Nostalgic for the pebble driveway of his youth, Tom Motamed installed a similar one at his New Hope manse in 2006. Though he loved the look, he soon realized he'd made an impractical choice.
Snowplows moved not only the snow, but the pebbles, too. Ice patches formed in the divots.
So in 2011, the driveway was reconfigured, along with other home renovations, and the stones were replaced with four-by-four granite cobblestones.
Opting for a classic look needing little maintenance - occasional power-washing but no raking, as with the stones - the $125,000 driveway, now six years old, still looks new.
"When you come into that space, it's like another room in the house," said Motamed, 68.
For years, the driveway has been a place to which homeowners barely gave a thought - until they had to plow or reseal. But as Houzz and Pinterest (and even Downton Abbey, rest in peace) display creative and beautiful options, it's becoming one more place to personalize, not to mention a way to add new curb appeal to a house.
"You enter a home as soon as you arrive at the property," said Peter C. Archer, principal of Archer & Buchanan Architecture in West Chester. "It's more than a place just for automobiles."
Natural and man-made materials - gravel, tar and chip, cobblestone, concrete and brick pavers - are replacing or being teamed with asphalt, the long-held standard. To keep costs lower, blacktop driveways bordered with stone or brick edging and curbs also are popular.
"Houzz especially can demonstrate what can be done with even the simplest part of your home," said Kevin Burke, president of Burke Bros. Landscape Design/Build in Wyndmoor. Ten years ago, Burke created five to 10 "unique" driveways annually. Now, it's between 20 and 30.
"Everything is being taken to the next level now."
That said, these new designs foremost must be functional - many townships restrict the amount of impervious surface on a property.
When every square foot counts, alternative natural materials - gravel or grass pavers - can be decorative while also allowing storm water to seep naturally back into the ground.
But gravel and crushed stone can make snow removal difficult, not to mention it sticks to shoes and tires. Concrete and brick pavers are more durable, and you can create a pattern. Add a little detail, and you won't break the bank, said Charles E. Hess Jr., principal of Hess Landscape Architects in Lansdale.
Tar and chip, at $10 to $12 a square foot, is crushed stone overlaid on top of a blacktop driveway, giving the look of a crushed-stone driveway but with the stability of blacktop. It won't settle unevenly, causing divots and puddling, as stones do.
"It comes down to the size of the property and budget," said Hess. For example, owners of Shore homes with small driveways can afford to install concrete pavers or natural stone.
Options and costs vary widely: Gravel is $3 to $4 a square foot; asphalt, $5 to $7 a square foot; concrete paving, at $12 to $14 a square foot, can be bordered by cobblestone aprons and inlays ($28 to $32 a square foot), cobblestone/natural stone edging ($18 to $22 per linear foot) or pavers ($26 to $28 a square foot).
When designing their natural stone and wood house, John and Julie Burke (unrelated to Kevin Burke) chose reclaimed Belgian block they found in a quarry to border their asphalt driveway.
"We were told it was from streets in Philadelphia that were originally paved with Belgian block but have since been redone," said John Burke, 54, of Lower Gwynedd. He hopes to move in to their new Blue Bell home - with new driveway - in the summer. "We liked the idea of it being a reclaimed item, the renewable aspect, and we also liked the character of it."
The driveway traverses the property, leading to a parking area in front of the house, and continuing through a porte cochere to a guest parking area in the rear. Burke wouldn't divulge the cost, though he said it was "not trivial."
With the help of contractor Mike Di Palantino and designer Mark Suprun, John Collins considered different types, colors, and sizes of pavers for his Avalon home, opting for a square pattern of red rectangles bordered by larger gray pavers.
"The pattern invites you in to either of one of the two garages," said Collins, 73.
Most important for Collins was that the driveway was not only architecturally interesting but that it also complemented the look of the house and other hardscaping - an extensive patio, fire pit, walkways, and built-in barbecue grill that totaled about $100,000.
"Pulling the color from the stone on the house gives the driveway a very custom look," said Mike Di Palantino, owner of Di Palantino Contractors in Cape May. "Especially at the Shore, it fits the architecture. And freezes and thaws or flooding would never affect the paver installation."