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posted: 5/21/2014 5:30 AM

How to ensure your home makes a good first impression

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  • Rill Architects updated this midcentury home's facade with a new front door, lighting, house numbers and mailbox.

    Rill Architects updated this midcentury home's facade with a new front door, lighting, house numbers and mailbox.
    Rill Architects

The Washington Post

David Benton of Rill Architects, lead architect for the front entryway of this year's D.C. Design House, was the guest last week on Post staff writer Jura Koncius' Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt from the chat:

Q. I removed my home's narrow (three feet wide) concrete front walkway with a paved stoop and widened the walkway to between six and seven feet. I love it. It is a traditional Colonial home.

How would you recommend I decorate the walkway? Would you place planters on the stoop/along the walkway? A curved garden wall was also added next to the walkway.

A. Sounds nice. I would put at least one large pot with colorful plants on your front stoop to draw people up to your front door. Along the walk I would do plants, maybe herbs such as lavender or rosemary, to soften the walkway edge and give off a nice scent as people approach.

Q. What is a favorite trick of the trade when adding curb appeal? Is there something you always do?

A. Every house is different, but adding new appropriate lights at the front door always makes a home more welcoming. We are also adding more glass to front doors. Not only does this make a house look more approachable, but it brings light and views inside your home.

Q. We have a 1930s all-brick Colonial, which was painted at some point in the past. Is there any good way to remove the paint and return to the unpainted brick? And if there is, is it extremely expensive?

A. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to remove paint from a brick home. Sandblasting or pressure-washing removes the hard protective surface of brick, making it porous to water.

There are paint removers on the market, but it is a tedious process and can create an environmental concern if the house was painted using lead paint. In our view, painted brick is not always a bad thing.

Q. I live in upper Montgomery County, Md., where my front yard is made of clay and rocks. How can I plant flowers in these conditions?

A. I would suggest talking to a landscape professional in your area. There might be certain plants that thrive in that type of soil condition.

Also, adding large planters, or maybe a raised bed, will give you the more favorable soil that many plants need.

Q. I'm repainting the exterior of my house. My house and most of the houses I see have white trim. I'm thinking of going with dark trim. Thoughts?

A. We try to avoid bright white trim. It tends to be just too harsh for an exterior color. On the 2011 D.C. Design House, we did a darker trim with lighter siding.

Q. I can never figure out scale when it comes to lighting. Is there a formula to follow when deciding on lantern sizes for the entryway?

A. Exterior lighting is tricky. Most people tend to undersized outdoor lighting. When the lights came into our office for the D.C. Design House, I was a bit worried they were too big, but once they were installed, they looked just right. For your house, take into consideration your whole house front. Typically, larger homes can take larger lights. Also consider how far the sidewalk or street is from the front of your house. Small lights will look even smaller from far away.

Q. We are considering replacing our vinyl siding with Hardie board, just to improve the looks of our house. Is this a crazy idea, for curb appeal or for the likelihood of recovering the cost in resale value?

And if it is not crazy, what about the trend to have more than one color and/or more than one type of board, as in plank and shingle?

A. We really like using HardiePlank siding. In my opinion, it is a good investment. It really depends on your house style, whether to do a mix of shingle and siding.

With a less formal home, like a Craftsman, you can do a mix; just try not to do a mix of 50/50. Keep one as an accent. My preference is also to use the smooth lap siding, not the imitation wood grain.

Q. How important is the walkway to curb appeal? Do people really notice?

A. Walkways are extremely important to your home. You know what they say about first impressions. A well-designed and landscaped approach to your home really does set the stage for guests.

Q. What trends are you seeing as far as exterior paint colors for homes?

A. It really depends on the house style, but we like to do deeper colors on less formal homes.

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