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Layer on Classic Details: After

Photo by Roger Foley

Beneath the gray faux-stone siding and front-and-center mudroom addition that this 1940s beach cottage, in Lewes, Delaware, used to have, designer Jeff West saw the simple lines of the colonial-era houses he admires.

Layer on Classic Details: Before

Ditching the mudroom, he skim-coated the exterior and created a period-appropriate portico supported by simple round columns. More quality finishes, such as a cedar-shake roof, copper gutters, and hinged raised-panel shutters, add substance to the little house. For the symmetrical garden, which is bisected by a formal brick walkway, West chose Japanese holly over similar-leafed but slow-growing boxwood, achieving this lavish landscape in just three years.

Shown: Removing a picket fence opened up the front yard to a densely planted symmetrical garden with a pair of weeping cherry trees.

"Classic" Ideas to Steal: Portico

Photo by Roger Foley

Refined additions, like fiberglass columns and fish-scale cedar shingles, enhance the new portico.

Similar to shown: Shingles, about $6 per sq. ft.; Build Direct

Entry columns, from $250 each; Menards

"Classic" Ideas to Steal: Landscaping

Photo by Roger Foley

Pruning the holly shrubs to varying heights creates an undulating effect. Weatherproof fiberglass window boxes and pots create spots for colorful flowers in the all-green landscape.

Shown: Nantucket window box, about $110; Mayne

"Classic" Ideas to Steal: Walkway

Photo by Roger Foley

A mortared walkway of aged brick replaced a curved decomposed-granite path. Cut costs by using thin veneer brick on an existing concrete walk or building a mortarless path with concrete pavers.

Similar to shown: Brookstown Red Thin Series veneer bricks, about $2.88 per sq. ft.; Pine Hall Brick

Fulton Red concrete pavers, about $5 per sq. ft.; Lowe's

Restore the Porch: After

Photo by Courtesy of Van Cleave Architecture + Design

It didn't take long for the new owners to decide to tear open the enclosed front porch of this late-1800s farmhouse, in Wilmette, Illinois. Happily, they found the original posts and windows all in good condition.

Shown: A revived front porch adds a sense of spaciousness and ample streetside charm to what had been a rundown rental.

Restore the Porch: Before

Working with architect Suzie Van Cleave, the couple commissioned new railings that incorporate flatsawn balusters inspired by those of local historic houses, as well as a design detail at the gable-end's peak that repeats the motif. The porch's fascia board, having rotted over time, was replaced with beefier, wider stock to balance the heft of the porch. Finally, the owners splashed the place in Sherwin-Williams's Bolero. Though not a historical color for the area's late-19th-century farmhouses, red was often used on barns of the period. Says Van Cleave, "It seemed appropriate—and a little ironic, since it's in a dense urban neighborhood."

"Porch" Ideas to Steal: Porch Railing

Photo by Courtesy of Van Cleave Architecture + Design

Elaborate flatsawn balusters are often seen on Victorian-era houses; the simple treatment here, interspersed with plain 2x2s, fits this farmhouse. Look for off-the-shelf flatsawn designs, starting at $20 each at Vintage Woodworks. Or create your own custom pattern with a jigsaw; see how at How to Build a Gingerbread Balustrade.

"Porch" Ideas to Steal: Gable Detail

Photo by Courtesy of Van Cleave Architecture + Design

Van Cleave added the triangular pediment at the top, repeating the detail used in the balusters and mounting the piece on brackets. This floating detail was installed over existing vents, allowing them to work unimpeded. Estimated cost: $1,000. Effect: priceless.

"Porch" Ideas to Steal: Porch Skirt

Photo by Courtesy of Van Cleave Architecture + Design

Evidence of critters nesting under the porch showed this had been a cozy place for animals to hole up. Arches cut from ¾-inch marine-grade plywood replaced decayed vertical slats, echoing the curve of the window casing and keeping the area airy and open.

Make it Welcoming: After

Photo by Ken Gutmaker

This new-old Colonial Revival, in Palo Alto, California, had plenty of appeal, with its impressive portico, beefy trim, cedar shingles and roof shakes, and well-placed windows. But not until new owners enlisted designer Carolyn Woods to add billowy symmetrical garden borders and a wide-swinging gate did the place come to life.

Shown: Sturdy shrubs form the backbone of an English-cottage-style garden.

Architect: Roger Kohler, Palo Alto, CA

Make it Welcoming: Before

Out came trees that had hidden the house from view. In went 4-foot-wide beds edged with boxwood and tall 'Iceberg' rose standards, with unfussy perennials, such as yarrow, lavender, and catmint, spilling onto the brick walkway. More sheared boxwood crisply wraps the yard and is tucked into vase-style cast-stone urns. Setting off all this greenery is a 3-foot-tall square-picket fence with an arch-top gate that swings open to point the way to the front door.

Shown: The handsome house lacked a garden frame.

