Reader request – an exterior makeover for Sean’s 1955 home

Posted on Fri, 9 Apr 2021 by KiM

We received the following email recently from Sean:
I live in central United States, Iowa, to be exact. I bought a home built in 1955 with some very cool 1950’s charm. I am completely stumped on what to do with the exterior of the home. I don’t want to do massive renovation and remove the 1950’s charm that attracted me, however, I do want to give it a sophisticated and updated look. Is it possible for me to send you a photo? Perhaps readers would want to weigh in on what should be done to give this home new life. I believe it has modest potential. I am lost on how to draw that out. I’m mostly looking for paint and landscaping ideas, however, I am very open to any suggestions. No matter how invasive. It is early Spring here ,so, a great time to get to work cleaning this property up and giving it new life. 

It is such a great house! Here are a couple more photos of it…

Here’s my 2 cents, and I have basically zero experience with an exterior renovation, aside from a complete overhaul of my current home’s landcaping so I really hope our readers will help out with some suggestions too because I’m sure you’ll have better ideas than mine.
Because that fabulous porch overhang darkens the front door area I’d be tempted to paint all the siding white. Or something very light. Very light grey even? And then black trim (or dark grey) along the roofline, front door (or maybe a fun colour for the front door if Sean is feeling adventurous) and windows. I’d be tempted to get a new garage door – one with some frosted glass inserts so that whole section isn’t so solid. If not in the budget paint it black. I’d put tall planters on either side of the garage with something tall in it. (This means house numbers would have to move). And just about anything could go in terms of landscaping but I’d start with something tall/bushy under that narrow window on the right because it’s looking a little awkward.
I had a tough time time finding some decent inspirational photos to go along with this but here’s what I came up with…

A before and after of a house that was a brown/beige and went white and black

Brie Williams via this post

How a shrub/hedge in front of an awkwardly high window results in it making visual sense

Designlines

When making the exterior a bit lighter really brightens up a house, and with some basic landscaping added the result is really impactful. A sweet before and after…

HGTV

Another before and after where the landscaping made all the difference

This Old House

Please leave comments below if anyone has some ideas and tips for Sean. Hopefully he’ll send us photos when he’s done 🙂

JP says:

The owner might get some inspiration from looking at other ranch mid-century homes. I’ve seen plenty of these homes fixed up in Dwell, Atomic Ranch, etc. A little bit of paint(ing) and some different colors would make that house pop.

midcenturyjo says:

Here are a few suggestions. I would invest in a wood-clad roller door. Let’s say the slats run horizontally. To balance it on the other side in front of the windows a few meters out into the grass I would construct a matching timber slat fence/wall to screen the uneven windows giving privacy, provide balance for the roller door, and demarcate a small courtyard. If you want to continue it around on the side for privacy from the neighbours that’s up to you. You could use plants instead of wood screen at that side and you can plant “mid century style” in front of the fence/screen.

The paint colour isn’t so much of a problem. Choose what you like but I’m with Kim on a black or charcoal trim colour because I think you have asphalt shingles on the roof and if you’re not replacing them I think a similar trim colour would help not to draw attention to them.

If you choose a light colour for the exterior walls I suggest 2 options for the brick in the entrance. You could paint it (I’m leaning towards a dark grey/charcoal colour) or you could leave it pale brick and choose the stain for your wood slat details in that lighter colourway. If you go the paint route then you can stain the wood a nice rich brown to stand out against the house. I’m even thinking of covering the brick landing in wood decking and continue it in graduating squares into the “courtyard” and towards the kerb as a path. Trouble is I’m Australian and I’m sure there are winter issues in Iowa with wood and snow and the ground that I have no experience with. Paint the door as a pop of colour.

I would continue with the slatted wood fence idea down the side of the house for privacy and have a gate to the front. You could continue the slated wood idea out the back with that undercover patio on the neighbour’s side. What I’m suggesting is a repetition of rectangular shapes in slated wood harking back to the box-like structure of mid century homes. The biggest expense would be the garage door (besides the painting) and the whole thing could be done in chunks.

If you want some badly drawn mock ups let me know and I’ll email to you.

The blog The_Brick_House.com did a nice job on an MCM ranch, keeping the original spirit. You might find inspo there.

