Developing A Design Specification: Plumbing Fixtures Selection

San Francisco, CA

The Design Specification or “Spec” for a project encompasses all of the pretty things that make-up the over all design of the home: plumbing fixtures, appliance selection, flooring, tile, lighting fixtures, paint, hardware, and architectural details. When it’s time to develop one, you realize how many little pieces go into the appearance of a house, and how important it is that they work together cohesively – otherwise, it’s ugly.

There isn’t really one way to develop a “Spec”. When building a new home, often the architect will be involved in the interior selections, or at least make recommendations for floorings, tile, etc. I have worked with top interior design firms for my private clients that pay (a lot $) for a name like “Erin Martin” (Erin Marin Design) or “Madeline Stuart (Madeline Stuart) to choose the finishes with their special touch. Then, on the opposite end, you have your contractor-builder that goes to Home Depot on the day he happens to need a faucet or some paint, and chooses what he thinks looks nice that day. I would like to think that my method falls somewhere between these two:

Step 1: Developing an overall theme.

The style of home and scope will steer you in the design direction of your project. In my case, the home is mid-century modern, so it’s pretty obvious to run with that.

A good place to start is online at and Pinterest. I search “mid-century modern,” “modern cabinets,” etc., and start pinning ideas to a Pinterest Board of colors and scenes that I like. This allows me to see how different finishes work together, and gives me a place to save everything in one spot so I don’t forget it later. I am also still quite old school, and subscribe to paper magazines- I have a binder where I keep different interior details, paint colors, tile ideas, that I have fallen in love with; I tuck it away until I find a home for it in a project. Here are some pins on this project Pinterest Board: Pinterest Board

Examples of theme pictures for this project:



A tour of some mid-century homes in Palm Springs (Palm Springs Post), and making my rounds at the San Francisco Design Center, helped me get into the relevant “design mode”. Now, it is time to actually start shopping!

I purchase items, as the project progresses, until the pieces of the puzzle come together. Orders placed are timed based on when they are needed for construction, and the lead time (how long they will take to get), this is the loose sequence

-Plumbing Fixtures

Step 2: Plumbing Fixtures

I always start with plumbing fixtures, because the plumber will need the valves to rough-in his plumbing, and you need to a lot plenty of time for delivery. Depending on the sale price of the home, I like to use name brand fixtures like “Rhol” or “Hansgrohe”, especially in the kitchen and master bathroom. One of my favorite for affordable plumbing fixtures is I start in each bathroom, and work my way through the house, itemizing each fixture needed.

I provide the plumber with the specification sheet detailing the plumbing fixtures before we settle on a contract price, so he can’t come back later and say, “Oh, but I didn’t know you were going to use that XYZ in the shower, that is extra.” I put the pictures of all the fixtures on one page along with the back-up specification sheet from the manufacture; this provides him all the information he needs to eliminate confusion and time-sucking questions later. Here is an example bathroom plumbing sheet:


More on choosing the remaining finishes as the project progress. Stay tuned…

Step 3: Appliances
Step 4: Cabinetry
Step 5: Flooring
Step 4: Tile
Step 5: Lighting
Step 6: Paint/Wallpaper
Step 7: Hardware

Development Takeaway: It’s important to plan where your project is going from the beginning, so the design works together, and you can update your budget accordingly. Planning ahead with finishes like plumbing fixtures and tile, ordering several weeks before needed on the jobsite, is key to not holding up the schedule.


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