Help for a Ho-Hum House

01
of 10

What Gives a House Character?

What gives this craftsman house "character"? Steps leading to porch?
What gives this craftsman house "character"?. Photo by Siri Stafford/Digital Vision/Getty Images

What gives a house character? Big bay windows? Porches and pillars? Pink flamingos on the lawn?

Architects often speak of aesthetics, which is an individual sense of beauty. We all have our own sense of what we like to look at—what we think looks good. That's our aesthetic sense.

"My clients are often people ho have a very strongly developed aesthetic sense," says North Carolina architect William J. Hirsch. "They appreciate beauty, they appreciate art, and they appreciate the finer things in life."

Non-architects may use the word character to describe what we like in a house—or what we would like to see in a house we just bought. Character, or curb appeal, is that elusive quality that makes a house special.

On many older homes, character comes from craftsmanship and attention to details. It may be found in the bargeboard or the balusters, but older homes just seem to have more character. Suburban tract houses built after World War II are often said to lack curb appeal because they are mass produced with cookie-cutter sameness.

Hirsch says that a house should "fit" you: "It should fit your needs, your desires, your lifestyle, your aesthetic sense, the needs of your family, your aspirations—everything about you."

So, the question is this: What Can You Do for a Ho-Hum House?

NEXT: A ho-hum Ranch >>

Share your tips
Have you discovered a way to bring out the beauty in your own home? Tell us what you did to add curb appeal.

Designing Your Perfect House: Lessons from an Architect by William J. Hirsch, Dalsimer Press, 2008, pp. 90-91
compare prices

02
of 10

Great Location, Boring House

Great View, Ho-Hum House, 1970s split level home with large chimney on front
Great View, Ho-Hum House, 1970s split level home with large chimney on front. Photo by Kimberlee Reimer/Moment Mobile/flickr Editorial/Getty Images

The house shown here is a Raised Ranch built in the 1970s. Located in New York's Hudson Valley region, the location is ideal. It's in a safe neighborhood, near stores and the train station, and the surrounding families include children with similar interests. A lovely stream bubbles nearby, where youngsters gather to catch frogs in the summer. Town recreation facilities are just a stroll away. But even before they completed the purchase, owners Abby and Michael Patrick knew that the house was missing something.

"It's everything I never wanted to live in." Abby says.

What Abby and Michael wanted was a place with pizazz—a home with style and personality. Sticking a few flamingos in the yard would not do the trick. Was there hope?

Yes! But first, some problems.

NEXT: House Problems >>

Share your tips
Have you discovered a way to bring out the beauty in your own home? Tell us what you did to add curb appeal.

03
of 10

Problems in Paradise: A House in Disrepair

Cropped view of house facade
Where to begin? Look at the house units, like the front facade. Photo by Kimberlee Reimer/Moment Mobile/flickr Editorial/Getty Images

The trouble began when their structural engineer inspected the house. The Hudson Valley hideaway Abby and Michael wanted to purchase was not merely unattractive... It had serious flaws.

First, the roof. It was original -- dating to about 1973. No way would it last another season.

Next, the front entryway. It had been built on top of an existing porch. Repairs were so shoddy that the room was actually pulling away from the main house. Michael could slip his fingers beneath the flashing. Not good!

And then there was the matter of the windows. They had not been installed properly and would have to be replaced. Yikes!

To make matters worse, the appliances were in disrepair. Seems that the only thing that worked was the hot water heater.

With this much work that needed to be done, Abby and Michael decided that they might as well change the house—totally.

They examined each side of the house individually, starting with the front facade. Michael, a building contractor, purchased an easy home design software program. Abby consulted with her dad, who sells three-season greenhouses. Together, the family began drawing plans and exploring possibilities. What could it look like?

NEXT: Home improvement ideas >>

Share your tips
Have you discovered a way to bring out the beauty in your own home? Tell us what you did to add curb appeal.

04
of 10

Home Improvement Ideas: The Roof

Man sitting on roof of house, pondering work to be done while stuck on the roof
Man sitting on roof of house, pondering work to be done while stuck on the roof. Photo by Stephen Swintek/Stone/Getty Images (cropped)

In spite of the problems, Abby and Michael knew there was hope for their rundown Raised Ranch. Sure, it was ordinary (Ugly! according to Abby) but it had potential. They began to list ideas.

Roof Ideas

  • Change the entire profile of the house by raising the roof
  • Add gabled dormers
  • Consider cathedral ceilings and skylights

More About Roofs

NEXT: Window ideas >>

Share your tips
Have you discovered a way to bring out the beauty in your own home? Tell us what you did to add curb appeal.

05
of 10

Home Improvement Ideas: Windows

Another 1970s split level raise ranch style suburban house, red colored, too many windows
Another 1970s split level raise ranch style suburban house. Photo by Kimberlee Reimer/Moment Mobile/flickr Editorial/Getty Images

The homeowners had bought a new house—Great Location, Boring House. How could they both repair the neglected windows and take advantage of the surroundings?

  • Open up the windows to optimize natural light
  • Change window trim, moldings, and shutters
  • Have an aesthetic plan when choosing types of windows to be included on one side
  • Look at what others have done, and don't make the mistakes of others
  • Use 3D software to visualize exterior and interior views
  • Realize that the siding you choose affects the look of the windows. vinyl siding may flatten the surface of an entire side, eliminating window depth that can give a home "character."

