Design options abound for creating attractive, useful driveways

Curb appeal

Associated Press photo For a contemporary, environmentally 'green' home, one driveway idea is to use light-colored, permeable pavers, which are more environmentally conscious by letting water absorb back into the earth.
Associated Press photo For a contemporary, environmentally 'green' home, one driveway idea is to use light-colored, permeable pavers, which are more environmentally conscious by letting water absorb back into the earth.

While a driveway may be a utilitarian afterthought for many homeowners, some people are adding serious curb appeal to their homes by moving beyond basic options like grass or gravel, asphalt or concrete.

“The driveway is commonly overlooked,” says 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 says, 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 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.

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 says. 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 says.

“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 says.

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. Or get a custom design without breaking the bank by using concrete pavers accented with more expensive natural stone pavers.

Choose the color, he recommends, 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 says 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, Fla., 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.”