When we first bought this house (built in 1964) it was covered in cheap, horizontal 90’s vinyl siding. But I was 8 months pregnant and was seduced quickly by the beautiful light and space inside so I ignored it. I can do denial really well when inspired. Over the last couple of years, however, I grew to hate the ugly exterior. It was covered in vinyl siding, and cladding in a mid-century house in vinyl is like putting polyester, camel-toe provoking, jeggings on Meryl Streep (WHO WE ALL LOVE EVEN MORE RIGHT NOW AMMIRIGHT??). It just doesn’t fit, it cheapens everything, and it was REALLY embarrassing. Take a gander:
That pic really establishes me as a tastemaker in the design community. I’m shocked no one has reached out to give me a star on Hollywood Blvd for my amazing day-to-day beautiful lifestyle making. Again you can’t see how exactly terrible it is, but it is. Keep looking:
Those photos don’t even show the true crime. It was warped, dirty and so cheap. I was so smitten with the inside that I ignored the exterior thinking that I could fix it eventually but meanwhile it wouldn’t ruin the perfectly lit photos inside.
Every day when I parked my car I was bummed. I apologized to everyone who came to visit – clients for photo shoots, friends, family, the fed-ex dude….
It was not the house that a designer owned. But changing it wasn’t an easy fix. Nay. It was going to be a beast in a few ways – super expensive, really daunting to design and produce, and extremely disruptive to our lives. Of course what ended up happening was literally twice as bad as I had projected, but that’s not totally unusual for larger construction projects.
I finally convinced Brian to let me tackle the exterior – and he is super happy now that I did. I hustled hard while I was pregnant with Elliot and we saved/allotted the money to this project, specifically. Of course we had no idea how much it was going to cost ..
Lets backup and start with the design process. For this house we had a few different options:
1. Paint the current vinyl siding a pretty color. That would be a $15k bandaid that would be like putting a spray tan on a stab-wound. Maybe it’s slightly less noticeable than it was before but the result would have been still depressing.
2. Put on new vinyl siding: $20 – $25k. That’s a really expensive, barely better, solution that doesn’t really address the real problem. Listen, that horizontal vinyl siding is all wrong for this mid-century beauty.
3. Demo current siding and replace with either wood or stucco. $50k – $75k. We received a few quotes and they were all in that range with a few contractors saying they wanted nothing to do with it due to the insane scaffolding situation that would need to be installed. You could tell that even they were daunted by the project. Golan took it on and started almost immediately. He and his crew were on it.
First I had to find inspiration – just saying ‘wood and stucco’ isn’t very specific. What kind of wood? What color and finish of stucco? I found some homes on Pinterest that I was super attracted to and they fell into two categories:
It’s all the rage. That dark siding is so chic, but I was afraid that with my verticality it would be a bohemeth, that it would be overwhelming and ultimately I knew that it wasn’t me. But then I thought, what if we did that same wood profile (really thin with a tiny gap) in white, a la Eichler?
Eichler was a real estate developer that built over 11, 000 homes in california in the 50’s – 70’s with many of them being 3″ vertical siding. Like this:
Turns out underneath our stupid vinyl siding there was this same profile because it became trendy then, but ours was unsalvageable because they had spray stucco-d over it like 5 times. See here:
The profile is super simple – just vertical 3″ (sometimes 4″ or 5″) wide wood with a 1/2″ gap in between. But as far as my research went, it doesn’t exist and you have to create that look. I was definitely more attracted to it in light versions (so hard to see the siding in these)
We got more specific with the plans.
We created this rendering indicating every single material and finish both for our contractor and for the city to get the permits. Right out of the gate Golan (our wonderful contractor) was concerned about pulling the permit– something that usually takes a few hours was taking several days. We thought our request for some flat stucco and vertical wood paneling seemed reasonable but when our permit was “approved” they had a lot of caveats.
The Fire Department and Building & Safety Department had approved only the rear of the house to be stucco, AND required us to use super thick, horizontal HardiPlank siding. They said no real wood. While HardiPlank is a durable material and great for some applications, it did not go with the style of house at all plus it’s like 3 times the price of wood. I wasn’t going to spend all that money we had saved to make it look like a new-build. I really wanted to restore it to its mid-century design.
