Style By The Numbers

Accent: Homeowners are dressing up their homes with ornate, personalized address plaques, kick plates and other accessories.

April 27, 2003|By Molly Knight | Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

In medieval times, upper-class homeowners often placed a coat of arms on their gates to add a little grandeur to their address.

These days, however, ornamental, often expensive address plaques can be found outside any home.

"People are suddenly buying things like plaques for the outside of their houses that they wouldn't have even thought about five years ago," said Richard Thomas, co-owner of Courtland Hearth & Hardware in Fallston and Bel Air.

"They're not making money in the stock market, so they're putting money into their homes and it's the individual touches that give them personal satisfaction."

According to manufacturers and retailers, address plaques are becoming increasingly popular for dressing up the front of residential real estate. At Whitehall Products Inc., one of the country's largest makers of customized address plaques, sales have risen as much as 500 percent during the past decade, according to Brad Bruns, president and chief executive officer.

"People are now looking at the outside of their home as expanded living space, and these things help to decorate and individualize this space," Bruns said.

Bruns attributed the trend primarily to the cost of customized plaques, which has dropped considerably with more efficient production techniques at Whitehall, which is based in Montague, Mich. Although high-end, intricate plaques can run up to $400, the starting price for a basic plaque has dropped from about $145 a decade ago to about $50 at mass retailers such as Home Depot.

"It used to be a really exclusive item, and now it's available to all homeowners," said Mike Wixted, a mid-Atlantic trainer for Home Depot. "It's a trend right now because, with the economy in bad shape, one of the easiest and cheapest ways to enhance a home is to add this type of accessory. Just like a pair of earrings, it draws attention."

Lee Foran, a resident of Ellicott City, said she and her husband chose elegant, wrought-iron address plaques for their lawn and doorway.

"I'm really into the way my house looks from the outside," said Foran, a gardener. "One of the main reasons we put the plaques up is that they're easy for people to see. ... But they also extend the way our home feels inside, which is cozy and warm, to the outdoors."

Foran said their address plaques reflect an English country style that matches their manicured garden of wild flowers.

What if your yard is full of bonsai trees and rock gardens? Or tropical plants and pink flamingos? Whitehall's Bruns said there are enough styles out there to suit almost any taste.

At Whitehall, the offerings have "exploded" from what used to be a basic black plaque with white lettering to more than 40 styles and 20 colors for plaques that can be mounted on the lawn or home.

Plaque materials are brass, wrought-iron, wood, ceramic, terra cotta, stained glass and aluminum. Styles range from Victorian scrolls to clean and modern. Then there are the decorative flourishes, which run the gamut from floral motifs to family crests. Once you choose a color and shape - oval, square, triangular, heart-shaped - you've got to choose the size of your plaque.

According to Bruns, the most popular plaques are up to four times larger than they used to be, averaging 9 inches high and 16 inches wide.

The most recent addition to the Whitehall collection is a battery-powered plaque that automatically lights up at night. Also new are two-sided plaques so that your address can be read from both directions.

In addition to address plaques, other best-selling accessories include the kick plate, a rectangular sheet of metal attached to the bottom of the door. Kick plates protect the door from scratches and dents and add a touch of formality.

Plate styles range from basic, magnetic styles ($25) up to high-end brass ($350). Homeowners also are paying more attention to details such as lock sets - from thumb-latches to lever handles - in brass, steel or pewter. The same is true for door-knockers. Then there are light fixtures, doorbells - and the list goes on.

According to Courtland's Thomas, these types of accessories allow a homeowner to express his taste.

"Adding touches to this space is all about personal satisfaction - about being able to say `I did this, it's mine,' " he said.

Wixted of Home Depot agreed: "Anytime you add these things they become personal. Suddenly it's more than just a doorbell - it's your doorbell. It shows pride of ownership. And it's the thing that makes you say `I'm home and I can relax' - that feeling of home when you pull up in the driveway."

Arthur Brinkman, a resident of Baltimore's Federal Hill, said he and his wife, Ingrid, get a "homey" feeling when they see their address plaque. Made from ceramic white and blue Delft tiles, the plaque comes from Holland, where she grew up.

Arthur Brinkman said of the hand-painted plaque: "It's something that's ours - a little of who we are."

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