From windows and doors to gardens and lights, enhancing a home’s exterior appearance can take many shapes and forms.
Does it ever feel as though your home has lost some of its appeal? There are many ways to revive its appearance, and there are many starting points. But what investments will have the greatest impact? Landscaping, lighting, and windows and doors can say a lot to those who see it from the street, no matter if you’re looking to sell your home or simply giving it a facelift. Perhaps the most important starting point, though, is to do some research and identify your goals.
Know Your Endpoint
Whenever he meets new clients, Ron Strobel, general manager at Simply Windows & Doors, 9235 S. Illinois Route 31, Lake in the Hills, has one overriding question in mind.
“Our first question is always why you want windows for your home,” he says. “We want to find out what exactly is going on.”
The response he receives can tell him a lot about his prospective client’s goals. The answer may also affect where he steers the conversation, because it’s not always the case that windows need to be outright replaced. Sometimes a repair is sufficient.
“Replacing windows can be an expensive process,” Strobel says. “We get some people who come to us and say, ‘Listen, I’m putting my home up for sale. I’m looking for new windows for the home so I can sell it.’ Well, the reality is, if your windows are repairable, it makes more sense to repair them than to replace them. That way, you can save some money. If all of the windows are operating properly and function the way they should, you don’t need to replace them.”
Many customers don’t realize they have that option. While the Simply Windows & Doors showroom carries several top brands of windows and doors, its parent company, Quality Services and Repair, handles installation of new windows and the service or repair of existing products. If you’re considering merely repairing your windows, pay attention to the manner of installation, says Strobel.
“We take your old frame and pull it and put in a whole new frame, new trim, new everything,” he says. “There are companies that do insert windows where they remove the center of your windows and insert another window inside of that and put aluminum capping on the exterior. It saves you money, but if you’re replacing your window because you have rotten wood or rotten product, we’re just covering up some problem areas.”
Assess Your Environment
We all have dreams of how we might improve our homes, but reality often keeps us in check. The truth is that our current landscaping, existing trees, and the presence of hills, drainage issues, walkways and other features provide essential clues and talking points for a landscape designer. Before seeking professional input at the local landscape nursery, it’s a good idea to assess your current conditions.
Start with some pictures of your current setup, says Sean Ducey, manager at Whispering Hills Nursery, 8401 S. Illinois Route 31, in Cary. Then, take some notes on other aspects of your existing landscape.
Watch how the sunlight hits your yard and house. Are there existing trees that cast shade? Are there low spots that collect water or areas where the soil is particularly wet, dry, fertile or barren?
“Nobody’s going to go to a car dealership without any idea of their needs,” says Ducey. “They’re going to have some basic knowledge. That’s what you want to do as you prepare. Start gathering basic knowledge of your landscape.”
Like many nurseries in our region, Whispering Hills carries a wide variety of plant stock, mulch, soil and features like decorative stone. Nursery staff have plenty of expertise to help guide the do-it-yourself landscaper on what plants work for certain settings. The team also includes dedicated landscape designers and installation crews who can deliver, plant and finish every element of the landscape, from boulders, retaining walls and walkways to trees, shrubs and flowers.
Regardless of whether a customer is installing themselves or hiring a crew, Ducey and the nursery staff can guide the conversation. Whenever a customer brings in photographs from landscape magazines or other inspired designs, these help the nursery team to better identify that person’s tastes. Add in the information about what’s currently in the yard, and nursery staff can better steer a customer toward the plants that are a best fit.
The conversation may also turn toward maintenance and upkeep. Ducey says it’s crucial to be honest about the level of upkeep you can provide.
“Some people come in and say, ‘I want these beautiful roses,’ and we ask them, ‘OK, what kind of time do you have to give to them?’” says Ducey. “If they say they work five days a week from nine to five, then maybe this certain type of plant needs more upkeep than you’re ready for. There are other options. Be realistic with yourself.”
At the same time, avoid the temptation to buy everything under the sun. Understand how much space a plant requires to grow, and ensure it won’t be overcrowded by the other features in your landscape.
While there is no such thing as a low-maintenance plant, everything needs at least the occasional upkeep. For busy people who want to give a minimum of upkeep, Ducey will steer them toward plants that aren’t fussy and have high impact. Diervillas, a North American native that’s also known as bush honeysuckle, are drought-tolerant and give off vibrant colors in the fall. Similarly, the abundant blooms of hydrangeas have a high impact and they require little more than an annual haircut.
There’s a good chance you have a particular budget in mind for your curb appeal spruce-up. How you apply that money makes a big difference in the end result. Buying for price is fine, but buying for value will yield long-lasting results.
“When buying outdoor furniture, people tend to price shop instead of buying to last,” says Gretchen Peczkowski, co-owner of Steel Heart Ltd., 10308 U.S. Route 14, in Harvard. “Don’t only shop price; shop quality. A good example is the Steel Heart Ltd. wind spinners.”
