Front Lines

March 2018 View more

From the landscaping to the front door, your home’s facade is what makes it inviting. The right improvements can make the spaces more enjoyable and useful, and become the alluring siren call to prospective buyers. Whether your budget is big or small, the trick is knowing what to change, and how.

Designers and realtors alike often recommend starting with the front door—ground zero of any curb appeal project. “Styles are still trending toward tasteful, timeless and classic. Landscaping is still about seasonal, low-maintenance, and making it lush,” says Kim Scott, a Baird & Warner agent. “But whether it’s a new build or a remodel, the outside of the home needs a ‘wow’ factor. The most appealing thing to emphasize is the front door.”

Door Decor
One of the latest and transformational trends in front door improvement is also one of the easiest and most affordable: paint. From cheery warm yellows and fresh sage greens to deep midnight blues or regal reds, homeowners are daring to step out beyond neutral. In just a few hours’ time, this pop of personality can create eye-catching interest at the entry point of a home. And this splash of color doesn’t have to end at the door; paint is a great way to breathe new life into front-of-house accessories, like house numbers and mailboxes.

If a coat of paint won’t revive the existing door, replace it (if the budget allows) with a richly stained, well-crafted hardwood door. Or opt for a glass door with a matching side panel, which allows more light into the entryway. Enlivening the front door is a great place to start, especially if you’re considering a move. According to, a new front door is the second best return-on-your-investment renovation, after attic insulation.

Spring Cleaning
Breathing new life into a home’s entrance area is sometimes just a matter of seeing your home through fresh eyes. Try looking at your home like a first-time visitor. Small, detracting details become more evident, and can become an effective to-do list of simple doorway improvements: clear away cobwebs from high corners, replace a worn doormat or cushions with festive designs, place seasonal flower arrangements in urns flanking the doorway and restore the sparkle to dusty sconces (or update them altogether). These small improvements can instantly transform a tired entry area into a warm and welcoming one.

Use this time to also add appealing accessories. You can quickly refresh the front-of-the-house look by changing the font style, size and color of house numbers; updating the hardware on the front door; or installing an attractive mailbox or adding a decorative modern mail slot.

Take it Personally
Curb appeal makeovers are an opportunity to color outside the lines.

“Be a little risky. Be unique and do something unexpected—that’s what catches the eye,” encourages Lauren Fasolo, owner of Ellce Designs, a Chicagoland interior design firm. “Think about the elements you can change to be a reflection of you, and not just what’s universal,” she says.

Fasolo notes that every design idea must also take into account the reasonable expectations of the neighborhood, and be mindful of its impact on the continuity and integrity of your own home’s architectural style, design and color scheme.

Lay Low
Color schemes are not limited to a paint brush and siding. They are also echoed in the colorful flowers and foliage in frontyard landscapes. One of the most important and enduring landscaping trends is the demand for low-maintenance perennials.

“We do a lot with groundcovers like vinca and sedum,” says Jim Rose, owner and landscape designer of JR’s Creative Landscaping in Naperville. Ground covers also do double-duty: In addition to adding color and texture, they reduce the need for mulching, an annual gardening task that homeowners can come to dread.

Solid State
Choosing the right hardscape—pavers or stone for walkways and driveways—also can reduce maintenance headaches.

“Do something more timeless so you don’t have to remove things when they go out of style,” Rose advises, suggesting long-lasting, wet-cast pavers and popular, classic hues of pewter or grey-tan stone found in bluestone and travertine. “We also use low-maintenance perennials like hostas and coral bells for waves and splashes of color,” Rose says, listing other helpful plants like winter-interest evergreens and slow-growing classics like boxwood.

Another low maintenance gardening trend with high-impact results? Planters and window boxes. Filled with favorite annuals or seasonal arrangements, these container gardens—flanking the front door or beautifying a window—are a more manageable, colorful solution, ideal for an instant pop of color in any curb-appeal improvement project.

Swinging in the Rain
For many homeowners, the transformation is not complete without envisioning the possibilities of the front porch, and it’s smaller cousin, an attractive covered entry that provides protection against inclement weather.

“The majority of homeowners and renovators want a covered porch with meaningful space, where they can seat guests and comfortably walk around the furniture,” says Darin Grubisic, president of Siena Builders in Naperville, whose work is frequently showcased in popular design media platforms like Houzz.

The word “porch” often evokes nostalgic images of wooden rockers, a quilt-covered swing, pillowed rattan armchairs and the lazy twirl of a ceiling fan. But a craftsman style—with clean lines, rich colors and artisan-crafted, elegant furnishings—can lend a more minimalist, modern aesthetic.

“It’s about the details, a homey touch,” Grubisic says. “Don’t just lay down a little mat at your door—think about using a larger area rug beneath it that you can change with the seasons. And lanterns, candle pots and other accents can add soft light.”

Regardless if you plan to enjoy your home for years to come, or are staging it for selling, spring is the ideal time to embark on an exterior home project. “In the end it’s how do you want to welcome people,” Grubisic adds, noting that trends come and go. “It doesn’t have to take a lot to look a whole lot better. Do what makes you happy.”