Calling in the Professionals for Curb Appeal

drybeanAugust 13, 2012

We are closing on our new house this week.

Very excited about it, but clearly the exterior needs help. The backyard is also a blank slate, but has tons of potential, and we can't wait to begin.

We are planning on calling in a landscape designer or architect, but not sure which one we need. I am thinking perhaps we need an architect, since much of the work we want to do involves structural changes. (?) We have never worked with either.

Which one do you think would be more suitable for the task, and how do I go about finding one? We just moved to Southern California three weeks ago, and I am pretty ignorant of the plants for this unique climate.

Here is the current exterior:

And a straight on view:

And here is what we are thinking about. Please forgive my extremely crude photoshop skills.

Would love your opinion if you think we are on the right track. The green box represents plantings where the 2nd driveway apron currently is. Not necessarily a lawn, but something other than concrete.

I want to remove the carport, and in order to do so we have to convert the existing one car garage to a 2 car, per code.

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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

Looks like a landscape architect and or a residential architect might be the best choice due to the amount of architectural augmentation.
A landscape designer who has a proven track record of exterior architectural remodel could also fit the bill.

In regards to how about going to hire/ interview one, I have found that word of mouth referral has always been the best. Satisfied customers are usually more than happy to share their resource info.
Co-workers, friends, and neighbors are a good resource, especially if you see their remodel projects and like what you see and hear.
From there you can peruse the designers website and then call and have an informal chat with the principal or lead designer of the firm and ask direct questions about the extent of their service and how they charge for their services.

If it sounds like the firm is a good fit for your needs then schedule an on site interview and let the process unfold. Each firm has a different way of working and will submit a proposal to you to review prior to design work starting.

The LA area is rich with talent and has incredibly wonderful plant nurseries.
Congrats on your new house.

Some of my favorite LA designers are Jay Griffith, Rob Steiner, Gabrielle Yarviv, Nancy Gosslee Powers, Judy Kameon, amongst others of equal and exceptional talent.
You may enjoy visiting their web sites.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2012 at 2:02PM
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Thank you very much for the reply and suggestions.

I will google the names you provided. We moved here not knowing a soul, so the opportunity for word of mouth referrals is a bit slim. I am not above knocking on doors in the neighborhood though, so I will do that if we see something we like in the neighborhood.

Thanks for the explanation of the process. I'm very excited to begin on the project. We are tackling this before interior renovations, as I don't think I can stand driving up to such an ugly house every day!

    Bookmark   August 13, 2012 at 2:30PM
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Ok, I think perhaps we changing directions and going to go for something more like this:

The kind folks on the Home site has advised me that perhaps the stacked stone/gable roof look is not congruent with the house as it is.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2012 at 5:15PM
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Ok, I think perhaps we changing directions and going to go for something more like this:

The kind folks on the Home site has advised me that perhaps the stacked stone/gable roof look is not congruent with the house as it is.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2012 at 8:08PM
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ingrid_vc(Z10 SoCal)

I really like the drawing that you've submitted, which seems much more congruent with a Southern California environent and also more cohesive and less choppy. I would make all the elements, including the garage doors, close to the color of the house. A lawn is not appropriate or water-wise for our area, and some sort of xeriscape would be much more interesting and lovely. I live in a hot, hilly part of San Diego County and have found that the antique tea roses (not hybrid teas) do very well in the heat, grow into large graceful bushes and bloom a lot. Just as good are Bourbon roses like Souvenir de la Malmaison which even now with 102 degrees has blooms and buds on a bushy plant. On-line nurseries like Chamblee's, Vintage Garden and Rogue Valley Roses have antique roses which would also be a great idea for your back yard. The Antique Rose Forum is a great site to visit here on the Garden Web should you be interested. Repeat-blooming irises and day lilies have also been very successful for me. I've had irises blooming in November, December and July. Again the best sources are on-line to find interesting plants in beautiful colors. Unfortunately many landscape architects seem to focus on the most commonly used and available plants, and don't really have much knowledge of the more unusual ones, although that is a generalization. Good luck with your project!

    Bookmark   August 13, 2012 at 8:26PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I think for starters you just need an architect, for the building, and I am glad the Home Dec people were frank with you because I also thought on first glance that you are trying to import an aesthetic from somewhere else that does not go at all in your new environment. There is a very attractive California architecture, and this house could potentially have it, but doesn't yet. So hire an architect and let THEM come up with the ideas for how to bring out the genius in the house, within the context of your overall goals (lose the carport etc). Remember they became an architect for a reason, plus have training that you don't have, so I would not become married to whatever you can come up with on your own.

