May 28, 2012

Exterior: Move-In to Present

Don't you just love driving by a house with good curb appeal?  Everything looks fresh and inviting and makes you want to go IN that house.  Well, our house ain't that.

Curb appeal?  How about curb indifference.

To be fair, it did have some charm when we moved in.  The octagon window is a prime example of that.  But the landscaping had obviously been neglected other than mowing, and there were lots of other aspects of the exterior that were clearly long-ignored.  However, our inspection revealed that roof and the siding were in good shape, and everything was structurally a-ok.  Woot!

We have a long to-do list for the exterior of our house, and much of it hasn't really been fleshed out yet.  It's not a big deal though, because of an agreement that we made.  We have spent a lot of time and energy improving the interior of our house so far, and we want to make sure we don't outpace ourselves financially or rush into decisions and then regret them later.  So, to that end, we have agreed that this year we will have a landscaping budget of $0.  Yes, the Lawn Nazi herself has agreed to step down and only make improvements that ring in with the price tag of free.

Here's what we've done with the exterior of the house so far.

Let's start with a familiar view:  The McChevron.

Can you smell the french fries?

This is the view of our backyard.  You can see bark chips toward the fence-line.  There are a few wood landscaping beams nailed into the ground, presumably to keep the wood chips out of the grass (we have a theory that a swing set used to live there).  Unfortunately, landscaping beams can't keep grass out of wood chips.  Or blackberries, or holly, or maple trees, or cedar trees- all of which are volunteering towards the far left corner.

Here's an updated view.  See that large dead patch front and center?  That's where the infamous hot tub on blocks used to live.  Obviously, we have removed both the hot tub and the blocks.  But since we don't have any grass seed and it's not in the budget, it's having to fill in on its own.  The pavers to the right were also under the hot tub on blocks.  They are currently residing at that side of the house to help the dogs negotiate the doggie door with minimal face-planting and to keep our smoker from being totally overcome with weeds.

Unsightly much?

There has been talk about putting a storage shed out in the bark chip area- our garage is really stuffed and we'd like to have separate places for his projects and her projects.  I think that even though Steve is enamored with the idea of a shop of his own, it'll end up being too much of a hassle to run electricity out there.  Potting shed?  No electricity needed.

From the opposite end of the back yard, things look mercifully less disheveled.

At least these people mow their lawn.

You can see the small patio, currently crowded with a dining table/chairs and a rickety ladder that I got from my parents (I've got potted plant display ideas for miles with that ladder, but no budget, so there it sits).  The sliding doors lead to our master bedroom and the side door leads into the garage.  You can see the slope of the yard a little better here, and you can tell exactly how lumpy it is.  We're waiting on landscaping ideas here for a while, as well.  We know we're probably going to have to pull up the sod, grade, and seed at some point.  We'd also like to somehow make that patio more serviceable.  We've considered widening it and adding stairs, and actually got a quote to do so from a contractor that my Dad, the former construction superintendent, recommended for his great work and reasonable prices.  "Sticker shock" doesn't quite cover our reaction to the quote.  For basic broomed concrete- 20 feet of driveway, two stairs attached to this patio, and a 20 foot walkway down the side yard we were quoted $3000 for the concrete and $5000 for prep work.  Sorry, we don't have an extra $8000 laying around.  We decided to take our time and do it ourselves, thank you.

We do have plans for the side yard, though.  We take our dogs out into this backyard to play, and their doggie door lets them out here as well.  The problem with leaving doxies unattended outside is that they like to dig.  And bark at everything.  And the little temporary fence we have stretched from the corner of the house to the fence is not enough to make them feel secure or make us feel confident that they won't dig out and escape (we live half a block from a highway, so this is especially scary).  We want to make a more permanent gate structure there so that the doggies can actually enjoy that area and so that we don't have to kennel them all day when we're at work and the weather's nice.  We're working on plans for the gate right now- more on that soon.

As you walk down the side yard, you see one of our house's most prominent exterior "improvements."  Yes, that's right, the famed Porch to Nowhere.

Now includes waiting-to-be-cleaned barbeque!

Seriously, isn't it awesome?  From the completely useless height (to give you perspective, the deck comes up to my knee when I stand in the yard), to the lack of stairs, to the structural integrity (the lumber hasn't been cared for since the thing was built, and the porch actually tipped up when we stepped onto it with the barbeque- it's not secured to the house AT ALL), to the fabulous spray painting stains courtesy of yours truly.  Yeah, not exactly the Cadillac of porches.  It is in a useful spot though- the slider leads right into our kitchen and dining room.  We have plans for days for this area, too.  But until we have the budget, it makes more sense for the Porch to Nowhere to stay put, so at least our barbeque can live on it.

 Beyond the porch is an awesome, huge maple tree.  The amount of shade it throws pretty much ensures that the only green we can grow near it is moss, and it takes us weeks to get rid of all the leaves when the weather turns cold.  But it is BEAUTIFUL during the spring and summer months.  And it obscures our view of two things: the smokers in the apartments across the street, and a lovely power pole (you can see it to the left).  Technically the tree belongs to the city, since our property line falls along our fence-line, but the city gave us permission to make improvements that'd increase the curb appeal since they are too short-staffed to have enough groundskeepers to tackle everything within city limits.  All we've done so far is limb it up a little, and I think that's all we're planning on for now.  I have idly thought about planting some groundcover around it, but I haven't done any research about what might work there, so who knows.

Moss flourishes here.

Around the front of the house, things look a little better.  The plants in front of the dining room window were already there, and already had overgrown the tiny bed there.  I didn't even bother pruning or removing anything because I figured an overgrown mess there would look better than ripping it all out.  And if I wait until we're ready to do some serious landscaping, I might be able to re-use some of the plants elsewhere.

