Please help! I need exterior decorating ideas!

laxgalMay 6, 2013

I have a plea for all you experts here: my husband and I have been planning on building a home, but it looks like that won't happen for several years at this point. So, in the meantime, I'm hoping for some suggestions on how to make my house a little, well...less ugly.
My husband is a pastor and we live in a church-owned parsonage, so firstly, I need *cheap* ideas, since we're not going to see a return on any investment here! As you can see, I've placed some plants/flowers on the front porch, and that has helped, but it still looks so sad to me. Here are some ideas I had:
1. We will definitely be replacing the front door/storm door - not only are they ugly, they are both in bad shape...can't decide on color though.
2. Would shutters help the windows? What about a dark gray color?
3. I'm not fond of the brick color, but we can't paint it because, again, we don't own the home.
4. I would love to think of a way to hide the electric meter, but still make it accessible (is there a worse location they could have put that thing?!)
5. Not a fan of the wrought iron, but not sure what it would cost to replace, and whether or not replacing would help the appearance at all.

Thank you in advance for your help! We've lived here just over a year now, and are just now getting the interior where it should be. Now that it's Spring (and I'm pregnant) I feel compelled to fix up the exterior before baby arrives...again, we're not looking to spend a ton of money, but just want to boost the curb appeal a bit so we don't cringe every time we pull in the driveway...

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I would wash the outside of the house for starters . The white upper portion looks like it needs a good cleaning. If it needs it then paint that part as well. Either replace the iron with wood posts or play them up as a feature by adding more of that element threw railings all the way around, a tall iron planter , ect. Put in a much larger light fixture by the meter going with black if the wrought iron stays. Hopefully that would pull attention away from it. I love the idea of shutters on that house.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 2:18PM
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I think shutters would help.

But i think one issue is the furniture. I don't think the style or the color works well with the house. It is too rustic and too orange, and a bit crowded too. Can you move them out back?

I also think the posts look too delicate to hold up the roof, which throws things off a bit. I was tempted to say paint them white but that could be worse. Maybe forest green shutters, door, and wroughht iron?

Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 2:34PM
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Summer solution - grow morning glories up the iron posts.

Winter solution - box in posts with boards, for more substantial appearing columns.

Agree with mtnrdredux - porch furniture isn't working - it looks child-scale? very low to ground. Just two chairs at most, set at angles to a small table, not lined up with backs to wall.

Lower the hanging plants so you can see flowers, not bottoms of pots - they will get more light that way and grow better also.

Curving garden beds to get away from straight lines of hedges and walkway.

If brick is only on front of house, it would not be a huge job to paint it white to match the siding.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 2:58PM
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Yes, have some climbing vines/flowers on those posts and lower hanging flowers pots or large ferns. Also, window boxes on the railing.
Can you paint the furniture? And also paint the door a fun color.

Moon flowers

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 3:18PM
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Wow, thank you all for the quick, helpful responses!

Madeyna - you're right; the siding needs to be washed badly. I don't think we would want to paint, though, since it's vinyl.

I love the ideas of growing plants up the iron posts; I think I'll be heading down to the nursery this week to see what they would recommend for this area/shade conditions.

I had not given much thought to the furniture - those are just cedar adirondack chairs that got placed out there by default. We also had to take down the porch swing that was already on the porch (it's sitting on the far left side, since we haven't figured out what to do with it yet) since on windy nights it would bang against the picture window. Do you think painting the chairs would help? Or should I just replace with a couple of rockers?

A couple more questions: I'm thinking about making some board and batten shutters myself for the windows, because I don't like the look of vinyl shutters, and we just can't afford wooden ones. Do you think that would look OK with the style of the house?

Lastly, is there anything that could be done to break up the expanse of ugly brick between the picture window and the front door? I don't know if it's acceptable to hang something on the wall there? Or maybe I should look for a couple of tall potted plants?

Thank you again, everyone! I really appreciate the ideas!

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 3:48PM
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Let's see:

1)Yes -- a big vote for shutters -- but in fresh clean crisp white.

2)If possible -- consider adding a small handrail to the front step -- so much safer with a baby (and carrying lots of stuff)

3)Add larger outdoor lanterns or ligthing in black ... which would work well with the black iron columns ....

4) Expand the front walkway -- clear out the grass, then add a layer of sand (water down) and then add a line of good simple paving stones for walking; fill in with pea gravel .....

5)Clear the front porch of the larger chairs -- and consider adding a front patio (use the same method as mentioned above for the expanded walkway) for seating. Do leave the bench to sit on the left-hand side of the doorway.

6)When installing the new front door and storm door -- consider doing both doors in black -- simple classic color.

7)Check garage sales and look for a metal shelving unit that you could paint black -- to sit on the right-hand side of the doorway.