So, we had to fight and this set us back a while. Meanwhile they had already demo’d and scaffolding was up, so getting into our house was was like the final challenge in a double dare episde … with an infant and a toddler. We couldn’t get up the front stairs so we had to go up the side stairs then through the guest suite then up the front stairs OR go up the side and underneath three sets of scaffolding (practically LIMBO-ING).
If this had just been for a few weeks we could have handled it, but by month 3 we were going insane and were practically shut-ins because coming and going was so difficult.
Back to the permits.
I’ll spare you the details, but after hours looking over state fire codes and many trips to the Building & Safety Department, Remi (my lovely project manager of this job) realized that there had been two major oversights– the fire zone started two blocks up the hill from my house, meaning that there was no need for us to use HardiPlank. YES. And since the house was not actually historically protected, the city could not say “no” to our design.
The aesthetics committee was afraid we were going to stucco the whole thing which would have been a design mistake (but one that many people would have done as it would have been so much cheaper/easier). Thanks to Remi pushing hard, they approved our design and we could finally get going.
First they demo’d off the old siding. They found that there wasn’t any insulation (insane) so we added that ($), then they found that there were flaws in the footings and strappings so we essentially rebuilt the foundation ($$$$$). SO FUN!!! They added insulation, plywood, waterproof paper, plywood and then that beautiful wood.
Of course when we came home that day after so much of the wood was up Brian and I both were like … should we just keep it as wood??? But that turned out not to be the best option because A. it was prepped for paint so there were nail holes all over that sucker that would have had to have been filled, sanded, etc. and B. We still would have had to seal it which would have darkened it and what we liked about it was the light wood look. We decided that sticking with the original plan of painting it would be safer.
Next we had to deal with the masonry/cinder blocks. Now many people thought we should smooth them out but after staring at enough mid-century houses (mostly Palm Springs -style) we decided original is better, so we simply repaired, power washed and painted them. It was this big chunk as well as the huge, crazy tall chimney on the other side of the house.
We sampled many colors and stared at them for an ungodly amount of time in different times of the day. In that photo, above you can see the sample board of the stucco leaning on the top. We ended up going with the top right which I was surprised about but Brian really liked it and I’m not going to argue with a gray/blue on our house. We wanted to mix tones without being too high contrast nor too similar so looking accidental.
On to the stucco:
We decided to mix the wood and stucco to create movement, texture and to save some money. I have no idea if we ended up saving any money by doing it, but I do like the very smooth texture very much. We did it in the back of the house, on some of the deck and the area below the master bedroom – behind the stairs.
We went with a pre-tinted stucco as opposed to stucco-ing and then painting after, so we didn’t have full control over the color, but we loved the dark gray that the stucco manufacture already made and it produced a higher end, more organic look. After the whole house was complete I secretly wished that we clad the whole house in white siding because I loved it so much, but after shooting the stucco I realized how much I loved it.
On to the garage – what I like to call ‘the ankle of the house’. So boring, but when done wrong can RUIN everything else.
It’s hard to see how bad it is there, but it was just a sheet of plywood and it had to be manually pulled with FERVOR. The door shaped hole it it was for us to get in and out during the scaffolding. We needed to completely replace the door, which is another really fun way to drop $5k.
We chose to do the siding on it (as opposed to a standard metal accordian door), but we applied it horizontally, instead. We LOVE it.
Now she looks like this:
Oh, one more annoying detail. So there was that curve on the ground (which you can see). So the options were to dig it out with jack hammers, taking weeks and ruining any sort of napping schedule we had for those kids, plus (and most importantly) it would have cost $4k in addition to the cost of the garage ($3500).
OR we customize the bottom with the curve (which was $1500 more than standard and was included in a $5k cost). Yes, having it be a straight bottom would have been better but not worth that extra $4k, certainly.
Oh its so pretty and functional now. I LOVE IT.
