Hey there, friend. Welcome to part two of this post! If you missed part 1, feel free to hop back a post and check out A Year of Home: The Inside. Or don’t. I’m not going to tell you how to live your life.
Seeing as we moved into our Sage Bungalow around the first of last year, it’s understandable that our primary focus was on the interior of the house. Even if the weather hadn’t been cold and the ground hard, the previous owners hadn’t kept up with their raking, causing a seemingly-impenetrable layer of frozen leaves and pine needles to encase the ground. Since there wasn’t much that we could do to the outside until everything thawed, we just pretended that it didn’t exist and waited until spring to attack our new outdoors.
But once it did thaw? Boy howdy, did we attack. Our eyes might have teared up and our hearts swelled with pride every time we looked upon our new little home, but those were some pretty fucking rose-colored glasses we were wearing. The reality is that the exterior of our house was drab, tired, and completely void of any personality whatsoever. So as soon as it was warm enough for the ground to thaw, we took to spending all our free time outside, making it ours.
And I don’t want to brag, (too late,) but our efforts? Totally worth it.
The very first thing we did, before spring, even, was hang new house numbers. This might seem like a tiny change, hardly worth mentioning, but for us, it was huge. This was the first visible personalization that we made to our house, a tiny way of saying, “Hey, we live here now, and this is who we are,” to the world as it drove by. Those house numbers, along with the staggered- shingles style of our siding, also set the tone for the rest of our exterior decorating. I chose the number plate, with it’s beautiful shiny treated-copper numbers and patinaed untreated-copper background, while Kyle stained the backing-board a lovely dark chocolate brown. (Which he would later rip down and re-stain to match the stain of our DIY shutters. What can I say, we’re perfectionists.)
Our first big project for the exterior of our house was the landscaping in front of the house. The original design of the landscaping when we first moved in was…well, there wasn’t any. There were four different bushes, one of each, lined up in front of the porch, as if they’d just gone to a nursery and gotten one of whatever was in the discount bin. There was nothing architectural framing the bushes, and since it was winter, half of them looked dead. It looked unintentional and uninspired, and it had to go.
So in late spring, when the ground had finally thawed and the weather warmed, we ripped it all out. Well, most of it. We did keep one holly bush, because Kyle took a fancy to it and I was okay with it because it was an evergreen. (It’s winter for half the year here, people, I don’t want my house looking like shit for half my life.) We bought a second holly and a quartet of Mediterranean heather, which I’d set my heart on after hearing about its love for acidic soil and hardiness in frigid winters. (And who am I kidding, its romantic blush of purple blooms, which I thought brought out the green in our siding.) Red mulch, which played off both the green of the holly and the purple of the heather, finished off our little garden.
And that’s where we figured the project would end. I mean, we wanted to lay down rocks or bricks or something to edge the plantings, but it was going to be pretty expensive. (And I mean, we had just bought a house.) So we figured we’d just do our planting, lay down some mulch, and wait a while until we had a little more spending money to do our edging.
Then Kyle stuck his shovel into the dirt to dig out a
dead ugly bush and hit a rock, one that once we dug it out, looked exactly like the fieldstone that comprises the retaining wall framing our driveway. Another shovelful produced another rock, and another, and before long we had a whole pile of fieldstone, enough to edge our entire box! And I gotta say, we may have chosen this material for its price (free), but I adore the way that the fieldstone cohesively goes right from lining our shrubbery into the retaining wall. It makes it look purposeful (and not like we dug them out of the yard!)
There were even enough rocks left over that Kyle was able to embed them into the soil at the bottom of our deck stairs, making a little landing pad!
Next on the list was to repaint the stair railing on our porch. Not only was it rusted to hell, with paint flaking like dandruff, but the black just didn’t make sense when it was framing a white pillar. Luckily, this was an easy project. All it took was some meticulous masking…
…a healthy dose of personal protection…
…and about 7,000 misted layers of white spray paint.
And did I mention patience?
But what a difference it made! More than I gave the idea credit when Kyle first pitched it to me. But painting that hand railing white brightened up the front of our house immensely, and I’m really proud of the way it turned out. It’s one of my favorites of all the projects I’ve done on the house, because it took only a little bit of work and had a huge payoff!
Painting the railing may have been my pet project, but nursing the lawn back to health? That’s Kyle’s baby. As spring came and we cleared away the layers of debris, it became clear that there had been no lush green lawn lying dormant under the snow. There was dead growth and weirdly sandy soil. But Kyle is a stubborn man, and it became his sole purpose in life to get grass to grown in our yard.
Which, we learned, is weirdly hard. Who would have thought it’s so difficult to grow grass? I mean, the shit grows between the sidewalk, shouldn’t it grow like crazy in our dirt? (The answer was no.) We probably could have gotten grass more quickly if we’d sodded, but have you priced out sod? That shit is expensive! Not to mention the fact that there’s no guarantee that the sod will take, meaning that you could spend an ass-ton of money and still have patchy, brown grass. No, Kyle was steadfast in his determination to make grass grown the old fashion way: from seeds.
Even if it killed him.
There was a lot of raking. A looooooooot of raking. Raking debris out, raking seeds in, raking for what I’m pretty sure is no other reason than he likes raking. (Not true.) Two cubic yards of topsoil that were spread throughout both our front and back yard, which is a weird unit of measurement, but I assure you, is an absurd amount of dirt. Kyle seeded multiple times and fed the lawn over and over with different nutrients. And the watering. Religious and continuous watering. He put a lot of work into that lawn.
And while (much to his disappointment) our lawn still can’t quite compete with that of our neighbor across the street with the in-ground sprinkler system and twice-a-week mowings, I think still think it looks pretty damn amazing compared to where we started. I could not be more proud of all the hard work Kyle’s done on our grass, and I think it goes a long way towards making the house look loved and cared for.
By far, the project with the biggest visual impact on the exterior of our house (and the one I’m most proud of!) has been our new shutters. I hated our old ones from the moment we moved in. The same vinyl louvered shutters that everyone else in the whole fucking neighborhood has on their house, ours came in the only color that Home Depot stocks in stores: lifeless black. To add insult to unoriginal injury, the house right next door to us has that exact same color siding and had the exact same color shutters. If it weren’t for the landscaping, you wouldn’t even be able to tell them apart. It bothered me to no end that not only was our house identical to the one next door, but they shared the same severe, dull look.
Which is boring. Which is not okay.
The problem is that we knew what we wanted, and (do you notice a theme here?) what we wanted was expensive. We had our hearts set on board-and-batten shutters, which for some inexplicable reason are the fucking Rolls Royce of shutters. (Seriously, someone explain to me why they are twice the price of louvered or raised panel shutters. I don’t understand it.) So once again, we were resigned to put the project into that distant future named “someday.”
Until Kyle saw a ridiculous sale on cedar fence boards, and we said, “Fuck it, we’ll make our own.”
Over the course of a couple days Kyle cut the boards, I stained them, and together, we assembled them into lovely board-and-batten shutters.
By the time they went up, I thought they were more charming than any of the expensive ones we’d priced out, and more than a little of their beauty came from the pride that we’d made them ourselves. They’re not just one-of-a-kind because no one else in the neighborhood has wooden board-and-batten shutters; they’re one-of-a-kind because they’re the only set made by us, together, in existence, and that makes them special.
Our little Sage Bungalow has come a long way in the last year. When we first moved in, it looked stodgy, tired, and banal, as if the person tending to it previously cared only for filling check-boxes as quickly and cheaply as possible.
Now, I think it looks more than just unique; now it looks uniquely ours. But even more importantly, I hope to the world it looks charming and warm, like it’s full of laughter and friends. I hope it looks like people live there who are interesting and fun, the sort of people who would love to have you over to play original Sonic the Hedgehog and drink beer, who will make you fried chicken and then sit with you long into the night on their deck and talk by the light of a torch, the sort of people you’d like to know. I hope it looks like a house full of love.