Exterior Home Improvements with Black - Shutters, Lights & Doors

Although there was a two day rain delay, our shutters finally got repaired and painted last weekend while we were away (Florida trip for Jeff's niece's graduation!) It's funny all the small details people don't see in a distance photo such as the faded color, missing bolts, bird-poop, even broken shutters - but living in a space, you see these details everyday (and so do the neighbors). I'm so happy they are repaired & painted (black satin - same as the front door) which now helps to give the home front a more crisp curb appeal...

Although Jeff and I are pretty hands on people, we did consult with and hire a professional for the much the needed painting & repairing shutters out front, along with a deck specialist for repairs, cleaning and staining out back. The person we hired to do the shutters was the same person we had hired to paint the interior common areas back when we moved here in November.


 Black mulch compliments the shutters - White flowers relate to window sashes and pop in contrast to the mulch.

I'd like to eventually add planter boxes to at least the four lower windows, to give some height behind the ball hedges, while still keeping a clean look out front. Since we're pacing ourselves with our home projects, that project will probably be next Spring's home improvement (or maybe for the Fall). 

  (both pics taken before shutters painted - updated pic at end of post)

Here is a outline of the home-exterior improvement progress:

1. Change the door hardware.
2. Paint the front door.
3. Change welcome matt & add potted plants.
4. Refresh house numbers.
5. Paint the railing.
6. Refresh the front yard landscape & pressure-wash walkway.
7. Repair & paint shutters.
8. Replace builder light fixtures

1. Repair & stain two-story deck.
2. Pressure-wash driveway
3. Paint garage & shed doors.

The back yard two-story deck is what we're working on now. We called three area deck specialists for a work-scope, quote and timing (they were booked to start in May) - I'll share more about the deck in the next post - but for now, here is a sneak peek at the color choice:

Left is too brown. Right is too grey. The center, which is Behr Deck-Over Slate color, is just right - but it will be color matched by Sherwin Williams Super Deck (because this is the brand our hired deck professional uses). The black deck in the back will also help relate the home front's shutters, doors, and lighting details, giving the exterior a cohesive feel -- just like we do on the inside... and the deck is almost done now!! - but back to the front...

After the deck is painted, and now that the front yard details are refreshed, I'd like to update the builder basic outdoor wall sconces. Not only are they faded, but they are too small for the scale of this house and the door proportions. 

 As of now, we're more the diagram to the left shown above. 

I've been sourcing locally and online for fixtures. Below are some lighting style options I've found online. Some outdoor light fixtures can cost upwardly well over $300 to $600 each (because of craftsmanship, quality, size, and brand) but I did find some better sized fixtures, for $90 to $120 each online - and even a customized house numbers plaque on etsy for only $25. I'll have to also check out the Habitat for Humanity ReStores, which is where I lucked out and found use a great casual dining area light fixture for only $35 (would sell for $350 easily!) When working with a small budget, you've just got to have patience...

In addition to updating the front of the house and the back deck getting painted black, we've also discussed eventually updating the look of the house side exterior from the builder basic white garage doors to a satin finish black, add black shutters to the centered window above, and also paint the shed door black - I've got the outdoor paint, roller and brushes, so this paint project can be an easy DIY, helping to save on the exterior improvement expenses (it just needs to be worked on at sunrise, when the temps are cooler, and sun on the east side). The only expense would be adding the extra pair of black louvered shutters, I believe would be $45 for the pair at Home Depot.

 I tried a dark grey first on the board, but the house side still looked washed out - The door accents look more striking and updated with the black, relating to the front. It's not that it's horrible right now, but it (to me) looks a little washed out. The home was built in 2005, and builders (even just up our street) now are using darker trims, accents, and colored carriage style garage doors.


I know -- it sounds like I'm using a LOT of black. But for this style house (symmetrical -  Georgian Colonial), plus the scale and existing colors, black is what helps keep the styling classic as well as add interest to an otherwise 'box' structure. Inside, using black helps to anchor a space. Outside, black  gives contrasting interest to the existing ecrew siding, mocha brick, and white trim.

