Alternatives to shutters for window exteriors?
July 3, 2012 7:36 AM   Subscribe

Our new house has a very plain front - I think it needs some window trim, but I'm not sure if shutters are the right answer. Are there any other options that will be consistent with the look of the house and help it look less bald?

The only thing I've done to the exterior is paint the door red. It started like this and we've been starting some landscaping; I feel the two windows on the left (that's the garage) stand out for looking plain.

I was planning on shutters; but, I've been reading some stuff on the web that has me convinced that even fake shutters should appear to be able to cover the window. So, now I'm looking for other options and not finding much online. The landscaping will surely help but I was hoping the green had some suggestions for alternatives.
posted by ftm to Home & Garden (26 answers total)
Shutters would look weird with the arrangement of your windows, given that one side is very close to a corner wall on a couple of them.

What about painting the trim something other than white, or getting awnings?

Even window boxes would work to add some interest.
posted by xingcat at 7:41 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Window boxes would be great. Also consider iron scrollwork above each window. Or wood gingerbread.
posted by The Deej at 7:48 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Add tall, narrow-ish shrubs on either side of each window.
posted by Kololo at 7:49 AM on July 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think it's a cute little house as is, but if I were determined to add something to the front, I'd consider some sort of peaked window brow or header treatment to mimic the lines of the porch over each window. Something like these.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 7:50 AM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

My diagnosis: the two windows on the left look bald because there's disproportionate wall space above them.
posted by feral_goldfish at 7:52 AM on July 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

So perhaps what The Deej or M.C. Lo-Carbi suggest; or if the windows get a lot of sun, perhaps an elevated awning, or a windowbox above the window that could trail flowering vines down in summer?
posted by feral_goldfish at 7:55 AM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, shutters are not going to work for you.

Add some taller back ground plants by those windows. Something tall and pointy like an evergreen, or drapey like a weeping cherry. Here are two examples of using plants of differing heights to add interest. Google "foundation plants" to get more ideas.

Definitely punch up those windows by painting the trim.This is a nice no shutter examples.

I would also think about putting in some railings between your brick pillars, that would add some pizzaz. Also, mid-size ornamental tree like a Japanese Maple of something in the front. Your house is cute and its going to get cuter, don't sweat it, just start adding stuff you like.
posted by stormygrey at 7:57 AM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Adorable house!

I'd add window boxes and build up the trim to be slightly more decorative. Perhaps something like this (or something more in fitting with your house, but go up, now out)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:59 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Your aesthetic issues are due to the very strange roof length & angle : front-wall ratio, as well as the disproportionate space above the windows due to the brick below them. Possibly bring the brick up to the column-level height, or add an identical pillar between the two windows; Even numbers of anything look bad next to each other. The 3rd window being a different height but same size is also an offputting factor... Hardest factor to deal w/ is the bland and large roof

Pardon the shitty mockup, but here's what I'd do; Duplicating the porch roof angle over the windows makes 3x of that shape, and breaks up the main roof profile; adding the column to support the new overhangs splits the duplicity of the two 'plain' windows; Bringing in more of that odd white shingle effect over the porch ties things together better
posted by MangyCarface at 8:02 AM on July 3, 2012

And to echo feral gold-fish, it looks as if modern scaled windows were put into a historic facade, so the porportions are a little different than your eye is expecting. Check your your neigbor's windows, see how the space they occupy is subtley different?

Having windows that close to the ground isn't all that unusual in the 20-30s bungalow style, but it starts to look odd when they don't have the same height. That is not to say your windows look bad! They are merely different and you can play with the visual balance with your plantings.
posted by stormygrey at 8:03 AM on July 3, 2012

Non-functional shutters are never a good idea, IMO. If you want to do something to jazz up the front of the house, paint the courses of shakes over the porch in alternating colors.
posted by adamrice at 8:08 AM on July 3, 2012

Replace the painted wood shingles on the front of the house with the natural cedar kind. I would add a ton of interest to the front.

posted by LeanGreen at 8:16 AM on July 3, 2012

Best answer: two ideas (in addition to all the suggestions for right above the windows):

1) a trellis between the windows to put some foliage and color there while drawing the eye from the balance issue

2) something colorful or interesting for the white space under the a-frame over the porch/door (the white triangular space) -- again, more about drawing the eye and adding some decorative interest than about "fixing" the architectural balance. I see a lot of large wooden stars (painted variously) on Cape Cod, or you might find an interesting nautical plaque, or weather-worthy tile square, or anything that expresses your personality a bit. some fun options out there!
posted by acm at 8:30 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: That's an adorable house! I love the front porch and your landscaping looks great.

