For more than six years now we have dreamt about what our house would look like once it was painted. Despite the massive changes to the inside of the house, the outside has remained, for lack of a better way to put it, an eye sore. Yes, we had made some small visual progress on the exterior – like landscaping, renovated windows, scraping and priming the siding. But our house still looked like a renovation project.
I have to admit that in some ways we liked that. For one, it was clear to everyone that we were living in a house that we were taking the time to restore – and we are proud of that. As an added benefit we figured it helped deter would-be thieves because from the curb it just didn’t look like there would be much worth stealing on the inside. Makes sense, right?
It’s hard to believe, but the exterior carpentry and porch renovations were completed a little more than a year ago. What took us so long to get it painted?!? Well, for one – COVID. A global pandemic has a way of making you refocus your thoughts on other things. I mean, it’s not like we weren’t doing anything. During that time we did complete our staircase, playroom (still haven’t revealed that playroom yet!), and landscaping. And of course we did try to find painters, but you know how that goes. They don’t return your calls, don’t stop by when they say they will, and then one thing leads to another and months go by. Finally we got a recommendation from a neighbor friend for a local husband and wife painting team. We called them, they actually called us back, stopped by, got us an estimate, and set a date to begin! Hard to believe!
[Side note: We actually have had the house painted since November. It has just taken us this long to write about it. Chalk that up to computer-fatigue from too much virtual teaching?]
Here’s the dumb part: After six years to think about it, research, and look around, we still weren’t exactly sure what colors we wanted. Yep. We are that indecisive. Or picky. Or both. Actually, in our defense, picking colors for an old historic home is not as easy you might think. Most people, especially if you live in the suburbs, just decide on a single house color and that’s it. The trim is going to be white and the window frames are already white or some neutral tone, so the main house color is all you have to worry about. Piece of cake!
When we first started the renovation we had to have some idea of the final colors because I was rehabbing all the old windows and also ordering new windows for the 2nd floor gables. At that time we thought our house would be yellow, with cream trim and red windows. Something kind of like this:
Well, then we changed our mind and decided we would actually like the house to be a dark green. This remained a constant, but the colors of the trim and details continued to evolve. Eventually, we settled on a color combination that is relatively common – green with a cream trim and red windows.
BUT – We also had plans to spice it up with some fun accent colors. We painted small swatches of these colors on the front of the house and lived with them for a while over the summer. In my mind everyone in our neighborhood was forming their opinions based on our samples painted on the front porch. In fact, Amy and I joked about putting a voting box out on the front fence so that people could just get it out of their system. Our neighborhood cares about color. It’s a funky neighborhood and most people are more likely to want fun colors – and so do we. Here are some examples of houses in our historic downtown neighborhood, affectionately called Cottage Home.
BUT at the same time, we felt we needed to balance the desire for fun colors with the type of house we had. Our house has a surprisingly stately vibe from the curb. It sits up on an incline, has a large porch with big columns, and just has a presence about it that makes it stand out a little. If it was a workman’s cottage or something like that we would have been more inclined to paint it something truly funky, but that just wouldn’t have looked right on this house (in our humble opinion). So our challenge was to find a way to balance our urge for friendly colors while respecting the stately details of the house.
Adding to the complication of choosing colors, our house has several other things to consider: What color goes on the cedar shingles? What about the porch railings, spindles, and other details? It was tricky! Especially when it’s so hard to tell what it will look like on such a large scale. What really helped us settle on the greens that we wanted was using another house in our neighborhood. In fact the owners ( who we are lucky to know) were kind enough to give us paint samples of their green that we could use. We ended up using the green color and then modifying the olive just a little bit.
After power-washing, scraping, caulking, and priming, the painters were ready for the color choice, so there was no more stalling. We nervously gave the colors to the painter and then prayed for the best, but when I came home from work after the first day I knew we had it WRONG.
Well, it wasn’t ALL bad. The green was right. It was exactly what we wanted! But the trim was just too yellow! I mean it wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t right. Luckily it had rained in the afternoon and would be too wet for the painters to paint the next day. Time for us to reconsider our choices. Apparently 6 years wasn’t enough time for us to make up our mind. We needed a few more days.
I had the next day off and spent it going to the paint store multiple times , painting samples all over the front of the house, taking pictures and sending them to Amy, then repainting samples, and so on. It’s hard to tell, but the picture below has at least 4 or 5 different yellows in it.
I began to lose track of colors and soon I couldn’t decide on anything. Once again we were saved by the rain. It continued to rain for several days, so we had more time to think and experiment. We were going in two different directions… One direction was taking us to a more pale yellow that was almost beige. which would work, but we weren’t very excited about it. The other was taking us in a direction that was more orange.
Then we had an epiphany. What if we tried the terra cotta color we were planning on using as an accent color, but tried it on the trim? We had seen this mix of colors on a house in another neighborhood that always caught our eye and it was also on the house that we used as a model for the green we liked. Once we tried it on the house we knew we were on to something. The green, orange, and red worked so well together and gave us the bright colors without losing the vibe we wanted.
At this point I think our painters had begun to lose patience – not that we blamed them. We had another meeting with them, decided exactly what should be painted orange and olive, and then let them go to work. At this point Amy and I knew that as long as most of it was right we could always go back ourselves and move some colors around if needed. As it turns out, no need to change anything. We couldn’t be happier with the final look.
The painting is done, but we still aren’t 100% done with the exterior. We still need to add gutters, fix the chimneys, and add new basement windows in the back, but we are ready to share with you our painted house!
As a side note, we also stained the decks of the porches and were pleasantly surprised by how big of a difference that made on the finished appearance!
We ran out of time to paint the fence before winter, so for now it is still primer white.
Now seems like a good time to make another exciting announcement. I am officially done rehabbing all the windows!!! I’m sure you are asking, “Wait! Didn’t you finish that years ago?” Well, yes, most of it. But there were three storm windows that I couldn’t finish because they were going to be dependent on some of the exterior carpentry repairs. The dormer in the picture below was probably not originally a part of the house. And not coincidentally, those storm windows did not hold up as well as the other windows in the house (which are decades older).
I finally got around to having the storm windows rebuilt and then going through the very familiar process of reglazing, priming, painting, and hanging the windows. I won’t go into all the reasons why, but getting these windows up the ladder, fitting them, taking them down, adjusting them, refitting them, and then installing the hangers was a nerve wracking and harrowing experience. But it’s done!
As I have said many times before, the window restoration project was one of the single biggest projects I did. It involved removing, scraping, sanding, reglazing, and painting 34 window sashes as well as 19 storm sashes with 40 window panes. All of these also involved restored hardware, new rope for the weights, spring bronze, and storm stays. It was a lot, but well worth every minute of the work to maintain the original windows and character of our house.
Here’s another look back at where we started on the exterior…
So are we done yet? Everyone keeps asking us that. No. We still have one last room to finish and some exterior odd jobs to finish up, but we are soooo close. We will make it to the finish line, even if it is by crawling on our hands and knees. We can’t wait to share the final pictures with spring blooms and all the final touches complete.