My Old House is Just Not Me

August 20, 2008 § 25 Comments

Many of you have a modern aesthetic. You like clean lines, unfussy details, neutral colors, and minimal furnishings. You probably should have moved to a downtown loft space, but you are now part of suburbia. You write in that you’ve decorated the inside of your new home to reflect your taste, but the outside is a disaster.

If you are stuck in an exterior from another era when brick facades were popular and split levels were all the rage, or if some weird architectural detail haunts your house, the easiest and cheapest solution is to paint. For example, if you now own a split level with one-half brick and the other half siding, it’s okay to paint the house all one neutral color to modernize the appearance from the street and actually make the house look bigger since it’s no longer broken up visually.

NOTE: If you own a home that is either listed on your town’s historic register or is in an area of period homes, then do not alter the exterior except to maintain its historic value. Chances are that if you live on the main street in your town and have purchased an older home, the town’s historic commission has already contacted you — they will tell you exactly what you can and more importantly cannot do to your home. Before you renovate the exterior, be careful of “upgrading” to cheaper materials, styleless features, and “modernizations” that will come back to haunt you when you try to sell.

Changing a color palette, however, may be a relatively safe way to modernize without destroying the home’s history. If you live in a colonial but have modern tendencies, you can reflect your modern taste in your house color palette. Choosing three or even four colors off the same paint chip for your siding and trims or painting your house and trim all one color reserving a vibrant shocker for the front door can give even a “boring” (to some) old colonial a modern personality.

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§ 25 Responses to My Old House is Just Not Me

  • Grace says:

    My New House is Just Not Me
    (from a fellow MHCer)

    Hi Barbara,

    I had to move from a very contemporary cedar house with huge windows looking out on the mountains to a cookie cutter subdivision with faux-Colonials. My new house has french vanilla vinyl siding and spinach green shutters, and something about that yellow/dark green combo turns my stomach, even though I know it’s a common combination. The other houses on the street are white with black or beige with dark green, so ours already stands out and I don’t wish to do anything too radical to our conservative neighbors.

    I’ve never liked yellow, but I can do is change the shutter color and I keep thinking about a Dutch blue. No vinyl shutter company I’ve been able to find has such a blue; they have ugly grayed-out blues and dark blues that in some light look identical to our dark green. Should I buy paintable vinyl shutters and go with the blue, or should I consider sage green, or should I just try to be content with the knowledge that other people think pale yellow and dark green go well together? Is a yellow/blue combo a huge judgment error? I’ve never seen a house it works for, but somehow it appeals to me.

    Thanks, Barbara,

    Grace

  • bmeglis says:

    Hi Grace from MHC (thanks for visiting my blog!),

    Yes, the vanilla with the dark green is a common combination, but if you don’t like it, you will cringe every time you turn into the driveway. So I definitely think the shutter color change will help you.

    I suggest avoiding all greens, sage and dark. The Dutch blue will be very nice but very dramatic. If you think your neighbors might revolt, you might opt for a darker shade of blue. Have a look at Ben Moore’s Admiral blue 2065-10.

    Then there’s always black. Very conventional but really classy with a light yellow house and white trim. Play up the black with your metals and a shiny black door, and at least your house will fit seamlessly into the neighborhood.

    Thanks again, Grace. Hope I helped a little. Always nice to meet up with alums.

    -Barbara
    Your Home & Color Coach

  • jnh118 says:

    Hi!

    I stumbled upon your website and I hope you can help point me in some direction. I live in CT and we are currently remodeling our 1950’s cape. We have added a front porch which is sort of a mission style (I guess) as it has large posts and short “walls” as opposed to railings. (I am not sure if I am describing this right). Well, color has never been my thing and my visualization skills are even worse. We chose HardiePlank clapboard in light mist (a gray) and our trim is white. Our front porch floor is going to be done in Correct Deck material also gray (but, I was considering their pebble color. We are not very showy people, and am having trouble picking a front door color and hardware. My husband thinks black with Satin Nickel. I kind of like the oil rubbed bronze door hardware, but don’t know if it will work with the gray or with what door color. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks!
    Jennifer

  • bmeglis says:

    Hi jnh118 (#3),

    I suggest either wrought iron (black) or the rubbed bronze for the metal since your porch lights will show up better against the gray than the nickel would. Pick the lights first and then get the door handle to match.

    As for color for your door, you might consider a dark blue (you can always go red but that’s dramatic). Blue is very tasteful and doesn’t scream front door. Have a look at the Ben more historic blues, like Van deusen blue (HC-156) and Buckland blue (HC-151). Both have gray undertones and will look terrific with your gray house. For more pizzazz, look at Admiral blue 2065-10. It’s darker but a clearer blue (less gray) and it too will look very sharp with the gray.

    Hope that helps.

    -Barbara
    Your Home & Color Coach

  • jnh118 says:

    Thanks for your suggestions. I do like the oil rubbed bronze finish. However, both my husband and I found outdoor lights by Troy Lighting that we really like. It is a collection called Highland park and it comes in either an Antique Nickel with Irridescent White Glass or Oil Rubbed Bronze with Irridescent Honey glass. I don’t think that the honey glass will work so well with our house colors – a little too yellow I think. Do you think the Antique Nickel will blend in to much? I know both my husband and I have a hard time thinking outside the box and get easily caught up in the matchy-matchy mentality.

  • Cathy says:

    Hi, I have a combination livingroom/diningroom that I have painted turquoise, I have a combination kitchen/familyroom, what color would match. Thjanks for your help

  • bmeglis says:

    Hi Cathy (#6),

    I answered your blog request over under the Turquoise post. Hope you find it there. Sorry for the delay.

    -Barbara
    Your Home & Color Coach

  • Jenni says:

    I am wanting to change the color of my shutters and front door. I really need a new front door, but I don’t know what color, or style I should go with. Any suggestions would be very helpful. Also, I would really like to have your opinion on what color shutters I should go with. My house is a late 60’s ranch style house. The brick is an orange color. Please help me. I would love to email you a picture being I don’t know how to upload something to the web. Thanks for your time.

  • bmeglis says:

    Hi Jenni (#8),

    You can certainly send a photo to my email or just email me with a link to your photo site, like Shutterfly, etc.

    As for your shutters and front door, I like either black or a dark chocolate brown (the new black). Either one would be very traditional, but they work. Another option is to use a traditional shutter color and pick something fun for the front door, like a dark teal perhaps. Blue and orange are complementary colors so that combination would be very dramatic.

    See what you think.

    -Barbara
    Your Home & Color Coach

  • Roxanne says:

    Hi Barbara,

    I live in a northern California ranch home and have a bit of a modern edge to my style. We are in the process of remodeling parts of our home and we’ve had new windows installed. My toughest decision yet was the color of the external clad of the windows. I ended up going against the norm and chose the bronze clad. The intention was to not have the white pop of the trim on all of our windows, but rather a deep and modern feel to the home with a color pop on the front door. We are looking at BM Gargoyle (1546) and the trim around the windows to be BM Iron Mountain (2134-30). We are looking at rhubarb (2007-30) for the front door and other possible accents. I’m wondering if this is too blah or do you think it will work? Should we consider a lighter color for the body of the home? I love the look of a dark home but need some help in creating some pop that is tasteful. I do realize that landscaping will also be helpful. ANY advice or ideas are appreciated.

  • bmeglis says:

    Hi Roxanne (#10),

    Your windows will be fine. And as you say, they won’t pop off the trim like white would. The iron mountain you’ve selected for window trim, however, may just be too dark to go around the bronze windows. Your roof is very light and there will be tons of contrast between windows and roof, highlighting both. I suggest using the gargoyle for window trim as well, giving your house a more monochromatic look. The lack of white trim and windows will give your house a modern edge, but I’m just afraid any really dark window trim is going to look like heavy eyeliner around the windows and throw off the balance. As always, the real attention should be directed to the front door and I like the rhubarb for that.

    You might consider lightening up the metal choice for lighting, etc, so the fixtures will show against the gargoyle. The present lights in bronze or wrought iron will get lost. Nickel will give you some contrast.

    Add your own creative touches to the yard and rhubarb color in the landscape.

    Just be sure to consider your roof as an additional color in your palette.

    Hope that helps.

    -Barbara
    Your Home and Color Coach

  • Dr. Light says:

    I’m stuck in a split house, I don’t know what I was thinking, or what my friends were thinking when they said it would be a good idea. I wish it were just as easy as painting over it.

  • bmeglis says:

    Hi Dr. Light (#12),

    You’re not alone. Either we buy them because we like the location or we inherit them from our parents and grandparents. But don’t despair. There are lots of things you can do to make your house feel like it’s yours.

    I suggest an earthy color palette. Whether you’re painting over brick or not, I would stick with something like a gray green or a warm gray or even taupe and paint it all one color. Then with the house fading into the landscape and not sticking out like a sore thumb, you can focus on your landscaping. Simplifying the house (you might even skip the shutters) will allow you all kinds of latitude. Invest in a nice flagstone walkway or add a stone patio. Putting the emphasis on other exterior features will take the focus off the house.

    Do not despair!!

    -Barbara
    Your Home & Color Coach

  • morgan says:

    hi. even if your place *isn’t* in a registered historic neighborhood, just remember that it might still be of important historical importance. i live in such a neighborhood, full of homes built 1900s-1920s. we want to team up with the neighborhood council to declare it a historic neighborhood (we have very few such neighborhoods in the greater los angeles area). but it hasn’t happened yet, and that means that meanwhile, people are covering old wood siding with stucco, old double-hung wooden sashes with cheap aluminum windows, ripping out crown moldings and built-ins, paneled solid wood doors with flat hollow ones. since that is what people are used to seeing in los angeles, their aesthetic is skewed toward the cheaper (lower quality) modern items, and they think they’re improving their neighborhoods by making these changes. it would be easier to sell your house (the more historical details are intact, the more someone will be willing to pay for your house) and then just buy one of the more ephemeral style-by-the-moment houses that you seek. but the homes which were built to have timeless style are quickly vanishing underneath “modern” renovations that ruin them forever. please, folks, think about this. homes will never be built this way again. it’s a sad state of affairs, no matter what type of decorations you happen to prefer, or what styles come and go before our country discovers another architecture that will stand the test of time.

    • bmeglis says:

      Hi Morgan,

      Thanks so much for sharing your first-hand knowledge and experience with regard to old homes and their value. Very well said.

      I will certainly keep your comments in mind as I give out advice so people do not cover over or replace homes of historic significance — hopefully we can educate homeowners quickly before all the old homes of substance and character vanish completely. I’ve also edited my original post to give a clearer warning about ripping out the old and replacing with junk. Hope that’s enough.

      -Barbara
      Your Home & Color Coach

  • bonita says:

    I have a l970 tiny two story home, the bottom is chocolate/dark brown brick, the upstairs is white siding with teal shutters. (We bought it this way) and are anxious to change colors. The double garage door is on the left side of the home in front of the short driveway. It is painted chocolate brown as the door right now. I would like to go with a neutral light tan for the siding, but am not sure what to do with the shutters, the front door and the garage door. Now the garage door just fades into the brick, I love that actually, but am not sure what would complement that in the front door and shutters. Thanks so much.

    • bmeglis says:

      Hi Bonita,

      I like your idea to move to a neutral tan for the siding. Don’t be afraid to move more toward a medium tan instead of light. The medium tan will blend more with the brick and actually make the house look bigger. Right now it’s chopped in half, top to bottom. I would keep the garage doors brown to blend with the brick. As for the shutters, I would paint them a shade or two darker than your siding color. It will end up somewhere between the brick and the siding, giving you a house with many interesting shades of brown. Then really punch up the front door with a brilliant color like dark teal, dark raspberry, grape, or another color that plays off your landscape. (If you have pink flowers, go with raspberry for the door; if you have yellows/oranges, go with teal or an orangey red). You get the idea.

      Hope that helps.

