David Benton on improving curb appeal | Home Front

May 02, 2014

As Rill Architects' Lead Architect on the 2014 D.C. Design House's facade, David Benton, AIA, has worked at Rill Architects for more than 12 years. David currently serves clients in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. He holds Bachelors and Masters degrees in Architecture from Catholic University.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? She's happy to whip out her paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

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Welcome everyone and so sorry yesterday didn't work out.  Welcome to architect David Benton here to talk about curb appeal and other architectural improvements to your home. He is with Rill Architects. And he did the beautiful front of the house makeover of the 2014 DC Design House in Forest Hills which is open through May 11. Let's go.

Good morning everyone! This is David Benton with Rill Architects. Looking forward to answering your curb appeal questions.

I've just inherited a clapboard one story colonial style home in an older neighborhood. The exterior has some pleasing fenestration with a main front door, side door and windowless carriage style garage doors. But, the exterior is white with black shutters and a black roof. So plain! I've decided to replace the house numbers with a blue, European style enamel house sign. Will paint the front door a matching blue.. However, my husband and I cannot decide on the color for the three window boxes we will add (under the three main windows). Would love ideas on what will look best.

My initial impression is to go with black or white window boxes and bring the color in with the plants.  Bright colored window boxes might complete for attention with the flowers.  If you haven’t already look, at www.Houzz.com and do a “window box” search.  There are many great images.

Hi David, I too have a Master in Architecture degree from Catholic University. I've worked on several firms before working for the government. Being away from the private sector my job has not been too creative. How can I keep my love for architecture at work and why doesn't more firm hire part timers? Thanks.

A great way to keep those creative juices flowing is to get active in social media.  I recently started a Tumblr blog.  http://architrove.tumblr.com and plan on expanding it to not only reflect what we are doing here at Rill Architects but also designs that inspire me.  It is a good way to stay active in design and meet new and interesting people in the field.

Hello and Welcome David, I removed my home's narrow (3ft wide) concrete front walkway with a paved stoop and widened (6-7 ft wide) walkway. I love it! It is a traditional colonial home. How would you recommend I decorate the new walkway? Would you place planters on the stoop/along the walkway? A curved garden wall was also added next to the walkway. I hope it is not too hard to visualize. Thanks in advance.

Sounds nice.  I would put at least one large pot with colorful plants on your front stoop to draw people up to your front door.  Along the walk I would do plants, maybe herbs like lavender or rosemary, to soften the walkway edge and they give off a nice scent as people approach.

What is a favorite "trick" of the trade when adding curb appeal? Is there something you always do?

Every house is different but adding new appropriate lights at the front door always make a home more welcoming.  We are also adding more glass to front doors.  Not only does this make a house look more approachable but brings light and views inside your home.  Take a look at the Joyce Residence on our Houzz site for inspiration. http://www.houzz.com/projects/37827/Joyce-Residence

Hi, we have a 1930s all-brick colonial which was painted at some point in the past (possibly more than once). Is there any good way to actually remove the paint and return to the unpainted brick? And if there is, is it extremely expensive? Thanks!

Unfortunately there is no easy way to remove paint from a brick home.  Sandblasting or pressure washing removes the hard protective surface of brick making it porous to water.  There are paint removers on the market but it is a tedious process and can create an environmental concern if the house was painted using lead paint.  In our view painted brick is not always a bad thing.  We have several examples of painted brick homes on our website to take a look at.  www.rillarchitects.com

Hi! We are working on the nursery for our upcoming baby girl. The theme is fantasy (think Harry Potter, dragons/ other mythical creatures like unicorns....). Unusual theme, which is making it hard to come up with decorating ideas... do you have any ideas for us? Also, we are on a tight budget, so we can't afford anything expensive (we are stuck in ikea furniture price ranges), and I hate wall decals.

Congratulations on your upcoming excitement. We get a lot of nursery decorating questions here on the chat. Personally, I would suggest you stick to a color theme, and not do a major character or animal theme. That way you can change out things easily as your daughter gets older. Why not choose something like pale pink and apricot? Or yellow and pale gray. Or green and hot pink. Or peach and cream. I am a fan of all white furniture for nurseries.

The DC Design House is fortunate to have a vestibule. A double door entry leading to the home seems to bring instant drama. What are some other ways you can add drama to an entrance?

