Category Archives: exteriors

I Saw the Light

After browsing the fourth different version of the Pottery Barn holiday catalog (sometimes I think they just rearrange the order of the pages and slap on a new cover every week), I decided that our porch needs a little update before Christmas.

I’m not talking about PB’s lanterns and garlands and light-strung topiaries and $90 wreaths. Not that I don’t admire those things – I really, really do – but a pair of poinsettias and some strands of C7s are more in my price range right now.

 No, I’m thinking of a more lasting improvement, like replacing our rusty, cobweb-encrusted porch light (though, ahem, touching up the trim around the door might not hurt, either).

A new light fixture is a relatively small update that will look extra warm and inviting in the winter, but will also add some much-needed class to our porch all year round.

 As usual, though, we can’t make up our minds. 

 Do we want to go for arts and crafts flair, like one of these lamps from Old California Lantern Company? On the one hand, it would be a perfect match for our new Craftsman door. On the other hand, these guys don’t come cheap.

 This one feels like something a 49er might carry down into a gold mine.

Then there’s the classic black arts and crafts lantern from Rejuvenation.

But I’m also drawn to this simple clear globe  from Pottery Barn – which just so happens to be on sale.

This coppery PB lantern isn’t bad, either.

Or how about Restoration Hardware’s elegant Victorian lantern, complete with faux candles?

 It’s hard to say. In the meantime, the plan is to wrap so many Christmas lights around the front porch that visiting friends and relatives won’t notice our tarnished light and nicked-up trim (fingers crossed).

Photos from Pottery Barn, Old California Lantern, Rejuvenation and Restoration Hardware.

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Filed under bungalow, California, christmas, exteriors, Holidays, Victorian, winter

True Colors

If these walls could talk, they’d tell me they need some color.

With the exception of a sunny yellow kitchen, the rest of our rooms remain a dingy shade of off-white. Chalk it up to our failure to finish the great popcorn ceiling removal project of 2009 – or my tendency to, ahem, spend more time dreaming than doing when it comes to remodeling.

On the bright side, at least I have plenty of time to settle on colors before we break out the primer – and lately, my interest has veered towards historic paint colors.

Now, I’m not a stickler for historical accuracy – and am not sure I’d like to be bound by strict rules of a historical homeowners association – but honestly, sometimes period paint colors just look and feel right.

Take the soft green 19th Century farmhouse of Stephanie at Our Life on the Hill.

All too often, I think homeowners aren’t sure what to do with their old farmhouses, so they simply paint them white. This is Stephanie’s house before the restoration.


 A white house never goes out of style, but a too stark or neutral color can mask a home’s character and make it look washed out. On the other hand, the Kennebunkport Green and Windham Cream from Benjamin Moore’s Historic Colors Collection, coupled with a pop of burgundy and original clapboard siding (which Stephanie’s husband painstakingly refinished), makes this historic home come alive.

For my own little house, I’m partial to classic arts and crafts shades – especially earth tones like golds and sages. And thanks to Benjamin Moore, Sherwin Williams (pictured below) and California Paints, I can choose from dozens of original shades.


Don’t have a colonial, Victorian or Craftsman? California Paints 20th CenturyColors of America palette devotes much of its swatches to the bright, cheery postwar colors of the 40s, 50s and 60s – like “Hot Tin Roof” red or “Moon Landing” blue (bonus: you can view a biography on each color at the company’s website).


1940-1960 Mid-Century Modern Colors

Like I said, I don’t feel obligated to coat every wall with classic color (though a pastel art deco bathroom would be fun) but I like being able to pick and choose from historic palettes.

What about all you old house enthusiasts out there? Do you want to restore your home to its original painted glory? Or do you prefer to mix it up with modern tones?


Filed under exteriors, paint, restoration

Southern Eye Candy

I expected to find country music, humidity and Andrew Jackson in Nashville.

What I didn’t expect to find was such a cool collection of old houses.