If your architect does not have a landscaping professional that they usually work with, then perhaps you should find one in advance of construction, and run the architect's plans past them for input before they are finalized. If you discuss this from the outset with the architect, the architect should not have a problem with it.

Karin L

    Bookmark   August 14, 2012 at 6:07PM
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Is the reason you want to remove the carport based on appearance? Or is there something else behind it?

As I look at the property I don't see an architectural eyesore, but I see plenty of places where modest changes could infuse a great deal more charm and attractiveness into the scene. Some of the places are landscape... the lack of "green" screening/ visual break between your house and the neighboring properties, and the lack of any trees, contributes to a parched, barren, unprotected look. And the hardscape and planting is certainly in need of some degree of attention. But the house looks like it could be substantially dolled up with relatively minor (in the overall scheme of things) changes. The wall and trim paint colors lack a sophisticated feel. The entry dormer could stand having it's details re-worked. The garage door needs to be changed. Interest needs to be added to the blank garage wall space. The roof could stand the addition of dormers and/or a cupola and eliminating the wind turbines. Before getting carried away with all the possibilities, I'd sit down and devise a serious budget as it will rule all that follows, including how much design help you can get. After you decide how much you can spend, you may find some of your possibilities out the window before you start. The good is that it will focus your efforts to the essentials.

In answer to your initial question, you will probably need both a building architect (or designer) for whatever changes you want for the house, and a landscape architect (or landscape designer) to take care of everything in the yard. It's common that people hire the architect or building designer first and call in the landscape architect later. Personally, I hate to be called in too late as often I can see minor building changes that would improve the function or appearance of the property exterior. There's nothing wrong with having the building and landscape DESIGN work happen simultaneously as long as there is communication between the two..

Since you're in an environment new to you, you might spend some time perusing neighborhoods in search of landscapes that hold high appeal for you. If you find something you like, inquire who did the DESIGN work and you will get leads to who is capable of helping you. Even if you find work you like, but the house is not similar to yours, the landscape architect/designer would have no problem adapting to the contrainsts and issues that your property offers. Finding someone who already does the type of work you like will lighten your burden a great deal. Some neighborhoods you might look at include Coronado, Point Loma, Kensington, Mission Hills, North Park and La Jolla. You will get a lot of good ideas along the way.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 10:24AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

From your sketch, it looks like you propose to expand the house out to be flush with the existing carport roof? In the doctored photo montage it looks like that isn't the case, and you are focusing on creating a courtyard with low wall/fence and new enlarged/emphasized porch with a dormer roof at the entry.

I find it amusing to hear others post here that the Craftsman style with the new garage doors and entry door and porch seems inappropriate for southern California, when the region was/is a center for such style with famous examples such as Greene and Greene and Maybeck here in northern California.

It probably would be more useful to consult with an architect first, and get a better idea of what zoning and your budget will allow. If the idea of creating a semi-private entry courtyard for more usable outdoor space is appealing to you, pushing taller walls or fences out from the space is certainly a possibility. I'd also agree that eliminating the front lawn is a great start, but roses and iris are not my idea of a low maintenance garden style to build a garden around. Both require much fussing with for rather limited bloom season, and neither look good year round in my opinion as general landscape plants.

I don't know which part of southern California you are moving to, but best adapted plants will vary by proximity to the ocean, whether you will have heavy exposure to seasonal Santa Ana winds, if you're in a dangerous fire zone or not, and the quality of your local water supply and limitations upon landscape irrigation. In general, it will probably be more pragmatic to consider design with less water needy plants, but that can be done within the context of any design style. I don't see any real reason why a Craftsman look with California touches wouldn't be appropriate here. Los Angeles neighborhoods such as Los Feliz and Pasadena are fertile ground for getting remodeling ideas within this style.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 12:58PM
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The uneasy marriage of Craftsman style and 'curb appeal' brought me to this quote (the Craftsman creed) from the introduction to "The Art of Building a Home"

(when building or remodeling a house) We begin by considering what in the way of a house, our neighbors have;what they would expect us to have;what is customary in the rank of life to which we belong;anything in fact,but what are our actual needs. About the last thing we do is make our home take that form which will,in the most straightforward manner meet our requirements.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 1:27PM
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Thanks so much for all of your replies.

Bahia-I too, found it a bit odd that Craftsman was considered not accurate to the area. We looked at dozens of lovely craftsman homes in Pasadena and South Pasadena. My husband really loves them, but we just could not find one that fit all our needs (or even most of our needs, as buying homes usually requires compromise!)
But then I decided that perhaps they meant that the house just really was not meant to be a craftsman styled home. This house is in La Crescenta (north glendale) so arid landscaping and the possibility of fire is a valid concern. The drawing is meant to eliminate the carport and just extend the roofline out over the house to create a small covered porch. Not planning on increasing the sq footage of the house.

