Hello, new to networking, looking for full home lab ideas

Hi everyone!

I have been reading around the forum, Reddit, and YouTube for a while but haven’t been able to find just what I’m hoping to find. There seems to be a lot of segmented information regarding NAS, Plex, Quicksync, pfsense, etc. but not much on a holistic system level. How do the hardware, virtual machines, physical network connections, VLANs, etc all work together?

I currently have a very basic setup (modem, router, switch, access point, smart home stuff) but would like to have a NAS, some kind of pihole ad blocking, eventually a Home Assistant type smart home server and other things but I don’t have a clear understanding of what that entire network would actually look like. What hardware to purchase? What software to run on it? What can be run through the same physical machine and what needs to be put onto a separate machine? What are the pros and cons of running a virtual machine or a separate physical box?

I do have a technical background but not in networking so I’m willing to tinker with some things (like Home Assistant possibly) but don’t really want to tinker with everything just to have a working network. I’m looking at the Unifi Dream Machine to get started because I need an additional access point and the router would be an improvement over my current one. There seems to be a technical preference for pfsense but I don’t want to have to go through additional setup just for particular features I may not use anwyay. From there it seems to next get a NAS for file storage and sharing.

Is there a particular search term to use or area where people share their actual entire network setup? I’ve looked at the “Show us your rack” section here but even the limited posts in there don’t really discuss what I’m hoping to see. I’d just really like to have a step-by-step guide to building a home network from scratch - buy this equipment, then this, use this software, etc. Just not sure where to start.

Edit: Conclusion