While a driveway may still be a utilitarian afterthought for many homeowners, other homeowners are adding some serious curb appeal to their homes by moving beyond basic options like grass or gravel, asphalt or concrete. • "The driveway is commonly overlooked," conceded Michael Keenan, an adjunct assistant professor of landscape architecture at the University of Minnesota. "Driveways are not cheap necessarily, but they are completely functional and necessary if you have a car and a garage."
Doing up the driveway, Keenan said, is a chance to "celebrate the function because it is a piece of the property you do use every day."
The design options have grown in the last decade or so, he said, as pavers — made from precast concrete, clay and natural stone like granite — are being turned out in a range of colors and sizes. Some have rounded edges for an older look; others are mottled to add color variation to the driveway.
Installing a customized driveway is a way to put your own stamp on the hardscape and set your house apart from the rest. Depending on the neighborhood, the materials and the quality of the craftsmanship, Keenan said, a driveway also could increase a home's resale value.
"It does become a point of distinction," he said. "It is something people notice. It is elegant."
The least expensive paved driveways are made of asphalt, which cost about $12 to $15 a square foot, and concrete, costing about $14 to $18 a square foot, Keenan said. Though concrete is more resilient and lasts longer, both materials will crack over time, he said.
Pavers, which start at about $20 to $25 a square foot, should last a lifetime, Keenan said. "The key is the fact that the pavement acts as flexible fabric and it can move with the earth, and isn't a rigid system and isn't prone to cracking," he said.
Pavers can be used to make traditional patterns like basket-weave or herringbone, or be fashioned into a custom look.
For a less traditional look, use a paver that comes in three or four sizes and lay them out at random, Keenan said. Or get a custom design without breaking the bank by using concrete pavers accented with more expensive natural stone pavers.
Keenan is also the co-founder and design director of reGEN Land Design in Minneapolis. He works with homeowners to find the best driveway for their home. People are most concerned with the color, which might be chosen by looking at the home's roof, siding or trim color.
"I don't think you can make a value judgment on which one is the best," Keenan said of driveway designs. "It's got to fit the building that you're paving next to."
He might recommend, for example, a traditional red-brick driveway to go with a light blue Colonial home. For a contemporary, environmentally "green" home, he might choose light-colored, permeable pavers — a more environmentally sound choice because they let water back through to the earth under the driveway, rather than forcing it to run off and collect debris on the way to bodies of water.
In Naples, landscape architect W. Christian Busk installs "living driveways" that feature real grass interspersed among pavers. That reduces heat and glare and provides some drainage.
"We blur the lines between where driveway ends and where landscape begins," says Busk, president of Busk & Associates. "It always looks beautiful."