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Help for Tired Split Level

13 years ago

We just purchased this tri-level home. It has a fabulous floor plan and is in a great location, but lacks curb appeal. The home is currently painted grey with white trim, has brick that is primarily orange and an older cedar shake roof. My husband and I prefer a more traditional appearance, but with charm. Also, don't like that the home feels chopped up.

I would like to alter the home to create curb appeal, but lack the budget to make major changes (i.e. roof, driveway, additions). We plan over the next few years to replace the roof and to add a circular drive (we are on a somewhat busy street and need parking/turn around space). For now, my husband is pretty handy and could make minor changes (paint, larger columns, add porch railing, shutters, window boxes, etc). And, obviously we have lots of work to do on landscaping.

We have already taken out the majority of the plants in the beds as they were either dead or almost there. We are only left with ivy in the bed and two holly shrubs on either side of the large window. Apparently there used to be a large shade tree in the front yard, but had to be removed. We definitely would like to replant a tree (maybe decorative like a cherry).


1) Home Exterior - Should we keep the brick natural or paint the entire home one color for unity? Should we add shutters and window box to the large window? Would square moulded columns and some porch railings help draw attention to the front door? What color paints? I have purchased some new lantern style lights for the front door - black finish rubbed with a bit of copper showing through in spots.

2) Landscaping - Definitely plan to work on the grass once we've completed exterior changes. What plants for the long narrow bed in front of porch? Maybe some knockout roses? What kind of plants in the front bed? (BTW - Home is west facing slightly sloped with intense Midwest sun.) I enjoy lush green beds with repeat flowering perennials. There are two trellises - one next to the front door and another next to the garage door. Thought about some climbing roses or clematis. Also, what kind of tree to plant?

Any advice you have would be very much appreciated. Thanks in advance!

Here is a link that might be useful: Photos of Home

Comments (10)

  • 13 years ago

    More pictures would be a help - e.g., the narrow bed you referenced. Agree you should make your color decisions and architectural changes before planning the landscaping. Nice looking property. Looking forward to what others have to saw and seeing what you do.

    Rosie, in GA

  • 13 years ago

    I think it's a good-looking house, with good proportions. I wouldn't call it "chopped up" looking at all.

    The mushroom-colored siding and white trim don't do anything for each other. I'd paint the siding (first and second floors both) something like the brick color you're testing in the photo of the front door, but with a bit more orange, and a few shades lighter than the brickwork. Paint the garage door the same color. That should give the house more unity than it currently has, de-emphasize the garage, and solve the "chopped up" issue. Consider painting the lower part of the downspout the brick color as well.

    I wouldn't use that color for the front doors, though, since you think the doors aren't noticeable enough. White or black would work, as you're already using them for accent colors (and both colors appear in the used brick). Or keep the doors blue.

    Wait to decide about shutters for the large window until after you've painted the siding. If it bothers you, install shutters; if not, save your money. [Another factor in this decision is the landscaping on either side of the window; will there be shrubs to cover the shutter area? and do you know what the hollies are? Since you're removed most of the shrubs, an updated photo would help.]

    While shutters are optional, I think a window box under the large window is a definite 'No.' The window is too low. Plant 2-3 evergreens in front of the window instead, and grow flowers in front of them in the warm season.

    I don't think changing the columns would draw more attention to the front doors, since the columns are in four different locations across more than half of the building. What will help is keeping shrubbery from concealing the area around the entrance. If whatever climbs the trellis will hide the front doors, then move the trellis elsewhere. I wouldn't put anything taller than a foot or a foot and a half in the area in front of the doors. If you want more color in that area, consider adding a narrow bed on the other side of the walkway for some flowering annuals or perennials.

    How narrow is the narrow bed? Does the porch run the whole distance to the driveway? Am I seeing a walkway in front of the narrow bed, or is that snow?

    Can you tell us what zone you're in? It will help with the shrub and tree recommendations. If you don't know your zone, you can use your zip code to find out:

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  • 13 years ago

    May as well take out the ivy too; it's a noxious weed and will kill anything else you plant with it.

    I'm not seeing the need for plants to be clustered at the foundation of this house. I don't know what the hollies are intended to accomplish. I think I'd remove that whole bed. Most people can't imagine what else to do there but either grass to the walls or a buffer zone of paving stones works, stays tidy, and allows you to paint or do other maintenance after planting. Keep your perennial/what-have-you beds away from the house and I think they will create a nicer frame for it and nicer space in front of it.

    I find knockout roses a bit boring and gas stationy, but if you love them, put them in the narrow bed. But I'd spend some time thinking about why the narrow bed is there and whether you want to keep it. People tend to just obediently plant wherever the builder or previous owner put beds, but you have the right to put them elsewhere!