See, when we planned the Southern trip we took earlier this month, we specifically scheduled a stop in Asheville, North Carolina because I’m a bungalow freak and Asheville is supposed to be a bungalow paradise – sort of like the Pasadena of the South, minus the smog. They even hold an annual Arts and Crafts Conference at the very arts-and-crafts Grove Park Inn.

But somehow we managed to miss most of the bungalows, partly because we were in the wrong neighborhoods (Victorian and Craftsman-inspired mini mansions – and castle-inspired real mansions – rather than the modest cottages I was after).

And partly because we just plain ran out of time.

So I couldn’t believe my luck when, soon after arriving in Music City, we drove through row-upon-row of – you guessed it – bungalows.

And Tudors, four-squares and colonials. And some styles that I just couldn’t place. Some were residences; some now housed record labels and recording studios.

So I did what any old house lover would do – I broke out my camera and started snapping away like a madwoman, hoping to bring some Southern inspiration home with me.


I only wish we had more time to visit the many historic places in the Nashville area. If you’re going to judge a place by how it preserves its old buildings, Nashville is top-notch.

Plus, it’s got character.


Filed under bungalow, exteriors, old houses, travel

Living Large

I admit it – I’m guilty of grass is greener syndrome. In my little suburban apartment, I thought all I needed to be happy was an old house and closet space.

Now that I’m in my 1942 one-story with three (tiny) closets, and I find myself dreaming of an even older two-story with a guest bedroom and more than bathroom – and more closet space.

But in reality, I don’t really need those things. I’m simply intrigued by what I don’t have – give me a Craftsman and I’ll dream about living out the rest of my days in a Queen Anne, a Queen Anne and I’ll dream about life in a Craftsman.  

I think to some extent, everyone feels that way – everyone except the one-time residents of the Biltmore House in Asheville, N.C.

What more could you possibly want when you have 25,000 square feet of living space and an 8,000-acre backyard?

With 250 rooms and four acres under one roof – not to mention the treasure trove of European antiques and art inside – the Biltmore is the largest privately-owned home in the U.S. and truly a study in opulence. In a time when most folks hadn’t heard of indoor plumbing, the late 19th Century chateau of George and Edith Vanderbilt had 43 bathrooms.


Photography isn’t allowed inside, but you can check out a slideshow of interior pictures on the Biltmore website.

Suffice to say, it makes the historic Grove Park Inn, which we also toured in Asheville, look like a modest shack (albeit a shack with a killer view).

FYI, if you ever make it out to the Biltmore, try to figure out how much time you’ll spend there – then triple it. Between the museum of a house, the gardens designed by renowned landscape artist (and Central Park designer) Frederick Law Olmsted, the stable house turned shopping center, restaurant and ice cream parlor, we were there for over four hours.

Funny thing, though – as much as I enjoyed winding up and down the many spiral staircases, and around the many garden pathways, all I could think about was how much I appreciated the simplicity of my ordinary cottage.

The truth is, I like my 960-square-foot house. I’m lucky I have what I do – if you’ve ever been fortunate (or unfortunate?) enough to tour an Ikea, you’ll see neatly organized living spaces in 500 square feet or less – I’ve got no excuses.

Sure, less space means freedom. But it also means less cleaning, organizing and decorating – and, in a way, requires more creativity. Besides, I like to do actual living in my living room – kind of hard to accomplish when you’ve got like 30 of them.

I could use some of that closet space, though.

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Filed under exteriors, famous houses, interiors, travel

In A New Light

When it comes to decorating, I’ve always been a bit country-phobic. My motto? If it looks like it belongs in a log cabin, then it belongs in a log cabin. If it looks like it belongs on a farm…well, you get the picture. There are no cow or chicken motifs or excessive plaid allowed in my house.

Image from Country Living

But since I’ve started playing around with mixing different styles – vintage and modern, industrial and feminine, for instance – I’m starting to soften my standpoint (though I’m not budging on the cows and chickens).

Take lighting, for example. I’m a longtime fan of traditional schoolhouse lights, like the lovely Schoolhouse Electric lamps that brighten up our house (and this pretty kitchen in the Schoolhouse Electric catalog).

