One of our favorite things about the work we do is receiving actual exterior home design ‘after’ photos from our clients. Here’s a stripped down version of how our virtual exterior design service works: Our clients send us a ‘before’ photo of their home’s exterior along with the goals they have for their home’s exterior design. We use this information to create a rendering that incorporates all of the design elements we recommend for our clients’ homes — the ‘after.’ But, as anyone who’s done any home renovating knows, that’s just the beginning of the process.
Marybeth Lavery in Hershey, Pennsylvania, is one of those clients who made our day when she sent us the actual after photo of her home’s exterior curb appeal. She shared the story of her brick&batten experience with us. And she was kind enough to allow us to share it with you .
This exterior home design case study is broken into three parts. First, we’re going to introduce you to her home before she worked with brick&batten. Second, we provide insight into the process our designers undertook while designing her home’s exterior. Finally, we share Marybeth’s renovation process and photos of what her home looks like today, after implementing her design.
We’ve partnered with thousands of homeowners on helping them make their curb appeal dreams a reality. Worked with us and interested in sharing your story? Contact us here. New to brick&batten and wanting to learn more? Take a deeper dive into how our virtual exterior design service works here.
Part 1 // The Before
The starting point
Marybeth’s home is a brick Cape Cod built in 1947. It’s located in Hershey, Pennsylvania, near the town center. The small town of Hershey has an interesting history — it was built by Milton S. Hershey for his workers. Marybeth loves her town and its history, as well as the location of her home, on a street lined with sycamore trees. She and her husband bought the home recently, downsizing to a home with a good location and “good bones.”
“We love the neighborhood, which is an older neighborhood with sidewalks and great walkability to restaurants, theatre, grocery store, etc.,” says Marybeth.
The homes on Marybeth’s street are close together, as is common near the center of town. She notes that several homes nearby are being purchased, torn down, and newly built. But that wasn’t what Marybeth wanted to do.
“We love the sweet Cape Cod look,” she says. “We really wanted to keep the original home and just give it some much needed attention.”
“When my husband and I decided we needed assistance in figuring out a few things we wanted to do to improve our newly purchased home,” says Marybeth, “we found brick&batten, which seemed to be a perfect match for our needs.”
She remembers googling “curb appeal” to find us.
“The information on the brick&batten website was so professional,” she says, “and the photos of the before and afters really got us interested in inquiring further.”
Goals for the exterior home design
Marybeth refers to what their house needed as a “perk-me-up.” In her words:
It had good bones but was on the shabby side. We love brick, but ours was in poor condition. There are two large, beautiful picture windows in front of the house on the left and right of the front door. However, the windows had no room for shutters to accent them. We were hoping for suggestions on that. Also, we wanted to add a front door portico and didn’t think we could do that because the center of the house (front door area) is the most protruding part of the house. So we didn’t think it would be possible to add a portico without it looking like it would protrude even more.
Basically, we asked for any suggestions on curb appeal and possibility of adding a portico. It was important for us to update our home, but still have it fit in with the other homes on the block.
In addition to sending a few images of her home’s front façade, Marybeth also sent us photos of her home’s side porch and back deck. Note: Even if you’re partnering with us on a one-side exterior design, we encourage you to send in photos of fixed elements on other parts of your home that you want us to consider in the design.
We asked Marybeth how she felt after she clicked ‘submit’ on her order.
She says she and her husband felt excited, “but we figured we would just get a few ideas that we could take or leave to get us started. We had no idea we would use the photo and try to match it as closely as possible.”
Part 2 // The Design Process
Next, we’re going to explain the exterior home design process that we used when coming up with the rendering of Marybeth’s home above. Our co-founder Allison Vaccaro created the design and gave us some insight into what went into it.
This is one case study; we’ve designed thousands of homes, and while each one is a bit different, our clients’ experiences are consistent. The step-by-step of our virtual exterior design service is explained here.
The overall exterior home design process
Allison shared how she begins home designs in general, and her process for working on Marybeth’s home in particular.
Here’s a lightly edited version of what it looks like when Allison sits down and starts working on a home:
The big picture
First I read the submission so I know what I’m not supposed to touch… e.g. the windows or the roof. I also try to get a vibe on who the person is — edgy, traditional, that kind of thing.
From there, I take a step back, look at the house, and think to myself what would come first. I don’t get involved in any of the actual design, I just stare at the picture of the home and think, ‘If I could do what I wanted, what would I do? Would I make this a dark house, a light house, something modern? Is there a place to do wood accents?’
Then, I take all of that and go back to what I’m not allowed to do and what the client wants, and I start making decisions… For example, if the windows have to stay white, I’ll pick some other area where I’m going to use white… columns, gables, eaves, soffits, etc.
Once I have a color idea nailed down, then I start to focus on the door. That’s one of the most important things we do, that’s where the guests come in and out, that should be the focus. It’s where you’re leading the eye when you do a design. In my mind, I have a repertoire of doors to pick from. I’ll choose based on how much sunlight I think it’s going to get… wood or fiberglass, not stained wood if it’s going to get beat up. I think stylistically and functionally.
From there, I start mocking up the home design: colors, door, pulling in landscape based on the home’s environment.
Next, I think about what I want the walkway to look like.
Then, if the homeowner has given us the freedom to recommend updates to their windows, I start making decisions about the best style to suit their home’s design.
Allison’s last touches include roof updates, shutters or awnings for windows, and gables or porticos.
