Defining, Applying Curb Appeal

It’s no secret that curb appeal is an art, not a science. As such, it would be difficult to find two architects who agree 100 percent on what constitutes curb appeal and what value the various elements of curb appeal add. Despite differences, though, there are some similarities in what curb appeal is all about.

Residential Design & Build magazine spoke with four architects and designers about their concept of curb appeal. In the first half of this article, Deb Zandt, vice president, design, McNeil Co. Builders in Omaha, Neb., and Michael Menn, principal for Design Construction Concepts in Northbrook, Ill., discuss curb appeal for homes in the Midwest.

In the second half of this article, two architects discuss curb appeal for beach and seaside homes.

How do you define curb appeal?
Zandt: It’s the exterior architecture of the home. It can be different for everyone, though. It’s what makes a home feel like a home to each homeowner.

Menn: When you’re driving down the street, how does the house look in relation to the other houses? Does it blend in so you don’t see it? Does it stand out so much that it’s too different? Or is there just enough difference to make your eye turn and look at it?

What are the essential elements of curb appeal?
Zandt: Proportion of the different elements to each other is everything. The roofline and roof pitch, windows and entrances are also important.

Menn: First and foremost is landscaping. Then you consider things like roofline, window pattern, materials, porches, overhangs and lighting that shows off the house.

How does each element enhance curb appeal?
Zandt: If a customer doesn’t want to pay for full brick, full stone or full stucco, then I try to do a mixture all the way around the home. I don’t do full masonry on the front, wrap it around the sides for 2 ft., then do all siding the rest of the way. I feel very strongly about carrying the exterior architecture all the way around the home.

How do you measure the value of curb appeal?
Zandt: We believe that if a house isn’t designed well on the outside, it’s also not going to be designed well on the inside. There are a lot of expensive homes with poor curb appeal, in that they may have thrown a lot of money at them with expensive stone or precast. However, the designs may be poor.

Menn: I don’t know if you can quantify the value. However, if there are two houses in the same neighborhood and they are within 15 percent to 20 percent of the selling price, the house with curb appeal will generally sell first.

Where should you invest the most in curb appeal?
Zandt: It may not be the most important, but something that I think adds a lot to the value of curb appeal is permanent grills on the inside and outside of the windows, as opposed to the snap-ins, so they look like the old, true, divided light windows. We also go all around the country looking for different sources of stone. I search quarry to quarry, on the Internet and in magazines. If I see a stone I like, I will seek that quarry out, even if it’s a ma-and-pop quarry.

Menn: It depends on if it is new construction or remodeling. You should invest in landscaping, especially how you get from the street to the house. Second investment is in a varied roof line. Third is the definition of the entrance and the front door.

How do different styles of homes dictate curb appeal?
Menn: In Cape Cods, there are many canopies and porches. This is rarely found in modern homes where curb appeal is more determined by the materials and landscaping.

Is curb appeal affected by region of the country?
Zandt: In California and Florida, people can use clay roof tiles. Here, we use concrete. Tuscan and Mediterranean styles are popular in Florida. However, we are bringing some of that influence to the Omaha area.

Menn: Most definitely. The desert landscaping that is popular in the Southwest is very stark. However, it is not popular in other parts of the country, which rely more on plants, trees and lawns for curb appeal.

Are there new trends in curb appeal? If so, do you like these trends or not?
Zandt: The Tuscan style is increasing in popularity, and I like it a lot. It is a fresh, new look. We are thinking about doing some neighborhoods with this influence.

Menn: More people are spending more money on the exteriors of their homes, both front and back. Some of it is for protection from the elements. For others, though, it’s primarily for the sake of curb appeal.

Waterfront Appeal
Next, Residential Design & Build magazine spoke with two architects who specialize in designing waterfront homes: David Mullican, architect and owner of David Mullican Architects in Galveston, Texas, and Terry Thomas, principal architect of George Wray Thomas in Summers Point, N.J.

How do you define curb appeal?
Mullican: Curb appeal is what gets someone out of a vehicle and up to the house to look at it. I like to think beyond curb appeal, though. Curb appeal tends to be a sales tool. Every side of the home should be an “architectural study.” There is no such thing as a bad side to a house. For example, I do many beach homes that face the water and the front of the house is actually the back, so the curb appeal is the back of the house.

Thomas: Curb appeal is the appeal of the structure when viewed from the vehicle at the curb. Either the hook is there and brings you in, or it’s not and it doesn’t.

What are the essential elements of curb appeal?
Mullican: Elements of composition include the roofline, windows, whether the stairs invite you to the porch, the porch itself, siding that is appropriate to the design and landscaping.

Thomas: The structure needs to invite you in. I believe that entrances are the most important, but they have been debated by architects in terms of what is and isn’t inviting.

How do you measure the value of curb appeal?
Mullican: I don’t think in those terms. It’s much easier to attract people to a nice-looking home.

Thomas: The only real measure of value is whether the home sells or not. If there is no curb appeal, it probably won’t sell. As such, there is no value. For this reason, curb appeal is not an add-on — it’s the starting point.

Where should you invest the most in curb appeal?
Mullican: I like metal roofs. They are a quantum leap for curb appeal. Tile roofs don’t work as well in Galveston because of the wind.

Thomas: The entrance itself and the front door.

How do different styles of homes dictate curb appeal?
Mullican: There are highly controlled traditional seaside town plans in Florida, such as Seaside, Rosemary Beach and Alys Beach. It is important to be stylistically consistent in these communities. However, the majority of beach communities is mixed, and I don’t think that it matters what style it is, as long as it is done the best it can be for the budget.

Is curb appeal affected by region of the country?
Mullican: Architects and designers are well-educated and designs are now homogeneous. There is little difference in style in different parts of the country. Many subdivisions go with a Cape Cod style or a New England style, and it doesn’t matter if it’s in Florida or Texas. The only place this may not be true is in California coastal communities, where modernism seems to be much more important.

Thomas: Covered entrances will protect from rain in the Pacific Northwest. In the Southwest, though, covered entrances keep the hot sun off the front door.

Are there new trends in curb appeal? If so, do you like these trends or not?
Mullican: In Galveston, an urban designer from Miami is doing a restrictive, traditional, historic reproduction architecture community. However, I prefer historically and traditionally inspired architecture, rather than something that is 100 percent historically correct. However, many people like the historically correct communities.

Thomas: I work in a seashore market, mostly on second homes. Many of them are duplexes, with one apartment stacked on top of another. Until about 10 years ago, entrances tended to be on the side for utilitarian purposes. There were no entry doors on the street, so there wasn’t much of a hook. Now, homes are more street-friendly and include more curb appeal.