The Sixth House: Exterior Update
Hello. Today I am going to talk about the good, the bad and the ugly of our exterior renovation project. To start off, it seems mostly bad and ugly right now. I know from experience the adage "it gets worse before it gets better" is true. I think this is the worst "worse" ever though. Maybe it always feels like that?
Everything on the outside looks basically the same as it did last month when I gave an update. Except it is muddier and messier. The shine has come off the penny. My family and I are in the midst of renovation fatigue. I do not want this post to come across as a cry for pity, rather I want to share some lessons that I will take with me from this project that will hopefully help you in the future too.
Backing up, we moved into this house in August 2020. It was one of only a handful on the market and we chose it because, out of the available choices, we liked the location and the lot of this one and thought it had potential to be renovated in a way that would make us happy. We moved here from a house that was custom built that I designed. It is a shock to the system to go from a brand new home that was designed with every piece of furniture and need of your family in mind and into a twenty-six year old house that hadn't been touched since the day it was built.
I got right to work on interior plans to "make it better" which is a recurring tendency I have. I am a fixer for better or worse. I always want to "make it better". It was discouraging and frustrating to do research and decide who you want to work with and then those companies do not even call you back because they are too busy - booked with work for the next few years at least. My desire was (and my good senses told me) to renovate the interior first and move to the outside once that was all finished. John wanted something done as soon as possible on the outside of our house to make it look better. We had pulled out a lot of trees that were unhealthy soon after we moved in and the remaining plantings in the beds around the house were not in good shape at all.
Our house does not feel like a home. We still have a lot of things in boxes and in storage rooms in the basement in anticipation of an interior renovation. We have not painted, we have not pulled out old carpet. We are living in a house that does not look very different from the day we moved in. It is depressing. And every time we drove into the driveway we wondered which is worse, the inside or the outside?
I am far more comfortable with interior design, at John's urging though I started to look at ideas for the outside and at inspiration for landscaping. I put together a plan to make it look better:
Paint the exterior
Redo the deck and side entrance that were falling off of the house
Install new gutters since the old ones we had were painted to match the house in 1996 and we were changing the color of the house
Add a bluestone patio off of the deck
Make the transition from the driveway to the side door and back deck a level walk with steps rather than a few stepping stones sliding down the incline
Add a covered entry to the front and side doors
Replace the paver walkway in front with bluestone
Replace the landscaping and plant new trees
Add a small scale single car, detached garage to house our old Jeep
We shared our plan with some landscape companies for estimates and decided to use a company that a family in the neighborhood uses for their landscaping. We shared our plan with our HOA Architecture Board and it was quickly approved. Here is what has been happening since.
We really like the new paint color and the gutters.
The organization and attention to detail on the exterior stone work and decks is not "as advertised" by the company we are using. I spend a lot of time pointing out things that are not "up to par" and get the answer "it will look great when we're all done, don't judge it yet - we, know, we know that already". That is not very comforting, is it? There is a lot of slope in our back yard and the patio needed a retaining wall. This we knew. The height of the wall is far greater than was discussed and I think if we had known that we would have held off on the patio. The front walkway slopes up towards the front entry more than we wanted. We would have preferred a step up at the covered entry rather than "a ramp". The covered porches are not complete yet because of permit issues.
The landscaping has not even begun yet. The plants are supposed to be delivered this week. I know the plantings, even in winter, rather than the muddy patches will make a big difference. At least I sure hope so.
The project was supposed to be done by Thanksgiving. We seem to lose people on our crew by the day and now it is in question if it will be done by Christmas. I am headed out of town today so I will not be here for the landscaping portion and I will not be here (potentially) for the construction of the covered entries. This terrifies me. I have walked through where the plantings will be with the landscapers. I have made it known that the entries need to look perfect - square, centered, etc. I have provided drawings and expectations for everything. The last thing I want is to come home and see that the landscaping and entries are not "as advertised".
Moving on to the single car garage. We reached out to a company in Vermont that we consulted with when we wanted a barn built for our place in West Virginia and contracted with them to build us a garage based on our specifications. The board and batten garage was designed to be, and approved to be, ten feet by sixteen feet. It was delivered on a specialized flatbed truck and our neighbors were shocked to see it. Our neighborhood does not allow sheds and we knew that because one of our neighbors told us that soon after we moved in. This garage was in no way meant to be a shed, nor is it a shed. It is a garage. Even though it was approved at its size and look in the plan, the HOA is insisting we remove it. I now drive through the neighborhood and think that everyone hates us. Is that accurate? I have no idea. We have not done anything that was not included in our plan and still I feel like a pariah. I feel sick to my stomach all day long. At the end of the day though, John and I said "do we want to be right or do we want to be good neighbors?" I would rather be both lol. In this case though that does not seem possible.
When the garage was delivered I was slightly disappointed because it did not look exactly as we had expected based on my many design phone calls. The main thing is that the wood used for the siding is not as smooth as we expected. Of course I looked at it and said, "it's not finished yet and it will look a million times better when it's painted, landscaped, the lights are hung, etc. I am trying to look for a silver lining. I am hoping that the solution ends up way better than what we had originally planned. We are trying to sell the garage and then we will have to see. It is a rather significant financial loss and we are already spending more on the outside than we wanted to. I am fearful that we will have to make sacrifices on the inside and that makes me very sad to put it mildly.
On to the lesson part of this post. We have not worked with an HOA before on any of our previous renovations. Our projects (at all of our houses) in the past have turned out very well and garner praise and requests for advice on other's projects. When our plan was approved so quickly, without any caveats, we figured we were good to move ahead. Period. We did not even have a copy of the neighborhood bylaws. It is quite obvious now this was a mistake! Over communicate is the lesson here. If we had given updates as to how we were progressing along the way this post would be reading quite differently I'm sure.
Lesson two, do no get so laser focused on your vision that you are not focusing enough on the big picture. I feel awful about where we are now and it is killing me even though I had no intention of causing harm or an issue, I feel responsible.
Last lesson, I should have hired a landscape architect. Even though I could not get anyone to return my calls, I should have waited. Haste makes waste for sure. If I had seen the elevations in print, rather than walking around the yard and visualizing through discussions, I would have changed some things for sure.
We cannot paint our decks and front entries until the spring and that will make a huge difference. When our new plants are flowering in the spring that will also make a tremendous difference. Hopefully next month I will be giving a far rosier update! If I look back on all of the projects I have undertaken I would consider them all successes in the end, if not all the way through. I have made mistakes of course, everything is "fixed" by the end though. That is the fun of design - challenges become triumphs!
Ending on a positive note, we saw the first rendering of our new kitchen last week and I am loving it!
Thank you for listening to me today, Kerry