Flower bed?  Or grow-your-own-jungle starter kit?

Probably the biggest improvement that we've made to the exterior is simply cleaning it a little.  When spring came around, I washed all of the gutters by hand.  Now they actually look like white gutters instead of moss and lichen gardens.  I also washed all of the windows, using a trick I discovered on (you guessed it) Pinterest.  Dawn dishwasher soap, white vinegar, and water are all that's needed.  Combine them in a bucket, use a green scrubby pad to clean the window, and then use a squeegee to wipe them clean.  Super fast, no paper towels needed, safe for the environment, beautiful non-streaky shine- I'm sold!  The metal star and the cement bench on the patio both came from our last house.  And about a month ago I discovered that one of my pots from last spring had survived the winter, so I just drug that puppy to the front of the house.  Yeah, it doesn't look awesome, but it was free, so I'm not complaining.

We're still up in the air about landscaping plans for the front yard.  We know we'd like to replace the overgrown paver walkway, and add some balance and scale that will help things look a little more lush without heading into temperate rainforest territory.  There has also been some talk about building a pergola and patio in the south end of the front yard, kind of under the tree.  But we're still a long way from making those decisions. 

Current view from the front.

And then there's the north side of the house.  When we first came to see the house, we were excited because the narrow pass-through was completely gravelled.  Less work, we thought.  And then spring came.

That gravel is the wrong color.

Turns out, whoever gravelled the pass-through didn't bother to put down weed-blocker first.  So now we've got a dandelion party happening back there.  Not to mention all of my random pots and planters that were brought over from the first house.  And the back gate that's barely serviceable.  The good news for me is that I know EXACTLY what I want to do with this side of the house.  The bad news is that we have no budget, so it's got to wait for a year or so.  I really want to have narrow beds running the length of the house and a graveled path.  That'll make it easier to drag the yard waste cart back and forth from the maple tree (which we have to do every weekend for about 2 months in the fall to deal with all those leaves).  And the plants will camoflauge some of the business going on next to the house- the foundation access, the air conditioner, the cable.  And since this side of the house gets absolutely no sun, those planters in my mind are filled with shade-loving plants that look a whole lot like this flowerbed in front of one of my favorite local restaurants.

Shade utopia.

Ferns, hosta, and two varieties of coral bells.  I dig it.  None of them grow very high, so hopefully they can remain peacefully next to the house without making you feel crowded when you walk through.

One of the main reasons we're holding off on planting (besides some self-imposed budget control), is that our house is in desperate need of painting.  Don't believe me?  Take a look at the overhang above our front porch.

Gross with a captial G.

What is up with that?  Yuck.  All I know is that area is definitely getting graced with a coat of Killz before we start the painting process.  Or covered with beadboard.  More on that below.

Picking exterior paint colors is always hard for us.  When Steve and I painted our last house, we hemmed and hawed for months. The wall facing our backyard was a ridiculous patchwork of paint samples.  We finally saw a house in our own neighborhood get painted, and we both really liked the way it turned out.  We ended up just knocking on their door and asking for their paint colors.  So it should be no surprise that we've already been hemming and hawing about paint colors for this house.  This time, technology has been helping. 

Sherwin Williams' website has an awesome program called The Paint Color Visualizer where you can upload a picture of your house and basically photoshop it with their colors.  We REALLY wanted to paint the house yellow to up the charm factor, but the daycare next door is already a sweet yellow color, so that was out.  And greens were out, too- the house on the other side is a creamy pesto color.  And it seemed that most of what we both liked were medium browns and greys.  So we did a few mock- ups using the picture that realtor took last year.

We liked each of them a little, but weren't totally in love with any of them.  And we had been playing with the idea of adding a cedar shake accent on one or both of the peaks.  And then I saw this.

I am in LURVE.  And so is Steve.  The colors are perfect, the accents are charming and fresh.  And it's structurally similar enough to our home that we think we could duplicate this type of look without overwhelming the house.  So our current plan is something like this:
  • Build up the trim around the two large windows
  • Cedar shake accent for the highest peak
  • Create trim between the peak and the body of the house
  • Build up the post on the front porch to make it look a little chunkier
  • Build false shutters for the two large windows (maybe)
  • Paint like crazy!  The front runner for the gray is Martha Stewart's Flagstone.
  • Paint the front door a cheery shade of yellow (I love the one from Young House Love)
  • Replace the brass lighting fixtures (we've been eyeballing these ones from Lowe's)
  • Possibly dress up the porch overhang with some bead board (similar to this)

Once all that painting and dressing-up is done, then we'll be ready to start making some decisions about landscaping.  We are planning on painting this summer, so I am hoping to be digging in the dirt (and shoveling gravel, and tearing up sod, and, and, and) by next spring.  But for now, I'm trying to be content with my zero dollar budget and be patient for the fun stuff to start.


  1. Dawnald DuckMay 28, 2012

    Count me in when it's time to don the painting clothes and arm ourselves with scrapers, tape, drop clothes and brushes!

  2. AnonymousMay 29, 2012

    Sounds like you have a lot of really great ideas and the patience to bring them to pass. Can't wait to see the finished product eventually. I love the color you have picked for the house and the shake thing. Looks great.

    1. Hey, thanks! It's easier to be patient when your checkbook wills it to be so. This will be a learning experience for me in more ways than one!

  3. Where did the picture come from I would love to find out the grey color?

    1. I found our inspiration picture on Pinterest. I've seen it make the rounds a few times since then. Unfortunately, the back-link is always broken. I've done some sleuthing and discovered that this picture is actually from a set of blueprints you can buy at Southern Living. They have two photos of the completed exterior, one of them done in the paint scheme we (mutually) love. Unfortunately, paint colors are not listed. Here's the link if you're interested: