The Seven Strategies

A house designed by Don Powers of Union Studio in the Concord Riverwalk community, Concord, Massachusetts.
Nat Rea A house designed by Don Powers of Union Studio in the Concord Riverwalk community, Concord, Massachusetts.

Creating cost-effective elevations that look like a million bucks is all about what isn’t there rather than what is. Well-edited detailing that maintains classic proportions and scale produces standout houses at every price point. “If you’re designing an eave detail, you may compromise between what a perfect classical detail is with the awareness that every trip of the ladder costs more money,” explains architect Donald Powers of Union Studio. “So you design with 90 percent of the value of the detail using 50 percent of the effort.” Simplicity and understanding of off-the-shelf materials is key. “Value comes with having a strong architectural idea that you follow all the way through the design,” says Looney Ricks Kiss (LRK) principal Mike Sullivan. His firm does very simple rooflines that cost less to build, for example, but stay true to the style.

Powers agrees with that approach and describes how an inexpensive pre-made truss roof can be dressed up without much additional expense. “A pre-made truss on top of a second-floor ceiling gives us an unsatisfying angle,” he says, “but if you add a fake rake eave that looks like it comes up from the first-floor ceiling line, then the real roof appears to be a dormer and you have an elegant steep-pitched cottage roof.”

Architect/developer Bill McGuinness has vast experience in finding the best places to save or splurge. His firm, Sun Homes, works primarily in tony Connecticut and New York suburbs. “Place full masonry chimneys at the center of the ridge,” McGuinness advises. “This looks more traditional but also saves money because there’s only a little brick above the roofline.” Another way to boost curb appeal while maintaining profit margins is to incorporate high-end materials where people interact with them daily. “Instead of a stone skirt, we do clapboard down to grade and use that budget on bluestone walkways and patios where homeowners can enjoy it.”

Siting to downplay utilitarian spaces like garages also provides big returns for little or no cost, adds LRK founder, Carson Looney. Smart siting doesn’t stop with the walls, however. “Think about the outdoor space on all four sides of the house,” he says.