5 Exterior Residential Design Principles for Project Success

Today, curb appeal applies to every square inch of a dwelling’s exterior

By MARY COOK

What does interior design have to do with a home’s exterior? Today, everything. Americans want homes that are not only versatile, attractive, and comfortable but also offer them deep, lasting, and strong connections to the environment beyond their walls. With that goal in mind, they’ve forsaken curb appeal for a more sweeping and insightful look of a property and its assets—one that covers every square inch of a dwelling’s exterior façade, outside features, and grounds.

In this new world order for residential real estate, it’s critical for architects and designers to bring the outside in, and vice versa. That means bigger and broader windows and apertures, and maximized, flawlessly groomed grounds that allow residents to not only have tranquil moments viewing their surroundings but also use the land in a myriad of ways.

Equally critical is the need to respect changing environmental conditions by making residences sustainable and resilient, qualities that are important components of health, wellness and safety.

No longer does “it’s what’s inside that counts” hold sway with renters and buyers, as we’ve learned from our work with builders and developers designing amenities, community spaces, model home interiors, recreational landscapes and exterior features. Optimized exteriors count as much as, or in some instances more than, interiors today. People just want to be outside—even in bad weather. With that in mind, here are five strategies we follow to make the most of everything outside a project’s walls.

  1. Bring the Outside In: Beauty, serenity, sun- shine, fresh air—people want to live in places that offer the advantages of nature, which explains why outdoor living spaces topped the list of popular home features in the American Institute of Architects’ last Home Design Trends Survey on exteriors. And indeed, we are seeing the proliferation of outdoor spaces; virtually every community space, amenity, or model home we design today in both single-family and multifamily projects has a significant orientation to the great outdoors. Rather than just a backyard, patio, or deck, these are spaces that blur the lines between inside and out and play to their homeowners’ or residents’ wants and needs. They can be as simple as window walls that let a space become open air or as elaborate as complete outdoor rooms, so fully furnished that they can function as living and dining areas or even work spaces.
  2. Expanding Transparency, From Windows to Walls to Doors: To bring the outside in, windows and sliding glass doors are taking on new magnitudes, literally and figuratively. New technologies make these windows more attractive, expansive, easy to maneuver and sustainable than ever before. Advances allow systems to offer mix-and-match options that can be configured to create bespoke window walls that open in specific ways and embrace a range of desirable properties at the same time. These range from the ability to filter harmful rays and reduce noise to withstand storms and offer greater security. These systems allow us to pick and choose features to create options that best serve residents’ and homeowners’ needs. Kitchens, family rooms, dining areas, and more can open completely to the great outdoors for eating, relaxing, working, playing and entertaining.
  3. Creating Multifunctional Outdoor Living Spaces: If the outdoor area surrounding an apartment or home is not maximized, it’s useless. Buyers and renters want properties that will accommodate their lifestyles. This is even more important in dense urban areas, where outdoor spaces must be strategically optimized for maximum usage. It’s no longer enough to have yards, decks, and balconies; they must have innovative and versatile features that enhance them—and thus the property’s curb appeal (which, as we noted above, is now 360 ). The more attributes a space has that makes it an easy-to-use outdoor living area, the better. For example, 90 percent of the nation’s 50 top-selling master-planned communities include significant water amenities, real estate consultancy John Burns notes. But we’ve found that the most important features are covered shelters that allow outdoor spaces to be used much or all of the year, yet retain all the comforts and conveniences of an indoor room
  4. Zoning Outside Spaces: Just as we lay out- rooms in model homes to appeal to specific cohorts, outdoor spaces must be designed and zoned to offer residents and homeowners maximum usage and enhance the way they live. Making places that people gravitate to time and again is equal parts art and science. We find many indoor/outdoor spaces are designed with little regard for the elements; don’t have easily accessible power sources; and are under-lit. By participating in projects from the start, we are able to mitigate these issues. We’ve also found shade structures to be incredibly valuable for not only offering protection from the elements and insects but also zoning space for multiple uses.
  5. Increasing Exteriors’ Sustainability and Resiliency: As “storms of the century” have become far more frequent than ever before, and unlike the proverbial saying, often do strike twice, exterior design must embrace durable, low maintenance materials that are also attractive. This goes for not only cladding materials but also outdoor furnishings. From sidings and sheathing panels to amenities and furnishings, anything outside must be able to withstand torrential rains, gale-force winds, and harsh sunlight—yet be attractive, durable, and above all, comfortable. This is no small feat to achieve; as commercial interior designers who work in every corner of the country, one of our greatest challenges has been sourcing materials and furnishings that will withstand weather challenges and are sustainable.

Mary Cook is the founder and principal of Mary Cook Associates. She may be reached at www.marycook.com.

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