Pimp my curb appeal; or: What to change for the biggest impact?
March 30, 2017 9:21 PM   Subscribe

My husband and I bought a foreclosure last fall and after extensive interior repairs we are ready to tackle the outside. My husband couldn't care less about this so I'm the queen of the castle. Here is the house in question. It's a modular ranch. We live in southern Maine.

I know nothing about gardening but I have a feeling we should chop down those giant bushes. As for design, I hate those god awful metal stars that plague new england houses but I'm down for anything else. I don't even know what I like and don't like!

I don't even know where to begin. I looove interior decorating and I'm so happy with the inside of my house but I'm wondering if you guys could look at the outside and notice any changes we could make that might make a big impact? Thank you!
posted by pintapicasso to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't even need to wait for the pictures to tell you that yes, please yes, absolutely yes, you should cut down any shrubs that are right up against your house, especially yew or privet or boxwood or rhododendrons, one of which I suspect you have based on geography alone. Let the house breathe, those shrubs never ever look good.
posted by lydhre at 4:38 AM on March 31, 2017 [5 favorites]

Did you work with an agent at all, or do you have friends who are agents? It's sometimes helpful to ask agents who work in your local area for this kind of advice.

Beyond that, and waiting to see pics, natives are a good way to go. They're less work in the long run. Are there any nurseries in your area that specialize in natives? The ones in our area offer classes and also professional planning sessions, where you come in with some pics and info about your property and they advise you on what would do well where based on the micro-climate in your yard (sun exposure, placement of walls or fences / heat radiation, soil composition, slope, drainage, etc).

I don't fully understand the shrub situation in snow country although I understand that it's a thing based on previous snowpocalypse posts, but in our area (LA) we are always hearing about package thefts. We happen to have a raised porch, and we've purposely left the shrubs in front of the porch in order to offer some privacy to the porch and shield packages from view. Our shrubs are, well, not native but definitely drought tolerant. And of course they're about four feet out from the house so they don't affect the foundation. In any case, you may want to incorporate some sort of package delivery area near the front door that is shielded from view from the street. Maybe you can accomplish that with pots or a decorative bench rather than shrubs.
posted by vignettist at 8:08 AM on March 31, 2017

Response by poster: I'm sorry, the link has been updated! Yes the shrubs are out of control.
posted by pintapicasso at 12:15 PM on March 31, 2017

This would require a bit more than gardening. But, my first impression when looking at your house is that it needs a porch over the doorway a bit wider than the door. Perhaps, a deck running the length of the house.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 12:49 PM on March 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Trim the shrubs. Don't take them out: just trim them.
Get the trash cans away from the front door, out of sight somewhere.
Double the width of the steps and the front landing. Maybe put a roof over the landing.
Replace the front door with something nicer.
posted by the Real Dan at 1:18 PM on March 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I would build a deck from between the first and second windows left of the door to extend past the right end of the house and wrap around partway along the right side - and move your bins around to the side. Make the steps up to the front door wider than 3 feet and make the deck nice and deep. Do a Pinterest search for "front deck" for all kinds of options.

Big pots on either side of the stairs leading up, with something person-height but not huge. Assuming you'd have to bring it in over winter. Here in the mid-Atlantic hibiscus fits the bill.

Agree about losing the shrubs. I don't know what kinds of perennials would do well up there as replacements, but be sure to add soil and distinct, curvy borders so your planting beds are mounded and organic looking. I always feel bad when I see yards that people have put time and money into but their planting beds are just flat and straight and boring looking.

Willows are fast growers; I'd plunk one down right where that barrel is at the left and surround it with an organically shaped mulchy bed of hostas and other shade lovers.

Shutters and/or planting boxes.
posted by headnsouth at 1:28 PM on March 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Fun! I vote for everything the Real Dan said. Plus the following:

- Switch out the light fixture. Some good options here.
- I can't tell if those house numbers are the cheapo flimsy kind the hardware store sells, but if so, try something more substantial. Rejuvenation has nice options there too.
- Consider painting the stairs and handrail to match the house. Or, depending on your budget, replace them with steel & stone options.
- Do you use the lawn? If you have kids running around there, consider redoing the grade (so it's really flat), resodding, and adding trees for shade. If not, plant a variety of native plants at different heights (something like this).
- Consider a fence. You could build something high and enjoy a little courtyard inside, or -- if you prefer an open feel -- something low that creates a boundary. Either way, make sure it's close to the sidewalk but with enough room for plantings on both sides.
- Add seating and a little table. Maybe flagstones or concrete underneath to give yourself a stable surface?

posted by equipoise at 1:29 PM on March 31, 2017

Best answer: I sense a classic cape house vibe. But adding character is the main goal. My suggestions:

- A new front front door in either a contrasting, high impact color (I personally like the seventh pic in orange) or a vintage wood door.

