The Best Advice for Building a Timeless Home In Your Budget, According to a Southern Living Custom Builder

Every detail counts when you're building a home, a fact learned from Mary-Dolph Simpson of Simpson Builders. But every detail also comes with a price, and it might not always be in budget. Simpson walks us through her building and design process and how she helps her clients stay on budget while constructing the Southern house of their dreams.

Bay Creek
Mike Swartz

Mary-Dolph Simpson isn't a stranger to home building and Southern architecture. She has been taking on construction projects since her early twenties when she restored an old bungalow in her college town. Today, Simpson is the President of Simpson Builders, the Southern Living Custom Builder Program member for the Virginia Beach Area. The majority of Simpson Builders' custom builds are vacation homes, but since Covid-19 forced a mandatory lock-down in much of the country, many of their clients have moved to the beach full-time to take advantage of additional space and a slower pace of life. Simpson says her clients are almost all referral based, and they come to her for her reputation. She describes Simpson Builders as "truly a custom design-build company." As a family owned and operated business, Simpson, her brother-in-law, and her husband work with clients throughout the entire home building process. Simpson personally helps clients make the decisions that can increase the value of their home without breaking the bank—from picking a plot of land and selecting a house plan to choosing molding and hardware, Simpson has a hand in the entire process. The ability to help with multiple stages of development allows for a streamlined process that Simpson says in many cases can save the client time and keep the project within budget.

Decide on Your Location. The decision process starts with finding a lot. Once there is a place to build, picking a plan comes next, and a lot and a plan must work in harmony. "What adds value to your house is that you capture all the views that the lot can incorporate from inside to outside," says Simpson. Southern Living house plans are all customizable and can be modified to suit just about any lot, which Simpson says keeps her clients coming back to these plans project after project. Homeowners crave a cozy Southern home they can grow into, especially as multigenerational living is on the rise in the United States. Simpson says, "For a home to hold value, you cannot have a [floor plan] that is going to become dated. Southern Living plans provide classic, timeless, Southern appeal."

Focus on Character. What gives a Southern home its charm isn't just the welcoming and thoughtful floor plan, but also the details in the finishes. Wide-plank hardwood flooring, built-in cabinetry, and detailed woodworking are just a few of the southern staples Simpson says her clients often have on their wishlists, but she warns that these are the easiest places to go over budget. Simpson prides herself on her ability to stick to a tight budget, and she does so shopping with her clients and guiding them along in the selection process. "If [my clients] show me a picture of a title, I can pretty much guarantee that I can find that same look in their price point, and we don't have to go to the extremes. There's just so much available and I know a lot about that availability and where to source things," Simpson says, stressing that substitutes are vital to staying in budget.

Mary-Dolph Simpson shared a few of her favorite Southern Living house plans. These house plans are diverse, but have all the elements of classic Southern homes that Simpson Builders has been incorporating into builds for years, such as welcoming front porches, large kitchens, and warm living spaces. They also include more modern touches, such as expansive primary suites and open floor plans, blending the old with new, and can be customized to make sure you stay within budget while getting everything on your wishlist.

Lowcountry Farmhouse House Plan Front Exterior
J. Savage Gibson

Lowcountry Farmhouse - SL-2000

Court Atkins Group designed this timeless Southern farmhouse to have all the details of a classic southern home, without skimping on the comforts of right now. A deep front porch opens into a flowing living room, dining room, and entry way. Simpson touts these features as Southern design elements that never have, and never will, go out of style. The plans for Lowcountry Farmhouse include farmhouse-inspired finishes that can be modified to suit your personal preference, or your budget.

Four Gables, Plan #1832
Laurey W. Glenn

Four Gables - SL-1832

Four Gables is a quintessential farmhouse on the outside, but the interior boasts luxurious modern details such as an open living spaces and a first floor primary suite. Mitchell Ginn designed this plan including timeless southern woodworking, like crown molding, wainscoting, and built-in cabinetry. Simpson stresses that these features will never go out of style, but also points out that a little detail can go a long way if you need to make substitutes to stay on budget.

