Driveway Jazz Up
How to transform—or take the focus off—a boring, straight driveway
I live in a newer development and my short driveway makes a straight shot to the garage from the street. How can I make the driveway and garage doors less of a focal point?
Answer: Two-car garages facing the street have become an all-too-common feature of contemporary houses. But there are many ways to fight their overwhelming prominence. Paint tricks, architectural details, colorful plantings, and creative paving designs can do a lot to mitigate an overbearing garage and driveway while creating new focal points to attract the eye.
1. Bring out the house
Start with some changes designed to shift attention away from the garage and put the focus where you want it—on the front door and entry. Architectural structures, like a vine-covered trellis under the eaves, can soften the boxy lines of the garage and make it fade into the background. You can also dramatically improve the look of the garage front by upgrading to doors with windows or ones with an interesting style, such as carriage doors or Craftsman panels.
Paint is another way to camouflage a garage. A dark color on the house and garage door will make them recede and appear less prominent. Add lighter house trim and an accent color on the front door (red, blue, green, or black), and you've created a brighter entry to catch the eye. If you have a plain front door, consider switching it for one that reinforces the house's style—say, with panels or sidelights—while drawing attention.
A landscape with no details draws focus to the prominent garage door.
2. Rethink the look of the driveway
Most driveways are made of bland concrete or asphalt. Here in the Northwest, exposed aggregate is the choice for builder-spec homes. But a change in material can turn a driveway from a featureless expanse into something with character and visual appeal.
For an inexpensive quick fix, edge the driveway with a band of brick, concrete pavers, or stamped concrete. You can also use these materials on walkways to tie hardscaping elements together. For a more dramatic change, upgrade the entire driveway. Concrete pavers come in a multitude of sizes, shapes, and colors and can be used to create all kinds of interesting patterns. If pavers aren't in the budget, consider colored, cast-in-place concrete with a pattern scored into the surface. Stick with darker colors, which recede and don't show tire marks or oil drips as much.
You can also make changes to the shape of the driveway to combat the cookie-cutter look. If there's room to add a curve or a turnaround area in front of the entry, then the driveway becomes part of the house's architecture and can double as a courtyard, making it seem less utilitarian and more charming. Even when there isn't enough room to adjust the shape, offsetting the approach just a bit to one side will put planting areas in the line of sight to the garage, reducing its dominance from the street.
Create a Diversion: Some garages can't be ignored, like the large bays that bookend this house. But a central planting area
can focus a visitor's attention on the entry, while strips of sod on the driveways and containers full of flowers on the second-story terraces help blend the garage areas into the overall landscape.
3. Soften and highlight with plantings
Carefully placed plantings go a long way toward fixing the in-your-face feel of an unadorned driveway and garage. Small- to medium-size trees along the edge will eventually overhang the driveway and partially screen the garage. Be wary of planting too close to buried utilities, and choose trees without overly aggressive roots. You also want to steer clear of trees that drip sap, such as birch and honey locust, to avoid a mess on the cars under them.
Garden elements in the front yard will also divert focus. Add a trellis or a water feature, or frame the entry or walkway with flowering shrubs and perennials of different heights. If you combine evergreen and deciduous plants with special seasonal effects, such as colorful autumn foliage or winter berries, you'll provide color and interest at all times of the year. (Because planting zones vary around the country, get suggestions from your local nursery.) Finish off with container plantings right around the front door to brighten it up and create a dramatic focal point.
Finally, consider a walkway from the street to the front door, reducing the need to use the driveway and redirecting the emphasis to the entry. This is a throwback to the days before cars, when the front yard and porch were considered public spaces meant for sitting and socializing with neighbors and passersby, and the carriage house was relegated to an alley out back.
In the end, while you're doing all this to make the garage disappear, you'll find you've created an engaging landscape. The emphasis will be off the utilitarian and onto the bounty of curb appeal you will have added to your home.
Add Detail: Changing the paving material of a driveway makes it an interesting focal point all on its own. At the same time, architectural structures like a trellis and a staircase with large pillars soften the lines or lead the eye to other parts of the house.
Where to Find It
Landscape architect: Darwin Webb
Darwin Webb Landscape Architects