To most homeowners, the word “remodel” suggests a kitchen or bath renovation, a basement makeover or the addition of new rooms to a house. What can be the easiest—and least expensive—way to freshen up a home is often overlooked: an exterior facelift. Whether it’s part of a larger project or a job unto itself, an exterior remodel can transform an outdated or run-down property into a welcoming home with added curb appeal and increased value.
Many architects report that exterior renovations seem to be on the rise as homeowners postpone more elaborate re-dos. “Facelifts are one of the main requests we get,” says Anthony Wilder, principal of Anthony Wilder Design Build, Inc., in Cabin John, Maryland.
“It is really the least expensive way to have the biggest impact on the front of your house.” The options for exterior improvements vary widely in size, complexity and scope, from simple paint jobs and window replacements to major structural changes. To avoid costly mistakes, it’s important to consult a professional who can make sure the changes you have in mind are in keeping with the scale and style of your home and its surroundings, according to architect and designer Ernesto Santalla, AIA, of Studio Santalla in Washington, DC. “It’s a holistic process. It’s about understanding a building and what’s appropriate,” he says, cautioning that alterations to a home should be done for a reason and not on a whim.
To illustrate this concept, he describes a recent project in which he updated the exterior of a run-down contemporary in a woodsy neighborhood. “It had gray siding and white trim, which seemed at odds with the surroundings that are so beautiful,” he says. He replaced the siding with long-lasting îpe, applied vertically to follow the lines of the trees, and also added new windows, deck rails and a copper gutter system.
The results are dramatic. “The color and lines became contextual and allowed us to anchor the house visually to the site,” Santalla says.
While using a material such as îpe can be expensive, in the long run it pays to select products that are low in maintenance with a long shelf life. “Purchasing better quality is going to extend the useful life of the renovation,” says Santalla. “Instead of a 15-year renovation, the client bought himself another 30 years.”
Homeowners can often create a lot of impact with a small quantity of a premium product. Architect Rui Ponte, AIA, LEED-AP, of Ponte-Mellor Architects in Bethesda recently overhauled the exterior of a small Cape Cod. He added a covered front porch with a copper roof and introduced stone detail on the porch base, the new front steps and around the new front door. “The stone and the copper are not that expensive when done in such a small area,” says Ponte, “but they changed the whole character of the house.”
He adds that new front porches, in general, go a long way in creating a more welcoming façade. “If a house is not that great-looking, put a porch on it and it will always look better,” he says. “It makes the front side of your house another living area and gives it a more up-market feel.”
Often, changing simple architectural details such as old vinyl shutters and outdated windows can also make big difference, according to Ponte. “We see a lot of vinyl shutters that are falling apart. You can get some nice cedar shutters and paint them and they’ll look very authentic.”
Wilder often creates new front entries with porticos for his clients’ homes. Porticos, he says, change the whole personality of a home and also provide shelter to guests at the front door. “It’s a very welcoming gesture to have a roof over your head,” he says.
Architect Mark Coupard, AIA, of Coupard Architects & Builders in Falls Church, Virginia, recently renovated the exterior of a Colonial home, replacing the windows and siding and creating a more prominent front entry with a portico and new front door. He also added gabled roof elements to echo the portico and painted the existing brick for a more uniform look. Later, a landscape company added a stone walkway and widened the path to the front door to reinforce the new design.
In this project and any other exterior renovation, landscaping can play a major role in the finished effect. “It’s important to have a landscape company understand what the architect thinks is a focal point. If they can enhance that, it will definitely help,” says Mark Coupard.
Anthony Wilder agrees. “Homeowners have to make sure that landscaping is scaled to the house,” he says. “Older houses are so often dwarfed by plants. Good walkways and landscaping are as important as the front façade.”
Even a new driveway can increase a home’s overall curb appeal. “We often improve driveways with pavers or create an aggregate look with concrete and pea gravel,” says Rui Ponte.
When a client embarks on an exterior renovation, Coupard recommends that they first determine the extent to which they want to make changes. “It’s a matter of levels,” he says, reflecting on the Colonial re-do. “This house would have been pulled together by just painting the brick or changing the front door. It really depends how far you want to take it.”
In Ernesto Santalla’s opinion, “You can change the whole look of a house by just replacing the windows or roof shingles. And then there’s always paint. Color goes a long way. However, each region has its color palette,” he adds, and channeling the hues of the Caribbean on a Georgetown façade may not be the best idea. “You might end up standing out for the wrong reason and it might be a costly mistake. That’s where a design pro is of the essence. We can see a paint chip and know how it’s going to work.”
With careful planning and an eye on context and scale, Santalla concludes, an exterior renovation will be a success. “There are changes that are ego-driven and others that are done because they make sense,” he says. “The latter are the most successful projects. Not every building needs to be a statement project. It’s fine to blend into the neighborhood.”