8)Add a large doormat in bright, happy colors in front of the doorway ...

9)To cover the meter -- consider adding a vine like creeping fig or clematis or moonflower on a trellis. Measure the meter -- and choose a tall trellis that would simply "fit" around the meter. Or choose two very slim-line trellis to fit around the meter. Then add the vine. Remember to keep the vine trimmed to show the face of the meter.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 3:53PM
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Before you do anything, if the home is church property will you need permission from the church property committee to make any changes or improvements?

On the flip side of that, can you get the Prop Committee to help with any of the work, like power washing or digging a new curving flower bed?

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 3:57PM
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teacats - I love all your ideas; thank you for sharing! I've now got a shopping list going so I can seek out some of these items during the garage sale months!

hhireno - good thoughts, but we asked the church if they would take care of the power washing last summer, and you can see how that turned out :-) In other words, we're pretty much on our own. On the flip side, we have a lot of freedom to do what we want as far as updates; we're almost done remodeling each of the 2.5 bathrooms (which hadn't been updated since the house was built in the 50's), and no one even wanted to approve our color choices. The only thing that has met resistance is painting the brick, so we're stuck with that.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 4:10PM
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It's not an ugly house, it just needs a little love and attention. It looks like you have wonderful mature trees in the background.

Yes to shutters!

Yes, lower the hanging baskets, by quite a bit.

I wonder if you could paint the meter box the color of the brick to make it disappear? And if replacing the iron posts and rail isn't in the budget, I'd paint them the color of the brick, as well. Climbing vines would be nice, but you have to keep them in check so they don't invade the roof, and if they bloom, you may have bees.

For the furniture, either get something different all together, or pair down what you have. The sitting area looks cluttered from here. The color of the furniture doesn't bother me, but the clutter does. What about colorful pillows and seat pads for the chairs?

For the blank wall...what about installing a wall mounted flag? A small but tall shrub/patio tree in a large pot?

I think much larger, darker light fixtures would be nice.

Depending on where you live, garage sales, Craigslist, thrift stores, Restores, etc., can be a treasure trove. Does your church have a bulletin board or newsletter where members can post want/have ads?

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 9:10AM
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I would definitely add shutters to the upper level. Not too skinny.

Two things I think would make a big difference, but probably won't happen, is to do wooden posts on the porch and swing the walkway out from the house so it isn't hugging it so tightly. I think it would be more welcoming and not make everything look so tight. Some large handsome light fixtures would also look very welcoming.

Even if you didn't get a ROI (which I think you would), it's well worth it for your own enjoyment, if you can find it in your budget.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 10:30AM
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I thought of another tall element for the front porch...maybe one of those tiered planters?

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 11:33AM
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I would put a large potted shrub in front of the electric meter - you can get a pot stand with casters so it can be easily moved when it's time to read electric.

I don't know your climate but a camellia would look nice!

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 11:58AM
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I am not sure you can powerwash vinyl. Sue put a hole in hers with a rock flying out of the lawn mower so I don,t think its very sturdy.Several people here have it though so maybe one of them will chip in. I wash the outside of my house early every spring with bleach and a long carwash brush. It washes easier if its been raining. Its like deep soaking something thats tuff to get off a dish. I think just cleaning it would go along way towards making you happier with it. I agree with others about the furnature but thats not a cheap fix. If its been oil stained before I don,t think it will hold paint. I could be wrong of course but it would be worth looking into before you go to the trouble of painting.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 1:24PM
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We don't have vinyl, so this is not from personal experience, but we have friends who pressure-wash their vinyl each spring.

Maybe there are different grades?
You could try to check to see if yours has ever been pressure-washed before.

Our friends' house is white, and they didn't want the upkeep of paint.
They just didn't realize the upkeep of vinyl!

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 8:47AM
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I know you said you didn't like vinyl shutters, but if they are on the upper windows and you paint them, I don't think you can see the difference.
I personally would paint the door a fun and upbeat color.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 8:53AM
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The difference between a charming home and one that is not is so seldom shutters, and so often the grace added by well placed plantings. I'd place a small tree on the outside of the walk in front of the meter. It'll not only hide the meter but separate the charming, welcoming part of the house from the utilitarian garage/parking area.

And another vote for growing vines up those posts. Run a metal wire, or 2, from post to post and continue the vines horizontally. Right now the wisteria I ran up to our second-floor porch and down wires from post to post is about to bloom. I'm really growing it for the foliage though, which is a lovely, softening decoration for both the porch and house. It throws pretty dappled shadows on the porch, dances in even a light breeze, and gives not only a greater feeling of enclosure, but a stronger feeling of place.