- A contrasting material light fixture, or same color as door. One example.

- New steps/porch, ideally ones that pull the entry "off center" to soften the visual approach. For instance, if the porch were the width of the door and window to the left of it, kind of like this. Also in a similar color to the house.

- Use masses of plantings to cover the foundation, for instance ornamental grasses.

- Install a fence in the foreground and plant bigger bushes behind it.

- Different material for the driveway, and curve it slightly so it, too, is not a direct approach.

- Be careful with shutters. Someone better than I can advise there, but they're like eyebrows: Get them right and no one will notice them. Get them slightly wrong and they bring the whole thing down.
posted by cocoagirl at 1:32 PM on March 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

I still would take the shrubs out and plant perennials in the flower beds. You don't want anything that competes in height with the house because it's already only one floor. Something like this or this would look lovely.

If you need the trash cans there build a small wooden screen (not lattice), if not just move them round back. Painting the house a new color with a contrasting door would be great, maybe gray and yellow or blue/gray and red.
posted by lydhre at 1:55 PM on March 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

If at all possible, I would try and rethink the driveway-shortening it so there is more space between it and the front steps- or even moving it all together.

It seems like adding a true porch with roof might be expensive/a big undertaking- it seems like a good option is to do a pergola like this
posted by momochan at 6:44 PM on March 31, 2017

Fence and bushes as cocoa girl suggests.
posted by Toddles at 8:28 PM on March 31, 2017

Best answer: First trim your bushes way back and then see what you think. I'm in favor of taking them out, simply because I'm lazy and wouldn't have to prune them every year. I agree with the deck/porch, but I'd go with a pergola rather than a roof, since I hate losing any light in my house, and it's amazing how much light you cut off even with a roof extension of only a foot! I'd make my deck run from the door to midway between the 2nd and 3rd window, that will break up the length of the house. If you run it the whole way, it emphasizes the length and a ranch house is long enough. Another way to break up the length would be to put a strong color on the door, and paint the house numbers to match. I'd keep the door for now and just paint. You can also have 2-3 large matching color pots across the front of the deck. I'd probably paint the door light to match and call it good, because I'm cheap that way. Changing the light fixture out to something different would change the feel of the house, though. That would liven things up. You can put a bench, rockers, or a table and chairs if that's your thing. Or you could put out a sculpture (stone lion, horse, large metal chicken, perhaps?) If you're into hanging plants and wind chimes hanging from your pergola, that can break up the line of the house also. Plant smaller shrubs and decorative grasses on the left of the deck, and put lattice work in front of the garbage cans under the big window. Again, all this breaks up that monotonous long, low look.

Take out that sad barrel planter and bush in the middle of the yard, and soften the drive edge with a border. You can use small bushes and grasses to make it less work, but if you like to garden and put in flowers, use perennials or put them in terracotta pots.

I don't think I'd want a fence, unless you really desire a lot of privacy, because it would stress that straight line, again. I think I'd put in a hedge of shrubs and bushes of varying heights and types. Not over medium height (4-5 ft) , because that gives you a sense of enclosure and privacy without making you feel walled in or cutting off light.

If you fence your back yard, make the gates to one side double gates, both to de-emphasize the line and to allow enough access to get a big truck back there for projects. You never know when you'll need access. On the other side, put in a decorative feature--or maybe a dog window.

Try the Virtually Design Your Home site or the Home Exterior Visualizer. Upload your house and change colors. You can also check apps for that type of thing. Just using their generic ranch house and switching out colors can give you some idea of how your house will look.

