The Question: I’m renovating my cottage and considering going from clapboard to shingles on the exterior. I know it will mean we won’t have to paint anymore. But is there a way to give shingles more personality?
The beauty of Cape Cod cottages is in their simplicity. The shingles on our homes work well to provide protection from the elements, and, as they weather, they blend into their surroundings. They’re not meant to be flashy. But a custom shingle design on a focal point — say at the entry to your home — can work to add interest in a subdued way.
Whether they’re decoratively placed or not, shingles are a good choice because they last a long time. Eastern white cedar shingles, the material on most Cape Cod homes, last 30 years. And western red cedar can last 50. You will know when the shingles on your house need to be replaced. They will start to curve, pop out, and crack. They may also begin to look thin.
Reshingling is not a difficult or expensive job. And it doesn’t take a whole lot longer to place the shingles in a special pattern. Still, the more complicated the design, the more time-consuming the work will be, adding to the cost.
For that reason, and because you will be living with these shingles for a long time, keep your plan simple. It makes sense to pick a central spot like a front gable for incorporating your design.
Walk down the streets in Provincetown and look at the shingle design work on houses there. That’s one way to decide on a direction. Or you can look up shingle designs at the library or online. Talk with your contractor about what you might want to try. I relish the challenge of creating a custom design.
I like to suggest taking your cues from nature when selecting a pattern. Patterns that evoke waves or fish scales create a nautical theme. Even a simple staggered pattern creates visual interest and won’t take that long to do. A stain can be used to help a design pop.
You might also consider using red cedar. It’s thicker than white cedar, and more expensive, but besides lasting longer, it offers a distinctive look. You can create a design that mixes white and red cedar. The contrast will look dramatic at first, but it will become more subdued as the shingles weather.
I like the way shingle design involves getting creative with traditional, ordinary materials. It’s a way to give your home some flair — but quietly.
Peter Crosen is the founder of Crosen Carpentry in Wellfleet.