Linville, Plan #1958
Southern Living House Plans

Linville - SL-1958

Board and batten siding, a steep roof, a large front porch, and victorian touches are just a few of the features that Architect Our Town Plans worked with to give Linville undeniable curb appeal. Inside the classic details continue, integrated with aspects of modern living for the perfect mix of new and old. Cooks will fall in love with the spacious U-shaped kitchen and walkthrough pantry, one of Simpson's favorite places to customize with her clients. On the second floor, a loft opens up into the show-stopping, two-story living room with a one of this plan's two fireplaces—the other one is on the sprawling screened-in back porch.

May Isle Cottage, House Plan 1905 Rendering
Muir Stewart

St. George Cottage - SL-1906

A fireplace is a must for a cottage, and the St. George Cottage by John Tee, has a cozy one. Abundant natural light floods the interior of the home, where a fireplace and dual access to a full-width rear covered porch highlight the main area. The primary bedroom is situated opposite the secondary bedrooms for privacy.

Bay Creek
Mike Swartz

Bay Creek - SL-1933

Simpson worked directly with Allison Ramsey Architects to design a modern, livable plan while paying homage to historic Southern architecture. The result came out to be Bay Creek, a 2,158 square-foot home with undeniable charm and a timeless appeal. Simpson loves this plan for its ability to suit a variety of families, whether it be a young couple with children or retirees with holiday visitors. Simpson notes that the media room upstairs can be converted to a second primary suite, adding to its versatility.

Other plans that include similar features to the ones above include:

01 of 15

Old Oyster

Old Oyster
Southern Living

3,951 Square Feet
3 Bedrooms, 3.5 Bathrooms

See the plan here.

02 of 15

Brevard Place

Brevard Place House Plan 1549

2,438 Square Feet
3 Bedrooms, 2.5 Bathrooms

See the plan here.

03 of 15

The Ozark

The Ozark House Plan 1576
Frank Betz Associates

2,236 Square Feet
3 Bedrooms, 2.5 Bathrooms

See the plan here.

04 of 15

Magnolia Cottage

Magnolia Cottage House 1845
John Tee

1,776 Square Feet
3 Bedrooms, 3 Bathrooms

See the plan here.

05 of 15


Atherton House Plan 088

2,492 Square Feet
3 Bedrooms, 2.5 Bathrooms

See the plan here.

06 of 15

Cottage of the Year

Cottage of the Year House Plan 593

2,718 Square Feet
4 Bedrooms, 3.5 Bathrooms

See the plan here.

07 of 15

Deep River Farm House

Deep River Farmhouse Plan 2059

3,559 Square Feet
4 Bedrooms, 3.5 Bathrooms

See the plan here.

08 of 15

The Cottonwood

Cottonwood House Plan 2057

2,060 Square Feet
3 Bedrooms, 2.5 Bathrooms

See the plan here.

09 of 15

Evergreen Cottage

Evergreen Cottage House Plan 2003

1,921 Square Feet
3 Bedrooms, 2.5 Bathrooms

See the plan here.

10 of 15


Wagner House Plan 1992

1,939 Square Feet
3 Bedrooms, 3.5 Bathrooms

See the plan here.

11 of 15


Chadwick House Plan 1919

5,464 Square Feet
3 Bedrooms, 3.5 Bathrooms

See the plan here.

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Hilltop Lake

Hilltop Lake House Plan 1897

3,630 Square Feet
4 Bedrooms, 4.5 Bathrooms

See the plan here.

13 of 15

The Maple

The Maple House Plan 1869

2,334 Square Feet
5 Bedrooms, 5 Bathrooms

See the plan here.

14 of 15


Canebreak House Plan 1851
John Tee

2,872 Square Feet
3 Bedrooms, 3.5 Bathrooms

See the plan here.

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Elberton Way

Elberton Way, Plan #1561
Designed by Mitch Ginn

3,469 Square Feet
3 Bedrooms, 3.5 Bathrooms

See the plan here.

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