Big changes are afoot at the bungalow this summer: Eric got caught in a round of layoffs at the company where we both work. (So far, I’m still employed.) While not in our plan, this is not a bad thing. He parted with a few months severance pay, and after 60 days hiatus (required by law), he potentially could return as a contractor. He’ll officially retire at the end of the year. We say he’s “pretired.” Me? I’m just tired.
Having the summer off with pay sounds like heaven to me … but Eric is saddled with a mile-long honey-do list, his penance for being home and hanging out with Duke and the cats while I continue to toil at the cube farm. You know, little stuff like muck out the attic, build a new fence, paint the house. Yes, folks, it’s time … long past time. The house was last painted back in 1995, best I can remember, and that paint job never was quite finished on the south side, which faces our neighbor. That fact doesn’t sufficiently bother me because I never see our house from that side … out of sight, out of mind—I’m such a lazy bum.
Painting any house is a big job, but painting an old house with intricate trim and peeling paint, weather-beaten wood and petrified glazing is truly daunting. I’ll be giving you a play-by-play description over the summer as things progress.
First, of course, comes a ton of not-so-fun prep work—the key to success if you can force yourself through it—which you must. Yes, I will be helping. You know that painting is my thing. I’ll be painting most of the trim because it’s all brushwork. The body of the house, which, regrettably, is covered in asbestos shingles (along with much of the neighborhood, since some convincing salesman came through in the 1950s) will be sprayed.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. We can’t paint without picking our new colors, and that’s where the auditions come in. The house is currently a light taupe called Tooley Fog (is that a great color name, or what?) with white trim and spruce-green accent on the window mullions and doors.
I’ve long been imagining the house painted a darker, more traditionally Craftsman scheme of dusty olive, with paler olive trim and burnt red accent. Time for paint auditions!
Eric and I have a routine that we go through every time we pick paint. I’ll pick a color, and Eric will claim, “It’s too dark.” Every. Single. Time. So this time, I picked out the Valspar paint chip cards and, instead of going for the darkest shades, I chose the middle ones, Mossy Aura and Wild Hawk. I moved two cards to the left in the same row and picked lighter shades for the trim, Oatlands Subtle Taupe (which was also a contender for living room paint), and Oatbran. For the red accent, I chose Jekyll Club Cherokee Rust, which reminded me of Frank Lloyd Wright’s signature red.
Although the two schemes look almost identical and not quite true to life on my monitor, here they are.
I fell in love with Mossy Aura the moment I applied it. It’s, well … mossy. A great backdrop for plants, and very Craftsman. Subtle Taupe is its perfect trim color: light and slightly green-tinted, but with lots more character than white. I eliminated the Wild Hawk/Oatbran combo, although good colors, as too brown. (When I bought the house in 1983 it was vanilla with mud brown trim. Yech! I want to stay away from brown.)
But the Cherokee Rust—oh dear! It screamed – and completely overpowered the moss and taupe. No, no, no!
Back to Lowe’s for a do-over, not so orangey this time … a little darker. How about Olympic’s Brick Dust?
Still too intense. Where was I going wrong? I shuffled my paint chips and even thought about abandoning the red accent and going to a dark teal, which would be beautiful … but it didn’t look like the picture I’ve had in my head for so long, and I didn’t know how it would look with the red porch floor (which could be repainted) and the fireplace chimney.
Time for some field research. Eric, Duke, and I drove up to Seattle’s Ravenna district, a bungalow neighborhood where our house would be worth three times as much as it is in Auburn. (Especially now, when Seattle real estate prices are going through the roof … the median price for a house is $666,000. Alas, Auburn prices lag far behind.) Sigh …
As usual, click to enlarge.
I noticed three things:
- We have the most heavily landscaped and planted yard in our neighborhood. It kind of sticks out compared to our horticulturally challenged neighbors, and we get lots of compliments. But almost everyone in Seattle has plantings like this—and more so. Many front yards have no grass at all. Parking strips aren’t grass, but gardens. Flowers are bursting out everywhere, spilling through fences and onto the sidewalks. It’s gorgeous.
- No one in Ravenna says, “It’s too dark.” They are not afraid to paint their houses deep shades of gray, olive, teal, even dusky purple (the nearby University of Washington’s colors are purple and gold).
- Lots of people use the very type of red accent that I was trying to find, only it’s more brownish and rusty. In combination with other colors, it reads as almost red. Got it! Back to Lowe’s!
This time, I got a sample of the darker olive shade, Falcon’s Plume, with Filoli Carriage House (which in person looks a little like guacamole) for trim and Chocolate Cherry for accent. (I wish I could get a job as color namer instead of a technical writer.) The darker, richer field and trim shades finally held their own against the rusty red. Success! Even Eric had to admit that darker worked. We had our color scheme!
Or did we? As I slept that night, colors swirled in my head, shifting hues and intensities. In the morning, I knew I had to try the Chocolate Cherry with the Mossy Aura combo. Bingo, it worked! Now we had two equally successful color schemes, one of medium intensity and one deeper. Which to pick?
We had agreed to go dark, but my heart was still with Mossy Aura. Our neighbors Art and Mari wandered by, and we stood on the sidewalk and pondered. We realized that the darker Falcon’s Plume was almost the same color as our dark green roof. Too much of the same value. The house needs the contrast of a medium green under the dark roof. Mossy Aura it is! Woo-hoo—we have a winner!
Or do we? I came across this photo.
This house is painted a green similar to our Mossy Aura, but the trim is darker, and a little bluer. If you look closely, you can see reddish brown knee braces. I like how those colors echo what I like to do with plants: play shades of moss against shades of blue-green. Hmm … maybe we’re not done, after all.
After sleeping on it, I decided that although I love this combination, I can’t picture our porch railings painted blue-green. I may try the Filoli Carriage House (guacamole) with Mossy Aura, though.
In between paint tests I’ve consulted numerous websites and some of my own books (Powell and Svendsen’s Bungalow Details: Exterior, while it doesn’t specifically address paint, has inspirational photos). Along the way I’ve picked up a few tips. The older I get, the more I learn how many well-intentioned mistakes I’ve made.
- Don’t paint the trim white! Many people do to make it pop, but it’s not Craftsman. My bad.
- If you have some shingle trim, as we do on our porches, stain it a natural color or at least a slightly different color than the field. We’ll definitely do this to our two shingled porches.
- Paint the eaves the trim color, not the field color. Oops … our eaves are Tooley Fog.
- Leave your masonry natural! Too late … our fireplace has been painted for decades.
So, is my mind finally made up? Don’t worry, Eric has lots of trim to scrape and windows to repair, which means I have plenty of time to audition all of my color whims before we commit. What do you think of our current fave? Is Auburn ready for some real Seattle Craftsman colors? Stay tuned!