Help updating the exerior of a 1951 ranch

dave11April 27, 2010

I bought this house a couple years ago. It was built in 1951, and had to me the ugliest facade and siding in my entire neighborhood. Here's the link (or hopefully, the pic).

The pic was taken from the top of the driveway, the house is 200 feet from the road. The house looks quite small, but in reality it is pretty large.

It looks extra bad because I tore out all the mismatched and straggly shrubbery. The lawn is a work in progress.

But now that the time has come to update the exterior of the house, I'm short on ideas. The main problem as I see it, is the color of the brick. It is very dated, very 1950s, and I don't see any way to help very much without either changing the brick color (via paint or dye), or covering it with some sort of siding.

The small building to the right is an old stable, which also will need its exterior improved, and probably needs to be kept in mind.

Any suggestions are appreciated.

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Here is a more head-on pic:

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 10:33AM
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IMHO, forget the siding. That's asking for trouble, and a lot of folks hate siding to begin with.

One thing which comes to mind is to paint the brick a taupe color, and make a good retaining wall to emphasize a walkway terraced uphill to the front door. You do need some horizontal lines on this house.

My idea is to make an arbor over the garage door end of the house, and to continue it as a wide covered walkway/arbor to the stable. That would be a place to take the eye and give the house a greater presence. Use hefty uprights, and make a lovely arbor, plant either roses or kiwi or climbing hydrangeas which can take the climate. I really like that stable. It is a dream-maker for this property. Integrate it into the design so it could become a studio or a guest cottage, or a workshop, but better than a storage shed.

The way the property drops off you do need to emphasize a horizontal line on the house and extend that look further by including the stable in the horizontal line. Paint the stable a darker tone of the house color, emphasizing its distance away from the house and increasing the apparent size of the property.

BTW, I'd make a terraced walkway up to the front door. The family will come in the back, of course, but for guests, going up the front is important. Have a landing half way, and a bench, and maybe a Japanese maple to stay smaller, mostly dark evergreens with a horizontal look, and if possible a couple of the Italian cypress (tall pencil thin and DARK GREEN) as emphasis at the lower elevations. The plants up high should definitely have a horizontal look, keeping that low, and the tall columnar plants be down low and reach up to bridge the difference in elevation.

Depending on the direction the house faces, it would be a good opportunity to build in a sundial at the point where the walkway and bench are to be located. That might suggest a sit down for watching sunrise or sunset. If sunrise, hey, put a little surface to set a coffee cup. You get the idea.

I'm also thinking of another option, if you have the time.
Assuming you wish to leave the garage windows exposed to direct light, build a deck just below those windows, maybe a little further out from the house so the steps up to it from the drive will be wide and a slow rise. Then more wide and slow rise steps will connect the deck to the entry door. There would be room for the typical foundation plantings between the house and the deck and steps.

Also, those windows are just lost and they are also very vertical. If you can replace those with something giving, again, a horizontal profile, you'd be doing the house a favor. As it is, it looks like a fat lady on skinny legs with those cut up windows.

It looks to me like the last photo, head on, was taken in the morning and the house might face southeasterly? If so, that area out front will be in shade because of the big gable casting a shadow after noon. With it being 200 feet from the street, having a deck out front will not have a privacy issue, and it could be a selling feature as additional usable outdoor space for the new owners. I would not suggest that you put the arbor all the way from the stable across the garage and up the steps to the front door, but I'm sure a landscape architect could really make it look good.

If you are REALLY wanting to spend some money, break up that solid gable with big windows, turn the attic space into a cathedral or vaulted ceiling for the room below (hopefully the living room?) or else turn the attic into living space with a palladian style window. Access it with a metal spiral stair from the room beneath the window.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 11:21AM
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I realize that you think the color of the brick is a problem, but I don't see it that way. While 1951 is only 59 years ago, it is an "atomic age" home that, IMHO, should be honored for the elements unique to that era.

I think painting or dying the brick would be a mistake. It's a lot of work and it will have to be maintained. The original brick is a solid, easily maintained facing. I would change the white paint to a different color that works to complement the red brick (or even to tone it down). The white contrasts too starkly against it. That said... I am not a color expert, but I'm sure others here can offer suggestions for paint colors on the siding, trim and doors.

I think the windows with the vertical panes are fine too. Again, they are probably original and designed for the house. Now, while I normally say don't change the original elements, I do think those basement windows are too small. I wouldn't extend them up vertically, they sit on the fall line of the grade. But, I think they could be extended horizontally - to be the same width as the windows above them. That would make your windows look more symmetrical, and add an horizontal element.

mocassinlanding has some very good ideas about the landscaping. Expert landscaping could change the facade of your home dramatically for the better.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 11:48AM
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Mocassin--thanks for the detailed reply. It's exactly the sort of ideas I've been looking for.

My initial consideration of siding was simply to find a way to contemporize the house somewhat. I know lots of designers strive to retain the original character of a home, but frankly, this home never had much character on the outside. It was built to be sturdy and functional, and it is, but charming, it never was.

Painting has also been on the radar, but I hear so many speak against painting brick, at least brick that has never before been painted. My neighbor is a retired mason, and he can't believe I'd consider painting it, though he admits there aren't a lot of options. He suggested dyeing the brick, though he's never done it himself. So that part I'm still unsure of.

I also think the stark white siding of this house is a huge problem. The huge white gable facing forward is, to me, nearly an eyesore. But until the brick is changed, I'm not sure any other color for siding will work. There is a huge walkaround attic over the house, enough to make two more rooms and a bathroom, and that is in my plan for years down the road. I though then to break up the gable with a window, though I had considered a round window.

I agree that the stable can be a great accent to the property, if done right. I'm a bit confused by the idea of the trellis leading to the stable though--wouldn't it hide much of the stable?

Also, when you mention the narrow windows, are you referring to all the windows, or just the garage windows? I agree the narrow casement windows are a problem as far as design. The sad thing is though that despite being 60 years old, they are 100% draft-free. It'd be a shame to replace them, but it might be necessary.

I had considered the idea of making a sitting area in the front of the garage windows as part of a terrace, similar to what you describe, but EVERYONE I queried here shouted me down. As for the sun, the house faces due south, and that area gets heavy sun until early evening. But I still think the idea is intriguing.

The rooms beneath the big gable are bedrooms, so a staircase might not work well there. A full stair case already exists to the attic, in the middle of the house.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 11:53AM
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Kimkitchy--I understand your point about keeping the brick the way it is, but the photos don't do the brick justice. It is really ugly. I have never seen that color elsewhere except on old firehouses and schoolhouses, and a few other houses around here, though many have since been painted. As for the trim, I could never find another color that didn't clash with the red brick. Though I'd be happy to consider any suggestions. Neighbors say the trim has been white for 40 years.

I agree about widening the basement windows (they are in the garage), but the garage could do with more light, and it would help the appearance of the house.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 12:00PM
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To try to show the brick better, here are two more pics:

But trust me, it's even uglier when you're staring at a big wall of it.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 12:13PM
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Let sleeping dogs lie; don't paint the brick. Instead, you could unify the existing color into a pleasing whole by painting the peaks and garage door red to match the brick. Also, you could paint the shutters and other trim a contrasting dark green or black. Be sure the trim color coordinates with the house and the roof: it's a color, too. The stable should be painted to match the house. IMHO there are no ugly colors; just ugly combinations.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 12:19PM
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Grenvale--to some extent though, you reinforce my concerns about the brick, because leaving it as is will significantly limit the options as to other colors. There is another house nearby, much smaller, that has redone their trim in black. I agree it looks "less bad" than white, but my goal is to make my house look really, really nice, not just less bad.

As for green--I don't know. Seems like it'd end up being Christmas year-round. A really dark green might work. But what about the huge gable? All in green?

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 12:34PM
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Get thee to the Landscape Design Forum, over on the Gardening side of this site.

I'm not a huge fan of foundation plantings where they aren't needed and don't belong, but houses of this style were *designed* with foundation plantings in mind, and they require them to look their best. I understand that the ones you ripped out were straggly and neglected, and they probably did indeed need to come out, but now that you've done that, you need to replace them with something else. Part of the reason the house looks so ugly right now is that it doesn't have anything to soften its lines.

mocassinlanding has given you some good advice. The people on the Landscaping Forum can give you more along the same lines, if you're lucky with specific plant recommendations. They're also often good at recommending colors for house exteriors and can give good advice on hardscape issues as well -- your proposed terrace, for example. Take a thick skin with you, though: some of the folks there can be pretty blunt.

That blank front gable bothers me, as well, but I'm not familiar enough with mid-century modern houses to know what an appropriate fix for it might be. One thing I do think you'll want to avoid is trying to make it look like something other than a 1951 ranch, if you know what I mean. Camouflage attempts like that rarely work; it usually looks best when the beauty of a given architectural style is allowed to come forth, rather than being shoe-horned into some other architectural idiom.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 1:08PM
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Apophrenia--appreciate your thoughts. I have been intentionally holding off on replacing any landscape though, or making any landscape plans, until I decided what to do with the exterior of the house. And unless I were planning to hide the walls of the house with plantings, which I'm not, it seems premature for me to consider planting. I guess I could cross-post on the landscape forum though for color suggestions, but having already considered every color in the rainbow, I don't foresee any solution. Either I keep stark red and white, or I change the brick color via paint or dye, and then choose a complementary trim color.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 1:17PM
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I'd stay away from painting the brick. Instead I'd paint the shutters and add shutters to the big picture window. A soft green. Paint the area around the front door same color as shutters. Paint the front door itself a darker green or red. Change out that storm door to something a bit more modern.
Add window boxes under all three of the larger windows. They need to be chunky boxes with a bit of moulding on them to stand out.Add a brass kick plate to the front door, some brass lighting to the outside front entrance, maybe even brass house numbers. A nice big planter by the front porch. And lots of hedges under the windows. I like hollies but make sure you plant them far enough away from the house that they don't rub against the house as they mature.
I'd go 12 inches out from the sidewalk going to the drive and plant hostas all the way down the walkway on both sides. Between the hostas I'd plant daffs, tulips and crocuses for some spring color. Add a decorative cherry tree to the front between where the sidewalk and garage is to hide the height change.
Gradually after living there awhile I'd add flower beds in the front to cut down on how much mowing I had to do. By then you will have moved in and actually have time to decide if you want flower or trees in the front.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 4:32PM
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Oh boy, this is the sort of situation that can be very stimulating to ponder!

