The Sky is the Limit

Although the trend still remains au natural, custom builders are finding a handful of synthetic products for exteriors that pass muster.

March 01, 2006

While regional styles and weather variations may preclude all custom builders from, say, building a Nantucket shingle house in Houston, builders throughout the country may be able to pluck a few ideas to wow the clients of their next custom home.

Exterior materials

As Old World style blazes its away around the country, exteriors are calling for combinations of brick, stone, siding and stucco. Round or fluted columns and the whimsy of turrets, cupolas and spires continue to gain momentum.

"The details are authentic regional or period details like wrought iron applications. Multitextural and multicultural pretty much sums it up," says Georganne Derick, president of Merchandising East and MS Interior Design in Ellicott City, Md.

"The trend out here is trying to create a classic, traditional product without stepping way outside the box," says Lambert Arceneaux, president of the Houston-based Allegro Builders.

"People moved out of houses that were square and efficient. Now the last thing they want is square." His brick homes incorporate a lot of stone and traditional siding, which has proven to hold up to the Houston weather. When he uses a modular brick, he finds the smaller size lays up better.

"On more expensive homes, I'll use a hand-molded brick," Arceneaux says. "I don't use synthetic materials except HardiPlank Cladding instead of wood — it's proven itself."

Kent Bryant, vice president of Bryant Builders, says he mostly builds brick homes in the Shawnee, Okla. area. "Because of extremes in temperature [here], I find brick to be more durable than vinyl siding or Masonite," he notes.

"More brick is being delivered across the country, and it's manufactured in the area. I stay away from vinyl siding." He also says he uses more stucco as an accent on gables or around the front porch for what he calls the Country French look.

Bill Binn, president of WynTree Construction, says his clients are looking for low to zero maintenance in the vacation area of Lake Geneva, Wisc. He is using more masonry and finds real stucco stands up to the Midwestern elements better than Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems. He's shying away from traditional cedar trim and opting for MiraTEC.

Binn uses fiber cement, even in exclusive neighborhoods, for one big reason: no woodpecker problems (woodpeckers attack trim, not siding). "It's a good-looking alternative to cedar, lower maintenance and the stain stays on longer," he says. When he uses natural stone, he looks for large, irregular-shaped pieces.

Architect Charles Page of Page Builders says in the last five years, two-thirds of Winnetka, Ill.-area luxury homes are now natural stone when they used to be brick.

The Nantucket-style wood shingle in redwood or cedar is what's popular in luxury homes in Connecticut, says Jonathan Kellogg, president of Kellogg Brothers. "Otherwise it's all-natural brick or stone," he says. House wrap has been a big improvement over the years, Kellogg says; he uses Tyvek or Dow.

Up on the Roof

Page is seeing a lot of roofline breaks and French dormers. "Fifteen, 20 years ago, roofs were plain," he says. "Now everyone can't get enough breaks." He installs slate or cedar shake roofs, and now uses copper gutters and downspouts where he used to use aluminum.

In New England, Kellogg installs 75 percent wood shingle roofs. The other 25 percent are slate.

Binn sticks to slate roofs or architectural asphalt shingles due to their longevity over wood shingles, which don't last long in humid Wisconsin. "Even in $1.5 million houses, asphalt is ok," he says. He notes he has only installed one metal roof recently.

Binn, who often builds homes on sites of tear-downs, says, "People want their house to look like it's been there for 50 years." Arceneaux agrees and likes a new product, Rusty Roof, which rusts fast at the first rain and has traditional profiles. "Everyone's trying to make a house look old to give it character," he says, which is especially true for his infill projects in historic neighborhoods.

Color Cues

While there was much talk about bolder colors coming down the pike, custom homes around the country are letting their natural materials speak for themselves.

Although Sherwin-Williams' national top 10 exterior paint hues barely register above a whisper — including Nomadic Desert, Latte, Universal Khaki, Kilim Beige, Biscuit and Tony Taupe — custom home builders may have some influence in getting their clients to express themselves with color, especially if they don't have to conform to neighborhood protocols.

According to Sheri Thompson, director of color marketing and design for Sherwin-Williams, "Nearly all [home builders] recognize that smart use of color — even subdued or neutral color — adds curb appeal and can be a welcoming invitation to potential homebuyers."

"Saturated and/or bright colors are now embraced, especially in wood stains," Derick says. Binn agrees and is using bolder accent colors, such as burgundy, on windows. Arceneaux's infill Victorians and Craftsman homes in Houston Heights "can get really bright," but he feels this is more indicative of the style of the homes he builds than the trends.

Thompson says, "Increasingly, builders are realizing their homebuyers' interest in color can be a profit and customer-satisfaction opportunity that's just waiting to be explored."

Backyard Bonanzas and Other Cool Stuff

"We're taking the inside and moving it out," Arceneaux says of outdoor kitchens, lanais and tasting rooms. "We're seeing $250,000 backyards — how do you appraise that?"

For the design conscious client, Kellogg builds a multilevel patio with a built-in Viking cooking center backed in stone on one side and a waterfall on the other.

Derick suggests including a landscape architect, pool and spa consultant and interior designer in the building process "to maximize livability and create the enchanted and private luxury outdoor living rooms."

She also notes that porches are coming back "on the fronts, second story, on the sides and rears... anywhere and everywhere." She recommends heating the porch to extend its seasonal enjoyment.

Page puts screened porches in every house. "People love them."

Page adds that Midwestern winters call for heated entry walks. "They used to be a luxury 10 years ago, but now they're standard." He also offers custom tinted windows to protect furniture and drapes from direct sunlight.

Binn is looking to try on his next home a new deck product from Trex that resembles exotic tropical hardwoods, but he's a little apprehensive. "For fully synthetic products, if I try it for first time and it's not a success, I have to live with it for a long time, he says. "I don't want to be the guinea pig."

For his mid-price houses, Binn installs a metal carriage house-style garage door by Wayne Dalton that's painted a solid color, not stained.

In Wisconsin, builders are getting away from two-story entries — or at least ones that look like two stories from outside. "Houses are more unassuming, but have great stuff in them," Binn says. "My clients tell me, 'I don't need an 8,000-square-foot house, but I want to build a 4,000-square-foot house that's really cool.'"

Author Information
Jennifer Block Martin is a San Francisco-based writer whose articles have appeared in publications such as Better Homes and Gardens' Special Interest Publications, Sunset magazine, and Women's Day Home Remodeling and Makeovers.

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