Curb appeal is that elusive quality that slaps you in the face and makes you say, "That is a beautiful home!"
It is that unique mix of textures, shapes, materials and colors that prevent a house from being seen as a glorified box with holes punched into it.
At least that is how Frank Johnson, a registered architect and vice president of design and development for Smykal Associates of Wheaton, defines "curb appeal."
And since homes are always seen first from the curb, every builder tries to make each model and custom home look as appealing as possible from the car window.
Otherwise, they know that driver might not stop, or even slow down.
"When you are building a custom home and have a large budget, it isn't too difficult to deliver homes that have a lot of curb appeal," Johnson said. "But when you are designing developer homes, it is much more difficult because you are trying to walk the thin line between cost and aesthetics."
There are five basic guidelines for making a home look appealing from the street, according to Johnson. They are things that everyone in the business knows and tries to practice.
Once you know them, too, it can be fun to examine the homes you pass and see how successfully the architect and builder followed the rules.
Rule No. 1: Use more than one exterior material in order to get multiple textures.
"Don't go with all siding, all brick, all anything," Johnson cautioned. "Mix brick, siding and perhaps, stone, to get a better look."
GSH Development used this principle when designing their new Hamptons of Hinsdale townhouse and condominium community.
"We spent an incredible amount of time studying the surrounding architecture and planning the look and design of The Hamptons of Hinsdale," said Hank Haff, partner with GSH. "We knew that our building exteriors had to harmonize well with the older, more traditional homes in the area. Yet, we were aiming for an exciting departure from the conventional, too - something that wouldn't yield bland elevations and boxy, flat, uninteresting rooflines."
Ultimately, Haff and his partner, Don Price of Wexford Development, selected the shingle style, a design reminiscent of small seaside towns in New England from 1874 to 1910. The dominant characteristics of this movement included shingles incorporated in the siding and roof, staggered rooflines, and cross gables and eaves on multiple levels.
Price and Haff envisioned three- and four-story mid-rise buildings at The Hamptons that showcased a fusion of high quality materials. These ultimately included natural stone, stone-accented authentic stucco, maintenance-free shingle siding, copper and textured architectural asphalt shingle roofing, and oversized aluminum gutters and downspouts.
"We built on this theme by adding interesting elements, including elegant, covered entryways, impressive stone piers with heavy brackets on each side with cupolas above for natural light at all entries to the condominiums," explained architect Dan O'Malley, partner with BSB Design of Palatine. "This palette of materials is already quite prevalent throughout Hinsdale."
They also integrated the buildings' chimneys into their rooflines and wrapped them in stone to make them integral, not incidental, to the overall look.
Next rule: Try to keep the facade from looking flat. Mix roof types and window shapes to give dimensional relief. Add shutters and railings.
"Drive through any custom neighborhood and you will see homes that everyone will agree are beautiful," Johnson said. "They are beautiful because they don't have colors that clash. They have bump outs. They use changes in levels. They delight the eye with a mix of materials."
Smykal Associates has two models in their Ashford Place community in Joliet that showcase Johnson's abilities in this area, on a developer's budget. The Halden model, which starts at $283,200, mixes brick and siding and uses striking eyebrow windows and a large transom window over the front door.
The Stanhope mixes brick, stone and siding and uses multiple bump-outs, shutters, columns and an interesting assortment of windows to create an awful lot of interest for a home that starts at $318,500.
Rule 3: Make sure all exterior colors are from the same palette, Johnson continued.
Reserve One Homes used this technique on their first home in Glacial Trails, their new community in Ringwood. They did a monochromatic exterior color scheme on the house, utilizing four different colors in a green and earth color palette.
"We wanted to provide more interest and attention to the gables and architectural details on the home," explained Lisa Loftus, senior vice president of marketing and sales for Reserve One. "By using four paint colors we were able to add subtle interest."
"Using more combinations of colors on the exterior is another way to individualize a home, if done well and in similar intensities. It costs more, but we felt it was worth it," she continued.
"I liked the monochromatic look for this home in particular because there was already a lot going on architecturally with the porch, gables, etc., and a brighter or stronger tone may have competed," Loftus said.
Rule 4: Keep proportions in mind, Johnson advises.
"A big portico might provide dimensional relief, but it would look silly on a 2,000-square-foot house," Johnson explained.
At West Point Gardens in Elgin, many different styles of home are included because the community is modeled on a vintage small town with its many types of architecture.
One of the most enchanting models is the Middlebury with its double front porch elevation. It starts at $309,990.
"Personally, I have always been fond of the double front porches that you see down South and even here in the Beverly neighborhood," said Patrick Curran, president of West Point Builders and Developers Inc. of Elgin.
"I think that it is a neat feature that adds great curb appeal while also being functional," he continued. "When you sit on the first floor porch there is a great deal of interaction with your neighbors. But the second floor porch is much more private, even though you can still see everything that is going on."
And from the street, the look is enticing and absolutely charming.
Rule No. 5: Don't forget to save money for the landscaping, Johnson cautioned.
"There is a temptation to skimp on this because it's installed last," he explained. "But that is not a good idea."
"There is nothing attractive about the first three feet of anybody's house," Johnson said. "Landscaping can hide that base that everyone's house has. In addition, it can soften the hard lines of a house, accent things you want to accentuate and hide things like gas meters that need to be hidden."
"Landscaping adds interest to a house and focuses the eye in places that are particularly attractive," he added.
The right shrubs, flowers, garden, decorative pavers and stonework "make a definitive statement about your personality and the quality of your home," said Bryan Nooner, chairman and CEO of Midwest Landscape Design Inc., a division of Distinctive Cos. in Orland Park.
"We help clients add character, beauty and value to their residences with the imaginative use of trees, plantings, water features and hardscaping - in many cases dramatically transforming an otherwise bland property into a vibrant, colorful and picturesque environment," he said.
"I like to compare landscaping to the cabinets and finish carpentry in a house," Nooner said. "If you skimp on those things, it affects the comfort and appeal of the house. In the same way, if you skimp on landscaping, it affects the appeal of the outside of your house.
"If plants are not scaled properly with the right variety of colors, textures and sizes for all seasons so that something is always going on out there, it is going to make your home less appealing and inviting.
"People who invest properly in landscaping have a leg up with it comes to resale and overall aesthetics" Nooner said. "You don't get a second chance to make a great first impression."