Design Don’ts: Don’t Show Them You’re Lying

RTAblog_2012_0719_frontIt can be hard to talk about design + style without coming across as snarky and aloof. We offer notes and images in our “Design Don’ts” posts to help you avoid design solutions that reduce the return on your investment. So, we hope this criticism is constructive.

The house in these images is still under construction. As you can see, the exterior is brick and it’s built in a neoclassical style. It sits on a large corner lot with a secondary road on its right side. Even though all the exterior details appear to be synthetic materials, the house is better executed than many similar projects we’ve noticed.


With the secondary road so close to the side of the house, you can clearly see the cladding at the back of the house changes from brick to clapboard siding. This is a common method of saving money though it’s most often employed on the back of houses that sit relatively close to one another so you can’t see the back of the houses. The house on a corner lot in a subdivision where this method is used would probably have the same cladding on all four sides to protect the value of the house.


You can find clapboard siding on “neoclassical colonial” homes. It’s just that those houses use the material consistently rather than changing materials to save a few dollars. The clapboard siding on this house appears to be well executed and looks handsome with the trim package (despite a few minor things that need to be corrected).

The cladding of your house should appear monolithic – it should look like it’s holding up the house, even if it’s just a veneer like the brick and clapboard siding on this house. When you end materials on an outside corner, you show how thin they really are. So, you’ve invested in the cladding materials, trim and columns to make it look real on the front and then shown the observer that you’re lying when they see the back corner.

If you need to transition cladding materials, do it on an inside corner so you don’t show the thickness of the veneer. That strategy helps make the cladding look monolithic. The change from brick to siding on this house makes the brick look like wall paper. That’s a shame because the mason has done a nice job laying the brick.


This house stands out because it’s unlike any other house in the immediate area. Building this style in this neighborhood invites attention to the house. We think the decision to use siding on the back of this house costs much more than it saves – it may have saved a few thousand dollars in construction costs yet it reduces the perceived value of the whole project by tens of thousands of dollars.

When you’re looking at the construction budget on paper, it’s easy to loose sight of the design priorities because you’re just looking at numbers. Developing a design solution within the confines of the project budget is an iterative process. If you’re over budget or want to move some budget from one part of the project to another, you have to look at the new or revised design solutions in the context of the whole project.

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