The driveway that came with the 1921 Craftsman-style house that David Ulick bought five years ago was the original concrete one, marred by cracks and with tree roots starting to break through.
"I didn't like the driveway," said Ulick, of Pasadena, Calif. "I wanted something a little bit nicer."
He looked through books and drove through the Craftsman-rich neighborhoods of Pasadena to get ideas before deciding on a concrete drive with an antique finish, accented with reclaimed red bricks from the 1920s.
"I wanted this to look like the original driveway, an original, nice driveway, and using used bricks gives it a nice old-fashioned look," Ulick said.
"It really makes it a grand entrance for the house," he added, noting the brick walkway up one side. "I figured I'd treat the Craftsman the way it deserves to be treated, and maintain its design style and heritage."
While a driveway may still be a utilitarian afterthought for many homeowners, others like Ulick are adding some serious curb appeal to their homes by moving beyond basic options like grass or gravel, asphalt or concrete.
"The driveway is commonly overlooked," conceded Michael Keenan, an adjunct assistant professor of landscape architecture at the University of Minnesota. "Driveways are not cheap necessarily, but they are completely functional and necessary if you have a car and a garage."
Doing up the driveway, Keenan said, is a chance to "celebrate the function because it is a piece of the property you do use every day."
The design options have grown in the last decade or so, he said, as pavers -- made from precast concrete, clay and natural stone like granite -- are being turned out in a range of colors and sizes. Some have rounded edges for an older look; others are mottled to add color variation to the driveway.
Installing a customized driveway is a way to put your own stamp on the hardscape and set your house apart from the rest. Depending on the neighborhood, the materials and the quality of the craftsmanship, Keenan said, a driveway also could increase a home's resale value.
"It does become a point of distinction," he said. "It is something people notice. It is elegant."
The least expensive paved driveways are made of asphalt, which cost about $12 to $15 a square foot, and concrete, costing about $14 to $18 a square foot, Keenan said. Though concrete is more resilient and lasts longer, both materials will crack over time, he said.
Pavers, which start at about $20 to $25 a square foot, should last a lifetime, Keenan said. "The key is the fact that the pavement acts as flexible fabric and it can move with the earth, and isn't a rigid system and isn't prone to cracking," he said.
Pavers can be used to make traditional patterns like basket-weave or herringbone, or be fashioned into a custom look.
For a less traditional look, use a paver that comes in three or four sizes and lay them out at random, Keenan said. Or get a custom design without breaking the bank by using concrete pavers accented with more expensive natural stone pavers.
Keenan works with homeowners to find the best driveway for their home. People are most concerned with the color, which might be chosen by looking at the home's roof, siding or trim color.
"I don't think you can make a value judgment on which one is the best," Keenan said of driveway designs. "It's got to fit the building that you're paving next to."
He might recommend, for example, a traditional red-brick driveway to go with a light blue Colonial home. For a contemporary, environmentally "green" home, he might choose light-colored, permeable pavers -- a more environmentally sound choice because they let water back through to the earth under the driveway, rather than forcing it to run off and collect debris on the way to bodies of water.
In Naples, Fla., landscape architect W. Christian Busk installs "living driveways" that feature real grass interspersed among pavers. That reduces heat and glare and provides some drainage.
"We blur the lines between where driveway ends and where landscape begins," says Busk, president of Busk & Associates. "It always looks beautiful."
Back in Pasadena, the concrete-and-brick option that Ulick chose is popular among the many Craftsman and other historical homes in the area, said Mark Peters, the chief estimator for Boston Brick & Stone, which helped create Ulick's driveway.
"It's a very rich feel and it's understated," Peters said.
Since he got his driveway in 2009, Ulick said, he has received many compliments, and people sometimes stop to ask if his driveway is the original.
"That's a bigger compliment," he said, "that it looks like it's been done years and years and years ago."