The State of the Exterior: Summer 2015

I didn’t think I’d blog about our landscape progress because year one of any landscaping project isn’t that exciting in picture form. Plants take about 3 years to really establish their root system, so by the time Nell’s in Kindergarten, our yard is going to be awesome! But, in the interest of having pictures to look back on and documenting these projects we love, I thought I’d do an “in the beginning” post. I mentioned a few months ago that we hired someone to help us come up with some plans for the front landscaping – I don’t know plants. I know what I like when I see them full grown and in bloom, but in terms of just knowing plants, that is not my gift. The problem is that I did have a vision for outside, but I couldn’t articulate it well – so we decided to hire a landscape designer that our friends used to give them a long-range plan rather than piece it together little by little.  We didn’t want a complete overhaul in terms of the landscaping – I wanted to leave rock beds where they were, etc – but the landscaping at our house was pretty dire and short of just planting some stuff and seeing how it did, which B is okay with but I don’t have patience for, hiring an expert to just give us a cohesive plan seemed like the best use of our limited time.

front landscaping progress 2 The first summer we lived here, B pulled out a dead creeping juniper shrub to the right of our driveway and he planted a few plants that Home Depot had left over at the end of the season, and we called it good for awhile. The next year, I bought some Endless Summer hydrangeas at Costco and planted them in front of the garage, but it became clear quickly that the crab apple didn’t provide them with nearly enough shade from the hot afternoon sun.   Over the winter, two pitiful shrubs on the left side of our driveway that we never really loved finally gave up the ghost, so we decided that the blank slate we were left with was the perfect time to bring someone in to give us an overall plan. And now we’re putting it into place.

 

Working with the landscape designer was so easy. She came over, chatted with me about my style and preferences, and then came in for a cup of tea. I told her I’ve always called our style “Urban Cottage” but with a Colorado twist. She totally ran with it, giving us shrubs that produce hydrangea like flowers but that will do much better with our hot West facing Colorado exposure. She suggested great perennials that over the next few years will spread over our rock beds and create 3 season interest and help to soften all that rock in front of our house, and she gave us some great recommendations for compact conifers that will help block some of our neighbor views and add greenery year round without growing too big for our front yard.

We’ve planted all the perennials the designer called for, and are now waiting on trees and a couple of boulders. I fear we’ve missed our window of opportunity for the summer, but we’ll see what the weather forecast brings because I know that getting the trees in will make the biggest difference and I would rather not wait until Fall. The first year of any perennial is always unimpressive, but I can tell already that when everything matures we’re going to have a great, 3 season landscape.

landscaping progress

I’m most excited about the part of they yard in front of the garage (above). Those shrubs will get pretty tall and grow into each other. They have gorgeous bright green leaves and pretty white flowers and I am already in love with them, but I know that I’ll love them more as they grow. I’m excited for the smaller perennials  to get bigger and lend some color throughout the summer. There’s another portion of this rock bed that’s planted bordering our neighbor’s yard, but the plants are so small it’s not noticeable from the street yet.  We’ll have a smaller scale evergreen in the back corner next to the garage to help soften the view of our neighbor’s house from the front, and a great boulder or sitting rock in front of it. I can’t wait.

front landscaping Here’s a look at the entire front yard. To the left of the new shrubs will go that compact evergreen I mentioned and the sitting rock, and there are already some perennials planted even farther to the left, but, again, they’re not much to look at just yet.  To the right of the driveway is a small garden where that dead creeping juniper bush was. It was unpleasant to look at, and we’ve planted perennials in there as well that just need some time to grow, but will add an ornamental tree to add some height to that side of the yard just as soon as we can track down the one we want. We have grasses for year round interest, and I’m feeling a little bit impatient, but the planting process is so fun that I think that helps. Back next to our neighbors’ fence on the right side of our house we will add a small hedge of narrow trees – that height and greenery will be awesome.

Eventually, B and I would like to have the cement strip between our driveway and porch removed and add a garden in there to break up all the concrete (funny because the original homeowners took out a garden there to add the cement – not the best for curb appeal, but practical for backing out of our side garage), and when the kids are older we’d love to add a porch railing. We talked about doing that last year when we painted, but decided against it for this stage of our lives. Our kids are little and they need us frequently, and it’s so nice to be able to see the kids riding bikes on the sidewalk from the porch and get to them in a second if someone falls.

So, that’s the state of our outdoors for now. I’ll be sure to post an update when the little tiny trees get planted. So that 3 years from now we can look back and see where we started :)

Spring…Or Something Like That.

Colorado is a weird place in the Spring. We have beautiful January days – 70 degrees when we’re outside in barefeet and tank tops. And then there’s February, which is normally dreary, followed by March, which is drearier still. But by April, we usually start to warm up. And we did, a bit – we had some nice April days. But for the most part, I feel like we haven’t really had Spring here in Colorado this year.

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We worked with a landscape designer to get a front yard plan done in March with the intention of planting in April, but April didn’t let that happen, and now we’re half way through May and we’ve had chilly, wet days. I’m not complaining at all – we need the moisture and it will be hot soon enough.

spring flowers

But this morning, Nell and Pete and I planted flowers in the front porch planter. Last night, our new patio furniture was delivered. Because, it’s time. It’s time for some color. It’s time to eat outdoors.  It’s time to stop waiting. Hopefully Memorial Day weekend will give way to good planting weather for the rest of our front yard, but I’m thrilled to have taken the first few steps to Spring…although at this rate, we might have to skip straight toward summer.

DIY Boxwood Wreath

Last week while the kiddos were napping, I whipped up a wreath for Spring for our front door. I’d been on the hunt for a great wreath that would take me from St. Patrick’s Day to Fall. I had a cute Valentine’s Wreath on the door for Valentine’s, but I really don’t want to store a wreath or door hanger for every holiday. So I was on the hunt for a season-less wreath – specifically boxwood that didn’t cost an arm and a leg – but couldn’t find one. Then, I stumbled across this tutorial on Pinterest for a 15 minute, $15 boxwood lookalike wreath and decided I could do it.

DIY Boxwood Wreath Our Hobby Lobby just moved and the day I went to the new store they had no grapevine wreath forms and no greenery out, so I went to Michael’s where I spent $30 instead of the tutorial’s $15, but it was a day when sometimes just being done with errands is worth an extra $15. And I did come away with actual faux Boxwood greenery instead of a lookalike, which Hobby Lobby doesn’t carry, so I was happy. The process was simple (and detailed in the tutorial linked above), but basically you stretch out the boxwood garland and use floral wire to wire it to the wreath form every few inches. I followed her easy bow tutorial, too, and in 15 minutes I had a wreath that will last me through the summer.

simple diy boxwood wreath

I love the greenery it adds to our navy blue door. We’re embarking on a big landscaping overhaul this Spring – we have the plans and will be planting this month or next, weather depending. But, I’m excited to add some greenery and life to the outside of our house – our exterior paint and lighting upgrades (the exact lights Joanna Gaines used on a house a couple weeks ago on Fixer Upper – I was patting myself on the back for picking them out on my own a full year before that episode aired) last Spring got us started in the right direction, and now it’s time to amp up our little cottage’s curb appeal even more. Can’t wait to see how our front yard takes shape this Spring and Summer!

Our Fall Porch: 2014

Oh the difference a year can make. Last year I was making do with what we had – a faded brown house, to be exact and a front door color that didn’t help the house’s cause. Since painting in March, I’ve had so much fun playing with the outside curb appeal. We had our big Ash trees trimmed and treated in May. Our Crabapples will be trimmed this winter. I planted hydrangeas under the garage window and am excited for the day that they are big and beautiful (I was over at our friends’ house the other day in our old neighborhood and was mourning my old hydrangeas, but then I reminded myself that they started out small and dinky, too). B pulled out a Juniper shrub and we’re slowly but surely figuring out what to plant there. So, curb appeal is a process, but we’re making headway. Here’s our front porch this Fall:

Adirondack Chairs Front Porch

That table is new. Don’t worry, I didn’t shop during “No Shopping October”. I was headed out to run some errands while my mom was over the other day and drove by my favorite front porch on the way out of the neighborhood for Fall inspiration…and their neighbors had furniture out by the curb with a “FREE” sign on it. I saw this great rustic table and threw it in the back of my car as fast as I could…with a line of cars behind me waiting to get their hands on the pile. Sorry folks, this table is mine. I immediately thought of my porch when I saw it (possibly because I was out looking for porch inspiration) and it works perfectly to separate the two adirondack chairs since I didn’t want a low side table between them.  So that’s my free table story.

Fall Porch 2014 Chair

Funny story: Since we moved here a year and a half ago almost, we’ve had lots, and I do mean LOTS, of people go to the house two doors down from us before coming to our house. My friend and her kids came by for dinner last night because we were both husband-less for the evening. As they pulled up to our house, her daughter – who had knocked on the wrong door with her dad before – said, “Mom, this is not Miss Emily’s house.” Annie said, “Yes it is. This is definitely her house. Remember how we always say you know you’re at Miss Emily’s if there are pillows on the chairs on the porch? Look at her pillows.” Funny the things people know you for. Back to the porch:

My fall yarn wreath and the witch is in sign…there’s nothing new here, but I love it every year so I just stick with what works.

