While winter tends to drive us indoors to tuck ourselves away from the world, spring draws us outside again in a flutter of sprucing up and restoration. Neighborhood residents poke their heads outdoors and size up potential projects in order to put homes on the market or simply beautify spaces for fresh starts to the season.
One of the most important considerations to keep in mind when fixing up a home is the impression that it gives when seen from the outside. “It only takes a few seconds for a person to decide how they feel about a home,” says Columbia Realtor Katie Atkinson, an agent with Coldwell Banker United, Realtors®. “Neatness and upkeep matter because you only have one chance to make a first impression.”
A home’s exterior can be improved on a large or small budget. When taking an outside-in approach to adding curb appeal, it helps to follow the direction of the eye from street to doorstep. For ideas, take stock of what draws stares from neighbors as they pass by. “I tell my clients that the outside of their house has to make someone want to go inside,” says Katie. “It doesn’t matter how fantastic the inside of the home is if the exterior doesn’t draw people to the front door.”
Start with the yard, which may have dirt patches or is in need of an entire lawn of sod. Stan O’Brien of Paradime Construction and Paradime Earthworks suggests laying sod in curves instead of the typical straight lines stretched from end to end. “This softens up the lines in contrast to the straight lines of the building, drawing the eye up to the house,” he says. Grass ending in softly curving lines indicates a well-planned landscape, especially when properly edged along drives or sidewalks. The grass should appear well cared for, softly carpeted and inviting, a key element of which is proper irrigation.
Another important factor to inviting long, envious stares from neighbors is neat, attractive plant beds. One simple approach to improving their appearance is replacing the old pine straw that may have become scraggly during the harsh winter months with fresh, clean bedding. Inspect all plants and shrubs to remove or trim any dead stems or branches and make room for new growth.
An attractive exterior often will have what nursery owner Jenks Farmer calls “exclamation point plants.” One of the top landscaping trends for 2012 is the use of drought-tolerant plants in Mediterranean and Southwestern styles. With many Southern regions experiencing low precipitation levels over the past few years, water-hungry plants have become a no-no. Lemon trees, grasses and succulents are popular and water friendly. Jenks also suggests the soft-leaved, fountain like plants related to common yucca plants. Blue bear grass and many other varieties add drama to a landscape. These perennial trees and shrubs are most recognizable for their saber-shaped leaves and large stalks of flowers that bloom according to the season. “A lot of the soft yuccas have a blue cast that makes them stand out against plants like sasanqua hedges and others that tend to be dark green. Just one of these added to a landscape can be really eye-catching,” Jenks says.
These agave-like plants can be as tall as a person, with occasional blooms in white or maroon that can get as tall as nine-and-a-half feet. They are attributed to the Southwestern parts of the United States because of their toughness, but are not exclusive to the region. “If you look in the woods here, you’ll see that some of those plants are part of our palette,” Jenks says. “They are amazingly tough plants that are really well adapted to our climate and dry, sandy soils.”
As for adding other unique and eye-catching plants to the landscape, Jenks’s nurseries have begun to specialize in a local plant called the milk and wine lily. “They have been in the South for more than 200 years,” he says. “They can usually be found on old home sites and plantations and places that have been forgotten.” This crinum has recently seen a resurgence in popularity because of its drought tolerance and rich flower color that blooms through the summer and keeps its foliage as late as December.
According to Stan O’Brien, one should also consider “reorganizing and modifying the bush situation.” Assess the positioning of the bushes surrounding the house to determine whether any should be removed, added or trimmed back. Tree positioning is also important. “If you don’t have any trees,” Stan says, “add some while being careful not to cover up the house. Use the trees to provide a frame that adds softness to the hard lines of the home.”
The shape and condition of the driveway and sidewalk also play a large role in making an initial statement. Consider removing a straight-line driveway and replacing it with one that has curves, or just add some shape to a pathway. “This gives it a more welcoming effect,” says Stan. Another consideration is to use stamped, textured or colored concrete. “Colored concrete is a great option because it will hide future cracks that inevitably occur,” he adds. Loose gravel is also an attractive option.
A home should look clean on the outside, and one of the simplest ways to add curb appeal to a home is to have it pressure washed, preferably by a professional in order to avoid water seepage. After having the exterior cleaned, an inexpensive way to smarten up the exterior space is to update and freshen paint on shutters and the front door. An accent color like warm red on a door will naturally attract attention, but even a more basic color, such as black, will give a home a new shine and attractiveness that is impossible to ignore. For a larger project, add a covered entry to the front landing or stoop for a warm sense of hospitality.
“A seamless transition from yard to entryway and on into the foyer is ideal,” says interior designer Joan Goodwin, owner of Verandah Interiors. “One way to achieve a smooth visual flow into the home is to use color. Your flowers, front door and foyer paint color could all compliment one another. Flower pots or large containers placed on either side of the front door and attractive porch lighting set the style tone for the rest of the house.”
There are seemingly endless options that can add oomph to a home’s exterior and that can fit any budget. With the right amount of forethought and planning, a home’s spruced up exterior can literally slow traffic on the street as neighbors and passersby take notice of the welcoming glow.