Jairo Geronymo says:

Hi Sean!
First of all, congratulations on your house!
I find the black round pillars and brick combination on the entrance area really charming and maybe you should repeat that design element somewhere else!
In the side picture, you can see that your recycling bins are visible from the street through the drive way from your neighborrs. I find better when we can hide a bit these recycling bins. How about building a brick half wall and a gate in that side entrance, and add the same black round pillars connecting with your very wide (nice!) eaves? That would create some privacy and at the same time emphasize a 1950’s design element.
You could also transform slightly that design element by painting the pillars and/or bricks another color….
Again, congratulations on your house, I am sure that you will transform it into a very nice home!
All the best,
Jairo

Dee says:

Hi,
This cute 50’s house could use some drama, so I would go with a black and white design. The least expensive solution is paint. Paint everything white except the front door, the roof eaves and the brick floor of the front entry. Paint the front door and roof eaves black. Stain or paint the front porch brick floor a light-to-medium gray. Is the right hand partial wall on the front porch a planter? If so, plant with shade-loving annuals in spring/summer/fall and fill with evergreen boughs in winter. Move the house numbers up and replace the light above with an unobtrusive modern, night-sky compliant black or oil rubbed bronze light. (Same thing with the light above the side entrance.) Maybe this (https://www.amazon.com/Sea-Gull-Lighting-8538501EN3-12-Crittenden/dp/B076FVVMPK/ref=sr_1_39?dchild=1&keywords=dark+sky+compliant+exterior+wall+lights&qid=1618083400&sr=8-39). Can you move the recycling bins into the garage? (These are an eyesore all across America!) If not, build a white painted enclosure for them on the side porch. and paint the metal fencing on the side porch black. High, trim evergreens under the high window in the front, as suggested by the blogger, and lower landscaping to the left of them. If you can keep potted evergreens alive through your winters, put one on each side of the garage door in a black planter.

Blanders says:

It looks like you have an in-built brick planter on the porch. Fill this with one type of plant, especially something visually bold. Sansevieria trifasciata would be perfect aesthetically and historically, but they won’t handle freezing weather, so maybe they can be featured in pots flanking the garage door and taken inside during the winter. Any of the Sempervivums might work better, especially if you use a couple of varieties to add texture.

The garden bed across the front of the house could be planted with yuccas, aloes and agaves, which have bold mid-century geometry and can (theoretically) survive freezing winters. But consult a local horticulturist for the best varieties.

The buttery cream cladding of the house both dates it and creates a bland uniform expanse across the whole facade. If the cladding is painted a medium grey, while maintaining the cream brick and white trim, it will modernise the look and give the facade more depth.

Lari says:

Hi Sean, I lived and gardened in Omaha for 17 years, and studied horticulture there. Pure B&W is a bit stark IRL. If your doors (including garage), window trim, and the fascia edge were a deep charcoal..or even a deep grey-brown, and the porch ceiling, soffits, and siding were soft white, or any white except a bright white, you’ll be much happier with whatever landscaping you choose, and your concrete drive won’t look “dirty” in contrast. If you decide to paint the brick entry as well, you’ll want a product like Romabio, which can be a simple DIY! It’s meant to let brick breathe. But paint all the rest first before you decide about the brick. I’d put a columnar Japanese maple in front of/next to the triple porch poles. Something like Ryusen, which can be tied to those porch columns until it is mature and has formed an upright trunk. Or another Japanese maple called Butterfly. These love shady spots or a bit of morning sun, can be lightly pruned to keep their curb appeal, and they are gorgeous in all seasons. Japanese Maples are slow growing, so get the biggest tree you can afford, but not a variety that will eventually get too big for that spot. Then put one variegated variety of mini (dwarf) hostas in the brick planter, en masse, and another variegated large-leaved standard variety in the front bed, with two Dwarf Burford hollies under the high window…drift the larger hostas around in front of those hollies and remove the two shrubs there (barberry?hard to tell). Keep everything well mulched. Hostas are perennial shade lovers and lend a subtle drama, but you can leave those bed spaces vacant while the hostas rest over winter. Modern architecture is also about vacant space! The hollies are evergreen, and the dwarf Burford is perfect for that spot. I agree that you should place your house numbers higher, halfway between the light and the mailbox..but also replace the light with something more substantial and decorative, modern and simple in style, to balance the mailbox. If there are more funds, then get some beautiful and modern lounge furniture for your back porch and enjoy your home and yard. Maybe some landscape lighting. And a fire pit. I recommend Solostoves because mine hardly smokes! If you have any questions about these plants or products, reach out to me at laridarryn@gmail.com

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