Now onto the front door:
It was wood veneer which meant that we couldn’t refinish it and replacing it would be super expensive so we painted that sucker (a beautiful Newburyport Blue) I loved it on the inside which looks like this and was in pretty good condition and I wanted to keep it wood.
Of course after we had it painted I came back and it still had that gross rusted brass stuff in the middle and on the ground so I called a handyman to fix that and install the deadbolt (that we had forgot about). Now she looks like this:
Let’s chat lighting. The pendants that hung on the original house were awesome but they were so discolored from years of dirt (they were acrylic). Finding identical ones proved to be super difficult – they needed to be big, simple and graphic but I wanted new, not vintage and I didn’t want to spend $3k each. We ended up finding them via Hip Haven, who replicates mid-century style lighting. They were $750 which wasn’t nothing but was far cheaper than anything custom and we could still customize the length and the stem color.
(We took these photos before we styled out the spaces).
Now for the accessories:
We went with these simple, black, midcentury inspired sconces from Rejuvenation (as well as the numbers and the mailbox). I love, love, love them. They are peppered around the exterior of the home and provide great light, nice contrast and edge up the design of it a bit
And then up on the deck, as you know it looks like this now and its really just so pretty.
I think that, right there is a ONE million percent improvement.
Wanna talk about the fun/terrifying stuff? How much this project cost? Let the nausea begin … Man, I really don’t want to make public this information but I promised myself I would be transparent and put the answers out there before you all ask the question. If you aren’t interested in how much super laborious exterior construction projects cost, and are uncomfortable with people spending money, please skip this next section.
I think it broke down like this:
$50K for scaffolding, demo, insulation, plywood, paper, siding, prep, paint, and stucco. It took 3 months. Our contractor, Golan, was FANTASTIC. Despite the permit issues that were uncontrollable he really did a great job of keeping us on schedule and making sure we were happy. He also kept us at that budget, and while some things (below) had to be added, he didn’t all of a sudden inflate that cost half way through.
$8k for the wood for the siding. Golan provided the other materials, but the actual wood itself had to be purchase.
$3k for the paint, although Benjamin Moore gifted that, THANK YOU.
Stucco … ugh, i’ve probably blocked it out….
Moving the air conditioning compressors: $4k.
Landscaping – plants $2k, labor: $1K (it’s not amazing but its wildly better than before)
Painting door and installing hardware: $500
Handyman to fix door issues: $200
Door hardware: $800 (gifted from build.com, THANK YOU)
Sconces/lighting: $750 for the pendants (they generously gave us a discount) and the sconces would have been $2500 for 7 (Rejuvenation generously gifted those beauties). Don’t hate me.
We also fixed a bunch of the footings and strappings in the foundation for $8k, replaced sliding glass doors ($2500) and hired a greeter to welcome me home every night and tell me that we made the right decision and that it will pay off in resale.
Anybody who has ever come to our house is shocked by how much better it looks. How fresh and new yet totally original and vintage. I became proud. We finished this project 7 months ago ( I just didn’t want to show the exterior until we weren’t living there anymore) and those last months made me proud to own the house and even more proud to be able to sell it in a state that does the era and the architecture of the house proud.
It was a process. A long arduous, annoying and expensive process, but I’m here to say that it was TERRIBLE to live through but so worth it. I never had parties with anybody that wasn’t a close friend because of the exterior. Now that we have left that home i’m so bummed I didn’t have one big farewell blow out now that it was totally done (I blame the ‘two toddler’ situation). I hope all this info can help any of you looking to make major exterior changes to your home. It was a lot of information (and money) but hopefully worth it for my soul and for resale.
Here are all our resources if you are also interested in this kind of midcentury look:
1. Globe Pendant | 2. Rounded Top Mailbox | 3. Eichler Inspired Siding in Douglas Fir | 4. Atlanta Mortise Handleset | 5. Thorburn Semi Flush Light | 6. Iris Planter & Chevron Stand | 7. Modern House Numbers | 8. Charcoal Smooth Stucco | 9. Aura Exterior Calm | 10. Aura Exterior Newburyport Blue | 11.Aura Exterior Boothbay Gray | 12. West Slope Doorbell | 13. Thorburn Wall Sconce