Three common exterior design errors and how to avoid them

Several weeks ago I decided to spend an afternoon driving through some new construction developments. It was great to see the activity and new homes coming up out of the ground. I did, however, notice some of the homes contained some very easy-to-fix design errors. The solutions to these errors are very simple, and in some cases would have resulted in cost savings. Following are three common design errors and how to avoid them.

 

The first common design error is inconsistent window header heights. This error requires no extra cost to fix and makes a world of difference when it’s done. Line up your window headers, door headers and transom heights whenever possible. There may be some areas of a home where it doesn’t make sense to do this, but for the most part this should be automatic in exterior design. This is one of those details that when accomplished, people may not pick up on what it is about the house they like, but subconsciously they know something “just feels right.” People are drawn to harmony.

 

The second common design error is incorrectly sized shutters. Placing shutters on windows that do not have the proper width to cover the entire window lessens the overall look of the home. You have two options for fixing this error: either size the shutters correctly for the window, or don’t put them on. Sometimes not installing shutters can add impact more than including them. Steer away from overcomplicated exterior elevations that utilize multiple materials, bracket details and shutters. Sometimes removing the shutters will clean things up, and also allow you to add more windows if desired. Who doesn’t want more light?

 

The third exterior design error is applying a stone veneer in all the wrong places. Stone rules are as follows: either use stone on the entire exterior (except for gables and dormers), use stone on the foundation only, or if you must place it on a bump-out or an individual element, make sure it has a corner to die into. Placing the stone on the face of a surface and not giving it a corner to run into adds a certain “fake” element to the exterior of a home. Instead, find a bump-out or element that has three corners that can run into other planes of the building. There, you can properly terminate the stone and begin a transition to a new material. The other solution that’s more favorable to budgets is to not do stone bump-outs and instead focus on achieving a specific vernacular rather than incorporating multiple styles and materials. Similar to the application of shutters, you will find that sometimes if you remove the stone elements, the exterior will be cleaned up and have a more natural and pleasing appearance.

 

All three of these design errors are easy to fix, they may result in cost savings and they might contribute to a more timeless look. So, before starting your next project, take a moment and make sure you are not committing these three common design flaws.

 

Ben Johnson, CPBD, MCGP, CAPS, works for Will Johnson Building Co., a Chapel Hill, N.C.-based residential and light commercial design-build firm. The company specializes in high-end custom homes and renovations. Ben has managed and designed projects ranging in size from small bathroom renovations to 9,000-square-foot homes. He also is a District Director for the American Institute of Building Designers.

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