Exterior Portfolio’s Dream Designer Program Helps You Think Outside the Beige Box You May Be Living In

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Exterior Portfolio's "French Country" materials package

Exterior Portfolio by Crane contacted us here at HF to let us know about their revamped online visualizer and see what we thought. They’ve introduced the complete “Dream Designer Program” including the Dream Designer Visualizer, Smart Styles Color Selector, Dream Designer Board, and Exterior Portfolio material samples. As many of you may already know, Exterior Portfolio is known for its maintenance-free building products; everything is made of plastic and plastic composites so it’s not only environmentally friendly, but endures far longer than wood and other traditional building materials.  

Exterior Portfolio has taken the design phase to a new level with the Dream Designer Program. Recognizing that my better half many of us experience a crippling level of fear and anxiety when it comes to choosing colors, textures and details for the home, as well as have great difficulty envisioning the end result, they’ve created a complete design experience which should make the process much less sweat inducing.

(It definitely changed the mister’s attitude around here. No amount of reassurance from me could convince him that a bit of color/panache would not make him “flamboyant” in the eyes of his buddies. All it took was a little design time with the visualizer, a look at the product samples and…voila! We just may be on our way to something a bit more appealing than the beige box in which we currently reside.)

Exterior Portfolio’s Dream Designer Process

Dream Designer Board. The flip side shows the siding as much greener than the product sample.

The design process is easy. Upload a picture of your house to the site and enable the Dream Designer. You’re prompted through steps which require you to outline/isolate siding, trim and roofing sections of the home. Then you simply click on each area to add/interchange material. Exterior Portfolio offers quite a few nice color options accessible via the Smart Styles Color Selector. Once you land on a combination of colors and products you like, order the product samples and, if interested, the Dream Designer Board. The board costs $20.00.

NOTE: Exterior Portfolio also offers several “ready to go” design packages, one of which is the “French Country” pictured above.

My Take On the Whole Dream Designer Package

Now that I’ve had a chance to check out the whole package, here’s my take: The Dream Designer Visualizer and Smart Styles Color Selector rock. It’s a lot of fun and gives immediate gratification — very cool to see your boring house transform in a second. The Designer does take a little figuring out though. You have to set points to indicate separate roof, siding and trim areas, which was a bit of a challenge for me, not having used the program before. (The husband stepped right in and figured it out much quicker, which I’d like to note, is NOT an indication of superior intelligence.)

The product samples are impressive. (I’ll admit, I used to be a building material snob. Our house is real cedar siding, and that’s how I wanted it to remain. But after only one season of the most brutal weather conditions I’ve ever experienced, with roof shingles blown over half the county and siding that looks like it’s 50 years old, I’ve seen the light.)

Cedar Shake product sample

I chose their Cedar Shake sample. It’s patterned from actual cedar and the grain looks very authentic. It’s also really sturdy and rigid. (Editor’s Note: Although it wasn’t clear to us from their website copy or samples, these are vinyl products). Here’s what I also very much appreciated: They sent a good 12″ x 16″, double row section as opposed to a useless “micro swatch.” I think we can all agree that when it comes to making major design and color decisions, we need something more to work with than a Dorito-sized sample chip. When you hold the siding sample next to the house, you get a very clear idea of what the whole thing will look like.

Not-So-Great Features of Exterior Portfolio

With that said, there were a couple of particulars I wasn’t overly thrilled with. Exterior Portfolio says the order will ship within two business days, but it took closer to two weeks before it arrived, and the Dream Designer Board and samples showed up on different days. Not a biggie, but it took longer than expected. I also did not receive the Design Planner Portfolio, which normally sells separately for $14 and change, but was supposed to be included with this order. Eh, I can always go buy a Trapper Keeper if needed.

The 2 x 2 foot Dream Designer Board is pretty cool — but I’m not sure I think it’s $20.00 worth of cool. You definitely get very high-res before-and-after photos of your house as well as photos of the siding/trim of choice. (Larger versions of what you see with the online visualizer.) But…

Siding and trim samples. Thank you EP for making them bigger than Doritos.

Colors between the design board and product sample were way off. The color of the siding in the photo looks extremely green, while the color of the sample piece of siding is much more beige-green and a lot closer to what I chose using the online designer. (I totally get that color can change with lighting, shadows and other factors, but the two looked as different as night and day.) Also, as mentioned earlier, the siding sample is big enough to get a solid sense of what the finished product will look like — which in my view makes the 2 x 2 foot design board sort of redundant. My recommendation would be to use the photo on the design board to get an idea of how the siding will look on a larger area of your home, but for sure, reference the siding sample to get an idea of the truest color.

Is Exterior Portfolio’s Dream Designer Program Worth It?

All in all, I think the process is worth it and was I was very happy with the authentic look, quality and weight of the product samples. Exterior also offers a reference list of suppliers/contractors near you. Prices and availability obviously vary, and I almost passed out was a little shocked at pricing, but the cedar shake siding I chose runs $250/square (1oo square feet) with a two week special order time in my area.

Photo of author

About Liz

Liz is a professional, custom picture framer based in Central New York. She and her contractor husband are currently renovating their second home together. At the time of this writing, they are not on speaking terms. Her love of making stuff with wood and DIY home projects began by watching her Dad. (It was also around this time Liz's incessant use of "colorful language" took root.) She's an avid gardener, stellar cook and doesn't throw like a girl: an all-around rad chick.

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3 thoughts on “Exterior Portfolio’s Dream Designer Program Helps You Think Outside the Beige Box You May Be Living In”

  1. Hello everyone – I’m Kriss with Exterior Portfolio. First thank you for the post on Dream Designer. I really liked your comments on the size of the samples you received and the ease in using the Dream Designer. I noticed your comments on the color variation on the printed board v. the product you received. Typically you will see a difference as printing cannot replicate the exact color but we can get pretty close. Sounds like there is a bit more variation and we are looking into this issue. Part of the reason we do include actual cut pieces is for this reason. Computer monitors vary and before you make a buying decision we do recommend seeing the actual product in the color you chose to make your final decision.

    Our standard turnaround is to ship the board and cut piece samples within 2 business days; I apologize that your shipment took much longer. We are addressing this as well.

    The Vinyl Siding Institute (VSI) has great information on what makes vinyl siding green and the pros and cons of vinyl siding v. fiber cement, brick and others. You can find the information on their site at http://www.vinylsiding.org.

    Insulated siding in particular is being recognized across the country as a form of continuous insulation that helps reduce the heat loss through wall studs and adds to energy savings. It is recognized in various energy codes and government programs including Energy Star Qualified Homes. In particular our CraneBoard Solid Core Siding products are recognized as a Green Approved Product by NAHB. For more information visit http://www.greenapprovedproducts.com.

    Again, thanks for the post on Dream Designer. We appreciate the time and effort you took to check out our online design tool.

  2. It is hard to find information on their site about the actual composition of their products or how environmentally friendly they really are. Are they really better than cement based siding or cultured stone. What about fire resistance?

    • Agreed Kimber. We found out today the products are actually vinyl (I added an Editors Note mid-article). I personally don’t classify Vinyl as environmentally friendly, but opinions vary on that topic. GreenBuilding Advisor has an interesting pro/con article on vinyl if you’re curious. Not sure, but Exterior Portfolio / Crane might also chime in via the comments with more info.


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