You can get as fancy as adding a new line to the roof with gables and whatever, or just paint and add a decorative element and call it good.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:27 PM on March 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

Can't advise on the landscaping, but I've looked at a lot of house facades over the past year and seen what is popular/sells vs what looks unmodernized (I'm also on the East Coast, in Philly, if it matters). What I would do is:

(1) Add some color contrast to give some visual interest and pop to what is currently a fairly bland all-white facade. If I owned your specific house, I'd be tempted to do maybe:
- Black trim at the windows/panes, which seems to be trendy in remodeled houses today.
- I would also get a new front door in a contrasting color: I'd probably do cardinal red, which to me looks both traditional and striking (for inspiration, see this, this, this, this, etc.).
- I might also consider some classic shutters - possibly black (e.g. this)? If you do a storm door over your front door, paint it the same color as your shutters.

(2) I have noticed that there seem to be a few key high-visibility exterior items that signal a house that has had money recently put into it:
- First is new house numbers. There's a particular style in my area that all the redone houses seem to be using. What I'd do is go around your neighborhood or city and take a look at what the nicer houses are doing and see what you can find online to buy in a similar style.
- I'd also consider a couple of nice exterior lights. I'd play up the classic New England feel by doing something with a bit of an old-fashioned-whaling-village vibe (lots of good options at Home Depot).

(3) I would also consider redoing your driveway (maybe in brick)?. If I were you, I'd consider some sort of stamped concrete for price and ease of maintenance (you can get it to look like flagstone, brick, or whatever, but for some brick ideas see, e.g., here, here, here, possibly extending up your front steps)

(4) I would consider some sort of wrap-around porch, and/or some kind of covered area as you come in/out of the front door. The shrubbery also seems to be hiding the front of the house and detracting from it, to me. But I'm no landscaping expert so I will leave that to others!
posted by ClaireBear at 10:29 PM on March 31, 2017

If you're not really experienced in gardening, most mail order/internet nurseries offer pre-planned perennial arrangements. They're designed to have continuous blooms over your growing season. Pick one that's the size you want, make sure it will work for your zone, light, water, etc. Here's the page at White Flower Farms for all their pre-planned offerings, for example. WFF can be spendy, so Google around for other nurseries' offerings.

I agree with the suggestions to widen the porch/stairs and to add an overhang to shelter the front door/entry/porch.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 10:35 AM on April 1, 2017

Important basics:

* Keep plantings at least 1' away from your foundation; small shrubs should be 3' away, large shrubs 5'.
* Ratios are important! They're usually the difference between something looking 'right' or 'awkward'. For decks, a front deck (that isn't a full length or wrap-around) should be ~1/3 the length of the house and at least 8' deep to be useful as a sitting area.
* Extend your downspout or invest in a rainbarrel - it looks like there's already a depression around your foundation in that area from rapid water drainage.

And some cosmetic suggestions:

* Build a slatted enclosure for your waste bins. They look nice and are a minimal time/material investment.
* Nthing a front deck. If your home is standard length it's ~76'? So shoot for a deck ~25' - probably from where your landing currently begins to a bit past the 2nd window.
* Maine has a ton of beautiful native plants and the LBJ Wildflower Center allows you to search them by sun/shade, wet/dry, bloom time/color, etc. Fedco in Clinton is the gold standard local nursery but their orders are already closed for the season; there's also Peirson if you're in the south.
* No shutters - small houses look great with clean lines. If you ever re-do your siding go for a thicker window/door/edge trim; nthing a contrast color on the door itself.
* If you're considering a hedge along the front of your property, don't plant a hedge along your house foundation. And be aware that hedges near the road are going to have to be salt-tolerant to deal with winter muck.
posted by givennamesurname at 10:51 AM on April 1, 2017

Response by poster: Update:
I have taken this question and ran with it! So far I've:
- dug out the rotting old planters
- pruned both of those trees waaaay back to small shrubs
- dug out a big deep garden bed the length of the front, lined it with pretty stones I found and filed it with perennials - now thinking of changing the shape, though, as it may make the house look even longer
- moved those trash cans, turned the soil and transplanted a bleeding heart that appeared in the back of the house this spring

I don't want to spend the cash on wood for a new front deck yet but I'm sitting on it and may pull the trigger next spring. It will definitely be diy. And I've discovered a LOVE of gardening. Now I'm digging out the backyard! Thanks metafilter!
posted by pintapicasso at 4:42 AM on June 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

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