Yarkvark-I appreciate your comments very much. The idea to eliminate the carport is purely aesthetic. I honestly dont have a good grasp on what my "ideas" might cost, and if it is extremely costly, we will have to abandon that avenue and move forward with dolling up the house with some of the ideas you mentioned: creating more screening between the houses, addressing the garage door and wall, exterior paint, etc. I have a feeling that we will be in for some sticker shock from the architecture bids, so that is a very likely possibility.

KarinL-thank you, that is very sound advice. I don't pretend to have a lot of knowledge on architecture or home design, so I am fully prepared to leave the bulk of the work to the professionals.

Ingrid-thanks so much for the suggestions. I have noticed so many beautiful roses on my evening walks, and I admit that I am quite enamored of them. I'll have to snap some pics and get help identifying them on those forums

Inkognito-very sound advice, well worth remembering.thanks for posting.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 2:22PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Ink, I certainly would hope that authority on Craftsman creed home design goes on to explain for rationally what he's about. I find this line of thinking to be the opposite of good design approach, and fail to see how a consideration of function shaping form can be injurious to a chosen building style. Craftsman style was more about materials and methods of construction that valued hand-built over machine produced, as well as the overwrought design details of the Victorian style which preceded it.

In the particular case of the OP's newly purchased home, I see no reason to fault the desire to make it more attractive from the street view, and augment the rather bland "Ranch style" bones of the existing facade.

After the OP clarified the intention at the front, the sketch is a bit misleading, as an additional covered front porch across the entire front would most likely call for a flatter roof pitch as extension if the entire roof isn't being redone, a much more expensive proposition. It is also highly unusual to see what was once a two car garage converted to just one side with a car port added, I would imagine the interior has had some strange things done as well.

My general advice on the front of house aesthetics would be to consider removing that carport, adding the second garage door back and switching them out along with front doors and windows, consider removing the crossed section of driveway across the front yard, and adding an arbor across the front elevation in combination with an enclosed entry courtyard and a tree or two. More cost effective but still quite capable of creating a Craftsman feel.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 11:52AM
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I don't understand your question (hope) David.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 11:56AM
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Bahia-The garage was never a 2 car garage. It was originally a detached one car (on the left side, from street view), and then they added an addition on top of it, behind it, and to the right (where the current garage door is now) as well as adding the carport. I don't fully understand why they made such a large structure only a one car. My best guess is that the prior owner (the original owner of house) was an engineer and an inventor who required a large workshop/storage space. It's code requirement to have a carport with only a one car.

Luckily, they didn't muddle up the interior nearly as much as they did the exterior. Bathroom is still the lovely 1951 original, original red oak floors, etc. Kitchen is a hot mess, but that can be remedied.

Thanks so much for your ideas. I'm encouraged to hear that you think that my idea as above isn't as astronomically expensive as you originally thought. The roof is in good condition, so no need to replace it.

When you say an arbor, are you meaning extending the roof line as above, or something like a pergola? I agree with you completely on removing the second driveway and switching out the doors.

I paid special attention to xeriscaped yards on our evening walk last night. Saw some very nice ones, and some that...weren't so attractive. Trying to identify why I was attracted to some and not others.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 1:50PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

The last thing we do is make... part of that quotation versus the first part about staying in context with neighborhood style and expectations with regard to Craftsman style seems contrary to good sense and seems to emphasize the superficial over substance. Craftsman style is broadly different by region, climate, and indigenous local materials, and plentiful wood,(mostly redwood here in California), and rounded river stone from arroyos were the predominant materials used in southern California.
Excuse me if I've gone off on a tangent here, but that quotation just rubs me the wrong way, so I was wondering if it accurately reflects the gist of the book.

It would appear your choice of quotation was intended to be contrarian in response to the dreaded "curb appeal" association.

I guess the point I was trying to make about improving the aesthetics of the front elevation, was that reworking the roof to create a covered porch all across the front may not be necessary. An arbor planted to Wisteria across the front against the house could accomplish much the same improved appearance at less cost, especially if covered porch and rain shelter aren't necessary functional requirements for the front yard. The more time and thought you give to the front design, prior to consulting with an architect, the better prepared you'll be to decide on solutions.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 2:48AM
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OK David, that tells me that you did not understand the quote.

In a nutshell and in the context of Craftsman style vis a vis 'curb appeal':why do we first consider the impression our property makes on passers by and only later think about "making our home take a form which will,in the most straightforward manner meet our requirements"?