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Fall Wreath and Adirondack Chairs

So that’s our porch this Fall. A year makes a big difference – here it was last year. Definitely feels more like us this year. I love the ability to look back and see things evolve.

Industrial Exterior House Lights

Remember last week when I showed you our new paint colors and promised an update on the exterior lights with closeups? Well, I forgot that I had a colicky one month old (my normal blogging hours are before the kids wake up or after the kids go to bed, but those are Peter’s designated screaming time…so, yeah), a demanding 22 month old who is testing the waters and needs consistency and discipline to keep her from becoming Michelle Tanner (cute and funny and allowed to get away with s**t because of it and therefore eventually an out of control tween – our #1 goal in raising our daughter? Discipline so that she doesn’t become an Olsen twin. Or Lindsay Lohan.) and a stoic, rule following, almost 4 year old who just needs to be wrapped in a hug and told how important and special and wonderful he is. 3 very different personalities demanding attention over here at the McKevitt house these days. Happens. I’m a big believer in blog reciprocity – if you comment on my blog, I comment on yours. And hopefully vice versa. But right now the majority of my blog reading takes place at 2am…and my iphone doesn’t allow me to comment on blogger blogs for some reason. And by 6am, I forget what I’ve commented on and what I’ve just read. So don’t hold it against me, okay? One day soon, I’ll be a good blog friend again.

 

Anyway, our house. Originally, our lights were what every builder in our town installed on houses in the 90s and early 2000s. I called them the Olympic torch lights. They’re sitting on the workbench in our garage so that I can donate them for someone craftier than I am to transform, but I considered keeping one in case Tom, Nell or Peter ever has to play the Statue of Liberty in a school play. I don’t make fun of the lights to put down any previous homeowners: the house was built in 2oo1, and this was what the builder was offering. It never crossed my mind to change out the builder lights at our last house until we were close enough to moving that I didn’t want to put anymore money into it. And then the second homeowners made lots of changes to the house that are what made us buy it – hardwood floors throughout the entire first floor, built-ins in Nell’s room, etc. And I’m pretty sure, looking at all the other torch lights in our neighborhood, they painted these Oil Rubbed Bronze from brass to make them less prominent. But since we were painting, we decided to update and go with a style we like all around.

exterior lights before I showed you all the lights I was considering in this post and decided on this industrial style exterior light from Home Depot. It was the biggest scale of the three similar styles I liked best, which was important to me. I also liked that it had a dawn-to-dusk feature. We’re not good about remembering to turn lights off during the day, and so my electrical engineer husband opts for leaving our exterior lights off so we don’t waste precious commodities (and money). But I like the security of having lights on at night…so this works well for us.

exterior lights after

B installed the lights the day the painters finished and I adore them. gray house paint industrial lights

The Home Depot reviews are mediocre, but that’s based on a motion sensor feature we don’t use (motion sensor lights freak me out…probably the point, huh?) I will say, we accidentally had them set to motion sensor the first night and they seemed to work fine. So I love the lights, and I’d buy them again in a heartbeat.

So that’s the latest on our curb appeal updates. I love my Dark Sky Association approved lights – they definitely make our house more “ours” and less the now defunct builder’s.

Operation Curb Appeal: Gray House Paint

I thought about holding off on this post until the grass is green and the trees have leaves, but in the spirit of sharing things as they happen, here’s a big curb appeal update before Mother Nature kicks in her contribution. Last week, we had the exterior of our house painted. The faded brown paint needed to go and I knew that our house hadn’t been painted since it was built in 2001 so was likely on the HOA’s list for needing to be painted in the next year when we bought it last summer. You can read about my initial plans for the house paint – at the time I didn’t think we’d get to paint the house any color but one of the many tans or browns that the HOA currently had available, but I attended the annual meeting in January where they were talking about adding new colors to the scheme and was excited to see that they were including a few new colors to liven up the neighborhood. I jumped on the gray option (our HOA limits how many houses can be painted a color in a general area, and I knew I wanted our house to go gray), immediately submitted my proposal to paint, and lined up our painters. We also had our garage door replaced since the old one had holes in it and was falling apart, and replaced the outdoor lights.

 

Here’s what our house looked like when we bought it. It was a very faded brown that had some yellow undertones in certain faded patches. And some patched paint that was a totally different color than the rest of the house. The trim color was also only one shade lighter than our house color which I didn’t love – I like white trim – and the accent color on the door and one pair of shutters was barely darker than the house. It was monochromatic to say the least.

House Before

And here it was in February, with my commentary of all the things that I wanted to change called out:

house issues

And here is our house now. My friend Jules was over the day the painters were finishing up and as she left she said, “Em, this looks like a house you guys would live in, now.” And she was absolutely right…it’s very much us. We went with a deep charcoaly-blue accent color on the door and shutters, and added shutters to the porch window and big upstairs window to balance the house and extend color. You all helped me decide to bring the shutters to the second floor, and it was absolutely the right call.

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It was such a dramatic change that at first I didn’t know what to think. But as the week went on, I knew the gray with white trim and navy accents were the right call. It plays up the craftsman and cottage elements of our home and feels much more like us. And I’m quite smitten with the new exterior lights that B put up the day the painters finished up (I’ll do another post on the lights and the before and after this week – just need to get good close-ups of the new lights first).  Here’s another angle in a the bright afternoon light (which makes the gray look lighter than it really is):

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It’s not unlike our old house. And I’m good with that, because from a curb appeal standpoint, I adored our first house. And now I’m loving our second house from a curb appeal standpoint, too. The outside of our home means so much to me – it sets the vibe as people arrive at our home for the first time or the hundredth time. We still have some work to do: We’ll either remove or replace the storm door (undecided – maybe remove it and if we miss the breezes replace it? We love the functionality of a storm door and the cross breezes they allow from the front to the back of the house, but prefer the look of a solid front door), add some greenery and color with flowers in planters and in the surrounding landscape and pay a little attention to the porch furniture and layout. But the garage door, paint and lights were the biggies on our list for this year, and we’re loving the outcome.

Operation Curb Appeal: Exterior Lights

I have been obsessing over finding the prefect lights for our curb appeal makeover this Spring. Like, asked Mr. B on our date night on Saturday if we could please please please drive around neighborhoods before dinner to look at outdoor lighting options. And then could we maybe just swing by Lowes and Home Depot on the way home to see what they have and so I could get his opinion on styles. Because he adores me, and is a good man, he agreed, but he did say, “Em, I honestly don’t even know what lights we currently have on our house. And I probably don’t have an opinion on lights like you do.” I said, “Don’t worry. They’re ugly.”

Since I’d been obsessing about the correct light for our house for months, I had quite a few pinned to help me narrow down styles. And I was torn between going pseudo-Craftsman to play up the Craftsman elements of our exterior, or going transitional-industrial. So I put together this compilation and realized I knew what style I liked:

outdoor lighting options

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six.

Turns out, what I thought I’d choose (the Craftsman-esque lines) isn’t what I love most. I’m drawn to the industrial/transitional down lights, at least aesthetically. When the house is painted (and shutters installed – thank you all for your feedback on that!), we’ll make sure we like the actual look and light output, but for now, that’s what I like. And if I like it, apparently in the world of exterior house lights, Mr. B likes it. And after looking at all the options in the store, I picked #5. It’s got a dusk to dawn feature, which I like and scalewise worked will with our house. The reviews are mediocre, but that appears to be about the optional motion sensor feature which I don’t intend to use, so I’m holding onto my receipt, but for the time being we’re going with #5. #4 was my next choice, but I couldn’t see it in person. So if 5 doesn’t work out, 4 it is.

 

 

Operation Curb Appeal: To Shutter or Not?

Back before I had kids…and before there was pressure to not post a picture on a blog unless it was so pretty it was Pinterest worthy, I blogged a lot more. And asked you guys questions about what you would do in blank and blank situation.  Let’s get back to that, k? Starting with an update on the future curb appeal of our not yet appealing house. As promised shortly after we moved in, our big house project for the Spring is exterior work. Operation curb appeal has been consuming my mind since we moved in, and with a promise that one day we will have green grass again, I am itching to get the ball rolling. The curb appeal has always been my biggest “meh” about our house. I mean, our last house was my dream, curb appeal-wise. If we could have doubled the lot size, added a room on each floor and put our current elementary school within walking distance of our old house, I would have never moved. But, it turns out that lot size and the physical location of schools are a lot harder to change than paint colors and outdoor lights.  Who knew? Here’s a look at the current state of affairs:

house issues

I think the main issue with the picture above is how faded everything is. I’m sure that in its youth, this color scheme worked. But in it’s 14 years of faded by Southern Colorado sun glory, it’s not working. You cannot see in this pic the Olympic torch porch and garage lights we’ll be replacing, but those will all change (not necessarily to the lights and door I badly photoshopped in below, I was just playing around and forgot to save the previous draft and am too tired to undo it). The front door and storm door will also change.

So here’s the question. Notice in the top picture how we only have shutters on our garage window? That’s bugged me. Always. When B’s mom met me at the house during our inspection to pick the babies up and take them back to our house for naps, she looked around the neighborhood for a few minutes before hand and said, “Have you noticed that this exact model usually has shutters on all the big windows, and not just the garage window?” And that got the wheels turning. I had originally planned to just yank off the imbalanced garage shutters, but I think bringing an accent color (as long as it doesn’t blend into the house color) to the windows would look great. So we’re adding shutters to the main floor window for sure. Like below:

No Top Shutters And maybe to the top level, too. I think I like the idea of bringing the door and shutter color up to the top floor. The only hangup I have is the craftsman window trim at the top that doesn’t usually lend itself to shutters. Our painter said they just change that out when they install the shutters, so no big deal, but I do like the trim. So above is the top window shutterless. And below is the top window shuttered (my photoshopping is mediocre at best, so this is just to give an idea – not a final representation).

Top Shutters

I’m leaning towards shutters on the top window, to bring the color accent up on the house. But I suppose there’s always the option to get the house painted, and install the top shutters later if we think it’s necessary. But it sounds a whole lot easier (and more likely to happen) if we just do it all at once. But, enough about me. What do you prefer?

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

At our first house, B and I always oogled the beautiful, big Christmas lights that perfectly outlined rooftops. We had small white twinkly lights at our old house and I had my wreaths on the windows, but we never invested the time or money into new lights for our roof line – partially because our upper roof line was so steep that B told me from the get-go lights up there weren’t going to happen.

But at this house, the roof is just ever so slightly more walkable, making the upper roof line Christmas lights-able. So, I started looking for Christmas light inspiration, and the first image I came across was basically a slightly grander version of our house. I jokingly sent it to B with text along the lines of, “I expect our house to look like this this year. And if we ever need more room, we can just add on over the garage and add dormer windows!” And B was equally as impressed with the lights (not so much the fact that I’m already doing additions to our house in my head. This girl just likes to be prepared.). So, we went out Christmas light shopping. And then I started to feel guilty, so I declared that the lights and his labor were my “Want” for Christmas this year.

House at Christmas

Every time I pull up to our house I just smile. I think one of the smart things we did was that we immediately started making memories here – from hosting Tom and Nell’s birthday here a week after we moved to just welcoming poeple in regardless of the state of a room or the entire house, moving in and living our real lives here has made a huge difference in making us feel at home. But, there’s something magical about decorating a house for its first Christmas with your family – the decorations inside and out just make it truly feel like its ours.

Our Fall Porch: The Beginning

A few weeks ago I posted our plans for our home’s curb appeal. And in that post, I mentioned that I’d paint our rocking chair black and hang a black porch swing next Spring when we have the house painted, and make a few other changes. But the more I thought about it, the more black didn’t seem right. I had originally mentioned maybe painting our door green, but the more B and I talked about it, the more we realized we wouldn’t like life without a storm door to let air in on cool days. And I wouldn’t cover a craftsman door up with a storm door. So we’re now thinking a black front door and a black storm door (like this) are the answer to our front door needs, and I’m fully on-board and embracing the classic traditional-ness of a black door.

So, with the door going black, black porch furniture seemed like too much, and I was hankering for color. I decided two green Adirondack chairs (like we had in our old side yard and left with the house) were exactly what we needed for our front porch. I started searching and couldn’t find any that were a reasonable price and the color green I loved.

We didn’t love these chairs from our side yard – they didn’t hold up very well (B and our neighbor had to tighten the bolts on the chairs every time we wanted to sit in them), so we chose to buy pre-made ones instead of kits this time around. I found the Westport Adirondacks from Shine Co. at a local Colorado furniture store on clearance for $65 each in Sage Green – great for Fall, and I can always paint them if I want a brighter green next year.

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Nell was napping and T was at his first day of school, so I dug my Fall yarn wreath out of the basement storage and hung that up, too.

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I’m glad we didn’t wait until Spring to add anything to the porch – I’ll plant a few mums in the planter in a couple weeks, and then add Halloween pillows and pumpkins in October – and I think Fall might be one of my favorite porch seasons. I’m anxious, of course, to paint next year, but until then, this is a great first step.

Fall Porch

I’m happy with the direction things are going outside – and anxious to make other changes, but willing to wait now that we have a colorful place to sit and watch the kids on their bikes. What do you think?