Exterior Design: Keep it Natural

Now that we were finished with framing, we turned our attention to the exterior design: specifically the exterior materials and color palette. We had selected initial colors and materials when we first submitted our plans for review by our HOA’s architectural committee, but things were pretty rushed at that point since we were trying to break ground in the fall. But now we had spent a fair amount of time on-site, seeing the seasons change, and it was time to refine things a bit.


We didn’t have a lot to change on the materials front; we still wanted to stick with vertical lap siding for the “window box” section and likely a board-and-batten siding for the main body of the house. One consideration was that our neighbors also have board-and-batten siding and we didn’t want to look like twinsies. So we decided to narrow the space between the battens so that we kept some distinction between the two.

One last-minute material idea was the addition of beetle kill pine soffits. Colorado is suffering from a big pine beetle infestation, and the beetles carry a bacteria that adds blue/grey streaks to pine. A lot of our house is going to read as clean and modern, without much natural color variation. Our soffits (the space under the roof overhangs) are somewhat prominent, particularly from the deck, but they have a small enough total surface area that they are a little more like jewelry. Adding some natural color variation there would be a lot less “busy” than adding it to other expanses of the vertical walls. And more good news: it was well within budget! We were very happy with the look.

Beetle Kill Soffits

Exterior Colors

Next, it was time to refine our exterior colors. As with the board and batten siding, we wanted to make sure we kept enough difference between our house and our neighbors, who recently finished the other “modern” house in the neighborhood. Additionally, the HOA’s architectural requirements demanded “natural” colors. But we didn’t want a beige house.

The neighbors’ house is a sort of slate blue/grey, so we knew we needed to stay away from that. So we started exploring options involving other greys, charcoals, and natural pine:

Overall, we liked the options with the darker window box and the lighter main body of the house. We had originally discussed sho sugi ban / yakisugi for the blackened area – a method of Japanese wood preservation that blackens the wood with a torch. But the finish can flake, exposing the unburned wood beneath, and touch up the side of the house with fire seemed stressful. Shaun found another technique that we will likely use, which combines linseed oil with pine tar to stain the wood and preserve it. It’s another blackening technique often used in Scandinavia.

We tuned up the rest of the exterior colors to match the major palette and we were very happy with the result.

Deck Adjustments

Our final exterior edit was to adjust the exterior decks. The more time we spent onsite, the more we realized that our original deck plans, which wrapped the deck around to the west of the house (around the window box) was adding space we were unlikely to use. Our only close neighbor and his driveway were close to the west side of the house, and the house’s views are to the south. It didn’t seem likely we would sit on the west extension very often. It also made it tougher to walk around that side of the house, since there isn’t enough space to walk under the entire deck.

On the other hand, our little office deck provided for shaded seating in the summer, and if we wrapped the deck around the office a bit, the extension would provide for nice views from a shaded perch in the trees.

And finally, after evaluating our hot tub options, we realized that we wanted to expand the south deck a little bit to allow for more space around the hot tub. It would allow for easier maintenance, it would also mean that we wouldn’t have to raise a section of deck railing (to prevent people from falling out of the hot tub and off the deck, per code). So these were the options:

We opted with Number 4 in the bottom-right corner, which seemed to be the most efficient use of space. Conveniently, it priced out to be nearly identical with our original plans – the labor and material from the west wrap-around was essentially moved over to the south and to the east.

Book Reviews

For your reading pleasure:

Good House Cheap House: This is a nice resource for those looking for ways to cut costs, particularly when it comes to using inexpensive materials in creative ways. It’s starting to get a little dated, particularly when it comes to price, but overall there are a lot of good ideas in here about getting high-quality designs and finishes for affordable prices. 

Cabins & Cottages and Other Small Spaces: I liked this more than I expected. It has a variety of different floorplans and photos with descriptions of why the homes were built the way they were, and ideas for use of materials, layout of space, suiting the structures to the sites, etc. My only quibble is that a fair number of the spaces were really small – like garden sheds. Another good book from the series is Small Houses. And their definition of “small” got pretty big – up to a little over 2,000 sq. ft.

50 Architects 50 Buildings: An interesting setup for a book: architects choose buildings that inspire them and discuss why, and how the buildings have influenced their work. A little more of a UK/Euro focus than I’d like, and quite a bit of it is devoted to commercial spaces.