      -Barbara
      Your Home & Color Coach

  • Pam says:

    Hi,
    I am so happy I found your blog and desperately need your wonderful advice!! I own a orangy/red brick ranch style home and would like to choose a new colour for the shutters, front door and garage door. I am open to any suggestions. I do like the classic look of black but my husband has suggested a cream or white, or even staying with the current green. Other people have suggested blue and dark brown. I am totally challenged when it comes to picking out colours (even shades of colours). The new shutters will be a raised panel (and we are going to be painting them), the front door now has a full glass, white storm door over top of it. The trim around the windows are white and the soffit and facia are cream and because they are vinyl and aluminum I can’t paint them, so I am forced to work with those colours.

    We put a new small deck on the front (as you can see by the picture we were in the process of removing the old one). I was thinking that I should paint it to blend with the house, although if you have suggestions for a colour scheme, I am certainly open to recommendations. We will also be replacing our roof this summer and I was also wondering if you have any suggestions for colour.

    Any guidance you could provide would be wonderful. I have emailed a picture to you.

    Thank you very much,

  • bonita says:

    Wow, I appreciate your fast response. I agree and will definitely go a little darker brown with the siding. I love crimson red, would that be too dark for the front door? I am not sure, but I have always wanted a red door 🙂

  • Patti says:

    I live in a 1720’s antique cape colonial. It’s white with green shutters and green doors. We just added a brick patio to the front. We have all new windows that the white exterior around them.

    The paint is chipping and we need to repaint. (We’re not historically registered, so changes are okay). I was thinking of something in the brown family and removing the shutters altogether (I’ve seen some older homes without them and I like the look). I’m stuck on what shade brown and what to do with the doors. I really like a brown/cream combination, but my husband’s not thrilled because of the white window trim. I also want the brick to stand out.

    I also don’t know how brown would look on a cape.

    Do you have any ideas?

    Thanks very much!

    Patti

    • bmeglis says:

      Hi Patti,

      How about Interlude AF-135, a wonderful warm taupey beige, with Mascarpone AF-20 for the trim. The trim color is light enough to blend in with your white windows okay. Both colors are Ben Moore and would complement your brick patio beautifully.

      See what you think.
      -Barbara
      Your Home & Color Coach

  • Susan says:

    I own a circa-1965 tri-level home that just screams “Brady Bunch.” The lower level of the home is clad in grey and white stone, with some green tones. The upper level is painted a very non-descript shade of grey. Is there any color scheme that would make the house look less dated? Or on the flip side, should I embrace the 1960s character and find the color schemes that were popular at that time? Here is a photo: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#/photo.php?pid=2711190&id=782511517.
    Thanks for your help.

    • bmeglis says:

      Hi Susan,

      I suggest painting the upper level about the same color as the current shutters, kind of a gray green that is pulled out of the darker tones in the stone. Keep the same trim color (gray) and move to a dark shutter (black would work). Paint the garage door the same dark gray green and change out the lighting to black. More black accents will update the house a bit. Right now it is kind of brady bunch bland.

      Hope that works for you.

      -Barbara
      Your Home & Color Coach

  • Kate says:

    It was wonderful to find your blog! My husband and I are going to be doing some home improvements this summer. We have a pale yellow 1930s style cottage (no shutters) with the dreaded dark green painted concrete porch (and a dark green painted door). I should mention that the door is largely a glass-paned door–not a rustic wooden one. I can’t seem to think of a color to paint the porch and door, other than some other kind of green. I feel so limited. One idea I thought of would be to buy a new wooden door (and leave it wood-stained), and paint the porch a creamy chocolate color…Or is that too much brown? The two houses near me are golden with sage accents, and sage with tan accents. So much sage and yellow around here. Help!

    Best,
    Kate

    • bmeglis says:

      Hi Kate,

      First of all, is your cottage really a cottage/summer home? Is it by the water? If so, then how about picking up on the gorgeous color of blue hydrangeas and painting your door a wonderful lavendar blue? That would certainly get away from the traditional green and would be very appropriate for a summer cottage. The porch can be painted a natural “concrete” color to blend away. I would not call too much attention to it (the floor at least). If there’s a railing and other trim work, that would be white.

      See what you think.

      -Barbara
      Your Home & Color Coach

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