How to Update Saltbox Colonial Homes

by Jennifer Roberts

The simplistic saltbox colonial style dates back to the early 17th century. A typical saltbox house has a steeply pitched roof that extends down to the first floor level at the back, while the front has two full stories. Saltbox homes traditionally have plain exteriors, and the style may seem rather bland to homeowners today. Various exterior modifications can add distinctive character to a saltbox colonial.

1. Painting

Historical saltbox homes often have a uniform paint color on the siding and trim. New paint colors can dramatically alter the appearance of a home without requiring any structural modifications. Choose contrasting colors for the walls and the trim; a wall color a few shades darker than the trim will help architectural features such as windows and doors stand out for a less monotonous appearance. Add even more interest by choosing a bold color in a glossy finish for the front door.

2. Window Shutters

In the past, window shutters served the practical purpose of keeping out sunlight or sheltering windows from the weather. Nowadays, shutters are typically ornamental and a great way to add color, detail and texture to a home’s exterior. If your home has wood siding, wood shutters will help maintain the historical character and can be repainted if you want to change the color later. Durable vinyl shutters, which are less expensive than wood, are also a good option.

3. Porch Addition

Adding a porch to the front of a saltbox colonial will create architectural interest and provide a functional outdoor space for relaxation or protection from the elements. The porch may extend across the entire front of the home, or you could add a portico that covers a smaller area around the front door. For best results, porch posts and railings should be simple and period appropriate, in keeping with the home’s inherent colonial style.

4. Roof Dormers

If you want a dramatic change and don’t mind a major construction project, consider adding dormers. Gable dormers with windows will bring more natural light into the attic, making the home more beautiful inside and out. Dormers may be uniform in size, or a large dormer in the middle may be flanked by smaller dormers. If possible, align the new dormers with the windows on the floor below to maintain the geometry of the home.

5. Material Variety

Introduce a variety of textures to the exterior by recladding the house with more than one material. Install realistic brick or stone veneer up to the second floor level, then finish with clapboard or shingle-style siding above. Another option is to use clapboard siding on the bottom and shingles on top. Natural wood or fiber cement siding are the best options for a historical appearance, but vinyl siding is less expensive and easier to maintain.

6. Natural Elements

Adding window planter boxes is a simple way to adorn a plain exterior and will dramatically increase curb appeal. The flower boxes themselves may be painted an accent color, and decorative support brackets will add detail to a plain facade. Choose flowers with bright blooms that will stand out against the home's color scheme, and fill in the gaps with trailing vines that will cascade down the front. Enhance the entryway by flanking the front door with potted shrubs or topiaries.