"Welcoming" Ideas to Steal: Fence and Gate

Photo by Ken Gutmaker

Replacing a hedge with a square-picket fence created an enclosure without dominating the landscape. For a similar style in easy-care vinyl, look for pickets and posts with steel cores and frames to ensure the gate won't sag.

Similar to shown: Chestnut Hill cellular PVC picket fence, about $120 per linear foot; Walpole Outdoors

"Welcoming" Ideas to Steal: Front Door

Photo by Ken Gutmaker

The cool-gray stain on the house's individually applied cedar shingles gets a lift from a pale-blue door color.

Semitransparent stain: Driftwood Gray, about $34 per gallon; Cabot

Paint: A Capella, about $70 per gallon; C2 Paint

"Welcoming" Ideas to Steal: Entry Lights

Photo by Ken Gutmaker

Three-light lantern sconces flanking the door and a five-sided pendant hung from the ceiling illuminate the landing and highlight the leaded-glass fanlight and sidelights. A pair of tall candle lanterns at the base of the door adds a romantic glow.

Similar to shown: Livex Lighting's Westover series, about $300 and up; Wayfair

Lanterns: Malta, bronze finish, about $120 each; Pottery Barn

Uncover A Charmer: After

Photo by Courtesy of Texas Construction Company

Cheery colors and streamlined landscaping turned this once dreary teardown, in Austin, Texas, into the coolest house on the block. Builder Royce Flournoy preserved most of the 1939 cottage's original wood siding and updated it with fresh paint.

Shown: This cottage got a modern face-lift with an inviting porch.

Uncover A Charmer: Before

All the limestone chimney needed to restore its textured look was a good power-washing and a new cap. Seeking privacy on this wide corner lot, Flournoy enclosed a section of yard with a western red cedar fence, running the 1-by-2-inch slats horizontally to echo the clapboard siding. Playing off the original trim beneath the porch windows, a new front door features a lower panel detail that's an exact match. The limestone-gravel terrace edged with 'Winter Gem' boxwood is water-wise and easy-care.

Shown: Rundown and smothered in shrubs

"Charmer" Ideas to Steal: Paint

Photo by Courtesy of Texas Construction Company

Flournoy got the warm modern-cottage look he wanted with a classic combo of chocolate-brown amped up with a zingy green.

Paint: Iron Mountain (body) and Pale Avocado (louvered shutters), about $50 per gallon; Benjamin Moore. Gypsum (trim), about $38 per gallon; PPG Pittsburgh Paints

"Charmer" Ideas to Steal: Slatted Details

Photo by Courtesy of Texas Construction Company

The new fence is made from 1-by-2-inch clear western red cedar that will fade to a soft gray similar in hue to the limestone chimney. The front-porch swing is made from fade-proof recycled plastic.

Similar to shown: Cedar slats, about 50 cents per linear foot; Lowe's

Highwood Weatherly 4-Foot Porch Swing, about $330; Amazon

"Charmer" Ideas to Steal: Landscaping

Photo by Courtesy of Texas Construction Company

Rectangular slabs of poured concrete set into the crushed-gravel terrace are a budget answer to a stone-slab walkway. For a tree-lined lawn in a hot, humid climate like Austin's, look for a true-dwarf cultivar that is notably shade tolerant and requires less mowing.

Amerishade St. Augustine grass, about $225 per pallet (covers 450 sq. ft.); King Ranch Turfgrass

Let in the Light: After

Photo by Courtesy of Bennett Frank McCarthy Architects

Having to scrunch down to see out front windows blocked by a low-pitched roof gets old fast. Just ask the owners of this 1920s house, a once dim tiny Cape, in Takoma Park, Maryland, that they transformed into a Craftsman-style cottage.

Shown: New front steps and a central path provide easy access to the front door.

Let in the Light: Before

Looking for more square footage, the homeowners turned to architect Shawn Buehler to add on in back and give the front rooflines an overhaul too. The result is an open porch with a gable-end roof featuring a unique slatted design that echoes the porch railings. Local codes restricted the new porch to a depth of 9 feet, but the airy design makes it feel larger—and brighter, too. To add interest to the faux-slate roof, Buehler created a patterned inlay accent. A house that was "sort of weird" is now a storybook showstopper, right at home in a historic neighborhood of bungalows.

Shown: The front door was hidden by a low roof and a walled-off porch.

"Light" Ideas to Steal: Porch

Photo by Courtesy of Bennett Frank McCarthy Architects

The roof is a take on a classic Craftsman side-gable design, with railings and an open gable detail constructed of ½-by-4-inch wood slats. While appearing to support the porch roof, the anchoring brackets are actually hollow PVC boxes, as are the tapered columns built around 44 structural posts.

"Light" Ideas to Steal: Roof

Photo by Courtesy of Bennett Frank McCarthy Architects

Synthetic slate has advantages over natural slate: It's lighter in weight, negating the need for extra structural support; it's easier to trim; and it costs about one-third less. Generating the inlay's layout on a computer first (you could do the same on graph paper) sped up installation and helped cut the cost.

Majestic Slate, about $7-$9 per sq. ft., installed; EcoStar LLC.

"Light" Ideas to Steal: Paint

Photo by Courtesy of Bennett Frank McCarthy Architects

Employing the design "rule of three," a clay-red accent color is repeated three times: on the roof tiles, on the lower edge of the slatted gable, and at the base of the columns. This highlights key features and keeps the eye traveling from the bottom of the house to the top.

Paint: Wild Sage and Rookwood Dark Green (siding) and Rookwood Terra Cotta (accents), $50 per gallon; Sherwin-Williams

Use Color to Play Up Details: After

Photo by Gridley + Graves

Hidden behind a stand of ailing century-old trees, this magnificent 1870s Italianate, in Berks County, Pennsylvania, had seen better days.

Shown: Once cloaked in foliage, the 33-foot-long, 8-foot-deep porch is now an open invitation to gather.

Homeowner's blog:

Use Color to Play Up Details: Before

Four previous owners had left their mark on the place—primarily in the forms of paint and neglect. Intricately carved moldings, paneled shutters, and fretwork had disappeared under a thick crust. Rampant climbing ivy had damaged large sections of brick. Working with local craftsmen, homeowner Brett Youmans repaired the crumbling porch posts, soffits, and 14 decorative corbels, all victims of water damage. Meticulously scraped and patched, the 12-foot-tall porch and 8-foot shutters are now painted in a handsome display of warm and cool grays that show off the home's unique architecture.

"Color" Ideas to Steal: Paint

Photo by Gridley + Graves

After sampling more than two dozen colors, Brett chose a striking combination of Site White for the body and porch columns, and three shades of gray: from light Network Gray (shutter panels) to medium Web Gray (porch floor) to dark Cyberspace (trim), about $50 per gallon; Sherwin-Williams

"Color" Ideas to Steal: Front Door and Ceiling

Photo by Gridley + Graves

The restored double front doors pack a welcome punch of color with a custom shade of red. Pale blue, true to the period, coats the ceiling.

Similar to shown: Moroccan Red (door) and Glacier Blue (ceiling), about $60 per gallon; Benjamin Moore

"Color" Ideas to Steal: Landscaping

Photo by Gridley + Graves

"Sometimes you add by subtracting," says Brett. Removing a stand of trees allowed in sufficient light for a new lawn. Shapely evergreen shrubs—a mix of tough, low-maintenance hollies and boxwoods—line the porch skirt. Red-twig dogwoods, whose crimson stems add winter interest, dot a new walkway to the left of the house leading to the driveway.

Warm Up a Cold Facade: After

Photo by Laurey W. Glenn

What a difference a wash of lime-white can make. As impressive as this 1926 French Eclectic house was, the monotone monolith of red brick lacked detail, depth, and warmth. Reimagined by architect Jeremy Corkern, the Charlotte, North Carolina, home finally got the elegant patina it deserved.

Shown: Whitewashed brick, an arched door, and a bay window gave the once bland vintage house the finesse it needed.

Warm Up a Cold Facade: Before

The front door's 9-foot-tall arched limestone frame is now a dramatic focal point, and the divided lights of the French doors echo the existing windows. Against the pale facade, the gray-slate hipped roof and the multiple-flue chimney pop, and shutters that looked dinky in harsh black now blend in, painted a warm white. Replacing a standard window with a custom bay inset with wavy restoration-style glass added major oomph.

"Warm" Ideas to Steal: Pale Palette

Photo by Laurey W. Glenn

True limewash is a centuries-old type of matte paint made of slaked lime, water, and pigments; off-the-shelf products create a similar patina. The treatment here was done with diluted white latex paint, mixed with sand and applied in a couple of coats using a horsehair brush and a burlap bag for texture. An experienced painting contractor can help choose the best option for your house, depending on the color and condition of the existing brick. Porter's Paints' Lime Wash, about $102 per gallon; Sydney Harbour Paint Company. The other subtle colors at play here: warm white Lambswool (trim and window shutters) and pale-green Artichoke (door shutters), about $62 per gallon; Sherwin-Williams

"Warm" Ideas to Steal: Door and Bay Window

Photo by Laurey W. Glenn

Corkern designed an oversize arched-limestone entry-door casing with 7-foot French doors and a leaded-glass fanlight that balance the towering walls. The prominent molding around the custom bay window mirrors the visual weight of the front entry.

"Warm" Ideas to Steal: Landscaping

Photo by Laurey W. Glenn

The three shrubs on the right and lone shrub on the left are an example of asymmetrical balance. The simplest way to achieve it is with the 3-plus-1 arrangement shown here. Works well with planted pots too.