Remodeling for curb appeal

By Annie Schwemmer and Ann Robinson

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Oct. 4 2013 6:00 p.m. MDT

BEFORE: The secret to curb appeal is accentuating the house style and character.

Brent Murray, Renovation Design Group

A lot of our clients come to us with requests for more curb appeal. Even if the remodel is staying within the home’s original footprint, many clients want to see what they can do to enhance their home’s exterior.

Exterior remodels naturally happen in combination with other remodeling projects; however, there are also the projects that just focus on the outside of the house. Obviously, if you are building an addition, it will impact the shape and character of your house. Depending on how it is done, the new square footage can drastically affect your house style (and value) for better or worse.

While some additions purposefully contrast with the original structure, most people prefer an addition that blends in. In such a case, the massing (shape) and the details of the remodeled portion should enhance the style of the house. The best home remodels, with the greatest curb appeal, stay true to who they are down to the door knobs and house numbers.

The first thing to figure out is your home’s predominant architectural style. Are you living in the fairy-tale Tudor revival, classic craftsman bungalow, charming Cape Cod or relaxed California ranch? If your home is more eclectic, choose the predominant house style and work to enhance it. Understanding the history, style and architecture of your home — and the other homes in your neighborhood — is important in designing a successful addition or renovation. Ignore this principle, and you'll end up spending a lot of money to decrease the value of your home, not to mention those of your neighbors.

When you are remodeling it is essential to respect the character of your house and neighborhood by ensuring that the proportion, building materials and placement of your renovation are in harmony with the architecture of your home and area.

A good renovation should not only function well on the inside but be aesthetically pleasing on the outside. The placement, size and style of the windows as well as the massing of the roof contribute to an orderly and cohesive design.

Exterior material selection (brick, stucco, stone, etc.) for the addition must either match or coordinate with the exterior of the existing house. It is not usually possible to match the finishes of older homes. Re-creating 60-year-old bricks is possible, but very expensive, and older siding may actually contain asbestos so it is obviously not still in production. To create an absolutely seamless exterior addition, it may be necessary to change the exterior materials of the existing house as well as those of the new. For instance, it is possible to match the size of the original brick, so by painting the old and the new brick the same color the whole exterior matches. Often it is more a matter of picking combinations that work well. An addition of cement fiberboard that looks like traditional shingle or clapboard siding will usually coordinate well with an original brick exterior, thus avoiding the need to redo the entire home.

The size and placement of the addition (distance from street, overall height, etc.), obviously affects the curb appeal of the finished remodel. Once zoning restrictions have been met, placing the addition requires thinking in three dimensions. It is not enough to come up with a workable floor plan. Each of the exterior elevations of the home must be carefully considered and drawn so they can be studied prior to their actual construction. The design process requires moving back and forth between the floor plans and the elevations in order to create an overall design that will be successful both inside and out — in all three dimensions.

Respecting the overall architectural context of the neighborhood can also contribute to the curb appeal of a remodeled home. While diversity in home design is desirable in a neighborhood, continuity can contribute to maintaining and strengthening the character of a specific area. For example, consider how jarring a white vinyl fence could be in a neighborhood of 80-year-old historic homes. A wood fence would certainly be more appropriate and blend in better with the existing context.

The approach should not be to have every home and neighborhood look identical, but, rather, to apply good design principles that build on the inherent good in each home. It is our hope that by educating the public about the value of good design, we can preserve and enhance the character and value of all of Utah's homes and neighborhoods.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at RenovationDesignGroup.com. Send comments or questions to ask@RenovationDesignGroup.com

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