My little MoccasinLanding cottage was just about like yours. Only some of the bricks had a salmon tone to them, and it was not completely a firehouse. But so many of the homes in the same subdivision WERE all one color. And I totally understand what you mean about boring when there was no suitable landscaping or trim color.

What I did with mine was to use a tan and a chocolate brown. Have you considered something like that? My gable was across the entire front and it was not high up like yours, because it was a single story on flat ground. No garage, just a single carport.

If the vertically-paned windows do not leak either water or air, consider making the white muntin (or whatever the dividers in those windows are called) a dark color, something like the chocolate brown. Then the big gable, try it in the softer tan. Take a really big image head on of your house front. Then start working on it with a photo editing program, even Windows Paint will do for a starter. You can draw in your bushes if you like. You can add a deck or a terrace as you prefer.

Let me tell you something about what "every one else" says concerning your use of your front yard: take note, and then do what you like. I think it will give you extreme satisfaction to have such a unique living area. In my MoccasinLanding, I put jasmine on the front fence at the street (a tiny front yard) and that vine covered the fence in a couple of years. I had a yard facing south west, and it too got a lot of sun, but I had a big oak tree just in the neighbor's yard which shielded the house after about 5 pm. With the front yard then in shade, I had white vinca and white petunias in the summer months, and white leaved caladiums in the little cooler months. White dwarf azaleas took over as well, about the same time as the caladiums. These plants glowed in the twilight, and looked wonderful.

I can see you having that terrace, and if you go to Lowes or Home Depot and look in their books for something about decks, terraces, arbors, pergolas, you will find what you need to inspire you. That 200 foot long front yard of yours is a lot of area to just dismiss and NOT USE for anything except CUTTING.

I think that your house would benefit from the arbor or pergola across the front, leading to a deck which is probably in the room to the LEFT, since your bedrooms are over the garage. You could bring your front doorway forward, and make it more significant, use a lot of glass, since it does get good light, and then put the pergola with open top and maybe shade cloth on it, in front of your living room window. That is a level surface there. A ground level terrace/deck with nice posts and heavy timbers overhead will add significantly to the weight of that side of the house, and balancing out the weight of that huge gable.

It was hard for me to judge just where your stable is located, because it appeared a little off to the side and not behind your house. However, the second picture taken head on in front of your house, I could not see the stable.
And, for some reason, I thought you were doing only minimal changes so you could sell your house. Sorry. I am glad to note that you are dreaming of these changes for your own personal use. I lived in MoccasinLanding for almost 18 years, and really enjoyed being there. I never painted the brick, which I thought was ugly too. But I did make lots of adjustments to its liveability. Not having a lot of money to spend, I enclosed the carport with the dark brown aluminum and with dark brown screening above. I kept my parrots out there, hidden behind a lot of huge container plants sitting on the paved driveway. The entire front yard was a courtyard style garden, very private, but I could throw a rock and hit the manhole cover in the center of the culdesac. My lot was a pieshape, with 30' at the street and 150' on the back dimension which was the little bayou that fed into Dog River. With folks toodling around in their boats behind the house, I had much more privacy by using my front yard. It is good when you can do more of your living outside. I think you owe it to yourself to at least think more about using the front of your house for whatever comes to your mind.

Give me some more feedback, and I'll come up with some more ideas. I've been told that I have a lot of good ideas, just too many of them. I have to agree. :)

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 5:50PM
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I agree with whoever emphasized landscaping. I realize you tore everything out, but right now the yard looks like 1952, maybe.

I think the red brick could become a neutral. I live in a neighborhood of early 19th c. houses, west of a neigborhood of 18th c. houses. All of them are red brick. Not quite this bright, but red brick nonetheless, and it didnt have a huge effect on what trim colors people used in the 19th c. and it doesn't now. Granted, maroon, orange or something like that would be bad, but plenty of other colors would work ... red brick is like blue jeans or a navy blazer. Not everything "matches" it, but our mind sees it as ok.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 6:19PM
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Mocassin--thanks again for your thoughtful reply. Yes, I do intend to stay here a long, long time. In fact, I tell my family and friends that the only way I'm leaving this house is in a coffin.

When you say "tan and chocolate brown," are you referring to changing the bricks and trim to that color? Or just the trim? I'm amazed at how many folks here have been against the idea of me changing the brick color. I can only assume the bricks do not come across in the pics in their full ugliness.

I don't doubt that a skilled landscaper could make the house less ugly, maybe even presentable. But it will never look as good as it could look with a better color scheme.

My neighborhood is undergoing a sort of Renaissance, as younger folks like me move in and update all the houses. So many now look outstanding, and I refuse to live here the rest of my life owning the ugliest house.

Your ideas on reworking the front of the house are very intriguing. My only concern would be if it is too advanced for this neighborhood. This is suburban Pittsburgh, where folks are pretty conservative about their homes. Many have very nice landscaping, but no one really veers from the standard facade of a home. Or perhaps I'm not envisioning your suggestion in the way that you mean. The other issue is that the back of the house has room for a planned (in my mind) three-level deck running the whole length behind the house. You can't tell from the pics but the backyard is also large and backs up to the woods. I even envision a gazebo between the house and the stable. So I might worry that the outdoorsy space in the front of the house would seem to be more than needed.

But I agree those sorts of improvements would help the curb appeal immensely.

But I'm still confused about the brick. Are you suggesting that I keep it and try to work around it, as you did?

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 6:42PM
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Hi Palimpsest. I think I could agree with you regarding trim colors if it weren't for that huge gable. Do you mean to pick another color for trim and leave the gable white? Because the white gable is as big a problem as the brick. It faces due south, and most of the day the sun lights it like a white neon sign. It's greatly detracts from the house. Or do you mean to match the gable to the trim?

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 6:47PM
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I think the window casings and the soffit could be one color, and the gable could be a lighter version of the same color or something very neutral--something to get away from the high contrast of the white but also not dark. Even a putty color like the mortar would look less stark than white on the gable without being too intense in the other direction.

One thing you are lucky with is that the house is bricked to grade. So often, one sees these houses with the additional problem of entire storeys of concrete block exposed on the "downhill" elevations of the house.

I was born when my parents lived in a postwar development in Monroeville: houses about half the size, that same red brick with white trim. Because of Google maps, I can virtually walk the neighborhood. Now as a fifty year old suburb with houses that are too small for modern tastes it has really gone down a notch socioecomically, and there has been a fair amount of adaptation-type renovations--making them bigger, making them look more "up to date" . I have to say that the houses that still look ok are the ones that stayed fairly true to the spirit of the original.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 8:36PM
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Dave11, I appreciate your kind reception of my thoughts on the subject of your home's future.

I was not meaning a color for the brick. But the tan and dark chocolate would be for the trim and the....big flat areas of the gable. Really dark chocolate for the metal parts of the windows. My real thought on painting the brick? Don't do it, until that is apparent to you, as a last resort, that only by painting it will you ever enjoy your house.

Okay, now that I know what latitude we're dealing with, and the outlook of the neighborhood, and that you have beaucoup amount of space in all directions, I have a few other suggestions.

Ok, in Pittsburgh folks understand about a southern exposure being a good thing in the winter. How about a three or four seasons room out front with that living room window turned into a pair of french doors leading into it?
And somehow that large entry area could be moved out a little, have the newly enclosed portion as glass and have this as a connection to the four seasons room. The roof would not have to be all glass, but it could have enough panels up there for doing your water heating or outdoor 12 volt lighting. Whereas the area is not quite ready for "prime time", the residents ARE ready for practical features designed to save money or help the environment.

You have a lovely property. My gosh, you have an ESTATE just about. If you have kids or a mama or a mama-in-law, one of these days that stable could really make a nice private home for them....or a studio or band room.

The gazebo you speak of would be a nice link between the house and the stable too. Truly, do check out the publications on the rack at the big box stores, or in your local library. You'll get so many ideas.

Do you have many trees in the 200 foot long front yard?
What kind are they? Evergreen or deciduous? If you have to cut your grass with a huge tractor or wide riding lawnmower, you should avoid fiddly flower beds unless they are well planned to make this huge job of maintenance easier to do. I'm in south Alabama, so my idea of ground cover plants won't do too much for you. But I'm also dealing with my husband's home in Massachusetts and landscaping it. I'm doing things there with the advice and recommendations of a local nurseryman. Buying plants he sells. But he says that I USE these plants in ways which are different than the way other folks up there use them.
So he drives by our house on his way to work, to check out what is happening in our yard. I mention this, because you CAN bring "new light through old windows" if you have a fresh approach to tired rituals.

Hmmm, have you thought about delineating your front entry area, above the steps leading up from the driveway, by putting a short and light colored (not white) picket fence?
It could have the short annuals, or the hostas on the inside where they would be shaded by the fence pickets, and on the outside have the dwarf shrubs such as spreading juniper--dark green and always staying low. I'm sure that would be considered enough of a cliche for the country cottage to satisfy the most sanctimonious of your neighbors.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 8:36PM
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Moccasin--I understand now about the brick. Seems like everyone agrees I should leave it alone. There may come a time when I absolutely cannot stand it another minute, and will immediately start painting it an earthy color, but for now I will defer to you folks who have more design sense than I do.

The idea of a three season room is also intriguing. Actually, in the best of all worlds, I wanted a small greenhouse attached to the house, but the back of the house, where there's more room, faces north. Extending the great room, which is what's on the left side of the house near the chimney, hadn't occurred to me.
As for the old stable, it is 500 SF, so not quite big enough for a guest house. Maybe a guest room with bathroom would fit. At present I'm using it for my wood splitting area, since I installed a wood burning stove in the basement (of the house). At one point in the future, I plan to turn the stable into a welding/metal working area.

As for the front yard, I had to remove many trees that were either diseased or damaged or crowding each other. I left two large Crimson Kink Maples, you can see the lower leaves of one in the photos. They are about 60 feet tall, out toward the road, and are very pretty to look at from inside the house, because despite their size, you can actually see the whole trees at that distance. From the road, they "frame" the house somewhat, for at least part of the frontage.

