John Gidding, host of HGTV's Curb Appeal.

John Gidding, host of HGTV's Curb Appeal. (Courtesy HGTV / February 21, 2013)

Why is "curb appeal" important to a house and neighborhood?

Curb appeal could be called "first impression" - it is that intangible, crucial aspect of any architecture. You can spend millions on an interior but if your curb appeal is lacking, you and your guests will never fully appreciate a home. This is because the facade and landscape in front of a home speak volumes to how it feels to inhabit the home - it needs to feel welcoming, warm, accommodating, and safe. It also needs to be coherent and functional. When people see a dedicated path to the front door, a well-appointed mailbox with house numbers, a bright cheery door, a well-lit portico, matching finished on all the metal work, perennials poking up out of the planting beds and decorative grasses swaying in the breeze - they know more about the house at that first glance than they would with a guided tour.

Does "curb appeal" have trends like fashion, and what are those trends?

CURB APPEAL in many regards is trend-resistant. That is to say, whereas other fields of design follow trends for things like color and style, the color and style of a home is best picked as an extension of its architecture and in accordance with the neighborhood within which the house is located. Where trends to make an impact is in flower choices for the yard and material choices for the accessories of a facade. I'm seeing front yards become a lot less formal, with organically shaped planting beds and a mixture of plants that spill over from area to area rather than stay contained to structured zones. Also in terms of facade materials, operational shutters or plantation shutters are very big. I'm also seeing a lot of standing-seam metal roofs being used in tandem with more traditional styles of roofing - so if someone has a shingle roof, they will install a new portico or porch with a standing seam roof.

 Your 5 favorite plants?

For trees, I love the Crape Myrtle, with its explosion of blooms in the summer in many colors, and year round the bark is smooth, soft grey, and flakes off to reveal pinkish fresh bark. Quite hardy too. For Shrubs, I love to use Azaleas and Camellias. Azaleas provide huge bursts of color, and are handsome shrubs for structure when not in bloom. Camellias are great for winter color and great in planting conditions when you're not sure if the location is more in sun or shade. For vines, I love jasmine because it grows vigorously, smells great, and if you're in a climate that doesn't get too cold, behaves like an evergreen. Jasmine requires dedicated pruning and thinning, however - so I always locate it where it's easily accessed. For a perennial, I love Euphorbia. The green is so vibrant, and the leaf shapes are so unexpected - it looks like a tropical hybrid. I like pairing Euphorbia with stones and boulders in full sun, so they drape across the rocks. Finally as ground cover, I'm a big fan of Rosemary - entirely self sufficient, happy in any soil, with blue to purple flowerlets from fall to spring. They smell great and are drought tolerant, plus they do well on slopes.

How should plant colors work with a home's colors?

Plant colors do not need to be coordinated with the house colors, per se. When homeowners try to match flower colors with home colors, the result can all too often look forced and overwrought. The best approach is to have a color scheme that at most complements the home's color, but has a coherent color story of its own. Matching the color of an annual's bloom with the colors of a shrub's leaves, for example, is a great way of creating a coherent color story. The layout of the yard should correspond to the architecture and entrance sequence, but the colors can be independent of the colors of the home.

How do you pick your curb appeal projects?

For the show, we get a lot of requests - but we shoot the show in Northern California, so we only consider homes in the San Francisco area for now. But we are always looking for the same thing: a house with good bones and a front yard that has potential that is as yet unrealized. We aren't ever looking for truly run-down properties, because our budget of $20,000 is always the same and only a drop in a bucket if any infrastructure needs to be fixed. That's why we find homes that are in relatively good shape that just need aesthetic and landscape guidance. (And we also look for unexpected things like: we need to be able to park a lot of cars nearby, and fit a dump truck and a port-a-pottie, and we avoid two-way roads or homes under major flight routes - and that's the reality of shooting a TV show.)

Your favorite big design client?

One of my favorite projects was designing a loft for Rachael Ray. It included creating a kitchen where she could invite her camera crew and cook for her show - so the open plan of the loft was controlled by where the cameras would have to fit when the kitchen turned into a TV studio. The best part about the project was that the raw space I was given had beautiful coffered ceilings in concentric circles and I mimicked the curves in a floating coffee bar/island that had built-in wine storage, magazine racks, and even a coffee machine built into it. It was Rachael's favorite part as well. I also enjoyed designing a dressing room for Carrie Fisher when she was performing her one-woman show on Broadway. What started off as a sterile beige room ended up resembling a brightly colored boudoir, complete with faux-bois carpeting, horizontal bands of color dancing around the room, and a shiny stainless-and-mirrors makeup station - plus a million little knick-knacks that helped the space feel like it had been her dressing room for years.

Have you had any people unhappy with your curb appeal reveal?

There has been one single instance where one of our homeowners wasn't as thrilled as we'd have liked him to be. We handled it like any show on TV would - we edited it to make it look like everything was peachy! But in reality, we modified the home of an architect who had designed the house himself. The proposed changes were essentially changing his own hard work, so we were on contentious footing from the very beginning. The result was gorgeous and a huge improvement in many ways - but that's not to say we were able to make him happy. But that was the only one - every single homeowner otherwise has been happy!

What inspires you in life?

Since I base all my designs on existing conditions, I find it hard to run out of ideas because every property has its own characteristics on which I can base my designs. But I'm also a big fan of buying landscape and architecture books to keep myself inspired. When it comes to landscape, and unlike my sensibilities in architecture, I am not a modernist. I like to keep my gardens rough around the edges and as natural-looking as possible, simply as a personal preference. The more austere and strict landscape plans can certainly intrigue me with their graphic strength - but for me the informal, flowing yard that seamlessly blends landscape and architecture is my favorite. This is why the best inspiration is always nature.