As I've mentioned before, we're pacing ourselves with home improvements - nothing too shocking too the neighborhood and nothing too major to the wallet, because you never know when an unexpected expense can pop up (such as a crapped out water heater or an unexpected trip to the ER) But just simple refreshing treatments can make a difference. With the deck the focus now, the outdoor lights can be the 'Fall Update'... and next Spring: flower boxes at lower windows...

What color are your exterior doors (front door / garage door / back door)? Do you have shutters? If so, are they the same color as your doors? Our neighborhood has a few different color options people have done with their home exterior (front door, shutters, siding), and this detail, along with light fixture styles, is another way to bring your inside style - outdoors!

Thanks for stopping by!


Weekend Gardening: Landscaping Improvements On A Small Budget

One small change we've done to our exterior this Spring was to better manicure the front shrubs into spheres, enlarge the front beds to layer in smaller plants / flowers, change the old red mulch for new black, plus treat the ground around existing shrubs and new plantings with garden soil, fertilizer, and water. To enlarge the flower-beds, I re-aligned the existing - meandering - cobblestone boarder to be squared off, and pulled it out (about 12-18") away from the shrubs, to give a little for space to low plantings (a mix of goldmound spirea & impatiens to the front, with a dark loropetalum to the back of the ball hedges). I started to run out of the cobblestone boarder, but I remembered there were a few extras tossed around the side of the house, which helped to finish off the front yard update...

 goldmound spirea

Purchased at Lowe's:
6 goldmound spirea $32
6 dark loropetalum $32
12 impatiens on sale 4 for $10 
(12 for $30 - used impatiens both out front & potted on deck steps)

Purchased at Home Depot:
mulch 5 for $10
6 sod tiles
2 bags of fertilized garden soil

Cobblestone boarder - free (already had)
Power Washer - free (Jeff's mom gave to him when he visited her in ATL, February)

Need to buy:
8 stepping stones (local landscaper)

These dark loropetalum are supposed to get pretty large, which will give a great contrasting back-drop to the ball hedges and black mulch. In between each, I'm going to add some stepping stones...

Bringing the stone boarders to the front helped to finish off the new beds, plus I also had enough to add to the mailbox for a few plants (a climbing madison jasmine and two white lantana) plus black mulch...

 It's funny - these cobblestone boarders I brought back to the mailbox were here in 2012, but got moved to the side (for no real reason).

In May, Jeff pressure washed the existing front walkway and brick-step entrance + he gave the railing a fresh coat of black in a satin finish. I'll be giving the door a fresh coat (I gave it a quick fresh coat back in November, after Jeff had changed the door hardware) as well as the front door trim in a bright exterior white...

Before we removed the existing red mulch (at the end of April), Jeff gave the holly berry balls a trim with his new clippers. The following Sunday, I trimmed  the lower ball hedges, removing dead debris build-up at their root base, to allow sun and water to get in...

 Jeff power washing the existing front walkway - it really did help to make the concrete brighter!

Later in the Fall, we'll give the front lawn a good treatment before the winter colds come again - something we weren't able to do when we moved in last November, and the poor lawn has evidence of neglect, along with a mole Jeff has been trying to steer away with some beeping mole device. The mole left the front yard, but the mole had headed to the back yard. Jeff relocated the devices, but the mole came back to the front, digging up trenches in the new flower beds. Thankfully, the mole is gone now.

Jeff also pulled up so many weeds in March, we had two large brown patches in the front yard grass at the entry walkway, so he picked up some sod to replace it with. The sod has taken root and looks great (on that spot - not pictured), but it's not the same species as the rest of the grass, which actually has a patchwork of probably three others. The Lawn care specialist suggested we remove all (kill front) and re-seed (in the Fall), which is less than re-sodding the space (re-seed: $175 vs. re-sod $800).

 Eventually, we'll layer in a plant boarder along the walk-way, with a brick boarder, which should help keep the ice-melting salt away from the grass. And next Spring: flower boxes at the lower windows!

Giving the ball shrubs a fresh cut & new garden soil already has them looking more green! (Pic here before walkway pressure cleaned)

For the side of the house, I'd really like to switch the 3 low shrubs for 3 arborvitae (a tall thin conifer (evergreen), similar to an Italian Cypress - aka "green giant"), which would give some interest to the side of the empty siding of this two-story house. For the moment though, I just cleaned up the weeds and gave the shrubs some pruning -- which they must have liked because they filled in with tons of new green chutes! 