The lawn is its own issue. Believe it or not, my lot is actually much flatter than most people's in this part of the state. A large, mostly flat lawn like I have is a rarity around here. In fact, when I first viewed this property, the second thing I noticed, after the ugly brick and the glaring gable, was the prominence of the lawn in the appearance of the house. The front lawn here, because of the slope and the way the house is situated, very much catches your eye. You can get a sense of it in the pic I posted taken from the driveway, but its more striking in person. Of course, i've been working for two years to get the lawn into shape, and it's getting there, but when it's done, I want the lawn itself to be striking. Already some folks walking by have come up to me and commented on how the lawn contributes to the curb appeal of the house, and I plan to capitalize on that. The front sidewalk is in great shape, but ugly, and is too narrow I think. It will need to be replaced by one that's wider and more attractive, and I plan to landscape alongside both sides of it. There will be foundation plantings built up along the front and sides of the house, once I decide on the exterior. But despite what some have suggested, I do not plan to plant beds all through the front lawn. I am only going to landscape the edges of the lawn, not anywhere that breaks up the lawn.

Regarding the fence and perennials you mentioned, the fence is a good idea, but I cannot have hostas or annuals here. The deer are a huge problem, and the hostas that predate me moving here are always chewed nearly to the ground.

On the other forum, someone suggested replacing the siding on the gable with cedar shakes. That was interesting, because some of the newer houses on my street have shake siding in places. What would you think of that?

Thanks again for all your time and input.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 9:36PM
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Palimpsest--from Monroeville? Haven't been out that way in a long time. In the 1950's, this area of the North Hills was considered "the country," no doubt, and I assume folks moved here had some money and wanted to get away from the mills.

I get your point about not straying too far from original. Fortunately the size here is not the issue, and the most I would add on was a three season room, like Moccasin suggested, or a small attached greenhouse, etc. But the colors chosen here were just awful, as far as I'm concerned. Someone earlier called this house an "atomic era" house, and that's a good description. But it's sure not inviting, like most houses from other periods are.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 9:47PM
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I played with the color viewer on Benjamin Moore, but I can't seem to "share" them.

I did two versions, one with the Gable end Whitall Brown, which is very close to the roof color, windows and trim still white, and shutters a historical blue.

Another with the Gable end Sandy Hook Gray, white window and trim, and a very dark grey brown shutter.

Just getting the white off the gable makes a huge difference.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 10:23PM
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I'll have to do some checking myself at the BenjaminMoore site, to see what you picked. So many folks swear by their paints, I will probably have to try them and forsake Behr for at least ONE time.

One of my favorite color combinations, I guess I'm thinking something nice and chocolate covered cherry. The candy, you know. I see that combination and I immediately get a whiff of chocolate. So I know definitely for sure that red and brown go together. Not much separates them on the color wheel. In the winter, I go with dark brown flannel sheets and a red polartec blanket.

Because of the sun fading color, I would approach any red paint with great caution. It tends to fade out to pink in no time, and any tendency to lean toward blue or purple would be garish and wrong for this house.

I think a stable as a metal working shop is a great use of space. VERY historical.

Cedar shingles? Very nice, quite easy to stain any color you like. My DH's house is sided with cedar shingles painted blue. Now, blue is definitely NOT my color, but I do like a brownish gray. Think rabbit fur. I was noticing that the roof shingles looked a brownish black, good color for any shutters, also for the window muntins, come back with the eaves a lighter tan, and the door surround has room for two side lights, or glass panels on either side. A low-E glass door would be fantastic, and on your south side it would be protected from the nasty weather.

Dave11, I'm really getting fond of your house.
Now about the lawn. I agree, no beds stuck around without any reason. I do think you should have a curving or undulating pattern on the side AWAY from the drive at least. Depending on how far away from the property line one of your big trees is, have a strip of bed with nothing but ground cover and cold tolerant evergreens in that space coming out from the edge of the property to surround your tree and make the design one which will be EASY TO CUT AROUND. Also, it would not grow up high enough to block the framed view from the road or from inside your house. Keep those plants ones which stay LOW, and even build it up a tiny bit so your lawn is NOT totally level. With all the leaves you apparently are raking and shredding, you will have some glorious mulch to go in this bed. But also cover the area with some dark brown all season mulch. Put a bird bath out there in the middle of your ground cover border.
I guarantee it will draw the eye.

If both trees are too far out to be surrounded in this fashion with a curved groundcover bed, then put in an ornamental tree, as large as you can get, but which will not ever be in competition with the big maples. If the maples turn red, get this ornamental to turn yellow. I would prefer a nice Japanese maple. Put it in the ground cover border/bed.

How much space do you have to deal with to the RIGHT side of your driveway at the road? Does your drive travel close to the property line?

I feel for you about the deer in your yard. They come to DH's yard up in MA also. What a pain. But the real problem with the deer are the dreaded ticks. Many plants nowadays claim to be "deer resistant." I wish I knew what they were.
Maybe some especially prickly forms of holly? I planted something called HEUCHERA or commonly called CORAL BELLS, and it lived outdoors all winter in a pot up in MA. It also flowers, it comes back strong in the spring, stays low, and it is smaller but more colorful than hosta. The deer did NOT eat it. Also, the deer did not seem to eat the perennial form of vinca. Nor did the deer eat AJUGA, which is also called BUGLE WEED. It makes short purplish blue spikes of flowers in the spring up north AND down south--it spreads like crazy and requires no real gardening skills. It is a fine fine ground cover if you are not wanting to confine it. The vinca does not die down at all, and I do not THINK the other two die down, but I could not see them after the snow stayed on the ground in the winter. But there they were all nice and pretty first thing, even before the daffodils. I think daffodils are dessert for the deer, and probably for rabbits too. All the plants I mentioned would live happily together in a bed far away from the house, and not require any attention. I'm assuming you are a dedicated yard mower, because you focus on your lawn and take pride in it. With the lawn weed free, very few weeds would be present in a mulched bed of ground cover plants. And within a couple of years, the impact of the low plants blooming in a cloud of blue and fuzzy purple, well, it could be outstanding from the street and visible from the house too. Think about it.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2010 at 1:54AM
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Moccasin-I have had quite a battle with deer over the past couple of years, because I rescued many of the plants that were here, and planted some in the back. There are two things they have never touched: Mahonia, and Thuja Green Giant. They pass both those by every night, and have never even nibbled. There was/is vinca in many places, and as you mentioned I think they never touch it. They also never touched the pachysandra, and though you cannot tell now, one-third (yes, one-third) of the front lawn was all pachysandra and weeds, when I bought this house.

Limelight Hydrangea is supposedly "deer resistant," but they ate much of the new growth last year so there were very few blooms. I nearly had a stroke. I was so mad. This year I'm spraying with a rotted egg mixture which seems to work well and is much cheaper than the store-bought stuff. So far, so good. The deer have also killed a leyland cypress in the backyard, a norwegian spruce, and a japanese holly (all were here already). They even ate some of the witch hazel, which is another shrub they supposedly don't eat. Same with the serviceberry.

They love the red twig dogwood shrubs and the coppertinas. Those seem to be deer caviar. Those would be destroyed if I didn't spray them. There are several old mockorange and forsythia shrubs around, but they are so big, its hard to tell if they get eaten.

The lawn to the right side of the driveway is fairly narrow, 10-15 feet wide, but long. Here is a pic:

The pic is a year old. You can see my neighbor's beautiful limestone facade on his house, wherein he used custom sculpted brick, which does not come through well in the pic. I am very jealous of his exterior, but not his landscaping. That's his hedge running along the property line, a hodgepodge of forsythia and rose-of-sharon that's been there thirty years. I have been undecided what to do with the narrow lawn area there. As you can see in the pic, it leads to a steep slope. That's where I planted the coppertina, a cluster of three plants, which you can barely see in the pic because the deer had eaten them. They are really big now. I chose them to help balance the heavy red of the house, and they seem to work in that regard.

Oh, the roof of my house is the original clay tile. It is mainly charcoal in color, but there are flecks of light green throughout each tile. You cannot tell in the pic, but you can see a green cast along the roof when you stare at it.

So since the consensus seems to be to leave the brick as is, and change the gables to possibly cedar shake in some more pleasing color, the last pressing issue is the slope along the garage wall, leading down to the driveway. I liked the idea of putting something like a terrace or small patio there, but as we discussed, that might be "too much," given my plans for the rest of the yard. So what else would you suggest for the slope? When I moved in, that whole area between the sidewalk and the garage windows was pachysandra and weeds. I put the grass in just to get rid of the pachysandra and keep the weeds out, but I knew I'd have to deal with it someday, which is now. I guess the easy way is to just place foundation plants there to partly disguise (not cover) those tiny garage windows, but there's got to be something better to do. I thought about building a retaining wall at the edge of the driveway and building up the ground there, so that there was less of a slope, but I could only do it partially before the windows started to be covered by the grade. Any thoughts?

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2010 at 7:34AM
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Palimpsest--thanks for taking the time to try some different colors. I have fiddled with the house colors using GIMP, which is the image manipulation program under Linux, but I was focused mainly on changing the color of the brick. Since for now I'm abandoning that idea, I'll go back and try some colors for the gable and trim that have been suggested here. I'll post what I come up with.

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2010 at 7:40AM
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For the life of me, dave11, I can't figure out the problem you have with the brick, or even the color of it. It's red, dude, a primal color, the color of earth, our life-sustaining blood, beautiful sunsets, the symbol of passion, and the most sought-after color for flowers. Maybe before a designer you first need a psycologist to tell you why you don't like red. I'd love to have a building built with that beautiful material, and your closeups reveal the quality craftsmanship employed by the bricklayers.

That aside, I understand your issue with the curb appeal - something about it is unappealing, or at least uninviting or uninteresting. The brick might actually be the best thing you have going for it, it just needs to be complimented more, or acccented with the trim and landscaping.

I think the main problem with the house is the era in which it was built- the 1950's when classic architectural details were deemed to be superfluous or old-fashioned. Making such houses inviting and interesting is difficult at best, but I think others' ideas about trim colors is a good place to start. The first color that pops into my head is brown, at least on that obnoxious peak to tone it down a bit.

Besides the lack of architectural detail the biggest issue is probably the topography and those ugly little garage windows pulling your eye down. Some kind of attractive and useful structure and/or landscaping that cuts off those little punch-holes from view would be a great improvement. My first thought would be some sort of deck or raised seating structure, perhaps with some sort or horizontal skirting underneath (e.g., stacked railroad ties) and matching the new color you pick for the peak. There is no rule that such seating structures have a door into the house, and it doesn't even have to be attached to the house as long as it cuts the view of the portholes and sloping foundation line.

Personally, I'd also lose the shutters, or at least try taking them off, to see if it gives your more continuity for the whole house.

