To Sell Homes, Builders and Developers Must Maximize Their Exteriors

Curb appeal does not stop once you enter the front door, the designs must flow from outdoor spaces into the interior spaces


Feng shui, the ancient Chinese philosophy of interior design, actually starts with a structure’s exterior. According to its tenets, a home’s site, materials, colors, front door, landscaping, and shape on the outside govern its character and mood inside. Symmetrical, proportionally balanced forms are best; front doors should open into a home, never out; structures near street intersections need special protection; and more.

This seemingly spiritual art is actually founded on principles backed by good old-fashioned common sense. More significantly, its tenets reflect the same concerns that are relevant in new residential construction today.

Think about it: if a buyer or renter finds any aspect of a home’s exterior displeasing or challenging, how does it impact their thoughts heading in for a tour? You never get a second chance to make a great first impression. Would a potential buyer or renter want to live in a place that turns them off from the get-go? Probably not.

A home’s exterior signals the quality, aesthetics, and efficacy of its interior, and sets a standard for what’s to come. These two physical dimensions of a structure should be aligned in every way, and both interiors and exteriors should be authentic and durable, taking an area’s climate, local materials, and the vernacular styles into account.

Thanks to our work with builders and developers, we have deep respect for curb appeal and an understanding of what it takes to maximize it, as demonstrated by the exteriors of three recent projects.

This home in New Jersey features crisp detailing and brilliant white to unite the property’s structures.
English Rows in the Midwest

When M/I Homes built a medium density project in Naperville, an upmarket Chicago suburb loaded with large, Victorian-inspired homes, they turned to row houses. While this type of housing was an ideal solution, not all row houses are created equal. We often see versions that are identical in every sense of the word, which doesn’t make for an interesting, vibrant streetscape.

M/I’s goal was to create a row house that looked and lived more like a traditional home. They had a captive market; there was little multifamily in the area, yet there was a healthy market for middle market housing.

Not only did the row houses need to radiate authenticity, charm, style, and personality— they had to have characteristics that made them feel unique. We used massing and detailing to achieve this goal, varying the rooflines, trims, window configurations, doors, cladding, and colors on each unit. Siding includes a lux take on clapboard and dimensional shingles that emulate cedar shake; metal seam roof hips mingle with others clad in dimensional shingles; and two types of brick complement the colorfully painted siding. The overall aesthetic appears custom rather than production.

This Cranbrook tudor revival home called for a regal façade with authentic materials.
Contemporary Tudor Revival

For their model at a custom home community on a magnificent tract of equestrian property outside Detroit, Cranbrook Custom Homes turned to the Tudor Revival style. With its eclectic design elements, which include asymmetrical shapes, steeply pitched roofs, embellished doorways, decorative brick and stone facades, diamond-shaped windowpanes, and elegant entries, the style is well suited to convey the bespoke demeanor Cranbrook needed for its target market.

A home of this stature called for a regal façade with patrician lines, striking windows, sophisticated detailing, and noble exterior materials. A combination of handsome burnt clay bricks and indigenous hewn stone set the tone for a series of distinctive features, such as a protruding, two-story entry with a recessed door topped by diamond-shaped leaded glass windows; attractive divided windows topped with hand-hewn stone headers; a dimensional shingle roof that emulates slate; copper gutters; and antique, gas-burning brass coach lights.To complement the exterior rather than compete with its intricate elements, a low, precisely sculpted boxwood garden underscores the elegant building materials and increases curb appeal.

These row houses used varying exterior materials and colors to create an interesting streetscape.
Farmhouse Reframed

For a prestigious homebuilder’s personal residence in Colts Neck, New Jersey, the exterior façade had to unify a rambling home, a working barn, and a sizeable pool house to convey understated elegance and authenticity rather than overt luxury and ersatz design. Given the size and scale of the structures, our goal was to soften the main building’s long lines without comprising its crisp detailing and give all the structures unity.

Sandy gold Hardie siding and dimensional mottled gray shingle roofs emulate cedar shake and slate roof tiles respectively, and give the structures’ façades a polished yet low-key demeanor. Rough-hewn local stone cladding the porch skirting, front stairway, and chimney, and metal seaming on the porch roof and cupola, add depth and dimension to the minimal palette without compromising its simplicity. But brilliant white on the home’s front door, window casings, trims, and columns makes the façade come to life by outlining its architectural flourishes with precision and grace.

None of these structures would have the beauty, authenticity, and gravitas they exude today without their astutely designed and executed exteriors. What’s outside is just as important, if not more so, than what’s inside.

Mary Cook is the founder and principal of Mary Cook Associates (MCA), a full-service commercial interior design firm that focuses on the homebuilding and hospitality industries. She may be reached at

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