Friday, August 24, 2007

The House That Joe Painted

Several years ago I was in a paint store where the staff had taped a cartoon to the counter. It showed a man buying cans of paint, and the clerk saying, “Sir, I’ll need to see a note from your wife.”

Until this week, that summed up me and my husband. He does a meticulous job of painting, but after several what-on-earth-were-you-thinking occasions when he made solo trips to the paint store—one of which resulted in the living room being painted with pink semi-gloss—I choose the paint and he chooses the brushes.

This week we’re painting the exterior of our house, which is not only a huge job, it’s also out there for the whole world to see. So we have to get it right.

The previous owners had always painted the house white with a turquoise gable and front door. If any of you are old enough to remember the turquoise trim color that was popular in the ’50s, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

We’ve wanted to change the look of the house and add some personality to its charming 1940s cottage style, so we finally settled on a nice cheery yellow for the main color, white for the trim, including the gable, latticed porch, etc., charcoal for the concrete steps and porch floor, and an eye-catching dark red door. We actually agreed right away on the door color and that’s, ah, not always how things go around here!

For the past few months I’ve been taking note of all the yellow houses I’ve seen throughout the city. Turns out that yellow is not a forgiving color. We could either get it right, or we could get it horribly wrong.

This week, after two long days of power washing and paint scraping, we were finally ready to head to the paint store. I had already chosen a color that looked similar to other yellow houses I liked, but I still insisted we buy only one can and try it out. My husband is always in a big hurry to get moving on things, but I didn't want to buy multiple gallons of paint until I was absolutely sure we had the right color.

We were not even close. The yellow that looked bright and cheery on a two-inch-square paint chip was capable of doing permanent damage to the retinas when applied to an entire wall.

So I went back to the paint store, alone this time, and enlisted the help of a very knowledgeable woman who patiently discussed with me the pros and cons of various shades of yellow. We settled on a more subdued shade, but it still wasn’t right.

Meanwhile my husband was doing lots of silent eye rolling while he applied primer to the turquoise gable, and neighbors were stopping by to ask if we were really going to paint the house that color, in reference to Yellow #1.

I went back to my notes and decided to drive around one last time and look at the yellow houses whose owners had managed to get it right. My favorite even had similar siding to ours and the exact style and color of shingles. If they could get it right, so could I. So I knocked on the front door and asked the nice young couple who answered if they could give me a sample of the paint color they’d chosen. And they did!

Armed with a lid from one of their empty paint cans, I made yet another trip to the paint store. The same woman who’d helped me choose Yellow #2 came up with a custom color that’s a perfect match and exactly what I was looking for. And not a moment too soon! I think my husband and our neighbors were about to suggest I have my eyes checked. And then someone could draw a new cartoon, with the paint store clerk saying to the crazy lady, “I’ll need to see a note from your optometrist.”

We still have a lot of work to do but when it’s finished, it’s going to be fabulous!

Anyone else doing major home reno projects this summer? I hope yours are going more smoothly than mine!



Maureen said...

Good luck!

Painting a house is a big job. We picked a beige/tan color when we did ours. Yellow is definitely a tricky color. It can be gorgeous or garish.

Estella said...

We repainted our house and built a large covered deck.

Marin Thomas said...


Good for you for choosing a bolder color! Our house is white with black shutters/black front door...sooo boring. But we're a few years off from having to paint. When we do paint I'm changing the color and making a statement, too.

As for home improvement projects--we've always got one going. I just finished painting the white fireplace mantle chocolate brown. It turned out beautiful and looks so much better than the white against the earth tone slate around the fireplace. And we just finished antiquing the white kitchen cabinets a distressed and aged red color. Now we're saving up for new countertops--always something on the wish list.

Ryan's Renovation Aug 07

Lee McKenzie said...


The great thing about beige/tan is that it never goes out of fashion. And after our second disastrous yellow, I seriously considered it!


Lee McKenzie said...

Wow, Estella! You've had a busy summer. And you've given me a great idea. I love the idea of a covered dec--or patio in my case--because it provides so much protection from the sun, and yet you're still outdoors. But I'll let my husband finish painting before I make this suggestion!


Lee McKenzie said...


White and black sounds perfectly elegant to me. And it gives you so many options for dressing up your house with splashes of color here and there.

Your mantle sounds great, and I'll bet your kitchen cabinets are gorgeous!

And I laughed at the reminder of your book that's out this month--Ryan's Renovation. How perfect!


Jennifer Shirk said...

Ugh. I'm trying to remove a border from my guest bathroom. It's taking me ALL SUMMER. (I'm still not done)
I'm thinking the previous owners put it up with Crazy Glue. LOL!
(I'm only half kidding)

Lee McKenzie said...

Oh Jennifer, how frustrating! Good that you've kept your sense of humor though.

Our bathroom needs to be painted, but first I have to finish stripping multiple layers of high gloss enamel paint off the molding around the door and window. Over the years its been painted blue, pink, gold, white, and probably some other colors that I've forgotten. I feel like an archaeologist!

nathalie said...

Renovating is always so difficult... so I keep it to the pros.

Good luck!

Christa said...

No home renos here since I live in an apartment but my friend and I are cooking up a storm and freezing things like chili, soup..
Last week we chopped 25lbs of onions(sniff) to put in baggies and freeze.

Sounds like your house will look terrific. Hope you post pictures once it's done

Lee McKenzie said...

Nathalie, you are a wise woman!

There are times--like right now!--when I'd love to hire someone to do all these home renos. My husband, handyman extraordinaire, won't hear of it. On the plus side, the savings are significant and the workmanship is top-notch.

Lee McKenzie said...

Christa, I got teary eyed just thinking about chopping up all those onions! But preparing bulk meals in advance is a great idea, and such a timesaver.

I'll definitely post pictures of the house when it's done. And it will be done. Someday. It will!

MaryF said...

Lee, what a good idea about asking the people whose house you like!

We need to paint. I'm thinking khaki....