Entryway tips for putting your best facade forward

An attractive front entrance to your home creates a first impression not unlike a smile: It is welcoming and revealing of what’s inside.

Sometimes, small, DIY-type solutions are all that are needed to spiff up this focal point of your home’s facade, but sometimes a more involved, contractor-driven solution is desired. Here we offer a few tips on both, as well as considerations for the front door itself.

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Entryways: providing the big picture

1. One of the quickest and simplest ways to punch up your front entry is with a color that contrasts with siding and trim. You can go bold with, say, orange or simply go with something unexpected like a springy green. But if you aren’t one for color, a glossy black can create a similar pop.

2. Walkways – concrete, pavers, stepping stones and so on – lead visitors to your front door and should ideally be about 3 to 4 feet wide and kept clear of overgrown plantings so that they can accommodate two people side-by-side. Most important, though, is their aesthetic compatibility with the colors, materials, style and visual weight of your front entrance. A substantial or grand front entryway, for instance, would overwhelm petite stepping stones.

3. Potted plants add personality and softness or structure, depending on the type of pots and plants selected, while just the right welcome mat – or rug on a covered entry – is like wearing the perfect piece of jewelry with an outfit.

4. While potted plants are fun and easy to layer, change and move, avoid overlooking the surrounding hardscaping. Given the cost of higher-end pots and plants nowadays, sometimes addressing steps and other architectural features is not substantially more expensive. Interesting tiles on the step risers or the addition of style-compatible brackets, railings, moldings, columns, awnings, and trim can pack a lot of design punch. If they can repeat an element from elsewhere on your home’s facade, all the better to establish a harmonious look.

5. Speaking of jewelry, house numbers, doorknobs/knockers, light fixtures, and mailboxes (if you aren’t required to mount yours at the curb) easily provide the polish that many entryways need. A wide range of styles and materials is available, so choose one that is perfect for your home’s vibe.

Entryways: focusing on the front door

When it comes to style, it probably goes without saying that the front door and the overall style of your home’s architecture should be compatible. Yet one of the mistakes homeowners make, in an understandable attempt to dress up the appearance of their house, is to choose a door that is too formal for the style of their architecture – for example, dark, rich wood tones and etched glass on a simple brick ranch. The unfortunate result is akin to being overdressed for a function: It looks out of place and inappropriate. And there’s no need to go wrong given the dizzying array of styles available today.

But there is much more to choosing a front door than issues of style. Also consider function, durability and safety, as doors take a beating from the elements of sun, wind and rain, not to mention from would-be intruders.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind if you opt for a new door, which can be a substantial, worthwhile investment:

1. Doors nowadays generally come pre-hung (with hinges and framing) in one of three materials: wood, metal, fiberglass-composite or a combination, each with its own set of pros and cons.

2. Wood looks rich and historic, yet it can warp, crack and, if laminated, delaminate. And wood doors are fairly pricey. On the plus side, they can be planed or cut if needed to fit an existing opening, unlike metal or fiberglass.

3. Wood doors, often a hardwood veneer over an engineered wood core, are sold in a range of types of hardwoods or paint-grade softwoods. If you choose a veneer, avoid one thinner than 1/16 inch. Glossy polyurethane-coated wood doors are thought to offer the most protection against moisture absorption, but be sure top and bottom edges are also coated.

4. Steel doors are both durable and secure. Cracking and warping are not issues, and an auto body repair kit will solve dent and ding issues.

5. With inner frames made of wood or steel, steel doors are filled with high-density foam insulation.

6. A range of finishes offers varying degrees of durability, but keep in mind that heat buildup between an aluminum storm door and a steel entry door can cause some finishes to peel.

7. Insulated aluminum doors have a baked-on enamel finish – smooth or woodgrain – that won’t rust, doesn’t require repainting, and allows manufacturers to offer 20-year warranties.

8. Fiberglass-composite doors and frames are a smart choice for our humid and other harsh climates. With wooden stiles and rails and polyurethane-foam insulation, they typically come with long warranties. And their embossed woodgrain pattern is quite convincing, provided, as with steel doors, you make sure that the patterns run vertically on the stiles (vertical members) and horizontally on the rails (horizontal members).

