If you had seen as many DIY designed houses as I have over the years, you’d understand why this post turned into a bit of a rant.
WARNING: If YOU have built a new house with stone or brick, or both and are unhappy with the result, I recommend that you just skip this one. I don’t want to leave anyone feeling bad.
This post will only be useful to those of you at the beginning of the design stage where you are still questioning all your choices INCLUDING your architects placement of everything on your elevations.
And if you are a designer who specifies exteriors, don’t miss this one either!
Builders and buyers seem to be convinced that when it comes to exterior colours and claddings, more is more. And that’s too bad, because if you want to create a classic exterior, simplicity is key.
Just like any design project nowadays, the options are endless, and it’s really hard to pick just one. So in an effort to be “interesting”, the general consensus seems to be, why not pick three? Or more?
I think it’s interesting to consider that until only recently, traditional stone houses would have been built out of whichever stone happened to come out of the local quarry, and that’s it.
The whole village would have looked charmingly unified by this limitation. The modest stone houses and shops would be similar, but differentiated by details like shutter colours, awnings, railings and plants.
Developers of contemporary subdivisions on the other hand, tend to shoot for variety, not only on each individual house, but also from house to house creating an irritating jumbled effect, just think of your poor tummy after one of those all-you-can eat buffets!
While you understandably might not want a “cookie cutter house”, consider that if you opt for a simpler, more classic look for your exterior, ironically, your house might not only be the prettiest and most classic on the block, but also the most unique.
QUESTION YOUR ELEVATIONS, DON’T JUST APPROVE THEM
So when your builder or architect draws up a fascinating plan with a riot of interesting colours and claddings, don’t feel pressured into it. It’s totally fine to dial it back and choose JUST ONE stone or brick. You will be happier with the look in the end and your house will not only look like it could have been there for ever, it will always be pretty.
I love how this house (above) is simply one variety of stone and fresh cream millwork. I also love how symmetrical and balanced this traditional colonial design is.
Why have classic and simple plans like this fallen out of favor?
The rooms inside houses like this are lovely to decorate as well with their symmetrical windows, balanced proportions and human scale rooms (ie. no double story echo chamber foyers that feel cold and uninviting, and too tall windows in random shapes that don’t look good dressed or undressed). I’ll bet there are lovely french doors into the dining room and sitting room in this house, sigh.
I think builders are feeding a demand for “French Country” these days, which on this side of the ocean tends to be badly interpreted as a random mishmash of arches and peaks that are then adorned with a “variety” of different claddings, because, hey, they can.
Have you all come across the wonderfully entertaining blog McMansion Hell yet? It’s a fun and educational take down of some of the more insipid current trends in higher end housing. Well worth the read.
Here’s a lovely pool house in classic stone and cream with black shutters (above). If it can look stunning on a little pool house with only one window, it can look good on a modestly sized house too, like this little bungalow below.
However, if you don’t have the budget to do the whole facade of your house in stone or brick, don’t add a decorative strip along the bottom third with siding or stucco above.
While I think this is meant to emulate a traditional stone foundation, in reality, it just looks cheap, and worse, it dissects your facade into an awkward pair of horizontal bands that just won’t ever look happy together.
It would be much better to do simple siding or stucco that is unified and paintable and add interest with millwork and a portico for example.
CONSIDER A SMALLER HOUSE WITH HIGHER END MATERIALS
Which brings me to my next point, if you can’t afford stone for your entire facade, maybe consider a smaller house built with higher end materials, rather than adding a smattering of brick or stone that “symbolizes” quality along with endless yards of stucco.
Or, just go all siding or stucco if you need more space. Nothing wrong with that, some very pretty and classic designs can be achieved without any phony “upgrade” claddings at all. Okay, okay, you’re thinking right about now, but my HOA requires it? If that’s the case you’ll need to read this post (below).
Even though this house above has the stone only on the bottom (above), it works because it covers the entire porch area and is defined by the overhang so it looks intentional and correct.
Keeping the all the siding unified with the creamy trim colour keeps things looking sophisticated. It might have been tempting to add another colour for the siding to relate to the brick, but here again, less is more. Notice again the lovely symmetry.