I think you will agree that the phrase "the most straightforward manner" is a thought that informs the Craftsman style.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 8:44AM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

As a homeowner, I would STRONGLY suggest you first talk to a good contractor/building firm. A lot of architects have a very poor idea of what the code requirements are (some are good, but others just talk a good game) and one can be unpleasantly surprised by paying thousands of dollars for a lovely design that's unnecessarily expensive to build.

CA is the land of the NIMBY. Remodeling is extremely expensive and 'coming within budget' is a rarity. It's more common to be 20-35% over budget, and to take longer than estimated. We've done both a major and minor remodeling in 21 yrs and it was painful (although the end results are great) both times.

You need to know what it will cost to make any proposed exterior changes. Then you can plan for what your landscaping budget will be.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 11:59AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I don't feel that the phrase "most straight forward manner" is a good summary of what the Craftsman movement was all about. My understanding is that it was primarily a reaction to the perceived stylistic excesses of the Victorian era and its use of mass produced ornamentation, and also struggling with the displacement of fine craftsmanship in both construction and manufacture. The quotation as given seems to imply a relationship with the need to fit into a prevailing style meeting the neighbor's approval, and misses the point of the movement in my view. Perhaps there are major differences between the development of the Craftsman style movement here in California and the East Coast USA versus what drove the style in England. The development of the style here on the West Coast was about developing an architecture with more basic expression of the materials being used, in combination with an approach to an indoor/outdoor lifestyle or at least muvh stronger connections to garden connections to take advantage of the milder insevt free climate. Japanese building techniques with wood and joinery featured and a simplicity and elegance of wood form and natural finishes unadorned by paint are also hallmarks of the style here in California. Beginnings toward interior room arrangements with more flow and less seperation by walls, large gracious front porches, outdoor sleeping balconies and integration of landscape architectural structures to integrate home and garden are key characteristics of the style as it evolved in southern California. I don't see how your quoted reference addresses any of that as the style evolved in towns such as Pasadena or my own town of Berkeley, California. We are fortunate to have many great examples of the style which continue to be cherished locally.

While its expression was inclusive of many different influences; an
attractive outward appearance, aka "curb appeal", was an
important part of the style in responce to the mood of the times
and in reaction to what preceded it. Personally I find interest in
Victorian, Craftsman, California Bungalow, Arte Moderne, California Ranch, etc if they are done well; each have their place here and often side by side in the same neighborhood. That being said, I also really appreciate cities such as Santa Barbara which decided to require a unified Spanish/Mediterranean building style for all new construction when faced with major destruction of the town by earthquake decades after the big 1906 earthquake here in San Francisco. There was no such agreement on rebuilding with one unified style here in the SF Bay Area, and the urban areas here reflect that diversity of styles.

Re:building costs versus architect's inaccurate budget estimates; it can certainly be the case, but doesn't need to be. Asking for references of built projects and budgets is always wise, and seeking out designers with design/build experience favors more accurate budgets and perhaps less confusion with planning and permitting. Taking the time to become informed and knowing to ask the right questions is also key.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 10:33PM
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I'll leave it at that then David as you seem to be saying the same as the quote yet arguing against it.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 8:37AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Interesting that you see me as agreeing with that quote and saying virtually the same thing. It bothers me because it prioritizes matching what the neighbors have, emphasizes designing within your station in life, and presumes that prioritizing function should come last, if at all. I was seeking clarification of the book's intent you've quoted to support your discomfort with the association of Craftsman style and a general wish for curb appeal, not further ambiguity. The implication is that the two aren't compatible, yet comformity to group style and social class position is, as I read that quote.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 10:12AM
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David: the quote does NOT "prioritize matching what the neighbors have, emphasizes designing within your station in life" it is saying that this is what is NORMALLY done and that considering function is NORMALLY the last thing on the list.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 11:14AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Anyone who wishes to see the quote in context can Google the whole quote and a Google books result should come up showing the entire introduction.

Karin L

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 12:39PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

For what it is worth, I found the quote from "The Art of Building a Home" somewhat nebulous , but I can be a little slow on the up take at times.

I thought that drybean might be interested in checking out the local AIA website to see when they will be hosting their next S.Cal house tours.

My partner , an architect, and I have been chatting about going on one of the AIA tours that concentrates on the S.Cal development of the craftsman style .
Dwell also has also been doing a fair amount of tours lately and The Gamble house in Pasadena is open for tours and has a pretty good lecture / educational series.
If up in the Berkeley area the Thorsen house ( another Green and Green Craftsman style house ) is open for viewing and gleaning ideas. The surrounding neighborhood is a wealth of great craftsman style ideas.

photo of Berkeley gate and fence by Pete Pederson in Marin CA

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 12:55PM
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