If you do build something in front, you're probably going to have to replace that front walk. I would use that as an opportunity to make the front entrance experience more inviting. Those long, terrace-type steps are really pretty useless and un-enjoyable to use. Better to have a distinct (properly handrailed) set or two of normal steps with pleasant interludes of flat(ish) walk in between.

And, of course, landscaping is always a key, as others have well covered with many excellent suggestion. Just don't hide ALL of that beautiful red brick!

    Bookmark   April 28, 2010 at 4:40PM
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Hi Brian. I never, in a million years, would have guessed that folks on this forum would be defending that brick. No one who lives on this street or who has visited this house has ever defended it. They call it "old-fashioned" or "outdated" or "way too red, like a schoolhouse." Many have been against my idea of painting or dyeing it, but on "ethical" grounds, not because they thought the color should stay.

It makes me wonder if the photos are somehow not conveying how the house actually looks.

But for now I'll try the different ideas presented here and see what happens. I agree with you completely about the front walkway, and that will be the next project after the trim/gable re-coloring is done.


    Bookmark   April 28, 2010 at 5:36PM
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This sixty year old house is having the same effect that a 1900-1910 Victorian/Edwardian was having on people in 1960-70: even in 1970 people were still pulling off the gingerbread and doing some very interesting things with tinted casement windows in architectural bronze and natural cedar shingles. Many of us grew up in these types of houses so we are still kinda rejecting aspects of them.

At least its not a split: I did a project in a 1950s development of ranches and splits, and the bizarre "Coastal New England Shingle Style" splits and "Neo Tuscan" splits that have sprouted extra floors and wings, odd looking.

I did two houses in the same development for the same woman. The first one, we decided to tear down because the program was too extensive and it would have been a bad looking house when done. She divorced, bought the original house's sibling, and this time, we kept it a 1950s "colonial" looking ranch.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2010 at 6:53PM
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I agree that stark white gable has to go and that a good choice would be a beigey brown that blends with or unifies with the roof ... so that it reads more as part of the roof instead of this big bright glaring thing just stuck there relating to neither the roof nor the body of the house. That big white triangle sticks out like a sore thumb. It is not the brick, it is the contrast between the brick and that big glaring white triangle that is what is so obnoxious. The brick looks more red in contrast to that stark glarey white.

A color does not exist on its own, in a vacuum. A color always exists in relation to other colors. Therefore if you change the colors that surround that red and reflect off of it, then you change your perception of the it.

Secondly, you talk about painting the brick an earth tone. Well, your brick already is an earth tone. It is red, no doubt about it, but it is an earthy red. So choosing compatible earthtones to blend with it would really help the overall appearance....

I think de-emphasizing the big white triangle/gable would also help the windows not look so tiny. Good luck! I'd be interested to know what was the original colors used on the gable and trim- can you see any evidence of that?

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 3:06PM
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Do you have a local historical society?

A local paper?

Can you search for old photos of your house by address? Or is it in a development of similar houses where you might find an old brochure or advertisement?

I'm not advocating a museum/time machine. But maybe that front gable wasn't always like that. Or maybe an earlier photo of the yard, or a color scheme will give you some clues.

I agree -- don't touch the brick. While it may not be your ideal, anything you do to it will look worse, and require upkeep.

I don't love brown and red. Kinda reminds me of a blood clot.

Crisp, fresh white and red. Good. Red and white and maybe a little green, or another accent color of your choosing -- sage green is popular, and might make the gable fall back a little (light colors emphasize features, dark colors make things recede).

A good paint store will have charts and cards of complementary paint selections set up -- you can bring in a picture and most of the work will be done, someone will help you find a combination you like.

I think your house is adorable just as it is. Trying to turn it into something it isn't, a different style something fancier, is the surest way to mess that up.

Landscaping will soften so much of what's bugging you right now. You're staring at it too hard. You're "seeing" too much of it, in every sense, as we all do when we're trying to fix our houses.

And I agree about the grounds. It looks idyllic. Is that a beech tree? That automatically means you have an estate!

I'd give it a nice paint job and spend a little extra on plantings and let the bluebirds move in.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 4:30PM
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Kasha and Growlery--thanks for the comments. To answer your questions, I do have only a little historical info. The neighbors to one side have lived here since 1972. They say that the house has always looked the same, with all white trim.

The white gable is actually aluminum siding placed sometime in the 1980s. At the lower edge of the aluminum, you can see the bottoms of what look like pine planks placed vertically, the same as are on the other two big gables on the other sides of the house. The planks are also painted white. They look to be original, just covered now by aluminum siding.

Another neighbor believes that the original wood siding is not pine, but redwood. If that's so, I'd be surprised it was ever painted white. But who knows what would have been done years ago. The house was built with loads of upgrades inside though, so maybe redwood on the exterior is a possibility. I guess once the aluminum comes down, and the paint is stripped, we'll know.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 5:35PM
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At least the good folk here have talked Dave11 out of painting that perfectly respectable brick and putting up some more aluminum shuttery things best left to mobile homes.

Why would one buy what one considers the ugliest house in the neighbourhood with no clear idea of the changes one would undertake?

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 6:59PM
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At least the good folk here have talked Dave11 out of painting that perfectly respectable brick and putting up some more aluminum shuttery things best left to mobile homes.

Why would one buy what one considers the ugliest house in the neighbourhood with no clear idea of the changes one would undertake?

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 7:07PM
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I bought it for everything else it had. The exterior can be easily changed. The floor plan, the lot, the infrastructure, and the location cannot.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 7:23PM
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I'll try not to stutter this time!

I'd be inclined to keep it honest and close to original, but toning down the gable and trim colors. I'm partial to brown. Play with the Benjamin Moore Color viewer. Remove those shiny things next to the windows. And get some advice on the landscaping from all those green thumbed sorts on the other part of this site.

Most exterior renos I've seen on this type of house in my city fall into extreme EIFS complete with quoins and grandiose columns, or homemade atrocities. When the budget and project is too small to justify top flight design, I think it's best to stick to the original builder's intent.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 7:41PM
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It's brick....what's bad about that??
You only think it's ugly because everything around it is ugly...aluminum siding?? Strange little basement windows without any plantings to soften them...down spouts treated as trim items and painted the white "accent color"? And no plantings....mone!
Get rid of the white peaks, put them back to the cedar or redwood shakes they probably were, paint the downspouts as close to brick color as you can find, ditch those strange probably plastic of fiberglass shutters and paint the entry way a nice natural cedar color to fairly well match the peaks or gables....and put nice big wide shutters 9on the sides of the door....wood...big...big enough to cover the door if they were closed...
Then plant Boston know the stuff that grows on the walls at Yale and Harvard...and has for almost 200 years with no harm to the brick. Plant it at the corner on the left and let it go around the corner and climb on the chimney too.
Paint the white trim a soft tan-ish color...several shades lighter than the gables.
And plant...PLANT...columnar trees...low shrubs, build a bed in front of the living room window.
But don't paint the brick....that would be rather like lobotomizing the house....removing all memory and spirit and having it bend to your will.
It's a very nice it for what it is, don't try to make it something it can't be.
Linda C

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 7:48PM
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The first unwritten rule of living in a old house is to LIVE in it a year BEFORE you make any major changes that can't be undone.

It takes about a year to see how you will live in your new old house, how you will use the space before you can really make major changes without regrets.

Changing colors on most things, except brick, can usually be changed without too much trouble or expense.
Go slowly. Think it thru.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 1:18PM
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Vertical Redwood siding + red brick now youÂre talking!!! Designwise, that combo really makes a lot of sense  I think youÂd be surprised at what a difference that would make. The warmth of the wood + warmth of the brick would make that exterior much more Â. warm and inviting. Attractive, in other words. You could use that same wood in creating a garden structure or somethingÂ?

Midcentury modern is very hip these days  there is lots on the web about it  design, colors, etc. Frank Lloyd wright & prairie style was very much about using materials of the earth and blending into the landscape with the materials and horizontal lines, etc. so as previous poster mentioned the more you can remain true to the original esthetic the better for your house. Not saying that you have some kind of rare & valuable Frank Lloyed wright house that has to be preserved at all costs - just that the esthetics and design sense of the 1950s came out of that so that's where you can look for inspiration ....

Otherwise if you stray too far down the slippery slope of "re-muddling", thats how we get stuck with all these "Frankenstein buildings" that are a mishmash of conflicting design elements and just do not stand the test of time. Where I live, a lot of the early 1900s an houses, shops etc. still have ugly 1960s alterations - and exteriors that have been shall we say "messed up beyond all recognition." After a point so much "remuddling" has been done that you can never really get it back to what it was.

Also bottom line - you will have traded a maintenance free exterior for one that requires several thousand $$$ upkeep every what, 5-10 years.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 2:00PM
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Kasha--I had considered doing what you mentioned, and asked a couple of builders and a guy who does much of the siding in this area, about removing the aluminum, and restoring the vertical wood siding, whether it be pine or redwood. They have all basically said: "You know, the wood was covered for a reason, namely that whoever owned it got sick of either restaining or repainting it all the time. Why would you want to doom yourself to the same expense and hassle?"

And I can sort of see their point. There's a huge amount of siding. It's on the big white front gable, and on the two even larger gables that run along the other two sides of the house. The siding over the driveway gets pretty high up, and is over asphalt. It seems to me that whatever I do to the front gable should be duplicated on the others as well.

Plus, I was told that to restore it, each piece would need to come down to be stripped of the thick coats of white paint, and no guarantee could be made that the wood siding would be in good shape (though the edges I can see appear thick and solid).

On the other hand, it would make the house look more as was intended, and would be somewhat unique, as no other houses in the neighborhood, even those built in the same style, had large gables or any amount of wood siding, other than the clapboard on houses older than mine.

But it seems to me that cedar shakes would look better anyway on those huge gables than vertical wood. No?

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 5:52PM
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How about Hardie Panel cement fiber vertical siding?

I think cedar shakes maybe not so good, because your house has a lot of roof showing and two similar but dissimilar materials adjacent to each other could be problematic.

I think vertical is more in the spirit of the house.

Your house may also have had decorative shutters way back at the beginning, but they were obviously decorative and were not trying to look functional. They provided relief from the expanses of brick. (Board and batten, slats that were separated by space, etc. rather than a 'louvered' panel). It may be too 50s hokey or time capsule, but it would be appropriate.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 10:17PM
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Dave11, can you get a 4 seasons room guy to come up with an image of your home with the room extending out from your great room? If you add that to the front side, the south side of your house, it would be easier to keep it warm and you'd get more use from it all year. I'd really turn that large window in the great room into french doors. With the proper flooring, there would be nice heat gain even in the winter. Don't ask me for the facts, I'm just saying something like a brownish gray slate would fit with your future color scheme.

