With colors ranging from deep grays to black, dark residential home exteriors are enjoying a renaissance in North America. Design professionals and homeowners are discovering they can easily achieve the look with modern building materials like fiber cement engineered by James Hardie, while paying homage to the tradition.
For centuries, builders around the world used functional and practical methods to protect homes from fire, pests, and weather. These processes resulted in dark exteriors, which, perhaps inadvertently, created an enduring aesthetic.
The artisanal nature of the ancient techniques can be expensive and labor intensive. The centuries-old Japanese method of Shou Sugi Ban preserves wood through charring, and in Scandinavia, builders since the Viking-era treated exteriors with a black-colored pine tar. Both regions are known for the minimalist home styles that have inspired modern house design.
“There are deep architectural traditions related to using black exterior cladding. Many began with practical needs for weatherproofing or fireproofing. But those efforts have led to visually striking buildings that have inspired architects around the world,” says Jason Taylor, R.A., AIA, principal at Taylor-Viazzo Architects. “With so many high-performance cladding materials available, today's modern architects have new ways to interpret those traditions to create the buildings of the future.”
The fact that homeowners are choosing to finish their homes in dark colors has likely been helped by architects like Taylor, and builders like Dave Depencier. The homes they created are social media feed-stoppers and are fueling homeowners’ imagination of what’s possible for their dream exterior.
“People are doing it all the time now. But very few would step outside of the lighter color palettes until they saw dark siding on an actual house,” said Depencier, owner of custom design/build firm Depencier Builders.
About five years ago, Depencier had the vision to use dark, prefinished James Hardie brand products on a large custom home. He wanted an elegant, yet unexpected color palette to set the house apart from others.
He carefully pitched the idea of a mainly dark, but high-contrast exterior to his client. The key was piecing the idea together in a way that didn’t feel intimidating to the homeowner.
“We laid it out on the table and said this is what we think is going to steal the show for this house,” Depencier said. “They were a little scared at first, but by the time the meeting was done, they said, ‘let’s do it!’ Now that it’s finished, it obviously speaks for itself.”
Selling the concept of dark siding is easier now that he has a beautiful, real-life example to showcase.
“People don’t consider it as a possibility and I don’t even think it’s on their radar until they physically see it. Once they do many people say, ‘Wow, that’s what I want,’” Depencier said. “And that’s how the trend builds.”
Dark exteriors are now most successfully done with a high-quality cladding material, such as fiber cement. This material has the benefit of being low maintenance, and James Hardie’s range of prefinished exterior products are designed to resist fading and look good longer. In the past, a popular choice for homeowners who wanted a darker exterior was wood siding, which may require more frequent upkeep to maintain its appearance.
“The nice thing about Hardie products is they will probably still look great in 30 years with very little maintenance,” Taylor said. “That makes it even more important to not over-style your design or make it trendy. If a building material is going to last a long time, then it's even more critical that the design lasts just as long or longer.”
See how Hardie® products provide architects with a designer’s toolbox
that enables experimentation with colors and products to create timeless designs.
Photo and house design above is by Jason Taylor of Taylor-Viazzo Architects