We’re a pair of married college teachers just out of grad school who are in the process of fixing up our first house, a 1910 center-entry Colonial Revival. It is in need of some loving attention — but aren’t we all? This blog is a place for me to articulate and chronicle the process of making this place ours.
When we bought this house back in 2008, the exterior color – especially the dark trim color – was definitely a negative. Everyone says you have to learn as a prospective buyer to “look past” the paint colors, and everyone is pretty much right. Here’s what it looked like way back then, on our very first visit.
Mostly pretty dark grey
In some lights (this was a warm sunset time of day) more brown?
The paint wasn’t in great shape at that point, though it was mostly fine, but then we bought it and moved in and did other things and all of a sudden five years and five winters happened, which of course deteriorated it further:
By this point though, we had finally saved up enough to start getting estimates from local painters. We had 3 different people come out who were recommended by neighbors, friends, and the owner of our local Benjamin Moore paint store. We preferred having a single person or small company do the work rather than a bigger crew, even though it would take longer. In the end, we didn’t choose the lowest estimate, but we chose the person who seemed the most interested in our house, the one who took the most photos, had the most ideas, and wrote up the most detailed estimate. He really seemed to care about the house, and getting things right. When the project is all completed, I’m hopeful we’ll feel we made the right choice. I certainly feel that way so far.
So the first step was deciding on colors. We enjoyed playing for a long time with the Benjamin Moore Personal Color Viewer online, which lets you preview different colors on your actual photos of your home. After a few days of flinking around there, we had a few top contenders, but of course you can’t know for sure until you see a few painted on your actual house, with your texture, your light situation, etc. Still it was fun and gave us some ideas.
Mostly it gave me the idea that white trim was going to make a big, big difference.
Admittedly, these are a little cartoony. (Especially note how I sort of “invented” a front right pillar there in front of our bushes, but then left the back pillar half hidden.) Oh well! It gave us somewhere to start.
And start we did. Time to get some paint on these walls!
And time to start writing checks. Unlike Home Depot or Lowe’s, it seems like the more professional paint retailers (in our town, this is limited to Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams) don’t mix you up those charming $3 small sample pots of paint. I’m sure they have great reasons, but it was kind of a bummer for my tightwad soul to have to pay for a whole quart of paint ($20+) in each color we wanted to preview. It definitely made us more disciplined about narrowing down our choices somewhat, although of course in terms of the larger house project, the price of an extra sample quart or two would end up seeming pretty small. Good first lesson in the process.
A few weird things we felt we had to factor in to our color decision:
- The stucco texture on our house is very lumpy and shows a lot of contrast between the high and low spots because it gets full sun for most of the day. We didn’t want too light of a color because we felt it made the contrast even more noticeable.
- Stucco, especially textured stucco, seems to look best (or least weird we think) when it’s painted some type of earth tone. We didn’t want it to completely blend in with green grass, or brown mulch, or tan/grey winter-dead-landscaping around it, but we also felt like some of the more “fun” colors we were attracted to (especially blues and greys) looked like they weren’t right for stucco. Sad but true.
- The houses on either side of us are lighter — the one on the left is white smooth stucco with red wood trim and the one on the right is a cream-color siding with white trim. So if we went a bit darker with our color (and white with the trim) it seemed like it would be a nice counterpoint to the neighbors’ house, rather than going very pale and having 3 very pale houses in a row.
In the end when we saw them on the house, the decision wasn’t hard.
Pismo Dunes was too pale – it looked almost exactly like the previous color!
It also “washed out” too much next to the white trim, especially in the places the house gets more sun (this photo was taken under the porch roof’s shade.
Kingsport Grey was promising, but seemed just slightly TOO grey, and we wanted to be careful not to let our stucco start to read as “lumpy drips of concrete” instead. Caldwell Green was fun and I actually loved the idea of it next to crisp white trim, but unfortunately the color change from our previous tan/pink to Caldwell Green would have required 2 coats of paint to cover adequately, where all the other colors we chose could do it in one coat. Doubling the paint budget went RIGHT out, especially because the color seemed just a tiny bit too bold in person anyway, to us.
So in the end, the winner for our exterior stucco color was Mesa Verde Tan (AC-33), which had the nice midtone color intensity of the Kingsport Grey but with a warmer, browner tone to it. I had thought it might be too dark, but especially in bright sun it really seemed like a nice happy medium. And it’s definitely dark ENOUGH to make the new white trim, which is actually Benjamin Moore Bavarian Cream (OC-123), stand out bright and clean and hog all the attention, which is kind of what I think it has always wanted to do.
What do you think?
It’s not done yet, but the front is getting toward being done, and we are definitely excited about how it is looking so far.
Other colors involved: Porch floor is the Ben Moore premixed porch and floor paint in Rich Brown, though we may still want to go greyer for the second coat it needs anyway, and the porch ceiling – in a small nod to the “haint blue” of beautiful Southern porches I have loved on our travels, is Benjamin Moore Blue Hydrangea (2062-60).
It’s amazing how much brighter things feel — even just from having a lighter porch ceiling the front rooms get more reflected light during the day.
More updates soon as we finalize front door decisions! I can hardly wait for a true “before and after” this time, believe me.
When we first walked through our house four years ago, several rooms had wallpaper or paint colors that weren’t to our taste. It’s to be expected, really. And like everyone says, you have to have the vision to see past colors you dislike and look at the bones beneath.
The bones were good.
But the wallpaper? The wallpaper was bad. How bad, you ask?
We imagined that the dining room would be one of the first rooms we’d repaint, because it seemed like such an “easy” payoff. Big windows, a neat floorboard pattern, a built-in china cabinet, and a chandelier that, while over-the-top for sure, was original to the house and had a certain ragged glamor to it. Yet we never got around to it.
We had paint chips hanging from a nail on the wall. We even scraped a little of the wallpaper off one weekend, to see how hard it would be. We scraped a patch of the popcorn ceiling and sent it to the lab.
And then we just… stopped. We did other rooms. We worked. We watched lots of Netflix. We had a baby. And still the dining room remained in all its ridiculous glory.
The wallpaper border, when viewed closely, shows a rich variety of wildlife: birds, insects, hermit crabs and a horned tadpolish creature a friend once termed “fetal goats.” Not something you see every day, really.
Unless you’re us. We saw it EXACTLY every day. For four years. But at long last, after far too long, and due almost entirely to the hard work of my father-in-law who was visiting (and swears he enjoys this stuff), we can finally say that the dining room is quite different now!
So the basic steps of the transformation (again, all credit to my in-laws, especially for the hard initial steps of scraping!)
- Put down plastic and tape it to the baseboards.
- Put very hot tap water into trigger spray bottles.
- Spray a 3′ x 3′ patch of popcorn ceiling, move onto a second one, and then move back to scrape the first. (Side note of caution: We had our ceiling texture tested for asbestos and other evil things not long after moving in – don’t skip that step because you do NOT want to be breathing in all that bad stuff if it’s in your ceiling. The $50 the test cost is nothing compared to the chance of possible medical bills and heartbreak years down the line.)
- Scrape the popcorn texture off with your putty knife lying almost parallel to the ceiling. Be careful not to gouge through because patching is no fun.
- Patch the inevitable few gouges with joint compound.
- Sand out the gouges and any weird spots in the ceiling.
If your popcorn texture is like ours, it leaves a chalky residue behind. We tried washing this off, sanding it, scrubbing it, etc. but sometimes it still causes the first coat of primer and paint to peel off.
This is not a happy moment. Not at all.
The good news was that when it all came down, it brought the worst of the chalky residue with it, so the next coat stuck. We used high-bonding primer from Lowe’s and Behr Ceiling White paint from HD.
For the wallpaper:
Seriously, wallpaper is different every time we remove it. In this room, here’s what worked.
- Score the wallpaper with a scoring tool.
- Put very hot tap water into trigger spray bottles and add a few drops of dish soap (this was the inlaws’ idea, and it seemed to work).
- Spray the scored paper and let the water really soak in for a while while you keep spraying other parts of the wall.
- Scrape off the wallpaper — ours was super old and came off in annoyingly tiny bits. But it did, eventually, come off.
- Scrub the wall well to remove the wallpaper glue residue as much as possible (we used microfiber dishcloths for this, rinsed in hot tap water.)
- Use joint compound to smooth any gouges or weird spots in the walls — in an old house, there are always weird spots — and sand smooth.
The people before us had painted a pink stripe UNDER the wallpaper border — probably to keep the blue paint from showing through? Who knows. Nothing a little high-hiding primer couldn’t handle!
This stuff is very helpful for putting dark colors to rest – we’ve used it in the foyer, too, and it really saved some time when we were painting that burgundy trim white. I’d say one coat of this is equal to 2-3 coats of Kilz2 latex primer, for color hiding at least.
