I want to spend some time in this posting looking specifically at DETAILS. One of the problems, I think, with a lot of home construction is that builders and designers take an awful lot of liberty in interpretation of the details in a home. In a creative search, it seems more and more decoration is added to the exterior to add interest and excitement. I'll try and use less wording in this post and more pictures to illustrate my point, because a picture is worth 1000 words, right?
I'll start once again with examples of what not to do:
In the above example, the first thing you notice is the extreme contrast in the brick and stone colors, which over emphasizes these details. All the windows are framed in a orange-red brick and there is some brick "X" cross bands at various levels across the house. A horizontal band can serve to accent the structure, or to visually separate overly tall element of the house. Here, it's splatter whimsically across the entire facade without any real reasoning behind it. Also, the "X" patterns itself has become an all too familiar detail in recent building trends.
Here is another strongly contrasting exterior in terms of material selection. You see a very typical soldier course of brick running down the "rake" (edge) of the gable parallel to the roof, which is a detail that has become commonplace to the point of absurdity. The main reason I chose this image, however, is the brick "trident" in the gable. The original inspiration for a design such as this goes back to medieval architecture, in which houses were constructed of very heavy, rough hewn timber; usually with masonry, plaster (or even mud) infill. Historically inspired homes are, of course, constructed of more modern building techniques, yet do their best to emulate the details so the house has the appearance of something even older (and thus more timeless). However, this full masonry detail is so far removed for the original detail in terms of material, proportions, color (and obviously function) that it becomes nothing more than irrelevant decoration.
There is less to criticize here in this example. Certainly a more consistent tone in terms of color makes this one of the more subdued examples. On the positive side, there are some nice cast stone accents at the entry and at the window surrounds. There is a bit of stylistic mixing, but overall the design flows together in a mostly neutral way.
I chose this example specifically for the overuse of the diamond cast stone accent in the banding. As an accent piece in some of the upper gables, it works fine. However, as a band, it becomes overdone and repetitive. If a band was needed, a more simple cast stone element would have sufficed.
A fairly dark colored rough stone veneer on this house (while not my personal favorite) is not so much the issue here, as it was to add the light colored contrasting stonework to the window and openings. Not only is this distracting in terms of its color, but the undulating lines at the edges also draw the eye to this detail. It might have worked if it was an isolated condition, but here the same detail is given to every window and opening across the entire house. Some other overused and common details to note: the "X" banding at the top of the corner turret, and the solider course of brick running up the gable rake.
I'm contrasting the images above (taken from newer home developments in the Dallas Fort Worth area) with the images below of (mostly) older homes from historic districts. Here are examples of what to do:
This house also a fairly dark colored stone veneer exterior, and there is a mixing of brick and stone on some of the wall surfaces and the surrounds. Note however, how the colors actually compliment each other in this example instead of contrasting and competing for importance. Note the clean edge of the gable rake, and the very simple detailing at the gable top. The shutters here are actually functional as well as decorative elements, and the entry surround is well proportioned in the main gable, and has a real sculptural, 3 dimensional quality to it.
A house showing a correct use of the brick "X" pattern, also called "diaperwork". Because this is a fairly older (and worn) house, the diaperwork perhaps shows a bit more subtle in this image than when it was first built. Note that the cross pattern is not running at angles to the rest of the brick, and is VERY similar in it's coloring to the rest of the brick. It also covers most of the wall surface as opposed to being a horizontal "band". Some other details to note include the very nicely detailed chimneys, the subtle brick "lintel" over the windows, and the simple gable rake.
This house is actually a stucco exterior, which is a bit odd as it is showing a subtle diaperwork to the upper right. While it is a false interpretation in terms of materials, it IS correct in it's placement, form, proportions, scale and stylistic use. The house also works very well as it has a fairly harmonious color palette on the exterior and very simple massing. Note the decorative surrounds with scrolls at the entry and windows, which appear as cast or cut stone, but are in fact stucco accents.
An example of a house showing some very nice false half timber design on the 2nd floor. Note how the size of the wood members (painted gray in this image) vary, as well as the spacing to one another, and also how it projects slightly over the 1st floor with decorative brackets underneath. The masonry here is treated as infill, and is done in a herringbone pattern to help emphasis that fact. Finally, note how the wood and the brick are done mostly in the same plane, to each other.
This last example breaks a few rules of good design, but does it in such a way that the overall house still has a very pleasing feel to it.
First, note the mix of several materials here (Stone, brick, wood, stucco, cast stone, even a metal roof on the side!), and how they do provide some dramatic contrast. However, they are all light and dark variations of a similar neutral brown color. The materials are also ordered in a way that makes sense structurally (the visually heavier materials "supporting" the visually lighter materials). Note how close in tone the brick and the stucco are as well- they really don't even read as different materials!
We also see a similar undulating cast stone surround at some of the windows as a previous "what not to do" example above. Here, however, the detail is relegated to a single area, adding emphasis and interest to a specific feature, instead of being used everywhere. Also, because a large portion of the house is the light taupe color and matches the cast stone color closely, the eye isn't specifically drawn to the window detail only.
Finally, note the size, shape and design of the "half timber" elements- how their surface projects out from the surface below it, supported visually by brackets. Also (see enlarged image below) there is some very fine jointwork with dowels added to reinforce the illusion of the timbers being a structural element, as if they are actually mortised together. The egde of the gable in this case projects quite a bit forward, with a very large bargeboard, or fascia, along it's rake.
Anyway, I hope that helps provide some good examples and maybe a point for discussion. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions.