In the Mix

The exterior of a building, or a group of buildings, should flow gracefully, using complementary colors, textures and shapes, like a painting–especially when several materials are used together. For example, one can blend real stone, Adirondack granite, cedar shakes, board-and-batten siding and high-end vinyl, and together they create a palette, even though each section is distinctive.

This can be very exciting in a multi-building project, such as Downton Walk, an urban infill redevelopment. This new community will mix stucco, rough-sawn knotty Cyprus, stone and vinyl siding in seven homes around a courtyard. The vision is for a design in which each house is unique, where each has an aesthetic role to play but still remains an element in a cohesive tableau.

When creating these mixed-material exteriors it’s important to consider the natural environment. The surroundings should suggest which colors to pick up and feature, and which materials are going to make the building a good fit in the whole picture. Designs are meant to pay homage to the local vernacular, the history, and the landscape. A home built on a lake shore with a sweeping view is going to be very different from one in the woods, or on a street in a downtown area.

To some degree, these decisions are subjective; but the bottom line is that a really good design is a sustainable design. It will never go out of style.

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  • Don’t be afraid of using high-end vinyl. It’s low-maintenance, which means lower-cost for the customer and can be blended beautifully with other materials. For example, use vinyl to wrap around windows and doors and then trim with wood, such as Certainteed and Crane Board.
  • When creating a neighborhood of homes, the exteriors can certainly be one-of-a-kind, but don’t lose continuity. Think about the overall design, consider how the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
  • The color palette of an exterior, or a group of related exteriors, is a marriage of the aesthetic and the context, as well as the function. For example red, which is a great color, could stick out like a sore thumb on a patio, but in some rural settings it echoes the historic color of a wooden barn. Brighter colors really work on Victorians. Woods and water present their own native and natural color themes.
  • With exteriors, don’t forget windows. The size, shape, and placement of windows creates a highly visible pattern for the exterior, as well as brings the outdoors inside. Design with a lot of big glass, so that even a small room indoors has the illusion of space. An eight-foot window header allows for a larger glazing, which can enhance the exterior elevation, and extends life inside to the outdoors.

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