Materials and design are the keys to creating a front walkway that puts your best foot forward

Open your front door and look at the walkway in front of you: Chances are you’ll be staring at an uninspiring path of concrete. Your house deserves to make a better first impression. “The front walkway is really an exterior foyer,” says landscape architect Kate Field, principal of Katherine Field and Associates, in Newport, Rhode Island. “Take your cues from the existing landscape, the architecture of your house, and your personal style,” she adds.

Material choices are numerous, but consider how the chosen material will blend with your house. Says landscape designer Jeff Goldman, of Silver Spring, Maryland, “The goal is to have the finished product seem like it was always there.”

A major consideration is how the walkway material will be affected by weather. Crushed gravel, for example, is not a good choice if you live in an area prone to snow, because it cannot be shoveled. Concrete weathers the freeze-thaw cycle well and for that reason makes a good underlayer for such natural stones as bluestone or granite laid with mortar joints. Natural stone can also be laid on sand and compacted stone dust, as can brick pavers and interlocking concrete pavers. If materials set on sand heave in winter, they can be reset fairly easily, but come spring and summer, you must be vigilant about weeding.

Consider safety when choosing your walkway material. “To minimize the trip factor, go with a smooth surface,” says Field, who prefers bluestone and granite. “Native fieldstone has a natural cleft top, which may cause some people to trip.” Walkways that have only one step, versus two or more, are hazards because the eye doesn’t always notice the subtlety of one step.

Your yard and house should set the tone for the walkway. A curving front walkway will enhance the overall look of a contemporary-style house. By contrast, a formal Federal-style house calls for a straight walkway. Design the edge of the walkway as well: Brick or fieldstone set on end create nice edges and flowerbeds add color. The walkway’s width should keep with the scale of your house. Typically walkway widths range from 42 inches to 60 inches, but if you want to be able to walk beside someone (an elderly person who needs support), make sure your walkway is 5 feet wide.