What this extension would do, is take the focus OFF THAT GABLE. It would bring it more into scale with the rest of your house front. Right now, it tips the scales to the downhill side, and because that wall area is so much more massive than the shorter exposed brick area and flat roof of the great room, it is unpleasing to the eye.

You will find that by splitting the high wall of brick on the east/garage door end of the house, VISUALLY, with a projecting arbor or trellis (pick the term you are used to) across that east end, it will be the beginning of a visual BELT to re proportion your home's exterior architecturally. Then you can work in the plantings.

A low retaining wall extending from the corner of your garage forward to the walkway will be helpful to further give some weight and impact to the lower part of that slope.
It will also give you a planting area for some tall and skinny shrubbery. I'm not too sure about the thuga or whatever tree you mentioned as "deer proof", but evergreens come in all eventual sizes. Whatever you put in, that low retaining wall should be very sturdy. Probably in the color of your mortar if not in (I hesitate to say...) RED BRICK.
Or, that retaining wall could be where you test out PAINTING some brick, and seeing how you like it and can maintain it for a couple more years. Hmmm, it looks like the drive swings to the right so you have a round bit of land and not a straight line off the garage to the walkway.
Is that a parking area for visitors at the end of your walk?
Perfect then, to create a rounded "rotunda" retaining wall which is a nice planting area to give further horizontal lines where they make a difference.

When you do the walkway, a rustic fence might be better than a picket fence bordering it on the street side. Do you use salt on your walk and drive? If so, plan on something like the rugosa roses which can take the salt better. By a rustic fence, I'm meaning a rail fence, just a visual barrier with 2 horizontal rails to continue the horizontal flow. Have a series of steps, with hand rails, and then a flat walking surface with the wood rail fence.

Behind the walkway will be your planting area, and those two problematic windows to let light into the garage. IS there a basement under the greatroom or anywhere else? Or is it just garage? If you can terrace that area a little, maybe a couple of rows of landscape timber to begin with, to see how it goes without getting a permanent structure, that would help slow/stop/redirect any runoff from the roof of the greatroom. Thinking that the rain runoff COULD flow out toward the street, very ideal, instead of down the slope toward the drive. Maybe build up the walkway to make SURE that the rain does NOT flow across the walkway from the great room roof.

And, I'd definitely make a different entry way. That door looks like it belongs on a farm house from 1910 or so.
Bring some light into the house. Is there a foyer beyond the door? Or does it come bam direct into the great room?
IF the wall where the door is located is totally inside the foyer or great room, and the part on the right is not included in that first bedroom, you have an easy fix. Think about adding a new ornamental door with bevelled glass panels on the top, and a pair of side lights flanking it. Finish it in a natural dark stain/varnish. It will be protected from the weather and sunlight, but still, put the UV protection on it. Making this doorway significant can also further draw attention away from the size of the gable, and give more visual weight to the other half of the house.

Looking at your house, I think the problem is a matter of perception and visual balance as much as it is the actual size of the gable.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2010 at 12:21PM
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This place used to make MCM front doors. Now it appears they sell window kits to convert a slab exterior door into one appropriate for a midcentury house.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2010 at 12:36PM
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Palimpsest--I think you are right about the vertical siding being better than cedar shake. It makes me really wonder now what color the original vertical wood siding was. Now it is painted white, but perhaps in the early years, of which no one is left to report, it might have been stained, or painted a darker color.

Incidentally, the same wood siding is alongside both sides of the front door. It is also white now, but might not have been so originally.

The front door I assume is original, very heavy, but has three glass windows in it, single panes, and is very cold to be near in the winter months. It needs to go as well, even though otherwise there's nothing wrong with it. You can't see the door well because of the storm door in front of it, which also needs to go.

Moccasin--you are correct that the driveway veers away from the house as it heads toward the street. This was done I assume so to avoid the higher grade of the lawn, which would have required a retaining wall had the driveway come from the garage at a 90 degree angle. There is a full basement, and though you cannot see them, there are two windows below grade under the great room, with window wells. These windows are identical to the garage windows. Also, you are correct that the driveway has extra parking, but that is because the driveway is just too wide overall, at least as it gets close to the house. There is an island in the middle of it, where the black lamp post is, but it makes the driveway overly wide and serves no real purpose. The asphalt driveway is at the end of its life anyway, and when the drive is replaced, I will put it back in proportion to the house. The wide driveway I believe is another factor in making the house look smaller than it is.

As for your comment about drainage, it all goes to the right, down the slope. There is a gentle slope toward the house over most of the front lawn, and the city would never let me change that. So drainage must proceed across the front of the house and down the slope. The gutters drain to clay tile which are buried and empty down the slope in an underground bed under my neighbors back yard. There is an easement for it.

And there is indeed a foyer, fair sized, not large by today's standards. To the left is the great room, straight ahead leads to kitchen, alongside is the door to the attic stair case. and to the right a hallway leading to the bedrooms and baths.

Moccasin--I'm a little confused about the terrace you are suggesting for the sloped area by the garage. Do you mean to terrace the area between the garage wall and the curved front walk? Because when I bought the house, that entire area was full of pachysandra, hiding lots of debris, old bricks, old stumps, etc. I have a pic somewhere that I will look for. But using that entire area looked wrong proportionally. It's a big area, bigger than it likely looks in those pics if you haven't seen it up close. I will look for those pics and post them, to better show that sloped area.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2010 at 2:35PM
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Couldn't find the old pics. Here are current ones of the slope. But the slope width, at the edge of the driveway, is nearly 27 feet, which is more than half the width of the whole house. I put a full-sized shovel in the pic to try to give it some scale.

So to my eye. terracing the entire area between the garage wall and the sidewalk would create too large an area.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2010 at 4:00PM
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Um, I meant to say that the 27 foot width of the sloped area is more than half the DEPTH of the whole house.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2010 at 4:02PM
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I found 4 pics and would recommend that you look for a book on porches & sun rooms, or arbors/trellises/pergolas and maybe fences too. Don't want to overwhelm you.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2010 at 10:43PM
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Moccasin--the pics you posted are not available now. Not sure what happened.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2010 at 9:19AM
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I know what happened. I thought after I put them here I could move them to a regular album. So, let me do it again.
...sigh.... So very sorry.




Since you tell me that there are a couple of basement window wells along the south wall of your great room, that could bode badly for any expansion out the front. I am not familiar with basements and local codes about their windows.
But that might be just a technical issue easily resolved.

And I checked out the Crestview Doors URL. I really like some of their doors. But truly hate the one they call Parkway, which was the one I removed from MoccasinLanding. The one with the 3 big square lights top to bottom of the door looked VERY good. A big honking fine door. Even with a small foyer, could you put in at least ONE side light with your doorway? Or is that space used by a coat closet, etc?

I'll do some more thinking about the slope--your slippery slope, so to speak--and try to find an image which best illustrates what I mean. I know it is easy for others to think up good ways for YOU to spend YOUR MONEY. I try to keep it real, and personally figure out ways to complete my own projects in stages. So they are not fully conceived in the beginning, but rather evolve as issues come to light.
Right now, for instance, I'm doing two houses this way, a little bit at a time.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2010 at 6:33PM
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Hi Mocassin. Thanks for the pics. I really like the idea of the trellis/pergola for above the garage. It would accomplish what you stated, while still keeping the house's style and the neighborhood in mind. And I can build all that myself. I haven't mentioned it, but there 's already a fully working woodshop set up in the basement.

As for the front door, there is room on both sides, about two feet on each side. So there is room to expand the front door experience. In fact, I need to open that area up anyway, literally, so to insulate there. My one concern though is that the wooden siding on both sides of the front door looks exactly like the wood siding that covers all the gables, and I wonder if in the house's original design they were all meant to match. So while in principle I agree that expanding the front door with side lights would be a good idea for most houses, does it tinker with the original design? I myself am not sure.

Since Palimpsest raised the issue of avoiding making the house into something it is not, I have driven around the neighborhood, and looked for that phenomenon. Suddenly, I noticed that many of the houses built in this "atomic age" style had attempted just that, and failed. They invariably looked worse than the houses that had been left alone. It really opened my eyes.

I also discovered that out of all the houses built in this style, mine is the only one with large gables. All the other houses built in this style have small gables, and thus no walkaround attic. Isn't that strange? I can only assume the original owner (about whom I know a few things) wanted it built this way.

I really appreciate your input, along with Palimpsest and the others who have chimed in. I really have a much better sense now about the exterior of this house and what it needs.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2010 at 10:09PM
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Great attitude, Dave11!
You mention that the original owner made a lot of upgrades when the home was constructed. S/he chose the large gables for some reason, probably to have a walk-around attic. To me, that implies they wanted to build up into that space.

If you will bear with me a few sentences further, the quintessentially American house was the CAPE. It was not fully built when first constructed, they just kept adding on to the design as the family grew and changed. I think that is the way "family" homes deal realistically with the passage of time. To freeze a home in time is to deny it the ability to respond to the needs of the folks it shelters. Even seashells add on to their shells as they grow. Hermit crabs, which make no shell, will leave a shell when they outgrow it.

I believe that a real HOME is organic, and it is a part of the fabric of our lives. The builder of your home may have envisioned such additions and changes too. Think of Three Gables as a work in progress. I think it will evolve very nicely.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2010 at 10:40PM
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Oh, and I should add that the house did indeed have window boxes in the past, attached beneath the windows with shutters. The neighbors report it, and also I found the rusted heavy iron brackets for them lying in the pachysandra bed before I cleaned it out.

Why the window boxes were not replaced, I have no idea.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2010 at 10:43PM
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Moccasin-your enthusiasm for this house is inspiring to me. You have even coined a name for it, "Three Gables," which is a much more charitable name than the one I would have given, namely "The Big Red Monster from Stalingrad."

Somehow yours seems much more pleasant.

And I still don't want people thinking I dislike this house and regret buying it. Not at all, I like it more and more every day. But not for its curb appeal. Just tonight I was working in the basement and stopped to ponder the 3X10 joists (yes, 3x10 douglas fir joists) that support the main floor. And I thought: "You know, somebody really spent a lot of time and money building this house. Even if they did pick a horrible color for the brick and put that awful Moby Dick's head gable out front, I'm going to make it into the most it can be."

So I appreciate you lending a hand.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2010 at 11:05PM
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I now am also the proud owner of a 1958 ranch that I certainly didn't buy for the exterior appeal. Paint the brick! Previous owners painted mine and while I'm not crazy about the color, it looks better than it would have not IMO as the brick on my house is just "common" brick.

Another idea that I see sometimes in Louisiana, where I live is what I thought was called "sacking". When I goggled it, I found an article (link on bottom) and they were calling it "bagging" so i'm not sure what it is really called but, it's a mortar wash over the brick. The builder of my last home used this method on the brick portions of our house and I I got a lot of compliments on it. Below are some pics of my old house with the brick and below that a link to a goggle search about the method for it. I don't have any close ups, sorry.

My last house. Here's what the brick looked like - see left of house

Link to method

    Bookmark   May 3, 2010 at 2:49AM
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OP - can we go back to what the couple of builders and a siding guy said to you( "You know, the wood was covered for a reason, namely that whoever owned it got sick of either restaining or repainting it all the time. Why would you want to doom yourself to the same expense and hassle?")

That makes about as much a sense as telling someone they shouldn't build a deck because its too much trouble to maintain it. (Actually decks are far more trouble to seal/stain what with the complicated railings and stairs and such. Those gables being flat would be much easier - and also there are sealers that are much more long lasting than others...)

That comment merely reflect the prejudiced view of someone who makes their living using modern conventional methods....
You might want to consult with someone who likes and specializes in historical houses - you could ask them on the phone prior to them coming out what their expertise is.

Not sure how hard it would be to remove the old redwood siding - if in good condition it could be a simple matter of flipping them over and using the other side rather than removing the paint. Or get new redwood. Well its a thought. Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 4, 2010 at 1:44PM
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My parents have a redwood deck that was built in 1969, and is tongue and groove so water tends to lie on it. It has had minimal upkeep, has some kind of minimal linseed oil finish on it at this point, and the only significant thing that was ever done was the posts holding it up were shortened slighly to reslant it away from the house again after about 25 years. It is still solid as a rock. If that is redwood, you could probably refinish it once and apply some kind of opaque stain and that would be it (at least as far as my experience goes observing the deck which has lasted forever)

    Bookmark   May 4, 2010 at 3:19PM
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Circus Peanut

Dave, I'm certainly no expert, but my parents' 1961 ranch has the same red brick, and they have worked with it by doing the vertical wood in a dark taupey green, and window boxes and doors in a darker brown version of the same. My mom does red flowers in the boxes and somehow it all works very nicely, even looks classy. (!)

I love the idea of going back to the original redwood for the vertical siding on the gable (although that does pull it forward in style about 10 years to the '60's danish trend) -- but lacking that, I believe painting it will do wonders.

I enjoin others who really know about color and landscaping to add some greenery and alternate color changes to Dave's Dream Ranch, but here's a first stab at a basic scheme to clear his brain of the white:

    Bookmark   May 4, 2010 at 3:59PM
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I'd suggest removing the gable end of the roof and replacing it with a hip roof. That would get rid of the large painted area that's all out of proportion to the rest of the house.

If the shingles are about due for replacement, you could do both jobs at the same time using textured shingles to improve the appearance even more.

Maybe someone could do a photoshop to give you an idea what it would look like with a hip roof.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2010 at 6:02PM
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Before I go much further here, I have to figure out the new elevation of your slippery slope. And the island with the light post, and the location of that walkway.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2010 at 8:20PM
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Very small point, but why does the peak of the gable stand proud of the rest of the gable? Was there another material there before, or does it serve a purpose?

    Bookmark   May 4, 2010 at 11:12PM
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Dave, have you ever visited a site called DEER DEPARTED?
It gives lists of plants, rated as to degree of damage by deer. It does not even begin with a "never damaged" category, just one called "rarely damaged," knowing the nature of deer. I'm including the link below.

Now back to figuring out the slope and walk and drainage and fence and lamp post and retaining wall. :)

    Bookmark   May 4, 2010 at 11:36PM
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look at the pictures here. These plants lived thru the winter in pots in Massachusetts AND in Alabama. Very adaptable. Deer in Mass. did not seem to bother them. Growth habit is a low rosette plant with tall flower spikes (usually insignificant), much like the hosta only smaller.
Look at YUCCA FILAMENTOSA "HAIRY" which is a yucca hardy to zone 5 or even zone 4 with protection. No deer in its right mind would grab a mouth full of this shrub.
And this article mentions foxglove as a sub for hostas, and Japanese maple as an ornamental tree, western redbud, Kousa dogwood, American holly, and other evergreen types, as well as boxwood. Dwarf boxwood can be pretty impressive and not burden you with hedge trimming as much as the standard boxwood.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 12:14AM
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Hi Moccasin. The deer issue with plants is one I'm very familiar with. I think there are a few plants that can be called deer-resistant to the point of being deer-proof, except maybe the most extreme circumstances. But the preferences of deer vary geographically, so just because things are passed by in one place doesn't mean they will be elsewhere. It really comes down to trial and error, and avoiding the things they love. Hostas are at the top of that list, at least around here.

As for the questions others have had about the roof, I have no idea what that disruption in the surface of the gable near the top is supposed to be. That whole white face though is aluminum siding, and it will need to be ripped down to see what the wooden siding looks like underneath, though I can tell the wood siding has been painted white in the past. Changing the roof line to a gable isn't feasible, as the clay tile roof is in excellent shape, but the tiles are very expensive, and changing the structure would be cost-prohibitive.

And though I can't speak for my design skills, I've been a woodworker for 20 years, and I can vouch for the truth about any natural wood exposed to the elements. Those who have previously told me not to re-expose the wood siding do have a point, because even if its redwood, it's going to require regular upkeep. While its true that redwood and cedar don't decay, at least if they're not constantly wet and in the soil, they will weather, and become dingy gray or brown. The sun is especially damaging, and that gable sees the sun nearly the entire day. Even with modern stains, and spar urethanes on top of it, I'd be surprised if I could get five years between restaining that front gable. Some paints would last longer, but then that defeats the work of restoring the wood siding.

I still have to think that putting vertical hardie siding (or similar) is the way to go with that gable. That restores it to its original intent and also keeps the maintenance to a minimum.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 8:31AM
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I think that triangular extension might be the leftover of an ornamental, vestigial "dovecote".

I've seen houses with just a little bump, to a faux dovecote complete with the holes. It may have been a way of giving what is essentially a MCM house some "traditional" details, along with the window boxes and shutters. --And a way to break up some of the mass of the gable.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 8:44AM
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Palimpsest, that is so inspirational! Your photo is great too. There you have the vertical siding, and the nod to the dovecote on Dave11's gable front.

His house is in PA, and don't they also put hex signs on the end gables of barns for good luck? I did not know about the dovecote habit though.

Down here in Alabama, it would more than likely be real bird houses for martins, and it would be mounted on a garage.

I think Dave11 might find a way to put a dovecote on his stable, or maybe the garage gable, but I'd not put holes in the wood. Starlings and other tiny birds can make a nest out of any tiny hole. Unless there is something to block their entry. I think I'll make a copy of that picture and send it to my brother, who makes bird houses.

As for the varnish on natural wood, Dave, the one they use quite frequently on boats is something by Sikkens. It is very expensive. Someone who was inquiring about a finish which would last more than a year in Hawaii had used Sikkens and in that climate it was still needing to be redone yearly. Which was quite an expensive chore for the size of house they had.

Spar varnishes tend to really darken the wood. I like the look of it, but it seems to be more opaque than regular urethane finishes. I think an oil would be better than a varnish, give the wood some moisture, and not have a shine that could age and perhaps go cloudy on you.

Also, get a couple of the plants at a nursery as trials, and see what your gourmet deer like to eat. It won't be definitive, but it could avoid a massacre of your new plants down the road.

I'm still working on your walk/drive/front elevation. Have to figure out how to draw it on a photo and upload it.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 1:01PM
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Moccasin--I feel bad that you are taking up your time to work on these designs. Though I appreciate it, I hope it's not drawing you away from something more pressing. Perhaps you just like the challenge of this misplaced house?

Palimpsest--your notion of that strange thing at the peak of the gable is interesting. But it does not jut out very far, maybe just an inch or two, and there is now aluminum siding over that, too. But the edge of the roof does not extend at all over the gable, as opposed to the one in your picture. Also, it might be hard to tell from the photos, but there is a gable vent at the true peak of the gable. It would have been odd if the house were designed to have that blocked by a dovecote.

But if it was not a dovecote, that might be an idea to keep in mind down the road, when trying to fix the starkness of the gable.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 1:19PM
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Here is a close-up of the gable, from another angle.

My feeling is it is a jury-rigged transition between the aluminum siding covering the vertical wood, and the aluminum vent that was then added. The siding was done by the prior owner, not professionally done, so I think he just cobbled some stuff together.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 1:58PM
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I don't think it was real, it may have just be a hint at something to break up the mass, nothing more than a horizontal line or bump. Of course, now that I want to find a picture of a fake one, I can only find real ones.

This house has a real one or a more 3-D one anyway, but you can see they were just added for "interest"

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 1:58PM
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Oh, and Moccasin, I've never heard of a hex sign here on a house. Sounds a bit Wiccan to me. Here we are close to Amish country, and many folks use the Amish five-pointed star as a decoration, at least when you get a bit further away from the city. It is traditionally red, like my bricks, and I had thought about using one as a way to break up the gable.

Of course, if we're being purists, it is supposed to be on a barn, not the house, though I have seen country houses use it, if they have no barn. It is supposed to bring good luck.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 2:11PM
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Don't know where all they are displayed, but they are a part of the Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch tradition. Not all are stars, some are trees of life, doves, welcome signs, and so on. I did a Google search on "hex signs" and at least the first page of hits was all Amish. So not necessarily wikkan,
though I won't rule that out.

The house front that palimpsest shows has a roofline coming out into a little cover for the dovecote, and with your roofline at that gable, Dave, the way the original owner did the siding and the vent, he came out just a tiny bit too. So it is a mimic, or a nod, to the local tradition...which included some pretty big gables facing toward the road.

I've got lots of things to do, but you are not keeping me away from doing them. I really enjoy this, and if I were a young person choosing a profession, I'd be very interested in architecture. Or landscape architecture.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 11:19PM
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But I suspect that peak of the gable probably looks the same beneath the siding as it does now from the surface. That is, I bet there are just a couple of horizontal planks there at the peak, not anything truly decorative, like a dovecote (though putting a dovecote or something else decorative there is a neat idea). I think the horizontal planks were used as a sort of decorative flourish, or might have been necessary to transition to the vent. That's why the roofline comes out just in inch or so.

