We know, we know: Don’t judge a book by its cover. But homes are a different story. Have you ever walked down a street and pretended to call “dibs” on your favorite house? Presto: the power of a good exterior.
Everyone wants guests to feel welcome as soon as they walk through the door. But while you can spend years creating just the right vibe inside, the truth is that the mood is often set from the sidewalk. A home’s exterior design cultivates that ever-important curb appeal. Still, there are many options (and budget levels) to refresh your facade, from a new paint color to a complete architectural overhaul. Either way, the payoff is something homeowners and passersby alike get to enjoy every day.
Read on to see how these 15 exterior designs nail a memorable first impression. (Hint: Sometimes a simple flower box is a good starting point.)
Exterior Design With a Zesty Front Door
Danielle Nagel, the graphic designer and photographer behind Dazey LA, was once struggling to buy a home in L.A.’s competitive market. So it came as a surprise when she found a mid-century property during a visit to nearby Palm Springs. “Luckily it was pretty turnkey aside from touching up a few things,” she says. One easy yet impactful design choice? Painting the front door a bright shade of orange. Since the color appears throughout the rest of the house, it hints at what’s to come.
Exterior Design That Puts an Addition Front and Center
Paul Neaville and Marisa Luzzatto did not want to leave their Washington, D.C., home, even though their two kids seemed to be rapidly outgrowing it. The family had just redone their backyard, too, and felt like a common addition at the rear of the property would’ve wasted that project. Luckily architect Catherine Fowlkes came up with a solution to rethink the layout, which included adding more square footage—to the front. Seen from the street, the extra space and a new porch are a fun twist on traditional features, complete with trendproof beige siding and gray brick.
Exterior Design That Makes a Scandi Splash
Swedish model-turned-chef and founder of Malibu Farm Helene Henderson drew from her Scandi roots to inspire her home’s eco-minded design. Floor-to-ceiling windows let in plenty of light (and ocean views), while cross-ventilation and concrete floors keep things naturally cool. “I definitely like the simplicity of Nordic style: clean, simple, with a little bit of cozy,” she shares. That ethos is also clear in the backyard, where the pool and lounge area extend to include a lush vegetable garden and mini menagerie complete with goats, chickens, and a pig.
Exterior Design With a Colorful Link to the Past
As Ellen Sitkin renovated the New Orleans family home she shares with her husband and two children, she and architect Kim Allen of Studio BKA had to stick to some strict preservation rules. The shotgun-style home was built circa 1914, and any permanent modernizations had to be approved by the Historic District Landmarks Commission. The pink porch, however, was an old-meets-new decision that matched the family’s and the city’s personalities. “Living in New Orleans, where the houses are super-colorful, I was like, I have to make it brighter,” she says. It’s a lesson in looking to your local color for inspiration.
Exterior Design That (Magically) Frames the Landscape
For those who live in places with stunning vistas, the goal is to orient the property to soak in the surroundings as much as possible. Brad Horn and Maria Berman, the husband-and-wife architects behind Berman Horn Studio, were building a home from the ground up on 20 wooded acres in Maine—so they made the unique decision to split the main house and the guest quarters in two, linking them with a “screened-in” porch that resembles a greenhouse. “We almost wanted the house to be invisible, for you to see right through it,” Berman explains. The 60 screens can be disassembled come winter and allow the couple and their family to make the most of their time in the wild landscape. Talk about an epic sunset happy hour!
Exterior Design That Reflects the Energy Upgrade Within
When Alan Barlis, who founded the architecture firm BarlisWedlick, was asked to update this New York State property from its 1980s past, it turned into an undertaking that was as much about energy efficiency as it was about aesthetics. The timber-frame cabin with brick and warm wood details kept its modern, cozy appeal from the outside. While inside, airtight insulation, new windows, a waterproofed basement, and sealable fireplaces now lower the property’s energy usage by 70 percent.
Exterior Design With Modern Monochrome
Chef-turned-designer Sara Manning and her husband, Drew, decided to settle their young family in a Victorian property in Vermont in part due to the “great front porch culture” on their street. Another exterior detail that felt right? The home’s monochrome forest green, which Manning simply covered with a few coats of fresh paint. Skipping the trim creates an unexpected look that blends right in with the leafy block.
