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First Impressions
Two local experts address the latest trends in architecture and exterior design.


March 2018

“First impressions count.” (Or so the saying goes.) And that time-honored concept rings true throughout the home building and home improvement industries too. Here two local experts, Kate Schley, a project consultant with Carmel Builders in Menomonee Falls, and Mike Slawnikowski, owner of Mequon-based M Design Build, echo the sentiment, weighing in on the latest trends in exterior design, building materials and colors.


Schley notes that new home construction has become more eclectic, with the choice of track or custom homes. “I think people are getting more adventurous,” she adds. “They don’t want a McMansion in an area where they have HOA (homeowners association) fees, and they want a home that will have longevity and (be) low maintenance.”

While character may be desired, Schley says many of those building new homes in traditional areas are opting for contemporary architecture. “This trend started in California,” she continues, “but I have also seen this in Whitefish Bay and Shorewood, where there are historical homes.”

Architectural details, she says, have crept into garage construction, with carriage-style doors and windows.

Slawnikowski notes that an increasing number of homeowners are opting for larger windows, including bay windows, to let in more light. They also are paying attention to their home’s outdoor living potential for both front and back porch areas, he adds.

“Years ago, especially in more traditional neighborhoods, people hung out on their front porch because it was a way to connect to their neighbors,” Slawnikowski says. “Now there is so much more behind homes, with decks and other structures.”


“Standing seam metal roofs are big now, especially with a push toward the modern farmhouse look,” Schley says. Rated to last a lifetime and available in a variety of hues, she says the high cost is not much of an issue, considering a longtime homeowner may need to re-roof two — or even three — times.

Add copper to the trend list. Schley and Slawnikowski point to an increase in the use of copper — be it for gutters, bay window roofs or valleys on standard shingled roofs.

“A lot of people are going to natural cedar siding,” Slawnikowski notes. “To me, it makes sense to go with a man-made material that has a lifetime warranty.”

Both experts noted that man-made material, such as pre-painted, HardiePlank cement board siding, is trending now and for the future. The key is finding a material that looks like wood but requires little maintenance.

“I’ve also seen very pricey zinc siding as an accent, with other materials like stucco,” Slawnikowski says.

Although the use of brick is trending downward, natural and man-made stones continue to be popular, Schley and Slawnikowski say. It also helps, they add, that stone offers sustainable options and a wide color selection. 


When speaking to color, Schley and Slawnikowski note slightly different views.

“Gray and dark blue are the new beige or white,” Schley says. Darker palettes trimmed in white, she adds, provide a classic look, and many homeowners are still choosing to personalize their front door with a brighter hue, such as yellow or red.

Slawnikowski also sees requests for more muted exteriors, but notes that homeowners have traded those eye-popping front door colors for more traditional options.

The Takeaway

Both experts emphasize the need for homeowners to let architecture take the lead for exterior selections. In other words, don’t try to make a home something it’s not.

This story ran in the March 2018  issue of: