By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon

Houses are like clothing. There are classic forms that never go out of vogue, while other structures have no particular style or character and quickly look unattractive.

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A Sandy couple wanting to give character to the exterior of their monotone, stucco house, above, added a classic Cape-style exterior.

If you inherited a classic, 1920s flapper dress from your grandmother, would you alter it to give it a different style? Of course not — you’d want to preserve it. The same respect should be given to the style of a classic home during a renovation. You’ll want to capitalize on that style.

On the other hand, “vanilla” houses — those with no particular style or character — can be given a timeless, attractive style in a renovation. For example, one Sandy couple with a monotone, stucco house came to us because they wanted to give their home’s exterior some character to distinguish it from every other “cookie-cutter” house on their block.

We designed for them a classic, Cape-style exterior because it is a form the couple likes and because the size and shape of the existing exterior lends itself to that style, eliminating the need for a major remodel.

There are many identifiable styles of homes to choose from, including Greek Revival, Italianate, Tudor, Federal, Cape, Victorian, Georgian, Bungalow, Ranch, Contemporary and so forth. To pick the right style to give a “vanilla” home some pizazz, clip magazine pictures and snap photos of homes you like, adding them to a file for a month or two. See what common themes emerge in the homes you like.

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Classic Cape-style exterior

Themes that characterize an architectural style include massing (the size and shape of a house and a roof), materials (the finish product used, such as wood, brick, shingles and so forth), windows (their size, shape, placement and materials), and the roof (the pitch, shape and type of covering.)

Once you’ve identified an architectural style you like, evaluate how it would look in your area. If you live in an older, classic neighborhood, be especially sensitive to the existing character of your neighborhood (see our April 15 column).

Finally, consider the exterior detailing. Certain types of details go with certain architectural styles, so make sure you don’t mix styles. Detailing can include trim around doors and windows, railing on porches and stairs, columns, chimney tops, and so forth. The more extensive the detailing, the more appealing your home will look.

Following these principles will help you transform that trendy, characterless home into one that gets noticed and never goes out of style. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at

Give ‘vanilla’ exterior a timeless, attractive style