Along with the tiffany blue front door color we added extra style with a Moravian Star light in the vestibule from www.ShadesofLight.com  Also by simply switching out the tired mail slot, door bell and house numbers with shiny new ones it added instant sparkle.  Just a reminder the DC Design House is open until Sunday, May 11th.  www.DCDesignHouse.com

I live in Upper Montgomery County where my front yard is made of clay and rocks. How can I plant flowers in those conditions ? Any suggestions is gladly appreaciated.

I would suggest talking to a landscape professional in your area.  There might be certain plants that thrive in that type of soil condition.  Also adding large planters or maybe a raised bed will give you the more favorable soil that many plants need.

Hi David. I'm repainting the exterior of my house. My house, and most of the houses I see have white trim. I'm thinking of going with dark trim. Thoughts? Any color combos you would recommend?

We try to avoid bright white trim - It tends to me just too harsh for an exterior color.  On the 2011 DC Design House  we did a darker trim with lighter siding.  http://www.houzz.com/projects/79004/DC-design-show-house-2011

I am thinking of adding a porch to my house in Kensington. What are the things I should consider before deciding whether or not to add this front porch? Do you have any examples of porches in your website? Is there a website you would recommend I go to see good examples of front porches? Does your firm do small additions as well?

Adding a porch to the front of your house is a great way to make your home more welcoming.  It also becomes an outside room that expands your livable space. We have over 300 pictures on our Houzz site www.houzz.com; many with front porches.  Yes we do a wide variety of work.  Everything from new homes to small bathroom or kitchen renovations.

Thanks for taking my question! My family room is painted in Behr Honey Bird, which I absolutely love. The family room is completely open to the kitchen, with a breakfast nook and other space (leading to the center hall) in between. I am trying to pick a color for the kitchen, which has medium oak cabinets, white appliances, and I'm about to install Typhoon Bordeaux granite countertops. I like color, and was hoping for a deep red paint in the kitchen. I've tentatively picked Behr Cranapple. But I tested a little on the walls, and now I'm afraid that the whole space will look like a circus between the yellow Honey Bird and red Cranapple! Would another color be better or should I just go for it? The smallish breakfast nook space in between will eventually be painted some neutral shade.

Since the two spaces are very open to each other my first impression is to continue the Honey Bird color into the kitchen and get the bold color from your kitchen accessories.

David, I can never figure out scale when it comes to lighting. Is there a formula to follow when deciding on lantern sizes for the entryway?

Exterior lighting is tricky.  Most people tend to undersize outdoor lighting.  When the lights came into our office for the DC Design House I was a bit worried they were too BIG, but once they were installed they look just right.  For your house take into consideration your whole house front.  Typically larger homes can take larger lights.  Also consider how far the sidewalk or street is from the front of your house.  Too small of lights will look even smaller from far away.

I love the color of the entry doors at the DC Design House. It's a bold color - would it work on any home? Why did you think it would work on this house?

I don’t think that color would work on every home but I think it works well on the DC Design house because there are cool blue tones in the existing stone.  My suggestion is if you do go with a bold color is to use it sparingly.  By painting the shutters a dark neutral it makes the front door even more bright and special.

We have a brick walkway leading to our front porch. All along one side of the walkway is a 3-foot-wide patch where we struggle to add visual interest every year. This "garden" faces east (so gets the morning sun, afternoon/evening shade). We typically plant 40-60 begonias in this area because they seem to last a long time and are deer/rabbit resistant. But for much of the year, the area is blank. Do you have any other suggestions creating year-round visual interest for this area?

In my own front yard I have added herbs like lavender, sage, oregano and rosemary.  They look good for most of the year and have the added benefit of smelling fantastic.

We are considering replacing our good-condition vinyl siding with Hardie board, just to improve the looks of our house. Is this a crazy idea, for curb appeal or for likelihood of recovering the cost in resale value? And if it is not crazy, what about the trend to have more than one color and/or more than one type of board, as in plank and shingle?

We really like using Hardi-plank siding.  In my opinion it is a good investment.  Really depends on your house style whether to do a mix of shingle and siding.  Less formal homes, like a craftsman you can do a mix - just try not to do a mix of 50/50; keep one as an accent.  My preference is also to use the smooth lap siding; not the imitation wood grain.  The Jefferson Place house on my tumblr page has some images of a house under construction with a mix of Hardi-plank siding types. http://architrove.tumblr.com

we are redoing our hall bathroom which is also the bathroom our 4 boys share....I want it to look nice but not feminine. they picked out a shower curtain from pottery barn teen which is white with a Kelly green pattern. we will have white fixtures and floor. any suggestions on paint for the wall? it's a small space but does have a window with decent natural light. thanks!!!