Guess we won't know for sure until the aluminum siding comes down.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 7:00AM
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It's like unwrapping a Christmas present, isn't it!
Well, I'll be absent for a couple of days, and hopefully come back with a drawing of the walkway and front elevation.

BTW, you could put a WELCOME hex sign into the first flat area of your sidewalk, in tile. Or mount one on your mailbox post if that is at the road. Or, the option I like the best, is with your woodworking skills, make a very personal one, with the name of your house, the house number, and welcome on it, family name maybe, and put it at the end of your driveway in a discreet spot so it does not look like a For Sale or political sign. Nothing says you cannot take traditional features and use them differently.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 5:32PM
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Hi Moccasin. Well, hopefully a Christmas present would be more pleasing than the gable, or what's under the siding, but I'll keep an open mind.

Thanks and have a good trip.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2010 at 8:28AM
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Hello there- It seems you and I share the same situation. My ranch was built in 1952 and shares some similiarities with yours. However, mine is narrower and slants towards Colonial style as is prevalent in the Nation's Capital region. Otherwise very Father Knows Best.

But...I have the same hideous and worn out aluminum siding. Virtually identical. And I too am wondering if what is under there is still functional.

At a minimum I want it gone and if I have to repaint wood every few years, so be it. Mrs Lord and I are also debating whether to paint the brick as well. I don't agree that your brick is ugly. But I also think it fine to paint brick. My area is a mixture of ranches, Cape Cods, and Colonials. There are several of each that have painted the brick and they look fine. Its especially appropriate if you decide to go foliage heavy as your house will blend into nature.

And if you tire of painted brick, you can always sandblast it off. My grandparents' house was mostly brick yet painted a dark grey. It looked great, but eventually they restored it by sandblasting it back to the brick.

Whatever you do, heed the previous warnings regarding drastic changes. The worst think you can do to a house is to make it something its not.

Let us know what you decide. The jury is still out at the Lord Ranch.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2010 at 11:52AM
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Dave, the yard drawing is almost ready. I'll scan it and upload by tomorrow morning. Not to scale, mine you, because I do not have measurements. But with enough you could get the gist of it.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2010 at 2:21PM
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Dave, I noticed another thread with a unique approach to keeping deer away from your plants. It is worth reading.

On the forum Plants for difficult places I think it's called.

Below is the link. On GardenWeb of course.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2010 at 2:43PM
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Ok, I have one photo with some stick-ons to show what I mean. And I also tried to draw the elevation from scratch, but that is not my strong suit. But here they are.

As you can see, the small garage windows are not important except your walkway is flat and level on either side of them, then steps below and above. I think leaving the opening to focus on the entry door is important. It takes the eye directly to a lovely view there. I could not show plants on the inside of the low fence, but the ones you choose should always be low and not impinge on the 4' wide walkway. The walk widens out to the same width as your entry stoop, so that would be about 8 feet. It is meant to appear level with your covered stoop. However, the one step down as it currently is would not detract from the look, as long as you maintain a true horizontal linear look. Dual lamps would further give some symmetry there. The lamp you currently have at the drive could be on either side of the new walkway, but I think making that lamp post part of the fence would be more of a statement and less busy.

Ok, now the drawings.


I'm trying to get the drain in the valley of the gable by the entry to go underground and connect to the drain coming off the roof by the garage. I think it is already done that way, but not sure. Just in case it ever backs up, rain that is, don't want water going down the window well below the great room. So I indicated a sort of overflow drain pipe to carry that water between the walk and the house. If there is perforated drain pipe already there, it will find its way to it, right? Maybe a little more gravel or whatever you use in PA for near a basement. Then only put in the ground cover like vinca major (periwinkle) or ajuga (bugleweed), which will spread nicely but be contained by the paved surfaces around it.

Keep the look easy on the eye, like line up the posts with the edges of the bedroom windows, centering those in the horizontal walkway area. The garage windows will effectively disappear and present no problem at all. It is a matter of distracting the eye from their off balance locations. Don't know why they were not centered beneath the two bedroom windows in the first place.

I think the window boxes will look good. If you are fond of wrought iron, make zinc lined boxes to go in some ornamental strong durable wrought iron boxes. Paint them the same color as the lamp posts and the fencing. It does not have to be black, you know. Nor white.

Good luck with your house. I'll be interested in the outcome. Lovely property you have.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2010 at 8:37PM
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Hi Moccasin. It was very nice of you to draw all those things together. The fence especially now is easier for me to conceptualize. Question though--did you make the fence white on the assumption that I would leave the gable white? Or do you mean to make the fence whatever color the gable becomes?

Or perhaps change the gable color, but leave the fence and shutters white?

I really like the concept you have for the front walk area and the front door. I see now that you mean to remove the long sweeping curve of the front walk for a more angular design, and so to make the area between the walkway and the garage windows much smaller. I totally agree. My only concern, given that I am able to stand and stare at that area in person, and walk around it, is if perhaps that area in your design is now a bit too narrow. I think the reason the walkway was made so long and sweeping originally is because the front yard is so huge, and there is so much space out there. Yet by doing so, the original designer created that huge curved, sloped area that drew negative attention to itself, and was hard to landscape. Too big for a bed, too small for lawn + bed. Your design fixes that, but based on the drawing, the new walkway would be only six feet from the garage wall. That would seem to "hug" the house, which would be OK if the front yard weren't so huge. What about moving the sidewalk a bit further out? Say, to 8 or 10 feet from the house?

Leveling out the lawn/landscaping right in front of the garage windows is an excellent idea, as is shifting the steps of the new walkway to the upper and lower parts of the walk, as opposed to the elephant-sized steps there now. This might be require though a small retaining wall on the street-side of the walkway, as it seems to me the walkway will need to go below grade at its middle, at least 6-12 inches. Otherwise, I would need to lower the grade in that part of the lawn, which would shift the drainage from the yard toward the house, which I would rather avoid.

The original clay tile drain runs along the footing in the front of the house, but it only sees daylight at the far left and right corners of the house. There is no downspout or drain beneath the valley just to the left of the front door. The system as it stands though has no trouble keeping up with a heavy rain. You can't tell from the pics, but I have already placed wood and plexiglass coverings over the window wells, which are watertight.

The window boxes are the only thing I hesitate about. I know they would improve the appearance of the house, and I know for sure the house had them originally. But they are a lot of work, and because they are so high, I would either need to haul out a ladder to tend to them, or deal with them from inside the house. In the spring/summer there are screens to latch into the windows, and they would have to be removed each time, which they were not designed for. I suspect this is why the window boxes were removed, or were not replaced when they decayed.

Fake plants in window boxes maybe? Seems iffy.

Is there something else to take the place of window boxes from a design standpoint, that would be easier to maintain?

Thanks so much for your time and attention to all this.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2010 at 11:17AM
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Instead of window boxes, some type of espalier?

There is a house nearby that has a diamond patterned trellis that is covered with greenery in carefully trained to the shape of the diamond pattern. It doesnt need to be that formal but it could be interesting. There is also a 1950s development that I have seen that had some really carefully shaped shrubbery (a la Edward Scissorhands) without going too crazy. It would be period, certainly.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2010 at 11:41AM
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Palimpsest--you and Moccasin have such intriguing ideas. An espalier would never have crossed my mind, but I can see how it would work. I've never tried to grow/make one, but I always thought they required a fair amount of skill. I guess I could learn as I go. I read that they can be made with cherry trees (among others of course), but I just so happen to have some cherry seedlings growing wild in the back that I could transplant.

I'll have to do some reading...

    Bookmark   May 12, 2010 at 6:57PM
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Dave11, I made the fence white for contrast in the picture, same as for the shutters on either side of the great room windows.

Nice use of plexiglass, covering the window wells. I'm a big fan of Lexan/polycarbonate.

Do not intend to change the drainage set up for your house, if it works don't fix it is my motto.

Coming away from the house with the walkway a little further would be totally doable. The guiding principle would be keeping the new walkway horizontal in the area between your two sets of BEDROOM windows, and thus emphasizing them and allowing the garage windows to vanish from the conscious mind.

I still think a good dense low groundcover that stays green all year long will be the way to go for that area. Then the low fence could be dropped further away from the walkway, still locating it on the street side though. Leave enough space to put a planting bed between the low fence and the walkway. Have big gaps between plants, and mulch that space heavily. You do NOT want to create maintenance where weeding give you a pain in the back.

If there is a need for a retaining wall on the street side of the walkway down by the drive, you can probably get away with it being on the first paved area of the walkway, and not going around to the driveway itself. That would be a great spot to put the first post of your fence, so the first of the post-mounted yard lights would be there.
Remember, as I conceive this area, it will come away from the garage with a big sweep, an arc if you will, so you may be able to use part of the flat area now covered with asphalt paving, and make the incline so gradual you don't need much of a paved "curb" for that first paved walk area.
Whatever you call it, whether it is a curb or a retaining wall on that side, it can come up high enough all the way up the walkway to keep the planting bed from washing mulch and soil onto your walkway. I'd call it a "raised curb."
Maybe I can draw what I mean, but I'm not a draftsman/person. More likely, I'll find a photo in a magazine and upload it.

What I'm trying to keep as my guiding light, is not to create more yard work with any change to your house front.
If you hhave a riding lawnmower or a tractor, you sure do not want to have to create more places needing hand tool maintenance before you bring out the big guns.

But I would not worry about a mere 10 or 15 feet difference in the location of the driveway making your lawn look bigger. It has that slope which sort of disappears from view as far as distance from the street.

Taking that light post island out altogether will be a big plus. If you can, curve the drive a little just before you reach the garage, so it helps you line up the vehicles to enter the garage.

I've been thinking about what to plant along that strip of ground which runs for 200 plus feet from the street past your garage. Keeping it clear enough for you to efficiently maintain the lawn there--it looks really good, BTW--indicates a row of small trees, IMO. I know the deer will eat most everything. How about beginning to create a series of small-growing trees there? Something like the Japanese maple, something you enjoy looking at, which likes your climate. I would give them plenty of space, something like 25 feet apart or maybe 20. You've got a LONG driveway. And carry the planting strip all the way back to your stable. Then one of these days, add a low fence built exactly like the one you put in front of your walkway. I'd put some rambling roses or deciduous vines to grow on it. Maybe morning glories would be a start. The fence all by itself would tend to hold the eye and keep you from even seeing the neighbor's house. And his shrubbery would be very effective in making a backdrop for your low fence.

