Finishing Touches Make-over: Architectural details provide cosmetic improvements to plain rooms and house fronts.

January 28, 1996|By Michael Walsh | Michael Walsh,UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

Except for a new paint job or new siding, there's no easier way to give your home a fast face lift than by adding some classic architectural details. Put on what the builder left off -- the same kinds of decorative embellishments that distinguish vintage homes.

The ornamental moldings and millwork found on stately Victorians, Georgians and Colonials still are being made -- though by machine now instead of by hand -- and are as close as your local lumberyard, architect or remodeling contractor.

All the cosmetic components you need to transform a timid tract house or to boost the self-esteem of a dowdy split-level or ranch are out there.

Crown a front door with a prefabricated peaked cap, an elliptical or half-round, fanlike sunburst design or a classic ram's-head pediment. Frame the sides of a door or window with fluted pilasters. Top windows with decorative arches or mantels. Decorate dormers and gables with spoked gingerbread trim. Add corbels and brackets under the eaves or at the tops of porch posts, or use crown or dentil molding.

All of these architectural ornaments and hundreds more come in traditional and contemporary styles and standard sizes and dimensions. Some can be installed over siding or window and door trim. In other cases, siding may have to be trimmed back or existing trim removed and replaced with the more decorative components.

Most exterior architectural trim and millwork is wood, just as it has been for hundreds of years. One recent innovation, however, is the development of high-density polyurethane moldings that mimic the shape of wood moldings but are waterproof, weather-resistant and impervious to rotting, warping, splintering or splitting.

You can get brochures and catalogs through the mail or from a lumberyard or home improvement store. Use them to familiarize yourself with styles and names of moldings and millwork. Also, study the houses in decorating, remodeling and home-building magazines. Compile a file of appealing facades, entryways, doors, windows and porches.

If you're going to do the job yourself, take your portfolio to a lumber dealer to get the components you'll need. If you hire someone to do the work, your file will give an architect or remodeling contractor a good idea of what you have in mind.

Depending on who does the work and how much work there is to be done, adding exterior architectural detailing can start at a few thousand dollars for an entryway and two or three windows on the front of a house. In terms of curb appeal alone, it's often a justifiable expense.

Just avoid the temptation to overdo it. Too many wedding-cake frills can look obvious and hokey. Architectural embellishments should be used with restraint. Their scale should be in keeping with the style and proportions of the house itself.

The objective is to add just enough delicate and subtle ornament to give your home some architectural character. If you can afford to add architectural millwork all the way around the house, fine. But it's often unnecessary.

It may well be that creating an architecturally significant entryway with a paneled door, sidelights trimmed with vertical pilasters and maybe an elaborate carved-looking pediment overhead is all the front your home really needs to make it look substantial and inviting.

Or, you may want to do things in stages -- this year, the front door, next year, the windows.

Finding a matching molding later won't be a problem. Classic molding patterns have been around for hundreds of years, and dimensions have been standardized for decades. So you can pretty much start and stop an exterior trim project as the spirit moves you and the budget allows.

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