Stylistically, we have a modern aesthetic, but I love function, things that are tried-and-true. When there’s lots of functionality built into the product, to me that’s pretty — when something is super functional, like an old Volvo, and you know it’s going to run.
A couple of things stuck out to Allison about Marybeth’s submission. First, she knew based on the use of phrases like ‘cottage’ and ‘window boxes’ the style of home Marybeth was looking for. “She’s telling me without telling me,” Allison says.
Also, Allison loved that Marybeth wanted coverage over her front door. It would have been something she’d wanted to add even without Marybeth mentioning it.
It’s a great place that we can add a lot of value, not only functionally but also considering return on investment. Return is super important to us when designing homes for our clients. And front porches return massively. Even though she had a stoop, adding coverage over her door adds both function and return. It will add value to this house that they’ll get back when they sell it, even if that’s years from now.
The nitty gritty exterior home design process
Now, here’s the real insider scoop — how Allison made decisions about specific elements of Marybeth’s home design. Allison started with fixed elements and the fact that Marybeth wanted to paint her brick.
Because Marybeth wanted to keep her white windows, I wanted to add contrast between the color of the brick and windows, which is why I went with an off-white paint color on the brick, rather than stark white.
Next, the drop light. I love these, gas drop lights like this [above the front door, from Bevolo] are gorgeous. I thought of that as another layer to this more-flat house… So now we have the added porch, the layer with the drop light, the gorgeous door behind it, and the flagstone walkway leading up, creating these really cool layers.
Also, if we’re using a stained wood door in a design, I usually don’t choose to use a lot of stain in other places. The goal is to make the door the focal point. If we add too much, it becomes kind of diluted. This is a nice door and needs to be at the center of the show.
Moving on… we love copper gutters, and they look gorgeous against the color of this brick.
Finally, the arched awning over the front door. I like this as an option because Marybeth’s home has so many squares, I was trying to find something to contrast the hard angles.
Marybeth received the above image as a clickable PDF, allowing her to source all of the materials she and her builder needed with ease. As she told us:
We were hoping for some ideas, but when the deliverables were emailed to us exactly on time, we were blown away by the photo. I am not kidding, I had tears in my eyes.
Because our main priority is for our clients to be happy with the exterior home design process, our virtual exterior designs come with one free element revision. (Learn more in our FAQ.) Marybeth took us up on this. “We asked for a second suggestion for the front sidewalk because our township has very strict, but necessary, pervious/impervious requirements due to storm water drainage,” she explains. “The revision came to us the same day as our request.”
Part 3 // The Actual After
Finally, we’re going to share what Marybeth did in order to get the gorgeous actual after photo of her home pictured above.
Like Marybeth, you too could come home every day to a view that you adore! The first step: Envisioning it. Our virtual exterior design services will help you get started.
Marybeth received her design from brick&batten at the end of October 2020. She worked with a builder to begin her renovation in mid-March 2021. The project took around 3 months, start-to-finish. “It would have been faster,” says Marybeth, “but weather and difficulty getting some supplies slowed us down a bit.”
Implementing the home design
We asked Marybeth what role her brick&batten home design rendering played in the process of working with a builder. Her response: “That’s an easy one. Whenever the builder had a question, I would just say, ‘I don’t know, let’s look at the picture from brick&batten.'”
The builder had to do some minor adjustments to account for our gutters and spouting. He also built a different railing than in the photo because our township has a regulation about the size of the space between wood slats. Having said that, we used the original photo to inspire us to find something different from the usual vertical rail look. We LOVE it!
Other than that, we used all the paint suggestions, window box look, lighting look (Bevolo), front porch planters etc, as suggested by brick&batten.
Marybeth wanted to make sure to give a shout out to Roy on the Bevolo team, saying “He was the best!” (We love our vendors and their customer service and sales teams! We only recommend products that we know, love, and trust.)
How it feels
As we mentioned earlier about Marybeth’s goals for the project, she and her husband wanted to update their home in a way that honored its inherent character. “We are even keeping the original coal chute that leads to the basement,” Marybeth says. “It is hidden by a bush, but it’s a fun thing to show our guests.”
It was important for us to update our home, but still have it fit in with the other homes on the block. That is exactly what brick&batten gave us. I must say, I feel like it is the gem of the block, but it is not out of place either. We couldn’t be more pleased. The design and the outcome exceeded expectations by far. We are so thrilled. We get numerous compliments daily from neighbors and town residents.
Not long after the dust settled on her exterior home renovation project, Marybeth was ready for another project. What came after the exterior home design after for Marybeth? A puppy!
It ends up that this is a huge dog owner neighborhood, and everyone is always out walking their dogs. So we got a new puppy to coordinate with our new adorable home! Both are great ways to meet people and have uplifting conversation!
This is why we love our work
Marybeth’s story — and the fact that she was so gracious to share it with us (and you!) — is the biggest reason why we love what we do. Our designers lose sleep when a client isn’t 100% happy with their design, and they work tirelessly to rectify it. (It happens, and that’s why we have revisions built into our process — see our FAQ for more information.) But hearing from clients like Marybeth makes our day, week, even month. It’s why we’re excited to sit down in front of the computer each day and help homeowners and business owners envision the changes they can make that will help them better enjoy their biggest investment.
We get it. Exterior home renovations aren’t quick and easy. But they can be fun and completely worth the effort, both from an ROI standpoint and from an enjoying-life perspective. So what are you waiting for? Get started on your exterior home design today.
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