BTW, I don't mean for the fence to always be WHITE. Whatever color you like for your house front, make a paler and softer version of it, maybe it would "read" white in the bright glare of a summer sun, but on cloudy days and under softer light it would read tan or orange or gray, whatever colors you figure are pleasing.

Now for something besides a window box. You are a metal man, right? I think a metal feature there would be nice. Just the wrought iron frame of a window box under each window. Sort of like a tiny balcony if it was European. The Spanish used such features a lot. But of course, you won't be doing the Spanish look, not even suggesting it. But very anglo-saxony is fine for a midcentury house.

Reserve those window box wrought iron frames for special seasonal plants. In POTS. And they make something which is super absorbent crystals to absorb water for long drinks of water. They also make a long wand so you can water your plants which are overhead. Putting out artificial plants is a no-no except at Christmas time for decorations.

Most of the year, I'd leave the wrought iron window box empty of plants. If it is wrought iron, and decorative, it is it's own best feature.

While I really like Palimpsest's espalier idea, given that you have the deer problem, and that such a feature is a real tour de force for a gardener, and that brick is on the hot side of your house, it would be iffy at best. Personally, I'd do the window boxes, and leave them empty.
Except, I dearly love the chartreuse ornamental sweet potato vines which can take any amount of heat you can throw at them. Just give them some water crystals and water them occasionally. The deer MIGHT not reach them, until they get really long, and then you won't have to prune them if they do! They are sold as annuals, but the ones I planted made huge tubers that grew new plants the following year.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2010 at 8:55PM
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Moccasin--wait, now I'm confused. The drawing shows the walkway level between the garage windows, but your email specifically says to level it between the bedroom windows (??).

And the window box idea makes perfect sense, as before, but I can tell you that, if I build and install window boxes, or just the iron supports, the likelihood that those boxes/brackets will ever actually contain living plants is close to zero. I just know myself. They would be hard to get to, and out of sight/mind, with a huge yard always calling me to do other things. But wouldn't constantly empty window boxes/brackets look, well, kinda sad?

I really liked your idea about the trellis arrangement for over the big garage door. What about some variant of that, but for under the front upper (bedroom) windows? Wisteria grows here--what about it or something similar draped around a trellis (or trellises) just beneath those windows?

As for the deer, they are a huge problem, but I can keep them off the plants I care about with the rotted egg spray I make. Whatever I don't spray usually gets eaten.

After you've spent so much time and thought on the house so far, I'm amazed you're still ambitious enough to open another can of worms by mentioning the narrow strip on the far right side of the property. What you can see in the photos is only about half the total length. My neighbor and I share a 325 foot property line there, perfectly straight. At the street, the line is level, but as it proceeds back towards the woods, it gets progressively steeper. The area that has lawn in the photos is only the first 125 feet. Beyond that, my property gets too steep to mow, and it drops out of view in the pics. The huge hedge is just on my neighbor's side of the line.

So basically, beyond the 125 feet of lawn, there is a long narrow steeply sloped bed that is about 200 feet long and widens toward the back, about twenty feet wide as it passes the old stable. I have already planted much of it, in two rows, with a mass planting of 3 coppertinas at the front corner, then a witch hazel shrub/tree, then a row of five redtwig dogwoods, then a serviceberry tree. The second row is further down the slope, between the first row and my neighbor's hedge. Here are seven bayberry shrubs, then five nannyberry shrubs, which gets as far back as twenty feet forward of the stable. The area beyond that contains some struggling poplar trees which need to be thinned out before I can go any farther.

My goal is to fill the steeply sloped area with large native shrubs (bayberry and nannyberry) that are traditionally disliked by deer, so I don't have to spray them. I didn't want to use trees here because they do not shade out enough weeds, and its too large an area for me to weed all the time. I also don't want to have to put mulch down in these areas.

The more ornamental plants (dogwoods, etc) are along the driveway, in plain view.

The coopertinas are prominent and help balance the red of the brick.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2010 at 11:04PM
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Dave11, sorry to confuse the issue about the flat area between the windows. Whichever way works the best for your elevation, so you don't have to worry about resloping anyy of your present grounds to relocate the walkway, then it will be fine. What will happen anyway is that the garage windows will disappear behind the rhythm of the fence posts and the attention given to the bedroom windows by the little arbor or windowboxes.

When I was originally thinking about the arbor above your garage doors, I envisioned it making the corner and completing the turn with an arbor just under the sets of bedroom windows.

Wisteria is certainly an eager grower, don't know if it invasive up there in PA or not. It sure is down here. But I don't have deer to keep mine chewed back. Wisteria does become quite destructive of small support structures, so the frames chosen for your arbor should be as substantial as you can esthetically use. They also have a WHITE BLOOMING wisteria, which is fantastic looking--I have one of those planted, the ones which are naturalized all over town are lavender. When you plant wisteria, it will take about five years for it to bloom for the first time. I have two years to go before mine blooms. There is nothing wrong with having a mix of vines planted, so seasonally you have different things blooming. Annual vines like morning glory or moon flower vine, they will cover your arbor in short order, but of course will die back with the coming of cold weather.

Naturally, your yard slopes down ....I was thinking it went UP. If the plants you have already selected are working, doing the job and you like them, then put some more very far apart like 20 feet along the drive side lawn. Or, just come on with the repetition of the low fence as far back as you can go from street past your house. If it cannot make it to the stable, then terminate it at a natural location to keep it from appearing unfinished. Maybe as far as the new steps, but ideally go behind your garage, so it will keep those backing out of the garage aware of the distance to any drop-off.

Some of the plants you named are unfamiliar to me, but if they are native and not on the deer's menu, then they are ideal for your purposes.

Am I correct in reading into your remarks that your long term plan for your lawn and house curb appeal is beginning to take shape in your head? Getting the big picture and then fine tuning it long term is the way to go. You'll get there.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2010 at 4:08PM
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I found a few pictures to which I added my notes. They will be in the Misc. Ideas album at the link given below.

And the little arbor my DH added in front of our shed doors this year, so my kiwi vines will provide shade from the western exposure. Note we put a raised planting bed at the base. Easier to keep good dirt around the roots that way. Kiwi are very very cold hardy, also prosper in Massachusetts.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2010 at 3:39PM
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Hi moccasin. The kiwi is a very appealing vine, though maybe it is a bit too dark green for my house? I was thinking a lighter green might go better with my red brick. But it looks like a good match for the white on your shed.

I'll work on a sketch for a trellis/arbor along the lines mentioned here. Everyone has given me quite a lot to consider.

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2010 at 2:10PM
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Dave, the shed is painted Behr ORANGE CONFECTION. In the bright light, it does look white, but on a cloudy day, the very faint tint of orange makes it a perfect foil for the roof shingles.

I slopped some test pieces of plywood with various colors and stood them against the shed and let my DH choose the one he liked best. He chose the ORANGE CONFECTION.

The plastic lattice strips around the bottom are white.
Never need painting. Lattice used to keep our dachshund from getting hung up under the shed when she goes after critters of one sort or another.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2010 at 5:35PM
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Dave, I checked on the garden side of this site, and found a forum you might like to check out.

The link is below.

I did not check what forum discusses general issues for your geographic region, but you might take a look while you are there.

Have fun with your garden and updating your curb appeal.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2010 at 1:40PM
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Dave, I was visiting Youtube today and ran across some videos which made me think about your deer problem.

If you go to the link below, several other such inventions will show up. Great way to keep the deer jumpy. It is a water feature which tips over when it gets full, and then when it is empty again, it falls back against the rock with a loud bang, presumably alarming any nearby deer.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2010 at 4:46PM
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An excellent read with quality suggestions.
Even as is, its a great looking house, but not a mansion..
Another subject..
I just hope that NO paint was ever applied to the brick.
The mass of the white triangle is excessive ,obviously - try to make it appear visually smaller..Maybe a light yellow trim color ??
I'm really no exterior
And HGTV, some good ideas on this program, but this could be so much better - so easily..

    Bookmark   October 25, 2010 at 10:33AM
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Awww, I was hoping to read an update from Dave11.
I wonder how things are going with his house exterior....

    Bookmark   October 25, 2010 at 2:31PM
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Wow--I was surpised to see this old thread resurrected.

To reply, let me say that folks here effectively talked me out of both changing the brick color, and covering it with siding. So the red brick remains as it was.

From the many good ideas here given by moccasin and others though, I know exactly what I want to do, at least in my mind's eye. But I'm not good enough with design to get the proportions, style, and "flourishes" right, so I'm going to have an architect do a design, and I will do the subsequent build. I have been away for part of the summer, and spent what time I had re-landscaping the backyard, so I haven't gotten to the design stage yet for the front of the house, but hopefully it is coming soon.

If folks are interested, I'll post the design when I have it.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2010 at 9:10AM
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I know this is a really old thread, but personally I'd paint the brick. Maybe a soft taupe or grey, or even a dark brown. Restore the vertical wood siding on the gable (I'd keep the white), add lots of custom wooden trim details in a period-appropriate style, surround everything with well-designed landscaping and fencing, and you'll have a beauty.

I sympathize because I don't like the color of my brick house, either. But at least it's somewhat variegated and organic, with dark bricks mixed in. The hard machined texture and flat bright color of your bricks seem harsh and blindingly red to me. I would have painted them in a heartbeat.

Sad but true = some brick styles are just not attractive.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2011 at 7:52PM
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Interesting thread! I have a 1951 ranch-style home (called bungalow where I live) but it's aluminum siding not brick. I like the idea someone posted, of planting boston ivy. We did that on our 1903 brick home, which was a big, solid-looking square - ivy softened the look.

Another point - I LOVE to paint, and have painted the back of my home a different colour (grey/blue) than the front (taupe). So the OP could do different trim colour on the back to see if he likes it.

I took the shutters off my house - although "period" for the time, they are not functional and I hated them.

Finally (!) my SIL, who is a painter, suggested that I paint the eavestroughs the same colour as the roof, so they blend in. I also painted the downspouts, the same colour as the siding. White downspouts just make people notice something not decorative, in my opinion.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2011 at 7:13AM
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I would paint the white trim to match the color of the mortar between the bricks, which looks to be a cream/taupe color.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 3:48PM
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