Exterior Motives

Quick and cost-effective tips for increasing curb appeal


Story by Jamey Bradbury

Whether you're looking to sell your home, or just want to make it look more inviting from the outside, there's no over-emphasizing the value of creating good curb appeal. And, with summer in full force, now is the best time to give a face-lift to your home's exterior. Check out these simple, low-cost improvements that you can do in a day, a week or a month.

Curb Appeal in a Can

Never underestimate the power of paint. It's amazing how a fresh coat of paint can instantly transform your home's exterior and make it stand out. In fact, painting the exterior is one of the most dramatic and cost-effective ways to improve a home's overall appearance.

If a full paint job is unnecessary, but you feel your home lacks an updated element, consider painting just the home's trim or front door. For a pulled-together look, choose a hue that you can easily incorporate as an accent elsewhere, like in the garden. Or, to create visual interest with a pop of color, paint an exterior element in a contrasting color, such as a red or yellow front door against a gray house.

Go Green—and Orange, and Red, and Blue...

Want to add color to your home's exterior without a paint job? Another great way to experiment with color is in the garden, where you can mix and match bright purples, blues, pinks, reds and yellows to help boost your home's outdoor appeal. Look for colors that will stand out against the natural landscaping.

But if you're worried that sprucing up your curb appeal requires a major green thumb, it doesn't. A simple trim job can do wonders.

"Trees are great, but sometimes they start to overshadow the house," says Cody Lee of Grayling Construction, "especially when those trees have been there 10 or 15 years. Bringing someone in who has an eye for trimming the landscaping is one of the first things we suggest that can really help the house look better."

For an instant splash of color, create an instant garden. Container gardens add a welcoming touch to any home's exterior – quickly and affordably. Use them to accent a walkway, patio or porch. It's easy to buy ready-made containers from garden centers, or create your own with your favorite plants. Plant them in containers of various sizes and shapes to place around the front walk, porch or entrance area to add bursts of color and texture.

Think Vertically

While you're focusing on the yard, says Chad Taylor of Intrinsic Landscapes, consider introducing vertical elements into the landscape. "Structures like sculpture, trellises or Japanese Torii gates help create a threshold in the landscape. Vertical elements help break up continuous views into discrete moments, helping foster a sense of mystery about what lies around the corner."

Trellises also can be used as screening devices, "especially when vines like Virginia creeper or arctic kiwi are encouraged to grow on them, creating effective 'green walls' for privacy," adds Taylor.


Tolya Stonorov of Stonorov Workshop suggests using a concrete landscape wall to create different levels that draw the eye up from the yard to the house. "Pairing the wall with a deck and plantings can also bring out the colors and textures of both when they're set against the cool gray of the concrete." Adding elements of varying heights - like walls, fountains or sculptures - also provides much-needed visual stimuli in an otherwise flat landscape.

Walk This Way

Don't forget about the side yard, advises Tania Krawchenko of Inspiring Spaces Alaska. "Many times we have side yards that are visible from the street, but the side yard gets treated like a 'leftover' space." Krawchenko's designs often include a path leading around the corner of a house to the side area, a feature that creates an inviting feeling of "going somewhere." A simple walk made of stepping stones or crushed rock is a cost-effective way to make sure your side yard isn't just a dead space.

"A nice sidewalk going up to your front door is also a very simple element to add," says Lee. "Something in a stone or a nice aggregate, leading to some attractive stairs – this can lend a pleasing presentation to the house."

A new front walk can culminate in a permanent "welcome mat." Tiling or painting a design on the front porch floor or stoop can make an otherwise bland entryway really pop.

Adding splash to your yard with plants

"Many people purchase plants that are colorful or at their peak in a nursery," says Tania Krawchenko of Inspiring Spaces Alaska. "But the more cost-efficient way to address planting is to have a design scheme prepared."

When choosing plants to enhance your yard, Krawchenko has these suggestions:

  • Choose complementary colors. "If you like orange daylilies or 'autumn joy' sedum, then add the opposite complementary hue of a blue or purple salvia or catmint." She says that "a colorful garden doesn't have to include every color in the rainbow – stick to your favorites."
  • Strike a balance. "It's important to buy a mixture of shrubs and perennials. Mixing heights also creates a more natural look," so be sure to choose both small shrubs and larger bushes.
  • Three is the perfect number. "Never buy just two of anything. Odd numbers look more natural."
  • Keep the edges neat. "Even if you just have a simple bed, edging it with a spade will create a clean line that really increases curb appeal."
To create visual interest with a pop of color, add an exterior element in a contrasting color, such as a red front door against a gray house. Shown at right: Therma-Tru fiberglass entry door from the Canvas Collection.
Put Your Best Façade Forward

Small details can add up to a big impact. Changing number plates, adding trim and hanging window boxes are all simple ways to spruce up the façade of a house. "Insulated exterior shutters in a rich color or wood can significantly change the appearance of a house," adds Stonorov, "and they also provide extra R-value (insulation) during the winter."

But for homeowners willing to put in a little more time and elbow grease, Krawchenko suggests replacing a front porch railing with a combination seating/storage unit. "The storage in the bench will come in handy as a place for keeping garden tools or children's toys, and the bench itself is a great place to sit and enjoy the view from your porch."

For houses without porches, Stonorov says it's simple to add a covered entry that "uses light materials and provides a protected area from harsh elements. (I've) used cedar slats that were hung from the roof, or custom bent galvanized steel awnings that protect from the rain" to frame an entryway.

Stacey Dean, of Grayling Construction, tackled a simple but effective project recently in which her company took a basic ranch-style house with no porch or stoop and significantly upped its curb appeal: "We added some columns and a gabled roof…it was so easy but it made a dramatic difference," describes Dean.

"Working with what you have and just adding some accents can really spruce up a house," says Lee of Grayling Construction. He recommends picking "a couple key areas where you might change the siding to emphasize places where the house pops out." Replacing an old garage door with a more attractive one or redoing old, blocky columns are also easy upgrades that will wow passers-by.

We all know that enhancing curb appeal adds value to our homes and improves the overall look of the neighborhood. But what's even more valuable is the pride in home ownership we feel coming home to a beautiful house.

Resources: Cody Lee and Stacey Dean of Grayling Construction; Tania Krawchenko of Inspiring Spaces Alaska; Tolya Stonorov of Stonorov Workshop; and Chad Taylor of Intrinsic Landscapes.