Despite what I thought 12 years ago when we moved into it, I've decided that my home isn't really a castle. There is no moat, or even a goldfish pond. It doesn't have a drawbridge, or even a front foyer. No soaring arches or cathedral ceilings. There isn't even a turret to fly the family crest from and distinguish it from the houses next door, behind us and across the street.
In fact, that's just the problem. It looks discouragingly like those houses. Oh, they're all clean and pleasant enough but, built in the 1950s, they're part of the post-war development boom. That's about when developers sacrificed character and individuality for efficiency and economy of scale.
I know I'm not alone, though. Tens of thousands of Central Marylanders live in similar neighborhoods built in the ensuing decades. Whether the houses are Cape Cods, colonials, ranchers or any other style, many of us would like them to be just a little more distinctive. But adding a room, much less a two-story addition, could put the family budget into a vivid, red ink deficit. And, let's face it, hot tubs aren't for everyone. The neighbors might never leave.
But Walter M. Daly has some advice for us. Because it's free advice we know that Daly is not a lawyer. He is an architect in Baltimore. Best of all, his suggestions involve exterior changes to houses that don't require the professional services of an architect.
It all has to do with layering, Daly said. I had always thought of layering as a way to keep warm on a camping trip. Architects think differently.
"It's adding another layer to the house," he said. "These are all superficial -- they're not rooms.
"Add a new entry," Daly said. "That can totally change the character of a house. In most houses, you want to have shelter over the front door. Most colonials don't. You can use columns -- round, square or whatever -- and lattice work. That immediately gives the house character."
Daly explained that different kinds of entries can be ordered as kits from catalogs available at building supply houses. "Any small contractor can get them," he said.
Better yet, if you have the time and inclination, visit several suppliers and expand your range of choice. Unless you're a fairly skilled carpenter, though, you'll want a contractor to do the actual work.
"And the door itself can be changed," Daly said. There are all kinds available with different sizes, shapes and arrangements of lites or glass panes, as well as solid and paneled.
Doors aren't the only apertures on a house. Windows can get the treatment, too. "Without changing the proportions of openings, but changing the look of the opening, you can totally change the look of the house," Daly said. He's not talking about replacement windows hustled by ex-TV sitcom actors or the local door-to-door canvassers. A number of manufacturers, among them Marvin, Andersen and Pella, offer quality products in a wide range of styles.
"Besides getting a better performing window, you can get a different design," said Daly. "With wood ones you have a lot of opportunities to do something."
I had always thought of "trim" as a brass door knocker or a piece of baseboard molding. Architects think differently.
"Another layer of trim, large scale, like porches, trellises and lattice work can be integrated into the architecture of the house or tied in with the fence design if there is a fence," Daly said.
I've never understood the appeal of decks. Why expose yourself to the hot sun in the daytime and the mosquitoes at night? So a piece of "trim" like a screened-in porch makes sense to me.
"They can be done the same way as entries," Daly said.
"They can have the same-style columns and be ordered from building supply houses. It's a larger version of what your entry would be."
Which brings us to Daly's other low-cost suggestion to add character and distinctiveness to your home. "A lot of people are afraid to use color," he said.
"If you have the opportunity, without being really garish, add some color that fits into the neighborhood. That essentially adds a whole layer to the house." The front door, windows, porch and trellises could all be tied together in a color theme.
So, where do you start? Look at magazines, Daly said. "The best thing to do is find pictures of things you like and go from there."