Once the walls were primed it was time to pick a new wall color. With such a big shiny light fixture dominating the room, we wanted something that would blend in to the background and let the woodwork and lighting be the main attention-seekers in the room. We tried a few pale colors:
Left to Right these are:
Mild Mint by Behr, Lincoln White Sash by Valspar above Spring Melt by Martha Stewart (color matched to Behre Ultra), Valspar Luna, and Valspar Churchill Hotel Ecru.
They looked different in different parts of the room, and (as always) in daylight vs. lamplight, but we ultimately settled on the color-matched Spring Melt, because it was a nice pale grey/green/blue and we thought it looked kind of timeless and clean and light. Again, it’s a much paler color than we would usually go for, but we wanted the lighting to be the noticeable thing about the room, not the wallcolor.
And so, again, with the amazing help of my in-laws, we finished it up… two coats of paint on the walls, two or three on the trim, and all the cleanup.
But so far we’re feeling pretty good about how it turned out.
Smooth ceiling with the paint finally sticking properly:
Walls painted, in lamplight:
Walls painted in daylight, and the furniture back in!
We still have some finishing touches to do — notably finding some stuff to hang on the walls which look so much EMPTIER without all that busy wallpaper going on. But so far, so good.
Honestly, it will be really nice (kind of weird, but really nice) to be able to have people over and talk about something at dinner that is a topic OTHER than the walls.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged before and after, ceilings, dining room, downstairs, idiosyncrasies of our house, interior, lighting, paint, painting, photos, product celebration, tools, wallpaper, walls | 2 Comments »
Since our house is quite old, I’ve often thought about the other people who might have lived here over the years. When we were at the Smithsonian a few years ago, I really enjoyed an exhibit they had (geared toward kids, but hey) on finding the history of your house. But its advice involved going down to the county courthouse and looking through sale records to see when the deed had been transferred and that was *just* difficult enough that I never did it.
A few days ago, though, we were talking to the wonderful local gentleman from whom we bought the house back in 2008, and he mentioned the last name of the family that lived in it “back in the day.” The name sounded familiar to me — and when I returned home I realized that, sure enough, I had read an article about the local hospital that featured that family in it, since both the father and son had been prominent doctors in the hospital’s history.
With that all-important detail — THEIR NAMES — in hand, I started poking around Ancestry.com… and in the 1940 census records (which are the newest ones since they JUST hit public domain and finished up indexing), I found them! So in 1940, they lived here. (It was also really interesting to see the street as a whole on that census and the other old ones — my neighbor is very excited to see this information too since her house and several others on the street are equally as old.)
But even better than just the 1940 find, I was able to find that same family in the 1930 census records, and here’s where I really got lucky: In 1930, they lived on our street, but were renting a different house. So this same census page showed me the people who WERE living in our house even before they did! Although I’m definitely betraying my inner (outer?) nerd here, I was so, so excited to stumble across this list of the other family’s names and ages.
Further research showed that THAT family lived in this house in BOTH the 1920 and 1910 censuses. Since our house was built in 1910, it would appear that we’ve got the whole list of them now.
I started assembling a timeline for these two families (the 1910-1935ish one and the 1935 and following one) and was able to fill in some more gaps and find some fun facts via Googling. For example:
1) The father of the original family was a local banker. He was listed as a cashier, which sounded pretty basic to me, but used to be quite a prestigious position! In fact, I found that when he was made full cashier it made the front page of the local paper. Can you imagine?
2) The mother of the original family seems like she must have been an interesting character too. She attended a ladies’ music school near here and was apparently such a good whistler that one of her whistling solos was recorded on a wax cylinder and played on the radio on a national program! She was also featured in the role of Queen Elizabeth in a local college’s Shakespeare festival in 1916. Since both my husband and I work at this college, I felt a wonderful thrill reading that!
3) They had one child, a daughter born here in 1912 (our son, who it appears is the only other baby to be brought home to this house, was just born in 2012, and that coincidence made me smile!) who grow up to be one of the first two people to earn a BA degree from the local college. How cool is that? She seems to have been an interesting woman as well — in her high school yearbook she is listed as being well known for zooming around town in her big blue Ford… quite a sight for a high school girl in 1930!
It was really fun to imagine the first car in our driveway probably looked something like this:
(1928 Ford Model A, photo via Wikipedia)
By Googling further, I found that the 1935 family still lived here at least until 1978, since the mother was listed at this address in a newsletter for a local historical group. Since they lived here for over 40 years, I am so pleased to learn a little about them.