These spinners are designed by Gretchen’s husband and business partner, Jacek Peczkowski. Cheaply made alternatives are typically composed of several pieces that are screwed together. “However, the quality is not the same,” says Gretchen.
The neatly manicured gardens and retail store at Steel Heart Ltd. display an impressive array of garden art. Everything from benches and bird baths to estate gates, fences, plant stands and more are built to enhance a home landscape for years to come. This philosophy of built-to-last has been ingrained in the company since its founding in 1997.
“Growing up in communist Poland, Jacek’s family saved to purchase items that would last instead of buying just to serve a purpose,” Gretchen says. “Jacek always tells our daughters, ‘We are too poor to buy cheap.’ Living in a throw-away society, people overlook the importance of quality and sticking with classic designs.”
It’s also important not to overlook quality on more permanent fixtures, like windows and doors. Strobel, of Simply Windows & Doors, encourages his customers to stop by the showroom and get a feel for the investment they are making. Touching and feeling the product gives you a sense of how it’s made, how it’ll look, and whether you can see yourself using the product at home. Samples alone can only go so far.
The same goes for doors, which can make a home a little more special since they’re the first thing people see when walking up to your house, says Strobel. His showroom is filled with real examples of many brands’ doors, from fiberglass and aluminum options to metal and custom wood products.
“Sometimes, people decide the first thing they want to do is have us come out and do some measuring and get an estimate for some new windows,” Strobel says. “We’ll go out, measure their opening, give them an estimate and a quote for new windows, but you may come into the showroom and pick something else.”
Do It Right the First Time
Lighting is an often-overlooked part of a home’s curb appeal. While features like windows, doors and landscaping stand out in the daytime, lighting is most effective at night. Lights come in all sorts of applications, but some require more work than others. Permanent architectural lighting ensures that equipment goes in once and never has to be maintained or replaced.
“We can light up your entire house and accent your eaves and peaks with downlighting,” says Patrick Chlada, owner of Trimlight Chicago, a patented permanent exterior lighting system. “Think about it this way: You pay all this money for your home, and when nighttime comes, nobody sees it. Now, we can have your home lit up and visible so you can enjoy it in the evenings.”
Trimlight began in 2010 as a solution to two problems: quality outdoor lighting and a low-maintenance alternative to seasonal lighting, like what’s common at Halloween or Christmas. Since launching Trimlight Chicago in 2017, Chlada has been offering permanent, programmable architectural lighting for everyday use or special occasions including social gatherings and holidays like the Fourth of July, Halloween, Christmas and more. These LED lights are fully programmable through a smartphone app, and they’re backed up by a 40-year warranty. The savings in time and cost show up quickly, says Chlada.
“Most of our clients are paying for professional lights to be installed every year,” says Chlada. “Look at what you’re paying now, and in 3.5 years you can pay for Trimlight.”
Plan for All Seasons
No doubt your dream of the perfect home involves a summer landscape, with lush greenery and lots of color. But what happens in the harsh cold of winter? Be creative and think outside the box.
“Curb appeal is for all four seasons,” says Peczkowski. “The planters by your front door can be used to hold greens, pinecones and other decor in the winter. Hang bird feeders from shepherd hooks that held flower baskets in the summer.”
Through any season, trellises and arbors support plants, vines and even holiday greenery while adding dimension, filling in a blank space and being a focal point, adds Peczkowski.
The same tactics apply to the garden, where the right mix of trees, shrubs and flowers add year-round interest. Ducey of Whispering Hills advises his customers to keep at least one-third of the front and back yard evergreen so that there’s still some degree of color in the cold winter months. Even things like ornamental grasses and trees can add some color and interest, particularly in fresh snowfall.
“Winter is just as important a season as spring, summer and fall,” Ducey says. “So, we want to capitalize on that by having an amount of evergreen. That’s going to be anything from foundation plants like boxwood and yews to accent plants like cypress or unique varieties of low-growing spruce, which are quite attractive and add greenery all year.”
There are also a number of advantages to installing new work this time of year. Plants set now will be ready to go for spring, and outdoor lighting can go up before the holiday season and harsh temperatures. Windows and doors can go up any time of the year, and that’s a serious reality given the lingering supply chain issues.
“Depending on the manufacturer, they could take anywhere from eight up to 21 weeks right now,” says Strobel of Simply Windows & Doors. “We work year-round. Our guys have installed windows with temperatures outside of 10 degrees below freezing. Things go a little slower at that temperature, but it can still be done.”
No matter the task at hand, whether you’re getting new windows or doors installed or replaced, adding new greenery to your existing landscape, brightening up your home’s trim or adding outdoor accessories to your patio and garden, boosting the attraction of your home’s exterior is not an overnight process. Peczkowski explains that sometimes, the best way to achieve your vision for your home is to be patient and build upon your curb appeal.
“Remember that you don’t have to have everything all at once,” says Peczkowski. “Purchase designs that you can add more pieces to over time.”