Tag Archives: Winter

Window Boxes

Window Boxes

A Year Round Gardening Affair

Few features impact a home’s curb appeal like beautiful window boxes overflowing with vibrant, seasonal colors. For centuries, window boxes have been ubiquitous in European villages, adding exterior charm and warmth to all forms of architecture. Window boxes eventually traveled to America with Colonial settlers, and today we add them to our homes as exterior adornments and added layers of information on our primary facades.

To successfully complement the architecture and complete the look of home, it is important that the window box is scaled properly. For visual appeal, we recommend that the box extends the full length of the window from the outer edge of the casing. This effectively “anchors” the window. A window box that is too short will look awkward and out of place with the home’s aesthetic. Another important consideration is the material from which the casing is made. We typically use Azek, which looks and feels like real wood, but is weather resistant and will not peel or rot in the elements. Additionally, it can easily withstand the weight of heavy potting soil so will not sag or bend and is essentially maintenance free.

Window boxes soften a home’s hard architectural edges and help celebrate each season with splashes of color. We encourage homeowners to update planting material every few months to highlight the changing moods and temperatures of the year. There are several excellent landscape design companies with whom we partner and Donaroma’s on Martha’s Vineyard is our favorite island resource. We recently talked with Donaroma’s designer Cammie Naylor about window box ideas for clients on the island. Ms. Naylor describes window boxes as “a constant theater,” and an opportunity to add bright punctuation points to a home’s exterior throughout the year. She and the designers at Donaroma’s take several factors into consideration when creating a homeowner’s window box design. Among others, these factor including season, sun exposure, and the homeowner’s personal taste.

As we welcome spring, flowers like daffodils, tulips and pansies are favorites – their bright, recognizable forms and colors instantly announce the season’s arrival. In the warmer days of summer – roughly Memorial Day through Labor Day – classic, crimson geraniums are an island favorite as they love the heat and are relatively drought tolerant. The seasons of fall and winter offer additional opportunities to freshen and update window boxes with mums and kale in the fall and small evergreens and pine bows during the holidays. No matter what time of year, Ms. Naylor recommends keeping the planting elements from 3-4 to ensure visual balance of the window box, stating, “it calms the eye to see symmetry and repetition.”

We all appreciate viewing a home with stunning window box displays, but the fact is, it takes care and consistent watering to keep them beautiful. Many of our homes feature both first and second floor window boxes, so we recommend our clients consider adding an automatic “drip” watering system (pictured below). Water ascends from a hidden, clear tube (or copper covered) that snakes up the side of the house and works on a timer from the home’s irrigation system. Using a self water system effectively ensures the window boxes are watered consistently during the busy days of spring and summer.

Hats off to the glorious window box, which provides year-round curb appeal, creative expression and architectural enhancement.

Happy planting!

Snow Day

Snow Day

In Like a Lion

You know the saying: in like a lion and out like a lamb. That is the unpredictable, unmistakable nature of March. As New Englanders, we are living through this first hand. And while many of us long for the warm, sun-drenched days of summer, there is something truly magical about a newly fallen blanket of snow. Our yards take on a sublime serenity. The trees that looked gray and barren days ago now possess a beautiful depth and texture. So this week, let’s take a moment to appreciate the grace and beauty our homes take on in the winter season. Let’s recognize what our own backyards can offer during this special time of year – and the ways in which we can prepare for Mother Nature’s surprises.

We talk to our clients a lot about the importance of indoor-outdoor living spaces. Understandably, most people associate this with warm weather living. But that’s not necessarily true. For example, some of our homeowners believe there is nothing better than heading out into the brisk, winter air to lace up a pair of ice skates. If property allows, some may even design a skating rink in their own back yard to enjoy throughout the season.

Some clients who have a pool and outdoor cabana may choose to use the cabana as a cozy warming hut for adventurous skaters. What better place to enjoy a cup of steaming hot cocoa? The very bold may even light the outdoor grill or fire pit. Just grab some chairs and heavy blankets and voila – an outdoor living space with multiple, season-round uses.

While there is something quintessentially New England about a home newly blanketed with snow, there are some practical considerations for winter storms as well. Snow and ice can make getting in and out of your house difficult – even dangerous. For that reason, when our clients are designing (or renovating) their driveways and walkways, we often recommend adding a heated walkway. Typically, this is a heating system embedded into the walking area with tubing that runs under the surface. Glycol runs through the tubing causing heat to radiate up to the pavement. This prevents snow and ice from accumulating and ensures safe passage after a storm. A heated walkway is a great alternative to heavy shoveling or plowing and eliminates the worry of slippery accidents. Alternately, having a reliable property management team to help clear the way is another meaningful option. One company we recommend for our Cape and South Shore clients is E.J. Jaxtimer Builder, who has excellent, dependable landscape and property management teams.

Another snowstorm essential is having an emergency generator on hand. The downside to a beautiful snowstorm is a potential power outage and a generator can provide temporary power – and peace of mind – in this circumstance. Typically, generators run on natural gas or propane and can either be small and portable, or large and permanent, remaining on standby in the event of a storm. Depending on our homeowner’s needs, we always recommend having a backup generator, particularly in rural areas.

Right now, many of our yards are covered in a sea of pristine white; the composition of our hedges and rooflines has transformed. Take it in – embrace the lighting and outdoor textures of your home on this winter day. Before you know it, March will be out like a lamb.

Decorating for Christmas

Decorating for Christmas: An Architect’s Point of View


New England holidays are notorious for their winter wonderland weather but also for their entrancingly decorated homes, often only seen in storybooks. A leisurely drive around the neighborhood to see the holiday decorations is a magical experience that can be enjoyed only two months in the year. We want to share with you Patrick Ahearn’s secret to decorating your New England home this holiday.

It doesn’t matter what time of the year, the arrival sequence from the street to your front door is a crucial moment that should incite anticipation and deliver a warm welcome. During the holidays, we are given the opportunity to further accentuate the sense of arrival with layers of lights, garland, and wreaths defining the path to the front door. Equally as important, decorations can be used to accentuate primary architectural features on the façade.


Here are our suggestions:

  1. Decorations can help define the edge of your property, making a romantic introduction. For example, a fence, mailbox, or post light can be beautifully decorated with a series of garland and ribbon.
  2. Adorn trees that act as signature pieces to your property with lights. A decorated tree after a recent snowfall is breathtaking.
  3. Set lights in the low foliage bordering your home to draw one’s attention from your property to your home.
  4. Wrap portico or porch columns in garland and lights to emphasize the transition from outdoors to indoors.
  5. Take advantage of the window boxes, which would typically house flowers in the summer, for Christmas greens to introduce life. Add lights in the window boxes to help animate their three dimensional quality.
  6. Put Christmas lights on trees flanking the entry way. Seasonal trees can be potted and used in the spring if your home doesn’t have this feature.
  7. To finish the arrival sequence, place a wreath on your front door with a dedicated low voltage spotlight.
  8. In addition, to temper the acute focus on the front door, softly light the façade in a symmetrical way.
  9. Lastly, many homes have multiple entrances; take the opportunity to highlight a significant architectural feature one may see from a second angle. For example, a wreath would look great centered on a stone chimney that is visible from a side entrance.


Follow these suggestions and your guests should be filled with warmth and excitement as they approach your home, eager with anticipation to see what you have done inside!

Good Luck & Happy Holidays from Patrick Ahearn Architect LLC