I always like a very light silvery blue in bathrooms.  The color goes great with chrome, white cabinets and porcelain.  Take a look at Benjamin Moore’s “Polar Sky” or “Blue Haze”

I have some brick-work I would like to remove in my home. I need the removal of one brick wall. What kind of professional do I need to hire for this? A mason? A structural engineer? A general contractor? Thank you!

I would contact a general contractor who would refer you to all the right people including a structural engineer. 

Submitting early in the hopes that you can help with what I thought would be a simple decision but has become complicated. I want to update the hunter green shutters on my 1960's brick rambler. I was thinking a slate blue (e.g., Benjamin Moore's Charlotte Slate or Hamilton Blue). However, the trim, porch railings, and gable are painted a nice, neutral brownish green (like a very light moss color). I used the online project tool on Benjamin Moore's web site, and the blues seemed to clash with the trim. Should I repaint the trim to match the slate blue or just choose a different shutter color? Any color recommendations would be appreciated.

On the DC Design House we repainted the shutters a dark brown/black to contrast against the stone.  My recommendation is to choose a different shutter color.  Repainting all the trim would be a bigger undertaking.  Possibly going with a darker slate blue that has a a lot of gray in it to make if more of neutral.  Maybe try Narragansett Green. - HC-157

LOVE the turquoise with that grey stone! This is the year to change our boringly white bungalow with a sort of pinky-grey (yuck) roof and an original (1920's) unpainted craftsman front door with surrounding over and side-light panels. I'd love to paint the exterior of the door, but not the interior.. is that possible? And do you recommend painting the side-light windows to match the door, or to match trim? Thanks!

We usually paint just the front door slab the accent color; the sidelights get painted the trim color.  Like this house we did in Bethesda  http://www.houzz.com/photos/7452496/Abbey-Residence-traditional-exterior-dc-metro

And yes - the interior of the door is typically the interior trim color 


I'd suggest you implement the fantasy theme using soft furnishings: bedding, curtains, pillows, wall hangings, rug. Ikea used to sell a hanging fabric storage bin shaped like a dragon.

Dragons as accessories are good.

Just an FYI - I had a roof contractor come by my home to give me an estimate. His sales contract, which he wanted me to sign on the spot, included me agreeing to give him a favorable review on Angie's List. He said he would even pay for me to have an Angie's List account if I didn't already have one. I didn't hire him, and I am now very skeptical of positive reviews on Angie's List.

That does sound shady.  I always rely on friends, family, neighbors and co-workers for recommendations.

What made you want to be a part of this year's DC Design House, David? What drew you to this house in particular?

We really love this stately older home and found it a great opportunity to help a great cause, The National Children’s Health Network, and meet some really spectacular designers.  Since we are an architecture firm we wanted to show what you can do architecturally to update an older home.

How important is the walkway to curb appeal? Do people really notice?

Walkways are extremely important to your home. You know what they say about first impressions.  A well designed and landscaped approach to your home really does set the stage for guests.

What trends are you seeing as far as exterior paint colors for homes?

It really depends on the house style but we like to do deeper colors on less formal homes.  You can see pictures of a darker color scheme we did on a house in Bethesda on our Houzz page.   http://www.houzz.com/projects/396298/Maureen-Residence .  The deeper colors blend better with the landscape.

Lots of questions we didn't get to today. Thank you David for all your great suggestions. Clearly people have a lot of angst about how the front of their house looks! And a pitch to get over to the DC Design House for its last week. Lots of great ideas to see in person. Have a great week everyone. And thanks for coming back today for the chat.

We are prepping our 1960s Cape Cod for sale. It's white with black shutters and roof, and the front door and living room window are under the overhang of the roof. That area has concrete patio tiles that need repainting, and the front door will be replaced. I realize this gives us a lot of potential to do whatever we like, but I am not a visual person so I'm just paralyzed. Could you suggest colors for the door and patio tiles? Any other things we should add--a bench, a planter pot? Thank you!

A white house with black shutters is pretty much a blank canvas.  I suggest going with a front door color that is a little unexpected so prospective buyers remember your house.  Something like a British Racing Green or a Bright Yellow.  Look at Fine Paints of Europe for some fantastic front door finishes.

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

Home Q&A archive
David Benton
As Rill Architects' Lead Architect on the 2014 D.C. Design House's facade, David Benton, AIA, has worked at Rill Architects for more than 12 years. David currently serves clients in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. He holds Bachelors and Masters degrees in Architecture from Catholic University.
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