Here’s another colonial style house (ok, bonafide mansion) (above) with a single stone on the entire facade and fresh, creamy trim. So classy. The combination of arched and squared windows here don’t bother me because they are symmetrical, balanced and repeated. I would be very happy coming home to this every day.
This house (below) is very roof heavy (a common feature of larger builder houses these days). Without the extra wide creamy trim, especially on the well proportioned dormers and portico, it could have ended up looking pretty bleak.
Aside from choosing a good well balanced layout, and limiting the amount of colours and claddings on your facade, the key to achieving a pretty stone house is to make sure that there is ample, broad, paintable trim to balance the weight of the stone.
Generous trim is rarely a part of the design in new stone and brick homes, you end up with skinny window casings butting right up against the stone. If you have very dark windows and very pale stone, this can be a good look because there is sufficient contrast.
Skinny profile black windows, light stone
MAKE SURE YOU CHOOSE COLOURS THAT GIVE YOU CONTRAST
But if you put on a darker, earthy stone and/or brick, dark windows will get lost, mid tone beige or taupe windows will wash out and blend, and white or cream will be too skinny or stark to do the job of creating balance through contrast.
This house above is a typical combination of earthy brick and stone with bronze windows and no millwork or trim to add any contrast for balance. The double story portico is particularly terrible. Did it really need more stone and brick all the way up? And really? The downspouts need to adorn the focal point of the house? Even the symmetry doesn’t save this house.
Unfortunately, without the help of a good designer, and without being able to visualize the final product, or even know what the alternatives are, this is the road many and most will go down when putting together a builder grade stone and brick combo house.
Which leads me to my last point:
DON’T WAIT TO GET PROFESSIONAL HELP
It kills me that most often, clients come to us AFTER some of the most critical decisions are made, bought, drawn up and approved (and therefore unchangeable) and not BEFORE the most critical elements are chosen.
A really bad combination or placement of stone and brick cannot be fixed with the right trim or stucco colour, it can only be made to look the best it can.
But I think most people figure “I’ve got this” until the decisions pile up and they realize that they don’t. Or they trust whoever is on staff doing colour and layouts until they see the drawings and other houses in the division and go, hmmm?
I just can’t understand why people can be so casual with the colour and design choices on the most significant and expensive purchase of their lives?
I think this bothers me so much because so many people assume they can put on a designer hat for the day and successfully design an entire exterior that they and their neighbors will look at every day for years to come.
AND pull it off like a pro?
You would expect a less than perfect first pancake wouldn’t you? Just because when you look at art, “you know what you like when you see it”, doesn’t mean you know how to paint a good picture, right? Tricia Firmaniuk, Artist, TCE & Virtual Assistant
Certainly, simple titillating variety does not make a pretty design, as the vast majority of new subdivisions can attest, nor is it enough to simply have good taste.
Especially because my fee has been SAVED many times over because I have questioned the bad placement of exterior finishes and changed it completely, and FOR THE BETTER I might add.
Good design involves being able to visualize relationships and keep the entire outcome in mind.
Here’s what I’ve learned about ‘hiring a professional’ even in my own bathroom renovation. I don’t renovate bathrooms, this is NOT what I do, so I hired my dear friend Jan Romanuk, who has been doing this for over 30 years.
When the tiler had installed my shower base and we realized there were two layers of drywall on one side of the base which would make where the tile ends on the left side, uneven with the other two sides, I was insecure about telling him to remove it. I wasn’t sure if that was the right decision. Can I just tell him to take it out? I wondered in the moment? I called Jan, and she immediately said, “Yes, take it out”.
If you DON’T KNOW the right answer, on every single decision, you won’t be bossy with your trades like a designer will be.
Trades aren’t generally standing around, waiting for you to decide. Time is money, so if you’re not bossy with them, they will be VERY BOSSY with you. And you may assume that the right decision has been made, until you see the result.
There are many moving parts and details to manage, including colour, contrast, balance and composition because there is nothing more detailed than the business of interior design. So get professional help at the beginning of the design process so you can realize a vision possibly even prettier than your wildest imagination.
What’s the biggest mistake you made with your exterior that you wish were different? It’ll be a contribution to everyone! We’ve all made them and professionals make mistakes too, especially if you don’t hire one that doesn’t match your aesthetic.