How to Improve the Curb Appeal of Your Historic Home

Serving the Washington,
DC Metro Area
Bruce Wentworth, AIA, is a practicing architect whose
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.
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“How can I increase the curb appeal of my historic home?”

- J.S., Chevy Chase, MD


If homeowners respect the architectural integrity of their historic home, their efforts will be returned through a quicker sale and a higher resale value. Protecting the resale value of your old home is a sound investment. You may need to spend more to maximize a future return, but it will be worth it to attract increasingly savvy historic homebuyers as well as enhance your everyday enjoyment.

As the Washington, DC metropolitan area continues to mature, the quilt of “historic districts” with controls and restrictions set by local governments are a fact of urban living and helpful in protecting property values. And respecting your home’s exterior architecture helps protect its resale value.

Increasing the Curb Appeal & Value of Old Houses

Here are a few simple guidelines to follow when caring for your historic home:


If you are going to replace your old windows, pay careful attention to the style of the original windows. Often the aging windows can be restored and in other cases, the old windows can be replicated with new, energy-efficient ones that satisfy the requirements of local historic districts. Many times, the windows currently in a home are not the original style. Consult with your local historic preservation office; also walk around the neighborhood to find homes of similar age and style, and learn what the best window for your home’s architectural style is.

For example, should your house have double-hung windows? Or did your house have casement windows? It is important to consider the details when making decisions. If you have budget constraints, buy high-quality storm windows to protect the old windows and improve the energy efficiency of your home until you can afford to replace or repair the old windows.


It’s highly unlikely that a 100-year-old home still has the original front door, so research will be needed. Keep the design of your front door in sync with your home’s architectural style to help achieve the curb appeal needed to attract future buyers. Definitely use a wood door or a high-end simulated wood product. A custom door manufacturer can guide you with the fabrication.

Your local architect or historic preservation office can make recommendations as to the details of your front door design. A Field Guide to American Houses: The Definitive Guide to identifying and Understanding America’s Domestic Architecture by Virginia Savage McAlester will come in handy when deciding what your front door or windows should look like.

Details, Moldings & Trim

Frequently it is the architectural details that homebuyers love talking about. The details are often indicative of a home’s architectural style, and some examples seen on older homes include:

  • Pilasters
  • Columns
  • Pediments
  • Window hoods
  • Quoins
  • Entablatures
  • Cornices
  • Dentil blocks
  • Friezes

It is important to respect, protect, and preserve those details. And if it’s necessary to replace or repair them, there are many good synthetic products available that will not rot or cause maintenance problems. A smart contractor or architect can advise you on options.


A roof material that is prominent and a visible part of a home’s architecture will matter to future buyers. If the roof is concealed (such as a low-sloped roof on a row house) and not easily seen, most buyers won’t care as long as it is high-quality and watertight. Homebuyers love slate and copper roofing, especially if the roof is in good condition and won’t create a maintenance problem in the future. In fact, many homeowners view slate as a status symbol. It certainly adds texture and creates an attractive, high-end look to a home. I know a homeowner who delayed a kitchen remodel in order to get a new slate roof for her 1930s brick Colonial.

If budget won’t accommodate a real slate roof, there are composite shingle products that can achieve an attractive appearance. Highly textured, architectural grade composite shingles resemble slate and do the job well, especially when in a dark gray color.

Gutters & Downspouts

Copper gutters and downspouts are the preferred choice for historic homes. On a simple Colonial home, they take on extra importance because they act as a “frame.” The shape and size of the gutters and downspouts vary depending on the age of the house—older homes often have half-round gutters and round downspouts. If budget constraints are an issue, use factory-painted aluminum in a bronze or dark color that gives the illusion of a patinated copper. And if replacing your gutters and downspouts is not possible, paint them unobtrusive color.


Following these basic guidelines will help any homeowner protect the architectural style of his or her historic home’s character. Curb appeal and architectural integrity matter.

On our main website blog, read more about increasing curb appeal, with specific examples of how Wentworth has helped various DC area residents improve the curb appeal of their homes.

Have another question? Want to know more specifics about sprucing up the exterior of your older house? Feel free to contact us!

About Bruce

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.