Warming up a cold exterior

It’s not spring quite yet, but in the last week or so we’ve been seeing signs of it everywhere.

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  spring flowersThat’s gotten Rita and me to begin talking about things we want to do in our outside spaces this year, and we figure you might be having those kind of thoughts/conversations, too. So, we decided this would be a good time to share with you some things we did last spring/summer but never got around to writing about.

We’ve actually got a couple posts’ worth of things to share, so we can’t do it all today. For now, we’re going to give you an overview, and we’ll follow up with more details on specific projects later.

Since function and livability (more than style) drive most of what we do here, you might be wondering why the exterior of our home even matters much to us. While it’s true that other parts of the house can be much more important in terms of function and comfort, we still think the outer house–especially the entry–is important.

This (sorta) Old Life: House exterior

The entry is the place where you transition from outside world to inside world. It’s the first thing we see every night when we return home after a long day away. When we see it, we want to feel that we’re home.

It’s also the first thing that visitors see. When others approach our home, we want it to say, “Welcome! Come on in!” (Rather than, say, “Oh, hi. Guess you can come in if really you want to.”)

That’s pretty much what the outside of our home said to us the first time we saw it.

This (sorta) Old Life: 70's split-entry house exterior

When we first moved into our neighborhood, we started noticing exteriors/entries that felt inviting to us, and we studied them a bit to see what it was we liked in them.

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  inviting entry

Like many of the homes in our 70’s suburban neighborhood, this house is pretty plain, but the garden and curved walkway draw you into it. The landscaping is the focal point; it’s a nice way soften a boxy entry.

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  inviting entry

This home’s landscaping is quite different from the one above, but we like this exterior a lot, too. We admire the simplicity and unpretentiousness of it. It’s not pretending to be anything other than what it is. There’s also something about its restraint that’s appealing to us. We think the paint treatment on the garage door makes this exterior, but it would have been too much if carried to the front door.

To us the entry has to be functional (meaning it protects you against the elements when you’re fumbling for your keys), but we’re also interested in the idea of making the entry inviting. The entry sets the tone you know?

When we bought the house the exterior didn’t do much for us, though. We really liked the curving steps that lead your eye from the driveway to the front door, but the entrance to the house wasn’t particularly inviting.

This (sorta) Old Life: house exterior

This photo was taken on our pre-buy inspection.

The green door was a bit of a dark hole, and that Japanese maple hid the entry from view when we were in front of the house. One of the first things we did (and wrote about here) was to paint the front door red. I also hacked back the giant red bush.

house with red door

We liked the red door much better than the green one, but the entry was still lacking for us. There were 3 (mostly) easy things we did last year to remedy that.

Remedy #1: A little gardening

We want our entry to express some of how we feel about home and how we live in it. The first step to making ours do that was taking out the line of boxy hedge along the driveway, along with the short wall of pavers separating the garden from the lawn. The hedge really sort of blocked out the sidewalk and front steps in a way that said “stay away” more than “welcome.”

This (sorta) Old Life: front yard garden

Yet another project in which our enthusiasm to start kept us from getting a great “before” shot. We replanted these in other parts of our yard.

We filled the space with a variety of plants and a dogwood tree. (Rita had always wanted a dogwood.) We wanted to open up boundary between the public (driveway/sidewalk) and private (yard) spaces and create a line of beautiful, interesting plants that would draw your eye right up to the front door.

This (sorta) Old Life: front yard garden

This is what it looked like right after planting last year.

This was an easy project that took us only one weekend:  One day to dig up the hedge and buy new plants, and a second day to plant them. And by the end of the summer the garden had filled in a lot and looked like this:

This (sorta) Old Life: front yard garden

Remedy #2:  Exterior paint

This was the most challenging of our remedies, but in terms of impact we’re going to call this one relatively easy. We’ve seen people do total remodels of the facades of their split-entry homes, trying to increase their visual appeal.

This (sorta) Old Life: split-entry remodel

Image via Husnik Homes

We don’t have that kind of money to spend that way, and we don’t really think it’s necessary. We don’t want to try to make our home something it’s not, and we think we can make what it is pretty awesome in its own right.

We weren’t very fond of our home’s exterior color when we bought it, but repainting was largely a functional issue for us. The paint had worn so thin in places that the siding was bare. Since we had to paint, though, we wanted to choose colors that would better express our vision of the house.

Another view of the house from the cul de sac.

How the house looked from our cup-de-sac after painting. Don’t judge me for the brown spots in the lawn. :)

We really like the ones we ended up with, especially the gold/yellow door. Last summer Rita explained that it wasn’t the color we actually chose for the door, but it’s one of those happy accidents our home is full of.

It’s energetic and (with the brown exterior) we think it says that 70s retro is alive and well here. We like that the house has a color scheme that’s true to its origins, but isn’t a replica of what you might find in the past. We hope our whole home has a nice mix of history and modern to it.

This (sorta) Old Life:  entry

Since the house itself is mostly just a simple box with no real architectural details to highlight, we think the dark brown color was a good choice that makes the house recede into the landscape in a good way. The bright color of the door stands out and draws your eye up the steps.

Remedy #3: Entry Enhancement

We’re not overly fond of our front door. It’s a standard builder door from the 90s that we see all over the place, and we really dislike the etched glass. To us, it just doesn’t fit the house. What we’d really like (and see on many other homes in the neighborhood) is the kind of  cool, chunky carved door we’re sure it once had.

Even if we could find one that fit (and we do keep our eyes out), replacing our perfectly good door would be a pretty major project. Because we’re not going to be doing that any time soon (if ever), Rita did some nice detail work with the paint to play up the entry. It’s not our ideal door, but we like it a lot better than we did.

This (sorta) Old LIfe: exterior door paint detail

While we like simple and try to live simply, that’s not all we are. So, we decided to add some planters that would take the garden right up to the front door. The multiple planters we thought we’d make became just one, but we really like it.

This (sorta) Old Life:  entry

The planter is handmade, it’s unique, it’s a little out of the ordinary, and it’s got a retro feel to it. We think that’s a pretty good representation of our whole home. Like the garden, this was a pretty easy project. Because we were able to use scrap wood for the form, all we had to buy was a bag of concrete mix (about $10).

This (sorta) Old Life: concrete planter

Like everything else, a work in progress

With all three of these remedies, we still have more we’d like to do.

We’ve got a few holes to fill in our garden, and we want to expand our efforts to the strip of bed that runs underneath the three windows on the right side of the house.

Although we worked all summer on painting the exterior, we  had to leave the side of the house until this coming summer. We ran out of time and the paint on that side wasn’t as worn, so we left it as it was. We need to finish it up this year, though.

We’d also like to do a little more with making the entry an inviting spot. We’re thinking of doing something with some hanging baskets, but we’re not too sure about that yet.

We’re OK with having more to do. We’re pretty pleased that we got as much done last year as we did. We think it’s made a big difference to the curb appeal of our home, and we know that we like it much better now than we did a year ago.

This (sorta) Old Life: dog boot scraper

We also added this boot scraper, a thrift store find we picked up on our holiday travels. We saw a similar one for $50 that we passed on, but this one was only $10. Given our 2 mini-weiner dogs, we had to get it.

We’ll be thinking about what’s do-able in the next few weeks and we’ll keep you posted on our progress. While we’re planning what to do first, we’ll try to do a little catch up here and share a bit more about what we learned last year.

Keep your eye out soon for a tutorial on how to make your own cement planter.

How about you?

Have you started thinking about outside projects? Anything you’ve done to your exterior that you really like? Any suggestions on what we might do next? Comments are always appreciated.

This (sorta) Old Life: exterior entry