BTW, if you do and choose wisteria (which IS special for its foliage and its woody trunks), I recommend not letting it wind around the metal but rather training it up the outside of those posts. In just a handful of years the trunks would develop the wonderful, gnarled appearance of age that is one of its special attributes, but the wood would tear apart the metal as it thickened.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 9:55AM
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I would never place Wisteria on or next to the house. It took time and hard work to get rid of the 2 old vines covering the pergola over our patio. A constantly messy plant with dropped leaves, flowers and pods. In addition the birds ate some part of the flower and pooped purple all over our patio. Only killed it off completely when we covered the planters in the patio with cement!

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 10:25AM
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Chispa, your list of problems forgot mention that those seed pods like to explode, so it's downright dangerous too. Ours set more than one surprised guests jumping. Well, there are many vines and options, and certainly shutters and decorative jars are going to be a better answer for those who object to falling leaves in the autumn and visiting birds all year. They like it for nesting too.

Personally, I really miss the Chinese wisteria on the pergola covering our patio in California. Here in Georgia it's a noxious weed, so I grow a native wisteria selection.

The real issue with this fine, exquisite vine is control. Ours in California would throw out its eager new runners 7 feet and more in a couple of weeks in early summer. It'd be easily controllable as a single vine running across the front of a porch, though, especially with the wire placed about a foot below the porch roof for easy access to all sides.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 12:58PM
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I like the idea of adding shudders and framing out the metal posts with wood along with a horizontal board across the top of the posts to add visual weight to the house.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 5:23PM
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Wow, this looks amazing. What kind of program did you use to accomplish this?
The framing looks great, but if cost is an issue, could you make some plants grow around the metal posts?

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 5:28PM
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Roobear, so pretty!! (I'd still lower the hanging plants.)

This post was edited by mpwdmom on Wed, May 8, 13 at 19:35

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 7:34PM
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Wow, I'm amazed by all the helpful ideas and comments! It took me a while today just to process everything - thank you, everyone, so much!

I went to the local nursery today and bought some morning glory seeds to run up the front posts. Roobear - I LOVE the drawing you did!! And I love the look of those front posts; they are definitely going on the "wish" list if we can fit them in the budget, maybe for next summer. For now, we're going with some vines. Thank you so much for taking the time to do that picture; it really made me see the possibilities! Did I mention I LOVE it?!

I'll either do a trellis around the meter box, or possibly get a nice tree to plant on the other side of the walk to hide it from the street, as rosie suggested. We dug down around the concrete walk tonight, and it goes down several inches...too far to break up with just a sledgehammer - we tried. So, instead of going through the expense and hassle of moving the walk, I think we'll just have to leave it.

I'm also going to get a tree of some kind to place on the opposite side of the house (left side when facing from the street), and expand the front garden out and circle around it. Hopefully that will give some dimension to the front.

I also love the red door in roobear's pic. I would not have chosen red if I hadn't seen that visual; it's nice how it makes the door a focal point.

Thank you all again - in two days you gave me more ideas here than I've come up with in a year. I'll try to post some pics once we put things together!

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 10:00PM
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WalnutCreek Zone 7b/8a

I totally agree with Chispa concerning no wisteria. Wisteria limbs will bore into anything and ruin it. For example, the wisteria planted (not by me but the PO) next to the deck at my current house bore into all the wood support beams and deck flooring and was making a good attempt to bore into the one brick wall. The wisteria took about three years to completely eliminate. And, we had to tear down the deck and rebuild. Wisteria is beautiful but not near a building of any kind.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 12:44PM
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WalnutCreek Zone 7b/8a

Roobear, fantastic Photoshop. Wish I could do that.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 12:49PM
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Thirding...or fourthing the NO to wisteria. I have to hack ours back daily it seems and between the time we put the house under contract last year and our arrival after closing, the wisteria had popped up several of the decking boards on our elevated deck. I am having my gardener hack it way, way back and hopefully (eventually) kill it.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 3:13PM
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You should not cover the electric meter with anything like a trellis the electric company may fine you. A potted plant in front will be fine so long as it is easily moved.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 12:27PM
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You might be able to put two small trellises either side of the meter. You could also espalier something -- you grow it in a controlled shape that is decorative and would allow you to make sure the meter can still be read. It could be a vine (be careful not to pick something invasive -- wisteria and fig ivy and two I know can get really bad) -- even a fruit tree. You can find examples and instructions on the internet.

Since you are planning on taking that larger bed on the left out around a tree, think about also carrying it across in front of the walk, but sweep it with curved, flowing lines rather than a row right beside the walk.

Agree with the shutters -- like them and new lanterns in black and the door in red. You can buy some inexpensive chain or S-hooks to lower the hanging baskets. They have them in the garden departments.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2013 at 12:18AM
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