We know that the next family — the one to do many of the upgrades to the house that we appreciate, like installing air-conditioning and updating the electrical system, and also some cosmetic upgrades we have NOT appreciated quite as much, like the popcorn ceilings (haha) — lived here by 1983, so that gives us a pretty slim window for that change.
So now we’ve pretty much got the whole timeline of who lived here when worked out, which is very exciting to me.
I was also able to find that the parents of both families (the 1910 family and the 1935ish one) are buried in the beautiful historic cemetery nearby. It’s a lovely place, almost like a park, with good walking paths we’ve enjoyed for a quiet walk sometimes, and it’s lovely to have a bit of a connection there now.
So far I’ve been very lucky and have been able to find all this through Google searches of these family’s names and our city’s name, and a little bit of poking around through old newspapers available through NewspaperArchive.com (which you can read and transcribe without a paid subscription, if you’re good at reading tiny print!).
Probably the most exciting moment for me was finding a picture of some members of that family on their porch (which is now OUR porch, of course) in 1953. It really brought alive for me that they were truly here. I’ve contacted a few people via the source of that photo to see if I can find more images of the house, but so far no luck. I would dearly love to find more, especially any interior shots, as we are continuing our slow DIY process of renovation and restoration.
Still debating what look to go for with the exterior colors. Today we had our first visit with a painter to talk about estimates. No numbers yet.
Here’s one I found on Pinterest this evening (via About.com) and really like:
What used to be a rather dark bedroom with pretty intense wallpaper and green shag carpet has now, through the combined efforts of my in-laws, our painter/handyman friend, and some work of our own, become the bedroom for our baby boy.
The wallpaper steamed down in one afternoon, but choosing the paint and putting together the furnishings took longer — this was a labor of love from October 2011 until just before he was born in late February 2012.
How nice to find hardwood floors under that carpeting, as we’d hoped!
So much labor put in for our little guy by his grandparents. We are grateful for their hard work!
And we are SO grateful to have that wallpaper gone! I kept saying to everyone who would listen “Even if we change our mind about the wall color, we will NEVER have to deal with this wallpaper again!”
Steps for this room:
- Steamed wallpaper
- Patched walls
- Primed walls (Kilz 2 latex)
- Painted walls (Valspar Brown Buzz, trim in Behr Cotton Fluff semi-gloss)
- Scraped popcorn ceiling
- Patched/sanded/painted ceiling (Behr Ceiling White)
- Replaced light fixture with a new ceiling fan (twice because the motor on the first one was faulty)
- New smoke detector
- New 2″ faux wood blinds (custom cut for weird-width windows)
- Hung curtains & rod
- Twin Bed moved in from our old guest room
- Twin Bedding from Walmart, TJ Maxx, and Target
- Crib from Amazon
- Bedding from PBK and Amazon
- Rug & pad from Overstock
- Dresser: thrifted — tightened up by a carpenter friend and waxed by my father in law
- Storage cabinet from IKEA
- Chair from our living room of our first married apartment
- Ottoman built by our carpenter friend and upholstered by his wife
- Bookcase – free castoff from a friend – we planned to paint it but ended up liking the red
- Paper lantern from BlueQ
- Puff balls via Etsy
- Artwork by Google Maps, Etsy sellers, and our vacation photos – thrifted frames spray painted
- Wall hanging from my husband’s room when he was a little boy
- Books and toys from our generous friends and family
In summer of 2010, we had a 100th-birthday-party for our house. This was our gift to it — a new tile floor.
Before the floor was installed, though, we had a few preliminary steps. We:
- stripped the wallpaper from the walls and ceiling (using our trusty steamer),
- scrubbed off the ancient wallpaper glue (using a green dish scrubby and lots and lots of rags post-steamer),
- primed (Kilz 2 latex),
- painted (the walls in Behr RoadRunner and trim in Behr Cotton Fluff) and
- installed mirror glass in the old window that had been plastered over (from the other side, during renovations) years ago.
We hope the house likes its birthday present! If nothing else, we are pretty relieved to have disposed of that old bathroom carpet.
Thrifted sideboard: $55
Wood Stain (Rustoleum Ultimate Wood Stain in Kona): $9
Polyurethane: (Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane in Semi-Gloss): $5
Foam brushes: $0.69 x 8