Exterior Emphasis: 6 Tips for Creating Authentic Architecture

Authentic architecture creates memorable curb appeal and can distinguish your homes in a competitive market or master-planned community. It’s also what homebuyers want and will help you sell more homes faster. But what’s considered authentic architecture in our postmodern era?

What Buyers Want

People desire to live in a home authentic to its architecture’s spirit and character, no matter the style. As designers and builders, we can deliver through thoughtfully designed homes that create a compelling narrative about the lifestyle people can expect to enjoy living in them. 

Authentic architecture transcends a specific style. Rather, it’s a set of principles and considerations that come together to distinguish homes and streetscapes that holistically connect them to their environments. It’s an attention to detail that creates a distinct sense of place, can set your community apart, and keeps buyers from moving on to your competitors. 

1. Human-Centered Proportions

It’s important to keep in mind that we’re designing homes for real people who desire comfort, a level of predictability, and a sense of arrival. Design for heights that are human-scaled and approachable. Porch sizes should be welcoming and not overwhelm. Column style should align with the home’s style, paying special attention to pattern and scale. Garage massing is a particular challenge and can easily dominate the entire exterior. Take care to blend the garage as one element of the design, not the main element or focal point. 

2. Style Through Shape

The roof is a key feature that reinforces a home’s architectural theme, from the dramatic, pitched gables of modern farmhouses to the gentle slopes of mid-century homes. Roof style and pitch organize the home’s composition, create movement, and draw the eye to specific areas or details. Color and texture can also create shape and distinction while visually breaking up the exterior view—from the first floor to the second floor, for example. 

The John Zay Guest House expansion is a wonderful example of using different textures to add visual interest and break things up between the first and second floor. Interesting side note: what you see here is actually one building! To help the guest house blend into the streetscape of the historic Colorado Springs neighborhood where it’s located, we designed it to have the appearance of two single family homes from the street.

Windows are the ‘eyes’ of a home and play a large part in enhancing its soul and character. Size, orientation, shape, and trim should be in proportion and complement the home’s style and materials. 

Prairie style home at Vivant designed by KGA Studio Architects
Prairie style homes are known for flat or shallow roof lines and rows of windows.

3. Materials that Make Sense

No matter which architectural styles you select, match the materials to the motif or era. It’s an HGTV world, and most homebuyers can tell the difference between a Craftsman bungalow and a modern Prairie-style home. Authentic elevations are those that incorporate appropriate materials in thoughtful ways. Masonry is earthy, organic, and grounding, and should be used for base or first-level design and not as a floating element on upper floors where it looks out of place. Transitions in color, material, or trim along a home’s exterior should wrap or progress in a visually pleasing way to create cohesion and uniformity. 

Traditional farmhouse elevation with covered front porch by KGA Studio Architects
Using masonry at the base of the home is an authentic, effective way to ground the design. Also notice the design details on the garage, which help blend it with the elevation.

4. Grand Openings

Doors and windows are important supporting actors in a home’s exterior design. A front door is an opportunity for buyers to customize their home and can round out the design with a pop of playfulness, sophistication, or drama, depending on the style. Today’s incredible selection of doors available at varying price points makes it easy to add character and enhance your community’s elevations. 

Consider how windows contribute to the home’s overall composition, paying careful attention to consistency, proportion, and how they work in agreement with the architecture. Placement and size should be appropriate for the exterior space. Shutters are timeless, classic, and popular in master-planned communities, but often they’re not to scale and look inauthentic. Specify appropriate materials (no brick!) and be sure they’re sized proportionally so the shutters could completely cover the window they trim. 

Mountain home architecture design trends from KGA Studio Architects
Consistent window proportions create a pleasing aesthetic that complements the over-all design.

5. Full-Circle Elevations

Four-sided architecture was once more of a nice-to-have in new communities. Now, thanks to HGTV (again), Pinterest, and Instagram, homebuyers expect it. It’s not only good business, it’s simply better design. Your homes have a story to tell, and four-sided architecture completes the narrative. And since side elevations can often be seen from the street or sidewalk, this level of detailing helps develop an authentic style-driven streetscape and a sense of place that homebuyers enjoy and value.  

In smaller plans, including windows on both sides of corner walls helps make the space feel larger.

6. Details that Drive Design

Small details make a significant impact. Homebuyers recognize pride in craftsmanship when they see it, and trim and style-appropriate brackets, braces, facias, and soffits are thoughtful features that enhance the design. Adding detail to other parts of the exterior can help blend the garage into the elevation so it’s less of a focal point—lighting, stonework, porch detail, and columns can create movement up and away from the area and a more balanced composition.

Keeping It Real 

Investing in thoughtful and high-quality authentic architecture can make your neighborhood stand out in a competitive master-planned community and help homebuyers better envision what life could be living there. Make your homes places where people want to experience their own life stories. Authentic architecture creates distinction, increases visual appeal, and gives buyers a place they would be proud to call home. 

Special thanks: this blog was inspired by a panel discussion by KGA Studio Architects Partner John Guilliams with Tom Devine of Housing Design Matters and Sue Wadden of Sherwin-Williams at the 2021 IBSx Virtual Conference.

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