Exterior Design That Goes From Boxy to Architectural Gem
Designer Shanty Wijaya could have followed in the footsteps of many a house flipper and simply painted the exterior of this originally boxy Los Angeles property to make it look like new. But instead she created architectural interest from scratch by installing eco-friendly Accoya wood for a Scandi-meets-Japandi finish. To do this, Wijaya used tongue-in-groove boards for the siding, thicker slats to shade the front porch, and wider posts for the fence. “Even though it’s the same wood, it creates such depth and texture,” she says.
Exterior Design That Is Ready to Host a Party
San Diego–based interior designer Abbie Nabber wanted to avoid a dining space that was “formal and stuffy and unapproachable,” opting for an indoor-outdoor zone covered in playful mid-century–inspired tile. To make the new addition feel like a seamless extension of the existing structure, she raised the roof and added wood slats to the ceiling, visually connecting the two spaces. The tile also serves an environmental purpose: It’s grass-free in drought-prone Southern California (decomposed granite and native plants pop up elsewhere on the property).
Exterior Design That Creates an Urban Oasis
In her Melbourne family home, Rae Maxwell (founder of modern furniture company Barnaby Lane) often blurs the lines between outdoors and in by simply opening the massive glass door in the living room. While renovating the Edwardian structure, Maxwell and her husband saw potential for the backyard to become a lush oasis—there was just a bunch of paving to tear out first. Now floor-to-ceiling glass along the entire facing wall frames the view onto the verdant green space.
Exterior Design That Is in Its Element
The minimalist Maine cabin of Julie O’Rourke (founder of kids’ clothing line Rudy Jude) and her husband, Anthony Esteves (a trained sculptor and builder), doesn’t only look zen. The 600-square-foot home, which the couple built themselves, is affectionately dubbed the Soot House after the deep black, soot-based fermented paint that coats its exterior and naturally resists rot (the small addition was charred using the Japanese shou sugi ban technique).
Exterior Design That Blends in With the Surroundings
At sunset, this Yucca Valley rental blends right in with the desert landscape. The pink facade and marigold-hued door might stand out in a city setting, but the mood-boosting colors look right at home when paired with the Fireclay Tile–lined pathway, succulents, and a sprinkling of sand. No wonder, then, that “the birds like to hang out by the front door,” says Claire Thomas, who designed the Airbnb with her friend, cinematographer Yayo Ahumada.
Exterior Design With a Major Vinyl Siding Glow-Up
When Kay Volmar and her husband bought this Florida house sight unseen a decade ago, the contractor who inspected it gave them a single word of advice: run. The property had many issues, and one of its biggest problems was that the exterior siding had long ago seen better days. Still, Volmar saw promise. She centered the front door and painted it in Warm Springs by Benjamin Moore, a bright teal that pops against the brand’s beloved White Dove, which now appears on the refreshed siding. To top it off, a curved stone tile walkway and window boxes brimming with fragrant begonias, petunias, and verbena make you want to stop (not run) and smell the flowers.
Exterior Design That Channels a European Vacation
Even though developers had previously “white-boxed” the historic London mews home that Angus and Charlotte Buchanan of Buchanan Studio were fixing up, the creative couple was able to bring back plenty of character. Most notably, they removed drywall to reveal the original bricks, added traditional tongue-and-groove paneling to the walls, and clad the ceiling in salvaged rafter beams. Lastly, they dotted the exterior windows and doors in a cheerful poppy red. Pull a bistro table and chairs into the alley and “it feels like Paris,” notes Charlotte.
Exterior Design With the Long Term in Mind
After Adam Gilmer and his wife, Sara, bought a plot on Vancouver Island in 2016, they spent the next 10 months working with local firm Strong Built to create a steel-clad structure, which they share with their two young kids. The steel only needs to be washed off occasionally, so the couple can avoid costly paint jobs down the road. “We wanted it to last forever,” says Gilmer. And it just might, given the material’s durability and the fact that its all-black facade is forever on trend.
Originally published in Domino
Text by Lydia Geisel and Kelly Dawson