How to Improve the Façade of a Colonial Revival House
DC Metro Area
insights on residential architec-
ture have been published in
House Beautiful, the New York Times, Southern Living, the Washingtonian, Washington
Post, Colonial Homes and Other periodicals. Ask the Architect appears frequently in the Times Mirror news group, and has been featured in titles published by Media General, Network Communications and others.
An Architect’s Perspective
“How can I change the front façade of my Colonial Revival home?”
Enhancing your home’s façade is a smart investment both financially and emotionally. Design choices for a façade remodel are not to be taken lightly, and don’t underestimate the architectural sophistication of future home buyers. Most are not design professionals but do have an intuitive sense of whether a remodel looks right or not. Be on the right side of that knowledge!
Guidelines for Enhancing Your Colonial Revival Home
Go with the Flow
If you have a Colonial Revival (circa 1880 – 1955), work with its Colonial-ness. Visit Williamsburg, Virginia and take in some of its architectural history. Take a look around your own town. For instance, some of the finest Colonials were built in the DC Metro area in the 1920s and 1930s. Don’t try to turn your Colonial Revival residence into a Tudor Revival or an Arts and Crafts Bungalow. It’s a lot of work and difficult to accomplish—unless you have an unlimited budget. These days, it’s popular to dress up a house with Arts and Crafts details. It won’t look right in a decade when this Arts and Crafts trend fades…like a bad dress you can’t take off. Remember “Formstone”?
Use Quality Materials
A simple way to enhance your Colonial Revival is to use authentic high-quality materials utilized when your Colonial Revival home was built. In fact, if your house was built after the era of quality materials, you can embellish your newer home by using materials found in those older Colonials.
Slate roofing shingles, or imitation slate, will help make your house look more sophisticated. If you can’t afford slate, use a high-quality architectural grade shingle in gray to suggest slate.
Copper gutters and downspouts, preferably half round gutters and round downspouts, are a nice choice. And for the roof of a bay window, porch, or tricky roof areas where you need metal, a great option is copper, or a copper colored metal.
Windows need to have true-divided window panes or simulated divided window panes. Avoid snap-in grids at all costs, be consistent with the styles used (such as double hung or casement if originally specified), and keep the pane pattern appropriate to the home’s style.
High-quality materials will also help with the surrounding exterior areas. Use flagstone paving for walks, brick for stair risers, and brick or stone for retaining walls and fencing. To further resonate a sense of quality, use heavy iron, painted gloss black, for railings and trellis treatments.
Porches & Entries
When well designed, porches always enhance a Colonial Revival home. There is often more architecture expressed in a single front porch than in the rectangular box of a Colonial Revival. Tuscan or Doric columns provide eye appealing architectural detail when accompanied by proper beams and entablatures.
Just as with a handsome porch, door sidelights and over-door fanlights and pediments, perhaps flanked by pilasters, provide a rich amount of detail that will not disappoint.
A simple, cost-effective flourish for a front façade can be a custom, wood paneled, copper lined window box—custom sized to fit a single large window as a focal point. It can also be designed in pairs to provide architectural detail otherwise lacking in the house.
I don’t recommend shutters for a façade enhancement of a Colonial Revival house. The real wood ones can cause maintenance issues. Plastic shutters look fake (unless you spend a fortune) and most installers don’t size or mount them properly to look authentically functional. Spend your money in other areas.
If you have a handsome brick colonial, don’t paint it. Keep the brick—it requires less maintenance. Feel free to paint the trim and use colors that complement the brick and mortar colors, using the paint to pull it together aesthetically. A splash of color might work on the front door, but we architects and designers look at this on a case-by-case basis. It’s okay to be a traditionalist and use the old Charleston Green. You can always show your hipness on the interior.
To sum it up: be authentic, be respectful, and know your architectural history, and you will succeed in creating a handsome façade for your Colonial Revival. Read about a three-season porch we added to a Colonial Revival in Northwest DC, staying true to the architecture.
Have another question? Want to know more specifics about period style homes? Feel free to contact us!
Bruce Wentworth, AIA, is a practicing architect whose insights on residential architecture have been published in House Beautiful, Southern Living, Washingtonian, Colonial Homes, and other periodicals.