Carefully selecting your front door for decades of lowered maintenance and improved safety, security, energy efficiency, and appearance pays off big over time, while an all-round enhanced entryway offers a boost in curb appeal for your neighborhood and a more gracious welcome for you, your family and friends.

Chris Ettel is founding partner of VB Homes. He serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors, serves as past chairman of the TBA Remodelers Council and is a longtime board member of the Virginia Beach Public Schools Education Foundation. For more information, go to www.vbhomesliving.com and reach Chris at chris@vbhomesliving.com.

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Better design the key for great outdoor spaces on any budget

A fireplace anchors one of the outdoor living spaces at the Ettel home, May 22, 2014.

There is nothing wrong with a backyard grill and a couple of Adirondack chairs. However, if you are at a point in your life where you want your outdoor spaces to feel more like your indoor spaces, consider our tips for better design regardless of budget.

First, decide on the extent of your transformation. Do you want a simple patio or deck, or is a series of outdoor rooms more to your liking? If the latter, yet your budget is tight, consider creating an overall design that can be installed in phases for a result with cohesive flow.

Regardless of the size of your project, consider how you want the outdoor spaces to function. Is it for dining, cooking, conversation, lounging, recreation? How will they connect to the indoors visually and physically? How will they connect to each other and relate to surrounding areas.

Outdoor spaces that aren’t easily accessible, regardless of how beautifully appointed, are not likely to get much use. So consider the inside-to-outside transitions from both the interior and exterior perspectives.

Zones can be established in a number of ways like shifts in hardscaping materials from, say, concrete pavers to brick, or defining boundaries through the placement of planters and plantings. Regardless, moving between zones should feel seamless.

Traffic patterns can be established in similar ways to create spaces that unfold into each other through simple openings or down more formal walkways. If the latter, a curve to help create a sense of discovery is nice.

Always consider the “borrowed landscape” or what lies beyond the areas you are developing, taking advantage of attractive features and views and minimizing or camouflaging those that aren’t, like your neighbor’s shed.

With your plan mapped out, next consider focal points for each area, including sources of fire and water. A full-size fireplace will draw people to it outdoors just as it will indoors, or perhaps more so. But so will a more flexible and affordable fire pit if your space or budget is restrictive. Just be sure to consult building codes in relation to fire safety. Water features, whether an extensive pond or a tabletop fountain, provide both beauty and soothing sounds. Other focal points might include a specimen tree, a garden wall or trellis, or a piece of sculpture.

Provide a variety of seating options for people of all ages: low, high, stationary, portable, rigid and upholstered. Maybe even a swing or hammock. But coordinate colors, styles, and materials and limit the number to avoid a cluttered look. For upholstered furniture, invest in fabrics that can take a beating from the sun and that dry quickly. Overhead, consider some protection from the sun in the form of pergolas, umbrellas or awnings.

And lastly, have some fun decorating your spaces to engage all of the senses and create visual interest in support of your focal points. Be thoughtful in your selection of shapes, colors, and textures in both manmade and natural materials: accent tables, candles and outdoor-rated lighting, throw pillows, rugs, planters, decorative objects, rocks, and plant materials, including some with scents.

Whether your outdoor areas have a kicked-back Parrothead vibe, country-cottage charm, or sleek South Beach sophistication each should be a function of your personal style combined with the style of your home. Outdoor spaces can offer surprise elements perhaps not found inside your home, but generally a few repeated elements, colors, or motifs ensure a more satisfying and harmonious look and feel between indoors and out.

If an outdoor kitchen is in your budget, be sure to read next month’s column. The considerations are many – materials, location, appliances, storage, work surfaces, and ambiance – and we will get you cookin’ outdoors in comfort, safety, and style.

Chris Ettel is founding partner of VB Homes. He serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors, serves as past chairman of the TBA Remodelers Council and is a longtime board member of the Virginia Beach Public Schools Education Foundation. For more information, go to www.vbhomesliving.com.