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360-degree architecture: exterior appeal on all sides

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | March 17, 2014

Did you ever stop to think about what your house looks like from the rear or the side?

You might wonder how you look from the back in that new pair of pants, or whether your profile would be enhanced by a little facial work. You might even ask someone you trust what they think. But you'd probably never ask your neighbor if your siding makes the back end of your home look…less than attractive.

According to architect Jim Wentling, however, it is time you gave the side and rear elevations of your house a critical appraisal. At a presentation he gave to attendees of the 2014 NAHB International Builders' Show, Wentling said that 360-degree architecture is trending.

"Housing has become more and more mass-produced, product-oriented," says Wentling. "Builders just look at the front elevation." Most tract home plans focus on interior layout. That, in turn, dictates the appearance of the rest of the exterior elevations based on things like interior window placement. "The sides and rear are just what's best for the floor plan," he says.

Often, the appearance of the sides and back of the house is not given a thought.

What is 360-degree architecture?

Wentling's firm, James Wentling Architects' in Philadelphia, Pa., has been working with builders on both single and multifamily homes in planned communities for over 26 years. He believes this lack of attention to all sides of the home is starting to change. Wentling cites "better design of our communities," as a catalyst, thanks to organizations like the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU).

CNU is encouraging development of attractive, practical modern communities based on sustainability, walkability, and appropriate housing choices for the needs of a diverse population. One of CNU's "hallmarks" is "appropriately designed buildings [that] define and enliven streets and other public spaces."

These newly planned communities are, in fact, re-defining residential building design by inspiring homes that look good from all angles -- front, side, and rear elevations -- 360-degree architecture.

Frontside of Dutch Colonial
Front of Dutch Colonial. Photo courtesy of James Wentling Architects.

Side view of Dutch Colonial
Side of Dutch Colonial. Photo courtesy of James Wentling Architects.

Dutch Colonial from the back
Rear of Dutch Colonial. Photo courtesy of James Wentling Architects.

According to Wentling, moving the garage back from the front of the house is one such design standard. Brick siding that goes all the way up the front elevation instead of stopping halfway and that wraps around all four sides is another.

Wentling currently incorporates concepts such as these into his higher-end, custom homes, but he expects to see some of them start to trickle down to lower-priced homes. One of his favorite touches, especially for a corner-lot home that is visible on two sides, is a "friend's entrance." It's a nice alternative to having guests enter your home through the garage when they park in the driveway. The additional entry can also serve as a focal point when positioned on another side of the home.

Second entry for home
Second entry near garage. Photo courtesy of James Wentling Architects.

Side entry deisgn
Design for side entry. Photo courtesy of James Wentling Architects.

How can existing homes incorporate 360-degree architecture?

If you are like a lot of homeowners, you are kept busy just tackling your home's curb appeal -- front landscaping and siding, garage, driveway, and entrance. You may not have had time or resources to worry much about the other sides of your house beyond mowing the lawn, cutting back the shrubs, or painting every few years.

Wentling concedes that it's "harder to achieve [360 degree architecture] with existing homes without spending a lot of money, but some types of add-ons can help."

Here are a few of his suggestions if you want to achieve an all-around, integrated design for your existing home's exterior:

  • Add side and/or wrap-around porches. Make sure if a house faces the street on two sides that both look good. You can wrap a front porch around to one or both sides of the house to create architectural interest depending on the style of your home and the amount of available space.
  • Use the same siding materials on all elevations of the home. An attractive siding, cultured stone, or brick veneer used not only on the front elevation but also on the sides and back of the home makes it look less like a movie set and more like a complete house.
  • Create a pent roof on one side of the house. A pent, or shed roof, has a slant on only one side and is a great way to create architectural interest on an otherwise bland side of the house.
  • Add a sunroom. It may seem like an interior improvement, but think, too, how a sunroom enhances the back or side of your home from the outside.
  • Relocate and/or add replacement windows and exterior doors. Breaking through walls to add new windows and doors can get pricey. However, like a sunroom, a well-placed bay, bow, or picture window -- or a bank of windows -- does more than just improve your indoor living space.
  • Build a covered or screened-in back porch with a gabled roof. A back porch will certainly increase the size of your home's rear, but it's an elegant addition you won't be at all ashamed to show off.

Keep a couple of things in mind if you are thinking of these or other improvements for your home:

  • When making additions, be sure the roof line is considered from all sides.
  • If you have a house that faces the street on two sides, it needs curb appeal on both.

Finally, consult with an expert designer and architect to make sure you can achieve the overall effect you expect.

About the Author

Iris Price is a single Baby Boomer whose antidote to a lack of retirement funds was to launch a long-delayed career as a writer. While others her age concoct bucket lists and travel the world, she bought a new-construction home and obsessively creates lists of must-have home improvements and personal realization goals. She specializes in writing about home services and self-motivation.