I think that the empty space above the windows looks a little odd. Maybe you could add a wall pergola above them? Like this one: Wall pergola.

Also, jazz up your front porch to draw attention there. Maybe some new house numbers? Perhaps spray paint the furniture a cheerful, bright color like turquoise or coral for a pop of color?

Vertical interest between the windows would help, too. Maybe a trellis planted with a clematis vine, or one of those fountains made from a basalt column.
posted by Ostara at 8:37 AM on July 3, 2012

Response by poster: LeanGreen - I wish those were painted wood! Molded PVC :/ It seems there's no limit to what can be fake on a newer house.

MangyCarface - your mockup looks just fine to me! I like the proportions; in fact, my neighbor has an interesting feature where they have half-columns that are built into the exterior wall, somewhat like what you have except half-flush.

stormygrey - coincidentally, my sweet wife has some ebay'd Japanese Maples on the way, and some of that tall skinny Japanese holly is in the plan too. We're also going to bring in a couple of palms, one taller one shorter, over on the left side of the bed near the house.

I don't want to sit the thread too much but these are great suggestions! Some great insights about why exactly it looks disproportional that I hadn't considered and that will help understand how to remedy it.
posted by ftm at 8:39 AM on July 3, 2012

Like ruthless bunny and M.C. Lo-Carb! I was going to suggest headers, something like stereotypical Queen Anne window trim (probably the square version rather than the rounded version), the Saitta House in Dyker Heights, or the Penn-Eben Hotel in Ebensburg. You might consider trimming your columns to match, such as copying the trim that wraps around the top of the columns in the Penn-Even Hotel.
posted by slidell at 9:02 AM on July 3, 2012

*Eben, not Even in that last sentence.
posted by slidell at 9:02 AM on July 3, 2012

Best answer: That is an oddly-proportioned house. Three possibilities:
* ill-considered remodel of historic facade (perhaps more than one)
* contractor home

I mean, it's just bizarre that those two windows are so close to the floor (it doesn't seem like there's a step-down; they're just two full clapboard rows lower than the window facing the porch!); if option 1, maybe there were tall-ish floor-to-ceiling (or nearly so) windows there and the replacements were just set aligned to the bottom of the opening, instead of up where people walk? I'm looking at the house next door, which seems like a mid-century saltbox, for an example of what it may have looked like when built.

Anyway, you're not going to be able to fix the major issues without some major remodeling yourself, so to focus on what you have I would think about using a light touch. I disagree with the idea of a header treatment or the addition of dormer gables; that would make such a small facade look over-busy. I think one simple thing you could do is add a piece of top trim under the eave, aligned with the bottom edge of your front gable -- that would definitely reduce the disproportion somewhat.

As others have noted, the sheer size of the shingle gable on this house is overwhelming. You should definitely find a way to break it up some, either by adding a decorative feature (up to and including an attic vent or window), or even just a paint treatment to break up its sheer blankness. Doing each row of shingles in a slightly varied shade, either in a pattern or a "fade" effect, would be easy and inexpensive.

The porch is very heavy and dark compared to the light tones on the rest of the house, and that makes the brick posts seem huge. If you go with painting the house, I'd try some different mock-ups such as a dark trim that will join better with the brick. I would, however, avoid painting the brick.
posted by dhartung at 9:38 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: More great ideas!

This house was constructed in 2006 as infill; there actually is a step down, inside, as that's the garage. Found this pic on my phone; the floor above has the ubiquitous (in this neighborhood) unfinished/uncooled 'bonus' room over the garage - but that's a whole nother Ask!
posted by ftm at 10:02 AM on July 3, 2012

It sounds like you have a lot of unfinished room in your house, that is kind of good, you can grow into it. I found some pictures of an exterior remodel in Atlanta. The before image shows a pretty plain exterior, then they jazzed it up some. It probably orginally looked more like the "after", but styles in houses change just like styles in everything else. Take a good look at your neigborhood and see what other people have done and what appeals to you.
posted by stormygrey at 10:19 AM on July 3, 2012

Best answer: Windows are "eyes" to the souls of the house. These windows lack "lashes" and "eyebrows" to define, highlight and frame the "eyes"

The overall colour scheme and material selection flatness makes the windows appear to merge with the façade. This has the same look as a face with pale eyes, pale lashes and pale eyebrows.