  • 13 years ago

    Let the landscape say tranditional-ish, not the house. It's a split-level. It will either be a beautifully landscaped split level or a splitlevel trying to be something else. I've got a split level and there are lots in the neighborhood. The first can be lovely--the second, always ridiculous.

    The shutters are a problem, period. They are sized wrong for the windows. Painting them won't make them look better.

    The only area that looks in need of particular help is the high window by the front door. It seems unfriendly because it's so small and high. A large rectangular planter directly under the window would fill the space and create a "friendly" approach.

    I'd get rid of the lattice to the left of the door and terrace that bed to make it flat. I'd put a boxwood or holly hedge in the little bed between the porch and the sidewalk. Why so formal? Well, it's pretty much the only thing that will work as a visual "porch rail" without specifically installing something and just about the only choice for a bed so narrow to ground the house year-round. Without it, you're always visually "falling off" the porch. With the planter at the back for some height and some less formal perennials and annuals in a bed on the other side of the sidewalk, you can have a relaxed/traditional look.

    Please don't paint the door orange. The blue is a little country, but I'd keep the contrast with the brick high. The orange-y red brick is fine, but the paint color is too light and makes too much of a contrast on the rest of the siding. So what you need is door=lots of contrast, walls=less contrast. Paint the siding a deep gray or a mushroom, remove the shutters, and keep the trim white. Make the door a light/bright color--white would look amazing and would keep the color scheme simple and balanced. Change out the porch light to something more substantial.

    Removing the fussy elements would make the house look more traditional. It seems contrary, but it'll let the shape of the house shine through and would clear up the dated elements (fake shutters, the trellis, etc.).

  • 13 years ago

    Thank you all for your fantastic advice. We have now moved the column that was centered on the porch to the original builder placement to the right of the front door. Additionally, we've made them more substantial and picture-frame moulded them. We then added porch railing to define the porch so visitors won't step off:)

    We are currently experimenting with color samples in the dark gray to dark taupe-gray tones for the siding. We are hoping that selecting a darker neutral will help blend it more with the brick so that we don't have a house sitting on top of a ranch:) I think that a deep brick color could also look good, but husband is more amenable to a neutral. For trim, I am staying with the white but softening it slightly to a creamy white. For the front door and shutters, we have decided to wait (as recommended) until the siding and trim has been painted to select colors. However, we are leaning towards the white. Regarding shutters, they are very nice thick solid wood shutters, but if I keep them I will appropriately affix them to the house with hinges.

    Regarding landscaping, I mentioned knockout roses for the narrow bed in front of the porch because 1) it is very hot in the pm Midwest sun and I've had good success with keeping these thriving during the summer and 2) I would like a plant that will repeat bloom all summer providing some needed color. We would welcome other ideas for that bed. Maybe we will expand the bed later when we have the new driveway installed, but right now we'd rather just utilize the beds we have. Regarding front bed, we definitely plan to build up the brick retaining wall and level the bed prior to planting. And, definitely removing ivy.

    Very much like the idea about a window box/planter below the porch window. Just need to make sure we've got enough room so that visitors can walk across porch (especially when it snows/ices).

    Thanks again for all of your opinions. They are very much appreciated.

    Here is a link that might be useful: More Current Home Photos

  • 13 years ago

    The big problem with the shutters it that they are the wrong size, particularly the lower ones! (The upper ones look much better.) But if you're happy, that's what counts. :-)

    Oh, that railing really helps! And with the "pulled out" view--yeah, the shrubs crowding the door visually do need to go. They make the entry look darker, smaller, and less inviting.

    I really love that box window. It'll be fun to design around!

  • 13 years ago

    Thank you reyesuela for your excellent advice:) My big focus this weekend is to get the house painted and then I'll post an updated picture. That should help some with the landscape choices. I know my husband is definitely ready to start work on his lawn and the beds.

  • 13 years ago

    This is a great opportunity to do a clean slate so to speak. Take out the exsisting foliage and get the home/paint look you want. The lawn should be airated and seeded. This will help the lawn in the long run. Then just follow the archtecture of the home acorrdingly. Keep low plantings in areas that you don't want to cover the windows. You will need the natural light. The beds if you are going to add can be layered a bit with low growing shrubs and perrinals mixed with annuals to give some color. This is a great home and I agree it is not choppy but has potential. Check with your local nursery to get a good flowing landscape plan. You will pay for this but you also can empliment the plan as time and money allows.

  • 11 years ago

    I was wondering if anyone could help me with ideas for my tri-level. I must say it is ugly! Any landscaping or quick ideas to make this not so appalling. I was thinking of planters on wheels to go on the drive between the neighbors and our lot. I hate the color.

  • PRO
    11 years ago

    KBaronga, rather than attach your request to someone else's old thread, please start a new thread about your project (at the bottom of Landscape Design Forum main page.)

    It's not clear what's going on at the left side of the walk. You might also add more photos that explain the front yard better.