Image from Schoolhouse Electric

And the classic, elegant fixtures at Rejuvenation (modeled by yet another cute kitchen).

Image from Rejuvenation

But lately, dreams of warm weather and the accompanying farmers’ markets, barbecues and picnics have opened my mind to things a bit more rustic and farm-inspired – like Barn Light Electric.

Image from Barn Light Electric

Image from Barn Light Electric

Think of barn lights as the country cousin to the schoolhouse variety. These guys feature exposed bulbs, sleek metal and the occasional bright, country-inspired paint palette – perfect for the patio (where I would likely place them) but also appropriate for a farmhouse kitchen.

Image from Barn Light Electric

Image from Barn Light Electric

That’s not all. Barn Light Electric also has a blog that offers inspiration and advice for developing all kinds of hybrid styles – like “vintage industrial” or “retro country” (note the obligatory chickens).

Image from Barn Light Electric

Not feeling the whole farm thing? That’s OK – they even offer their own take on the classic schoolhouse pendant, among other styles.

Image from Barn Light Electric

A company slogan – “where vintage and modern collide” – says it all.


Filed under exteriors, interiors, vintage

Take a Number

Those who haven’t been bitten by the old house bug don’t understand. Those who have accept it as a way of life. But there’s no denying it – old houses need work. A lot of work.

Photo by RobbinLara/

Well, maybe not this much work.

But with all the pricey and/or time-consuming projects planned for our house lately – painting, new siding, tediously scraping popcorn off our bedroom ceiling – I’ve been on the lookout for a quick, affordable project. Something I can do in 10 minutes yet will really make an impact.

Then it came to me – address numbers. What would be easier than replacing our cracking plastic numbers with some shiny new ones?

As it turns out, house numbers might come cheap (though not always, as I recently learned) but they don’t come easy. Why? Because there are so many styles to choose from, I can’t make up my damn mind.

 I figured I’d just go for a classic craftsman design – end of story. Yeah, right.

 Do I want the “authentic Dard Hunter style” in copper, brass, aluminum or black?

The Craftsman Homes Connection

Or would I prefer the hand-hammered copper?

The Craftsman Homes Connection

How about some classic arts and crafts terra cotta tiles?

The House Number Connection

Then again, I love the font on these mission numbers by Rejuvenation.


Or what if I went wild, veered away from the bungalow theme  and opted for art deco instead?

The House Number Connection

Or ornate Mediterranean tiles?

Or the simple but cheery rose design from DuQuella Tile & Clayworks?

DuQuella Tile & Clayworks

Hey, they even have a bungalow style.

DuQuella Tile & Clayworks

If you really want to make your head spin, scroll through the “address plaques” list on, where I found some of these guys. Here’s hoping you’re less indecisive than me.


Filed under bungalow, exteriors, retro

House paparazzi

I’ve developed a rather strange hobby – I like to take photos of stranger’s houses. I’m like the old house paparazzi (or is it paparazzo?).


Actually, this particular house is a business. But judging by the strange look on the face of the lady inside, I might as well have been photographing her place of residence. Sorry, lady.

No, I’m not crazy. I’m in need of inspiration. I love the idea of decorating, but I’m not very good at it. I get overwhelmed in the paint chip aisle. So when I see a pretty color combination that works on a real house, I have to add it to my portfolio. I plagiarize paint colors.

I’ve had my eye on this particular house since it was renovated not too long back. When it went up for rent (why are all the cute houses in my neighborhood commercial?) I so badly wanted to set up shop there – even though I don’t really have a business per se.


It’s a little more neutral in color than I usually go for, but I really like the clean, subtle look of the creamy beige and maroon – and I don’t know if you can tell in the photo, but there’s a strip of copper that divides the shingled part from the lap siding – kind of adds a nice little pop. Speaking of siding, this is the look I’m envisioning for our fiber-cement siding if we choose to go that route. This stuff looks like real wood, but I was afraid to get close enough to tell.

I love the little white mailbox as well. I could do without the metal railings, but I’m guessing they’re ADA accessible.

I’m also digging this sage green, dark red and cream combo – so many colors, so hard to decide. By the way, this one is a real residence, and yes, I did feel creepy snapping away outside.


Filed under exteriors, old houses, restoration

Pick a Side

I consider myself a traditionalist when it comes to remodeling materials. Windows have to be wood, not vinyl. Countertops have got to be stone or tile, forget laminate or Corian. Hardwood floors are infinitely preferable over carpet (though I do have a soft spot for vintage checkered linoleum).

 So I was surprised to find myself considering fiber-cement siding, rather than wood, for our (hopefully) impending exterior remodel.


 Fiber-cement doesn’t deteriorate, is fire-resistant and inhospitable to bugs and, when painted, looks somewhat like the real thing (unlike the vinyl siding on our neighbor’s house – or the ahem, asbestos siding on ours).

 Both JamesHardie and CertainTeed make shingles and lap siding that would look pretty authentic on any old house – they even make Victorian-worthy half-round and octagon (or fish scale, as I’ve always known them) shingles.

 Since fiber-cement doesn’t contract and expand like real wood, it requires less repainting. It won’t crack off like stucco. And, from what I understand, it can come with paint baked on in your choice of color (assuming you like one of the shades offered by the manufacturer).

 Not that we’ll be ripping our siding off anytime soon, since we’ve been blessed with the asbestos-cement variety.

It’s often recommended that people with asbestos siding in decent condition just patch up the bad spots and repaint. It’s old and ugly, but it’s also potentially expensive to remove, thanks to the health hazard (though I hear that if you wear respirators and keep the dust down, it’s probably fine to do it yourself).

But I’m pretty set on a combination of new cedar or fiber-cement shingles and lap siding, at least for the face of our house. If we’re going to paint the whole thing– which has been my hope since the day we bought our house, since I’m not a fan of its current shade of faded grey – why not go all the way and spiff up the siding too? If we can afford it, that is.

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Filed under exteriors, old houses, restoration

Open Wide

Whoever built our house must have had a really big refrigerator. How else do you explain putting a 42-inch door in a 900-square-foot home? Between the door and a few windows, there’s almost no wall left in the living room.

Which would’ve been okay, except the original door was old, plain and ugly – and had a big gap at the bottom that sucked in cold air all winter. Not cool. More than painting the drab white walls, more than tearing off our asbestos siding (in a careful, environmentally-friendly way, of course), I dreamed – alright, nagged my boyfriend – about getting a new door. And this month, we finally did! Second greatest Valentine’s Day present ever (our cat is the first).  Check out the blurred action shot of the old door on its way out.

Though 42 inches is actually a standard size, it’s still uncommon. That means a wood door that wide can be quite expensive, especially when you include glass – which we wanted to do in order to let more light into our dinky, formerly dim living area.

But the large craftsman doors at International Door & Latch in Eugene, Ore. were actually quite reasonable. We got the whole shebang – pre-hung door with new handles and locks – for just over $2,000 (okay, maybe it’s not a bargain, but nice doors are pricey! And this was lot less than what we were quoted elsewhere). Mind you, we (my boyfriend) did stain the door ourselves. My uninspired photography does not do it justice, by the way:

Nice old-school wooden doors are few and far between in our neck of the woods, where most houses were (sigh) built after the 60s. But just like when you get a new car and suddenly spot the same model all over the road, I’m now noticing hardwood, paneled, windowed craftsman-style doors on houses everywhere. And though I’m more than pleased with our new door (except for the fact that it suddenly makes the rest of our house seem crappy in comparison – especially the unfinished strip above the new door, which was turned out to be slightly shorter than the old door) I’m also envious of the models I missed in our initial search, like the fir doors from Omega Too, the dutch door from Jeld-Wen or the more elaborate styles at IDL (check out the Gamble House-worthy stained glass). Oh well. One project down, a hundred more to go.

Omega Too

International Door & Latch


Filed under bungalow, exteriors, old houses, restoration