 3 arborvitae - a tall conifer (evergreen) - aka "green giant" - these were 50% off at the closing local nursery nearby.

 We started stocking up on gardening supplies back at the beginning of April...

Although we didn't have enough black mulch to wrap around from the front yard to the side, Jeff recently picked up some more during another 5 for $10 sale (this should do it now. Next year though, we may go for the scoop truckload delivery from a local landscape facility - but it sure is easier to carry bags than wheel barrow and shovel mulch into small spaces...

 August Beauty Gardenia

Three additional shrubs, still on the house side - but towards the back, have also been removed (they died) and I  replaced them with four August Beauty gardenia shrubs. Planting gardenias should give a nice scent towards the deck plus its greens and white colors will flow with the front and the green, white and black I'm doing on the deck (after the deck is repaired, cleaned, and painted (slate!) -- next week!)

The grass was green (in 2012), and with some TLC, we'll get it to be green again. 

Green Perennials + White Annuals + Black Mulch
(same color scheme to be used on the deck)

Rather than throw away the old mulch in the trash, we loaded into a wheeled recycling bin, and Jeff unloaded it down the hillside, around the trees in the back. He also used a spade to remove the grass for the new bed extension - Some of the grass he was able to reuse as plugs in some of the brown patches in the back yard. I used an old paint brush to dust off / clean the cobble stone boarder before re-setting. Although the goldmounds will remain, after summer the impatiens will need to be replaced, probably with juniper (lasts longer) or mums for Fall.

Little by little, we're transforming this house into our home back east!

This experience has once again demonstrated how just as the inside can be refreshed, so too can a home's exterior. And without any major renovations, or major re-landscaping, which can both cost a pretty penny. With a vision, planning, and pacing ourselves, just two people, working together on a few Sunday's we were able to refresh our home's curb appeal with weeding, cleaning and:
  • Fresh accent paint
  • Mulch color change
  • Extend an existing plant bed
  • Reuse existing cobblestone boarders
  • Layer in contrasting, but repeating color scheme
  • Communicate via text who is getting what, when, and where
  •  Watch for sales to keep expenses low 

If you're new to lawn-care, give it to a professional to care for the first year in a new home as you learn more about how to care for it. As we learn more about lawn care, we are also learning about the tools (and brands) we'll need, as well as watching for sales to invest in the seasonal lawn care equipment we'll need to care for the property ourselves. Winter will be here soon enough, and we're both enjoying being outside, working together on our home improvement projects. 

Have you too been working an any landscaping or gardening projects this Spring? A little TLC and getting your hands dirty can go a long way! Coming up next will be exterior home improvements with black! Thanks for stopping by!


Transforming A Water Garden Into A Rock Garden

In addition to some much needed exterior attention out front of Harmon House, we've also been doing some maintenance in the back yard and for the deck during the Spring. Even a quick de-weeding has helped to transform an eyesore Jeff had originally wanted to rip out, and now he likes (go figure?). He likes it so much now, he even came home Saturday with a solar powered spotlight for this new garden.  The previous owners had a duel-pond water feature, I thought could be saved, or converted into something else, like a rock garden. So the Sunday after we had mulched the front yard, we came to the back yard, and just started pulling weeds from the eyesore (I even saw my first snake!). I already had a few colored flowering plants I had thought I would use by the potter's shed, but instead, I put them to better use for this previous water feature transformation. As we pulled the weeds, I took a step back to visualize what this garden feature could be. Jeff had commented he didn't care for the two red stepping stones, so I first removed them, and brought those over to his herb / vegetable garden.

Cleaning Up - Before & After
 Many weeds, and red stepping stones, replaced with FL medium boulders, ground cover, and 2 potted plants...

The front curve of the space looked like a great place for some small boulders, which I already have from our Florida townhouse garden (Movers aren't suppose to move rocks and plants, but we packed these into boxes ourselves, and they didn't see them - from FL to AZ and from AZ to NC!) This was also a way I could bring my interior styling of reusing existing pieces, and even telling our home story, now into the (rock) garden.

Back in April (for Easter), Jeff had brought home two pink flowering hanging baskets (I think they are called morning glories). I cut off the plant hanger straps, and I had set them out front for Easter, but since I wanted the front yard to just be crisp greens & white, I brought them to the rock garden, placing them in between the Florida small boulders. But before adding rock ground cover, the space still needed something else - More GREEN - So I brought over some ground covering plants I had picked up at Lowe's (originally I thought I was also going to use out the front).

Jeff cut the ground-cover barrier with a spade, and I planted the green ground covering. One of our  neighbors, who had complimented us earlier on the difference we were making out front, came over to see what we were up to now (he is also the HOA President) - and told us about how the water feature often got clogged, backed, up, and how he had killed 6 snakes between our yards last year (but none since we've cleaned up!) When I said we were turning it into a rock garden, he said there were some big boulders down the hill, if I wanted, he could get. So off him and Jeff went, down the hill, into the wild greens and thanks to a wheel barrow the neighbor had, together they brought up this HUGE boulder. Now we have a NC rock to go with our FL rocks :)

Rather than tear out the pools, I planned those for simple white marble chip rocks (I used to use in FL and AZ), but for the main coverage, I wanted something different. I saw peach pea gravel and something similar to Jersey shore stones, but I didn't like them for this (I wanted to stay neutral) so I selected a drainage rock that is grey, and hey, it was on sale at Lowe's! Since we don't own a wheel barrow (yet!) Jeff just backed the truck down to the garden to unload (and help save our backs!!) 

He placed the bags and unloaded - I helped spread the coverage, only to find out, of course, we needed a few more bags. Eventually, I'd like to add two clay kettle-like pot / planters, similar to what I had in Florida, along with a contrasting medium sized rock boarder, and maybe even a Japanese Maple for color contrast. But for now, just this minimal clean-up and TLC made a huge difference to a back yard eye sore (for the neighbors too!!)The new garden we made, including a few existing plantings we did leave, is really enjoying the TLC because now it's blooming like crazy! So much nicer to look at from the deck in the morning, or the kitchen window, and even for the neighborhood walkers, because this can be seen from the road.

For the medium sized rock boarder, I visited a local landscape yard called Preferred lawn & Garden, who sells and delivers scoop loads of gravel rocks, brick chips, boarder rocks, and even mulch (good to know for next Spring!) The boarder rock I liked is called Rip Rap Rock - a grey, black / white speckled rock, I'd like to mix with some black granite rocks, striped with white quartz - but, that will be for new Spring (or maybe the Fall). 

Along the lines of what the old water garden can look like, transformed into a rock garden in the back yard... See more of this beautiful garden at tradgardsflow.blogspot

My container garden I did at our FL townhouse, featured at HGTV.com's
Small Garden Ideas (image 28/30)

 In the morning, I've been watering the plants, and each day, there is a new bloom...
Although I'd prefer shades of purple, these lilies are still much prettier than looking at weeds - Pacing ourselves, I can replace these next Spring (and maybe pot them to give to a neighbor I saw who has orange in their garden).

Love these!

For right now, the rock garden transformation was a minimal expense (under $100) including:

20% off grey drainage rock (at approx $3 a bag x12)
 5 for $10 white marble chips
 $16 for 8 - $2 ground coverings
4 for $10 plants
2 tall plants at $4 ea.
1 solar spotlight
5 repurposed FL medium boulders (free!)
1 large NC boulder (free!)
plus some TLC, sunshine and water

Add a medium rock boarder
a Japanese maple
2 terracotta planter pots with purple annuals

Eyesore Before
I wish the hibiscus would bloom, but it's not really meant for this zone. Hibiscus are more tropical (I'd see them like crazy in Florida - but here in NC, the temps drop well below 40, and they don't like being in those cold temps - especially the snow). But at least it did come back with green life. Transforming the water garden into a rock garden means less mosquitoes (and other critters + maintenance) and I'd imagine, a savings on the electric bill as well.

ReUse. RePurpose. Recycle. ReStyle - even outdoors!!

Stay tuned for more outdoor living and Harmon House makeovers!
Thanks for stopping by!


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