- Add a slightly darker painted border to the existing windows to add depth to the façade and create the illusion of more layers. If you lean towards the clean steamline appearance, you do not need to do much. Simple changes in colour (especially when the inside contrasts with the exterior) would add appeal such as this.

- Soft brightly coloured curtains would suit the plants growing below. Match the colours to the potential flowers to bloom in future.

- Window coverings to match the existing window to the right of the front door. The darkness (slightly) of the interior juxtaposes nicely with the white frames, in the same way the red door creates a sense of distance from the porch.

- Attach a cream wooden frame with a sill to the exterior of the existing windows. The shadows cast by the sunlight at various times of the day would add texture, something like this or perhaps this

- Perhaps some selective external lighting could be to your taste like this

- Your garden is lovely and looks brimming with potential for more colours. Adding more flowers, fruit trees or tropical greenery (depending on your taste) beneath the windows could add more liveliness. Maybe you may like this

- A more expensive option would be to extend the existing front porch all the way so it extends the entire length of the front façade. This includes adding a new pitched roof over this new porch which would immediately negate doing anything to the existing windows as the added area would frame the windows nicely. This would fulfil the purpose of helping the front look less bald, and add a multi-functional space. (e.g. our porch gets used extensively for BBQs, lazy afternoons, toy storage and dog house).

- Also consider the type and style of fence you have around the front garden. A picket fence is an ideal option if you want to create a boundary around your front yard. Its has a classic look which provides a welcoming feel for your yard and home, and is a particularly attractive option for Colonial style architecture.

- Notice you have a second floor. Consider adding another window with an extended pitch roof in the front of the house, sort of like this. The high pitch of the existing roof lends itself nicely to additional upper floor extensions or even an added balcony within the big roof span.

Hope this helps :)
posted by oink at 11:46 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree that you need something above the windows. If you add window boxes alone, they will make the extra space above look even more empty. The same goes with putting tall shrubs between them, you will just emphasize the negative space above the windows and their odd placement in the front of the house. Consider adding a narrow pergola over the windows instead.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:54 AM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Thirding the pergola as a beautiful idea, especially if it's supported with vertical beams between the windows, and perhaps more slenderly on each side. Vines and perhaps one or more Japanese maples (not directly under the vines, as they like sun) would be way better than shutters: you want some organic, meandering or explosive forms to circumvent the 'balance' issue.

Seconding acm's suggestion of a barnstar-type decorative element above the front porch.

Seconding Ostara's idea of metal porch railings, insofar as the railings would create a kind of visual rationale for why the columns change halfway up. If you're keeping the bricks as they are, paint the railings to match the wooden upper columns. But I wouldn't rule out painting the brick lower columns: light-colored painted brick can look spiffy.
posted by feral_goldfish at 12:00 PM on July 3, 2012

I would consider painting the bottom trim and the brickwork the same colour as the house. Then the windows would look more like they're in the right place.
posted by kjs4 at 6:19 PM on July 3, 2012

Best answer: You need something to offset how low the windows are vs. the height of the door and the large amount of roof.

A quick fix would be to find two interesting and matching wrought iron column like here over each window. That would give you some interest over the windows without directly competing with the porch. You could even paint them to match your front door or add another pop of color.

In the yard in front of the windows (centered as you stand directly in front of the house) a Purple Smoke tree, Red Dogwood or even a Redbud would give you some color against the color of the house without being being so close to the house for the roots to cause a problem. All three trees on on this page. (Due to the red brick, you'll really want find a tree compliments without clashing)

Get rid off all the grass in the planting bed near the house and get some color to offset the siding (which looks almost flesh toned on my screen) White hydrangea or camellia might tone it down a bit, go with perennials but get some color.

Think about moving your mailbox, getting a smaller box or painting it white. The black box is distracting and it looks crammed in there.

Painting the brick is a good idea but you'll basically be making something that's low maintenance and adding a maintenance task to upkeep the paint job. If you do it, pick out something darker but in the same family as your siding. If it was my house, I'd go with an olive, dark sandy beige or even a brown then use a complementary color for the trim (I'd also get rid of the painted cedar siding over the porch but that's just me)

(I am so good at spending other people's money)
posted by jaimystery at 8:03 PM on July 3, 2012

Response by poster: Amazing answers, everyone! I'm not going to mark this resolved while it's open because it's going to be a bit of a long process but tons and tons of great and well thought answers, I sure appreciate the time everyone put into it.

We did do one thing so far which is to place a couple of sabal palms in front of that wall and one of them balances the space between the windows pretty well as a few folks mentioned! Pic
posted by ftm at 6:33 AM on July 26, 2012

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