Exterior Design

Don’t Curb the Appeal

Leaving a great first impression plays a vital role in homebuyers’ purchasing decisions


What do you get when you mix an architect, a landscape architect and a planner? A street scene— hopefully a nice one at that! Countless research shows that curb appeal helps sell homes. It’s the first impression for homebuyers, encouraging them to either go inside, or move on.

With planned communities, as the creative process flows from project conception to construction, the collective vision of the designers is paramount to provide curb appeal that is interesting throughout the neighborhood, cohesive in overall theme, unique to specific features for visual hierarchy, and ideally, easy to maintain.

Donna Aldrich, principal of WHA’s Color Studio, equates designing a community’s color and materials palette to a musical composition.

“Sometimes you need legato, other times you need a staccato sprinkled throughout— it’s finding the balance between harmony and diversity,” Aldrich said.

Her studio accomplishes this by considering all of the elevation components, how they work alone on one house and how they look together in the context of the street scene. Further, how a street scene fits within the entire community. There is an art to providing visual diversity, which is desired when working on planned communities, while limiting excessive variations which can cause the visual aesthetic to feel chaotic. The goal is to design a community that looks cohesive, but varied enough to avoid monotony.

When determining the community aesthetic, combinations of elevation styles and forms, colors and materials and landscape and lighting need to be considered. Each element should be applied with purpose, avoiding forced application or placement that appears like an afterthought.

Landscape design can be incredibly impactful not only for its greenery but to help soften the built environment. It can also be used as a wayfinding tool. Landscape can create hierarchy and differentiation, for example, use of thematic entry planting verses street trees and streetscapes. Landscape that is climate appropriate, drought tolerant, textural, and colorful creates a sustainable environment that is pleasing to look at and live with. Landscape that is easily maintained enables a perpetually cared-for community appearance.

For homes, successful curb appeal considers the architectural style, the amount of styles offered, color and material palettes, elevation diversity, and how the homes visually relate to each other. Building material composition and color tones should typically be consistent with the architectural style, and diverse alongside other homes to provide visual interest, and balance with each other. Additionally, a featured element or focal point such as the front door, balcony or thematic window can guide purposeful exterior design and enhancements.

Keeping in character of architectural styles is essential in creating successful curb appeal. Architectural embellishments such as shutters and lighting can be treated like jewelry, and should be appropriate to the aesthetic and in scale with the elevation. Light fixtures and light placement are other elements that can add to curb appeal. Use fixtures that are style appropriate to enhance the home’s character, and place them strategically for night lighting effects. Light fixtures should complement the architecture and enhance the landscape.

Roof design plays into the home’s appearance too. High contrast discordant roof tile blends can visually overwhelm a house and a street scene. Too many homes with the same roof lines can look monotonous, so varying roof forms that fit the architectural styles is key. Also, if solar panels are a consideration, keep the roof simple enough to accommodate them.

To steer a clear aesthetic path forward, design guidelines help to ensure the community vision has a strong theme, and a coordinated palette of colors and materials for architecture and landscape design. Having a documented set of guidelines strengthens the community brand and reinforces the vision through design, construction and for the ultimate homeowners. These guidelines, along with CCRs establish high quality curb appeal with longevity. Inevitably trends shift and improvements are required; therefore, these documents should be directive enough to address these eventual changes, but flexible enough to accommodate market-preferences and necessary adjustments.

Donna Aldrich describes it best, “Curb appeal is a symphony and each element is a member of the orchestra.” Like a symphony involves all instruments playing together, a planned community takes a coordinated ensemble to have harmonious curb appeal.

Julia Malisos, LEED AP is a principal-planning/community design at WHA Architecture, Planning and Design with offices in Santa Ana, Long Beach, and San Ramon. She can be reached at juliam@whainc.com