Character Driven Design Through Architecture

If you’ve caught me on stage at any of the Ply Gem ProTalk series sessions, you’ve heard me harp on “Character Driven Design.” In fact, this is my soapbox — my passion.

It can be further explained in one word: PERSONALITY.

And, when you look at the meaning of the noun “CHARACTER,” you’ll find the following definition:

  1. The aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing.
  2. Qualities of honesty, courage, or the like; integrity.

But, how does this apply to the architecture of your home?

Allow me to explain from an artist’s perspective.

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Part one of the definition lends itself to my analogy of home design being like a puzzle. The individual parts are built together to paint the sum. Each decision on your home exterior does matter, as the puzzle pieces must fit together.

However, this time I’d like to focus on the latter — these three important words:

Honesty, Courage, Integrity.

Yes, I’m still talking about Architecture.


Your home may be your single greatest investment. So…do your research.

Spend the time sifting through inspiration pictures with one goal in mind: to define your style.

Once you define your home exterior style, stick with it.

Then, it’s time for more homework. Research the time period, region and reasons behind the architecture you’ve chosen. I think back to my Art History class at Texas A&M, and recognize art and architecture are truly movements in our society. There are reasons behind the shifts in style, often related directly to socioeconomics.

Understanding the history of your selected style enforces a sense of accountability during the selection process for windows, doors, trim, siding, roofing, fence, etc.

This accountability to the authenticity of the architecture will be the very hinge for the strength of your exterior home design.

Next, be honest … do you have


Are you willing to take risks in the design to honor the original style of the architecture?


Someone once taught me that good design should engage ALL of our senses. When character driven design is done right, it should offer a sense of nostalgia, no matter the era, like the guest has been there before.

Making unique, inspiring exterior home design selections takes courage.


This boils down to the architectural bones (check out the Good Bones, ProTalk series).

Integrity in design means we are cautious to not take short cuts, or the wrong one. We all have budgets to work within, but we can still make smart decisions that count where they should.

Four-sided architecture is where we begin. This term means all sides of the home are addressed in the design. One of my pet peeves is seeing the front façade adorned with details, leaving all other sides unaddressed like a paper doll.

For instance, if you’re using stone on the front, wrap the corner of the house, at least 3’ in on the side, so the elements carry around the side. When possible, I will push out and pull in walls on plans to create natural breaks for the exterior façade.

Next, we consider the following exterior checklist of materials compliments the “style” you’ve chosen:

  • Windows
  • Siding
  • Stone
  • Doors
  • Roofing
  • Fencing

I always tell my clients to abandon the logistics of where they live for a bit, and dream of where they want to live. If you consider your street a snapshot of the personalities of the families inside, our homes would all look so different, right?

The episode we worked with Ply Gem on for ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” years ago in Joplin, MO is the best example. Seven families, seven very different characters of architecture…All very similar floor plans, but it’s the thoughtful exterior material selections that create SEVEN unique homes on ONE street.

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In short, “Character Driven Design” should be a reflection of your personality.