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How houses can make a good first impression

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Rill Architects

Rill Architects updated this mid-century home’s façade with a new front door, lighting, house numbers and mailbox. 

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David Benton of Rill Architects, lead architect for the front entryway of this year’s D.C. Design House, was the guest last week on Post staff writer Jura Koncius’ Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt from the chat:

I’ve just inherited a clapboard, one-story, Colonial-style home in an older neighborhood. The exterior has some pleasing fenestration with a main front door, side door and windowless carriage-style garage doors. But the exterior is white with black shutters and a black roof. I’ve decided to replace the house numbers with a blue, European-style enamel house sign and will paint the front door a matching blue. However, my husband and I cannot decide on the color for the three window boxes we will add. We would love ideas on what will look best.

My initial impression is to go with black or white window boxes and bring the color in with the plants.

Bright-colored window boxes might compete for attention with the flowers. If you haven’t already, look at www.houzz.com and do a “window box” search. There are many great images.

I removed my home’s narrow (3 feet wide) concrete front walkway with a paved stoop and widened the walkway to between 6 and 7 feet. I love it. It is a traditional Colonial home. How would you recommend I decorate the new walkway? Would you place planters on the stoop/along the walkway? A curved garden wall also was added next to the walkway.

Sounds nice. I would put at least one large pot with colorful plants on your front stoop to draw people up to your front door. Along the walk I would do plants, maybe herbs such as lavender or rosemary, to soften the walkway edge and give off a nice scent as people approach.

What is a favorite trick of the trade when adding curb appeal? Is there something you always do?

Every house is different, but adding new appropriate lights at the front door always makes a home more welcoming. We are also adding more glass to front doors. Not only does this make a house look more approachable, but it brings light and views inside your home.

We have a 1930s all-brick Colonial, which was painted at some point in the past. Is there any good way to remove the paint and return to the unpainted brick? And if there is, is it extremely expensive?

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to remove paint from a brick home. Sandblasting or pressure-washing removes the hard protective surface of brick, making it porous to water. There are paint removers on the market, but it is a tedious process and can create an environmental concern if the house was painted using lead paint. In our view, painted brick is not always a bad thing.

I’m repainting the exterior of my house. My house and most of the houses I see have white trim. I’m thinking of going with dark trim. Thoughts?

We try to avoid bright white trim. It tends to be just too harsh for an exterior color. On the 2011 D.C. Design House, we did a darker trim with lighter siding.

I can never figure out scale when it comes to lighting. Is there a formula to follow when deciding on lantern sizes for the entryway?

Exterior lighting is tricky. Most people tend to undersize outdoor lighting. When the lights came into our office for the D.C. Design House, I was a bit worried they were too big, but once they were installed, they looked just right. For your house, take into consideration your whole house front. Typically larger homes can take larger lights.

Also consider how far the sidewalk or street is from the front of your house. Small lights will look even smaller from far away.

We have a brick walkway leading to our front porch. All along one side of the walkway is a 3-foot-wide patch where we struggle to add visual interest every year. This “garden” faces east. We typically plant 40 to 60 begonias in this area. But for much of the year the area is blank. Do you have any other suggestions creating year-round visual interest for this area?

In my own front yard I have added herbs such as lavender, sage, oregano and rosemary. They look good for most of the year and have the added benefit of smelling fantastic.

We are considering replacing our vinyl siding with Hardie board, just to improve the looks of our house. Is this a crazy idea, for curb appeal or for the likelihood of recovering the cost in resale value? And if it is not crazy, what about the trend to have more than one color and/or more than one type of board, as in plank and shingle?

We really like using HardiePlank siding. In my opinion, it is a good investment. It really depends on your house style, whether to do a mix of shingle and siding.

With a less formal home, like a Craftsman, you can do a mix; just try not to do a mix of 50/50. Keep one as an accent. My preference is also to use the smooth lap siding, not the imitation wood grain.

I have some brickwork I would like to remove in my home. I need the removal of one brick wall. What kind of professional do I need to hire for this?

I would contact a general contractor, who would refer you to all the right people, including a structural engineer.

I want to update the hunter green shutters on my 1960s brick rambler. I was thinking a slate blue (Benjamin Moore’s Charlotte Slate or Hamilton Blue). However, the trim, porch railings and gable are painted a nice, neutral brownish green (like a very light moss color). I used the online project tool on Benjamin Moore’s Web site, and the blues seemed to clash with the trim. Should I repaint the trim to match the slate blue or just choose a different shutter color? Any color recommendations would be appreciated.

My recommendation is to choose a different shutter color. Repainting all the trim would be a bigger undertaking. Possibly going with a darker slate blue that has a a lot of gray in it to make it more of neutral. Maybe try Benjamin Moore’s Narragansett Green.

How important is the walkway to curb appeal? Do people really notice?

Walkways are extremely important to your home. You know what they say about first impressions. A well-designed and landscaped approach to your home really does set the stage for guests.

What trends are you seeing as far as exterior paint colors for homes?

It really depends on the house style, but we like to do deeper colors on less formal homes.

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Rill Architects

Rill Architects updated this mid-century home’s façade with a new front door, lighting, house numbers and mailbox. 

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