Ryan's Eye: It's All About the Curb Appeal
by Will Ryan
At this time of year before trees and bushes have leafed out and the garden beds are still bare, is a good time to take a good hard look at your house and property and what you could do to possibly improve the “curb appeal.”
Many of us are living with decisions made either when the house was built or by previous owners or even by ourselves when going with the least expensive made option made sense.
Currently there is a craze for watching the programs on television that deal with home makeovers and I’ve noticed the trend is for cleaner slicker lines despite the period of the homes. This is not necessarily a bad thing and I will discuss relatively low cost projects that can be done to improve the appearance of a building and garden without bringing in an entire work crew and without compromising the period or design of the property.
The categories I will discuss are details that have been added to a home to make it appear more important or of a different period. These are referred to as “vanities.” I would also like to examine paths and driveways, garden beds, and exterior painting.
On the subject of “vanities”, at some point it was considered a great asset to attach dark boarding over a stucco finish to give it a Tudor look. A decision perhaps you should make in this current thinking of cleaner finishes and looks, is, is it appropriate? Would it look better as a plain stucco building?
There are few of us who dislike the charm shutters add to a building. However, examine your shutters with a critical eye. Are they the decorative kind that are so narrow that if closed they clearly wouldn’t fit across the window? Consider upgrading to a larger functioning shutter that is the correct size for your window. Although they are expensive, they can be used for the purpose they were designed for, and that is to adjust the light level entering the house when they are closed over the windows. This is done with the adjustable blades, the effect being the house is much cooler in the summer and reduces or negates the need for air conditioning. The bonus, of course, is that the proportion sits better on your house as the size is appropriate.
If you have gateposts, which I happen to be very fond of, are they big enough? Gateposts that are too skinny or too short, a different material from the house, or have knobs or toppings that are pretentious or insignificant become a detriment not an asset.
The path from the road to the house and from driveway to house, was once a means of access and relatively insignificant. Now driveways and paths are considered as important as the design of the house and garden. If, you have the typical narrow cement path leading to your home entrances one solution can be to widen it to the minimum width which is 5’. If you have wide steps to your entrances, make the path as wide as your steps. This can be done a number of ways without the expense of tearing up your concrete path. For example, if your house is brick, purchase some similar coloured frost resistant bricks, and edge both sides of the path with bricks until it is the correct width. Three to four courses on each side will make a huge difference, only one course will appear mean. The same can be done with driveways. If your house has siding or is wood, be creative with a piece of pressure treated wood lining your concrete path with some concrete pavers the other side to widen it. If your driveway or path is concrete pavers, think about placing bricks or wood or stones/gravel between the pavers to give some interest and to break up the area. Adding interest to your pathways and driveways often means you can dispense with the linear garden beds that so often line each side of narrow paths. The look, although more interesting with wider and improved paths, creates a cleaner and more contemporary façade. You may lose some of your grass area, but I’ve never heard anyone complain about having less grass to mow.
I have discussed garden beds and planters in some of my previous articles but it never hurts to reiterate, that garden beds that are filled with large areas of one plant and preferably one colour, calms the space and gives it a cleaner appearance than many different plantings. Again, cast a critical eye on your planters, are they too small by todays’ thinking? If you invest in planters that are large enough to make an impact sometimes you are ahead of the game because you often need fewer of them.
Finally, there is a common saying that paint is the cheapest upgrade. I think I frequently make this statement. Well, this may not necessarily be the case these days as good quality paint is expensive. The upside is that our paints have so improved that the colour doesn’t fade as quickly, the coverage is excellent so usually two coats does the job, and there are paints that are suited for every sort of surface. Let me say again, painting your trim, your wooden porches, garage, sunroom and other areas the same colour is very pleasing to the eye and gives a cleaner fresher aesthetic. Eave troughs and downspouts can be blended with the soffit or painted to contrast, and there are many handsome shades often recommended for these items by paint companies. Downspouts can also be painted the same shade as the surface over which they extend.
I am not suggesting that we attempt to erase any vestige of history from our buildings by these relatively modest upgrades because even the most historic structure can benefit from a widened path and cohesive exterior painting. Nor do I advise a cookie cutter approach to all homes and buildings, but I feel that perhaps by considering one or more of these modest projects you might experience a renewed interest and sense of pride in probably your most important asset.