More About Windows

  • Vinyl or Wood Replacement Windows?
  • Installing Replacement Windows

NEXT: Siding ideas >>

Share your tips
Have you discovered a way to bring out the beauty in your own home? Tell us what you did to add curb appeal.

06
of 10

Home Improvement Ideas: Siding

Vinyl siding gives windows a flat look.
Vinyl siding gives windows a flat look. Where's the depth?. Photo by Kimberlee Reimer/Moment Mobile/flickr Editorial/Getty Images

They bought a Problem in Paradise: A House in Disrepair. Although vinyl siding is marketed as a low-maintenance product, its look becomes dated. One quickly realizes that vinyl is not a natural material in Paradise. It ages differently than other materials, like brick, that may have been installed at the same time. The new homeowners thought hard about the curb appeal of the house's exterior, and considered:

  • Removing the outdated vinyl siding
  • A whole new surface treatment such as cedar shakes

More About Exterior Siding

NEXT: Addition ideas >>

Share your tips
Have you discovered a way to bring out the beauty in your own home? Tell us what you did to add curb appeal.

07
of 10

Learning About Additions from Architects

Modern glass tower built on top of staid stone 1928 Hearst Building
Norman Foster's Tower Addition to the 1928 Hearst Building in New York City. Photo © Jackie Craven

Some additions to existing buildings can be very surprising. Here's one that I just shake my head at. In 2006, Pritzker Laureate Sir Norman Foster, a very famous architect, finished up an addition to the 1928 New York City building owned by the Hearst Corporation. Foster added a 42-story, high-tech tower that soars above the masonry of the Hearst Building. Is it just me, or does this just look ridiculous?

Maybe this aesthetic is okay for New York City, but when YOU construct an addition, you might want to consider the whole aesthetic look before you build.

Abby and Michael wanted a place with pizazz, but the Raised Ranch they bought did not have the sparkle they envisioned. Maybe one the of the problems with the house was the front addition of the entryroom. It just doesn't look right, and the main entrance is off-center. What could they do?

  • Recreate the entire facade of the house by adding to the current addition in the front, moving the height upward. What could it look like?
  • Tear down the entryway and rebuild or not
  • Add a more simple covered entryway
  • Build an addition in the style of the present house, or build to suit their own aesthetics

More About House Additions

  • Should You Build an Addition?

NEXT: Porch and deck ideas >>

Share your tips
Have you discovered a way to bring out the beauty in your own home? Tell us what you did to add curb appeal.

08
of 10

Home Improvement Ideas: Porches and Decks

Wrap-Around Deck
Wrap-Around Deck. Photo by Chuck Schmidt/E+/Getty Images (flipped)

Sometimes a house's view is its finest asset. Sometimes a porch can move the eye's focus off a problematic part of the house. Exterior areas can add living space to a ho-hum Raised Ranch house, so owners Abby and Michael considered these options:

  • Build a new back porch, which will add to their comfort but not the house's curb appeal
  • Add a large front porch, which is uncharacteristic of raised ranch-style homes but more common in split-level ranch houses
  • Add a deck with a wood type that complements the house's exterior, and build the deck to wrap around two sides of the house. A deck on the ho-hum side of the house may move the eye away from the ho-hum.

More About Porches and Decks

NEXT: Landscape ideas >>

Share your tips
Have you discovered a way to bring out the beauty in your own home? Tell us what you did to add curb appeal.

09
of 10

Home Improvement Ideas: Landscaping

Change the landscaping with fencing and shrubbery to redirect the viewer's eye
Change the landscaping with fencing and shrubbery to redirect the viewer's eye. Photo by PM Images/The Image Bank/Getty Images

As Michael and Abby reviewed their home improvement ideas for their raised ranch, they also considered the setting of their new home. What landscaping changes can give a home curb appeal?

  • Plant trees and hedges
  • Use new driveways, walkways, or patios to change the focal point
  • Incorporate the architecture of porches and decks into the landscape architecture

More About Landscaping

NEXT: A Remodeled Ranch >>

Share your tips
Have you discovered a way to bring out the beauty in your own home? Tell us what you did to add curb appeal.

10
of 10

A Remodeled Ranch

Remodeled Raised Ranch House, with more character than in the 1970s
Remodeled Raised Ranch House. Photo by Kimberlee Reimer/Moment Mobile/flickr Editorial/Getty Images

The house shown here looks very different from a traditional Raised Ranch and from Abby and Michael Patrick's Ho-Hum House. Yet this house began with many of the same features and the same problems. To add character and curb appeal, the owners of this home made several key modifications:

  • Created a focal point with a prominent roof gable
  • Added dimension and texture with vertical siding
  • Created an intimate sheltered entry beneath a second-floor porch
  • Added oversized windows to expand light and give the illusion of grandeur and height
  • Created an interesting visual flow with multiple adjoining roof lines

Without the care and attention to detail, what could this house look like?

Share your tips
Have you discovered a way to bring out the beauty in your own home? Tell us what you did to add curb appeal.

More Remodeling Ideas