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Exterior Envy
Three alluring projects make the most of hardscaping, architecture and plantings.


June 2017


Crafty Blend

It didn’t take Jim Drzewiecki of Ginkgo Leaf Studio in Cedarburg long to realize the work he was hired to do for a New Berlin couple’s home would need to combine differing personal tastes while being true to the home’s architecture.

“It’s a prairie-style house that had existing landscaping with Asian-style flavor,” he says. “Stylistically, they still wanted to maintain a little of the Asian flavor, but the husband also wanted a midcentury modern look. So we blended all three things, and in my mind, all blended well together.”

Photo by Westhauser Photography

To achieve that triumvirate of styles, Drzewiecki kept the Wright-style urn tucked into a corner of the house, strategically placed ornamental grasses and purple coneflowers as a prairie-style nod throughout, and incorporated simple, modern lines, with elements such as bluestone steppers along the driveway.

A distinctive quarry stone was used as the palette for the home’s midcentury modern address plate near the street, which features Summer Beauty allium on its facade and to the left. May Night salvia plantings in subdued hues dot the right-hand side of the plate.

“We like to repeat plantings throughout, provide a splash of color, and utilize plants that have a long period,” Drzewiecki says, adding that the mixture is of less-controlled forms and geometric shapes to complement the geometry of the house.

Restoring and Extending History

On a mission to restore the structure to its single-family elegance, the motivated homeowner of an important historic Wauwatosa home added an architecturally blended new front entrance, with the assistance of S.J. Janis Company Inc.

The home is a 1905 grand gem by railway executive Frederick Underwood, who used concrete during construction because his daughter had died in a house fire on the East Coast. Over the years, the home was split into a duplex with two front doors.

Its current owner set out to bring back the original intent of a single front door. This time, the plan included an enclosed front porch that would blend with the original construction. In a document used for the Wisconsin Remodeler Awards, Wauwatosa-based S.J. Janis pointed to several noteworthy elements, such as a directly proportional gable over the new front door that respects the two second-floor gables. The structure includes an oval window that was found in the attic, refinished and repurposed.

Inside the front-entrance addition, windows provide cross ventilation, and a tile rendering of a railroad scene pays homage to the original owner.

Outside, additional stucco columns add architectural relevance and curb appeal.  

Joe Klein, director of design at S.J. Janis, says a lot of the credit goes to the owner. “She had a great vision,” he adds. “It was a long project, but it was fun.”

Photo by Jim Charlton

Going With the Flow

Lake home owners think of their front door as the lake side, says Mike Manke, landscape architect at LandCrafters Inc. in Wauwatosa. The front entrance accessible by land, however, is just as important.

In the case of Manke’s work on a contemporary Pewaukee Lake home, he found that improving curb appeal also involved building an intricate water reclamation and flood control system. The home sits on a slope — a 30-foot grade change from the road to the waterfront.

“It’s a typical narrow lake lot,” he says, “so we needed to build not only an aesthetic for that side of the home, but also a functional system.”

The project called for 100 tons of stone outcropping that, with just the right configuration and accompanying plantings, eventually provided an appealing, natural way to direct and purify water as

it flows into a series of catch basins, dry beds and rain gardens.

“We wanted a natural look, so we didn’t go with pre-engineered material,” Manke says, noting an asphalt drive was replaced with natural materials, further emphasizing the property’s contemporary architecture.

“This is a summer home, so we selected plants that bloomed primarily during that time,” he adds.

Plantings highlighting yellows and lavenders include ground cover, hostas, hydrangeas, coneflowers, ornamental grasses and evergreens.

“Now, it’s a park-like setting with flowing lines, very natural,” Manke says. 

Curb Appeal

Landscaping is no time to curb your enthusiasm. First impressions make the difference in establishing pride of ownership or setting the stage for a sale, local experts say.

A brief checklist about plantings and hardscapes includes:

» Follow the architecture.
“It’s our number one rule,” says Jim Drzewiecki of Ginkgo Leaf Studio. “You don’t want to clash.” Andrew Herndon of LandCrafters Inc. says to use asymmetrical designs for craftsman homes; repetition and angular forms for midcentury modern homes; and a formal, symmetrical and balanced approach for Italianate structures.

» Be odd.
Drzewiecki suggests using plant groupings of threes, fives or sevens to create a more natural scene.

» Create a focal point.
It can be as simple as spicing up a front door to avoid a monochromatic facade or adding a small, covered porch, says Jim Pitzen of S.J. Janis Company Inc.

» Be original.
Try to avoid a cookie-cutter look with overdone approaches like a birch tree planted in the corner, Drzewiecki says.

» Study.
Herndon urges homeowners to familiarize themselves with elements and principles of design so you’re more knowledgeable when hiring a pro.


This story ran in the June 2017 issue of: