like:

  • What makes a modern house?
  • What's the cost to build a modern house?
  • How to build a modern home?

We try to answer some of these questions below.

What is a modern home?

You may have heard the terms modern home and contemporary homes used interchangeably but what do they actually mean and what's the real difference between them?

We spoke to our favorite architects who cleared things up for us. While there is a lot of overlap, here are some of the key points that differentiate the two styles. Of course, when it comes to building a modern home for yourself you don't have to stick to either of these definitions - or perhaps your new home can borrow from both schools of design.

Modern House

Did you know that the modern style originated in the early 1920s? Modern architecture generally follows clean, balanced lines, and houses are made from more traditional building materials.

In the interior of a modern house, you are more likely to find a well-balanced design, taking advantage of sleek lines and warm neutral color palettes. This design aesthetic is likely to continue throughout the whole of the house, creating balance and harmony.

Contemporary House

This style of house originates in the late 20th Century and takes many aspects from modern house design but may mix in other styles and be more innovative. It also regularly takes advantage of more eco-friendly or non-traditional building materials. They may use shipping containers, for example, or aim to cover a smaller footprint, maximizing the square footage over many floors.

Inside a contemporary home, you are likely to see a range of interior design styles, as you move from room to room. The interior may rely heavily on the aesthetics of minimalism and cutting-edge design.

From experience, we know that when people ask their architect for a modern house, quite often they are actually looking for the contemporary design aesthetic, with some aspects of modern home designs thrown in for good measure.


So for the rest of this article, we'll use the term modern design when referring to both styles as there is so much overlap.

What features does a modern house have?

Choice of materials to build modern home

When you're building a modern home on a budget of any size you have a wide range of materials to choose from. These can range from shipping containers and fiberglass to concrete and steel frames. What these materials have in common is that they are strong and long-lasting, with fewer traditional materials being used.

Many of these structural elements may also be on display, not hidden behind sheetrock or exterior cladding. You've all seen the fashion for exposed steel struts and beams, and polished concrete or exposed brick walls.

And when sheetrock is used it needs to be very high grade to ensure a perfectly smooth finish, especially as modern houses rarely have baseboards and definitely don't have crown molding to hide minor blemishes where walls and ceilings meet.

When wood is used it will be proudly on display, for example with cedar-built houses, charred wood cladding, or craftsman homes.

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Roof style

One trend that's very popular in contemporary architecture is flat roofs. While they give clean lines which enhance the overall aesthetic, they also allow you to make the best possible use of all outdoor spaces. A flat roof is a perfect place to put a roof deck, increasing the square footage of your living space and giving you outdoor space, even on a small plot in an urban area.

One negative of flat roofs is if you live in an area prone to heavy rainfall you're going to have to ensure that your roof is extremely well sealed and waterproofed and that it has adequate drainage. These are all vital things to factor in when building a house with a flat roof.

Layout and floor plans

When wondering how to build a modern house, open floor plans are very popular, with high ceilings and large expanses of open space. Maybe you want a double-height living room with an indoor balcony overlooking the living spaces.

Using open plan features can make a small house feel larger and gives flexibility as to how the living areas are used.


And an open floor plan kitchen and dining room can be great for family life.

While beautiful, these large open areas will require extra structural reinforcement to ensure they are sufficiently strong.

Energy efficiency

One thing many people are very aware of with contemporary design is energy efficiency. While a certain level of energy-efficient construction is standard with current building codes (depending on where you are), many modern houses go above and beyond that standard.

Some things that can make your house more sustainable are:

  • Careful house orientation to avoid direct sunlight
  • High-quality insulation
  • High performing window and door units
  • Solar panels
  • Airtight construction

Window and door styles

Many modern houses use a lot of glass, either as a key building material or in the form of large windows and sliding doors, and glass panels. This feature allows a lot of light in and, if you use the right type of windows and doors, can be very energy efficient, keeping the heat in.

Glass can also be used to highlight the surrounding landscape, with cleverly placed windows used to highlight a beautiful view, or frame a feature in your garden.

When it comes to doors, sliding panels and sliding doors can be great features in your modern aesthetic. Pocket doors, which were originally a Victorian trend, are also making a comeback with more modern mechanisms, to ensure they keep sliding smoothly for a very long time. These doors are great for smaller rooms as the door doesn't swing out, and give a very clean and modern finish.

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Furnishings, fittings, and decor

With the contemporary aesthetic, you can have fun with different colors and design features in your new home. Let your personal taste go wild. Or if you're going for a more minimalist feel, white paint and exposed concrete floors or walls can be very effective.

When it comes to furnishings and fittings there is a huge range to choose from, all of which fit with the aesthetic, from high-end custom-made kitchen units from Europe, all the way to cabinets from Ikea that you can assemble yourself.

The same can be said for light fittings, with modern styles available in a wide range of budgets. However, in a modern house lighting should always be carefully and mindfully placed, to accentuate the features of the home and to provide lighting where you need it.

Frequently asked questions

Are modern homes cheaper to build?

Generally speaking, modern houses will be more expensive than traditional homes to build. Much of this will depend on the specific design you choose, but other factors will come into play. These include:

  • Location and cost of land - rural or urban
  • Labor costs in your area
  • Quality of materials, fixtures, and fittings
  • Size of the house you want

Some of the reasons for the higher cost of contemporary or modern homes are:

  • Expert, specialist contractors

    , like Fortress Home in Chicago, may be needed to be hired to implement some of your design features successfully.

  • Flat roofs

    can be more costly as they require much more complex drainage and waterproofing than traditional pitched roofs.

  • Large, open plan areas

    may require structural steel which can be more expensive than timber frames and will need to be erected by an expert, like Fortress Home.

  • Larger expanses of glass

    are often features of these houses, either as windows or doors, or even entire walls. These will usually be custom-made and will require careful installation.

  • Clean lines

    of a contemporary or modern house require a high level of attention to detail, and the finish needs to be impeccable.

How much do modern homes cost to build?

The average cost of building a new house ranges from $100 - $200 per square foot according to Home Advisor. However, the cost of modern homes usually starts at the upper end of this, at around $200 per square foot, and can increase to over $500 per square foot for luxury custom homes, depending on the location, choice of materials, fixtures, and fittings.

This means that it's difficult, but not impossible to build a modern house cheap, depending on the choices you make.


How do you build a modernist house?

While it is possible to buy off-the-shelf modern house floor plans to build modern home, if you are looking for a custom design you should speak to an architect who specializes in the style you want. They can draw up modern house plans for you, based on your specific requirements.

You should also ensure you work with a general contractor or builder who is experienced in building a modern house and if you have a limited budget you will also want to ask them if they can help you with building a modern house on a budget.

Build modern home with Fortress Home

If you're based in Chicago you should speak to Fortress Home general contractors, who are experts on building modern houses throughout the city. With over 20 years of construction and contracting experience and an exemplary track record, with a focus on modern homes and commercial buildings, they are Chicago's choice for building a modern home.

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