January 16, 2017

Before & After: Painting our Historic Home in RVA

We recently updated the exterior of our home with a complete front door restoration, new gutter system, porch repairs and a fresh coat of paint — suffice it to say, we're feeling all shiny & new! This particular update has been a few years in the making (and completed in stages), so we've been excited to share the before and after photos along with a rundown of the background details here on the blog.

Throughout the process we learned a lot about contracting work and the nuances of historic home restoration — particularly those that involved historic home guidelines we needed to comply with instead of going a more "colorful" route so to speak.

First thing's first, the before & after! In short, we went from a faded and peeling yellow exterior with a rickety porch and far-from-weatherproof pair of front doors — to a solid and stable front entry and exterior with a colonial gray hue in a satin finish that picks up a slight sheen when the sun hits it just right. Kinda like when you smile and that one tooth glistens. The photo above shows our house in its current state, while the photo just below taken back in the summer in 2015 gives a good idea of where we started the phases of work...

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For those interested in the background details, you may recall we've been working on several "less fun" home repairs and restorative projects in order to get to this stage — you know, the type that seem to cost the most, are a priority and you don't get to see anything from the results.

So let's backtrack a bit — we've been in this house for exactly 5 years (and if you just clicked that link we hope our photography skills have improved since then) and about 2 years in we noticed the exterior paint beginning to peel up in certain areas out front. Womp womp...

If you look closely in the "before" photo above, you'll see where parts of the paint were pulling away from above and around the upper right window and balcony. This exterior peeling also seemed to match up uncannily to some interior bubbling along our plaster walls in the front master bedroom (very similar to the way it did in Stephanie's room), which led us to believe it meant water damage.

Fast forward — over the next couple of years we were on a mission to understand what was causing the damage before jumping into the painting process, knowing the issue would likely return if we didn't get to the source of it. When it comes to water damage, discovering the root cause can be a challenge.

Front gutter rebuilding, December 2015

After a series of hired roof repairs, gutter restoration (see above), and several patchy areas of brick re-pointing around the house, we finally felt in a good place to begin some of the much needed cosmetic updates — like refinishing damaged interior plaster walls, ceilings and the much anticipated exterior of our home!

Like I mentioned earlier, we live in what is a historic "zone" of row-style homes here in Richmond, so there are very strict guidelines on the type of work we can perform in order to maintain the historic integrity of the home. For example, the front of the homes must remain as closely as possible to the overall look and construction of how it would have been originally built. These same rules don't apply to the interior or back of the house, but make the flexibility for different repair options on the front more limited and costly.

While we're enthusiastic about taking on many types of DIY projects, we really wanted to feel confident that the exterior of the house was done right, so we priced out having it done professionally. We ended up breaking the work out into two portions which took about 3 months to complete in total — the front door restoration, followed by the porch repairs and exterior painting.

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The same water damage that had caused the peeling paint & bubbling plaster had travelled down the front of the house, showing similar signs of brittle wood framing around our front doors and interior wall cracking. At one stage in its life, the house had been converted to a duplex, which meant our doors had various holes for the many different locking mechanisms that had been installed and later removed. All of the hardware changes rendered our doors mismatched and letting lots of air through. Oh, and we also had 2 doorbells out front for the same reason, which made for some funny situations, but as you can imagine was a bit confusing.

Below you can see an in-progress shot where some of the interior framing was re-built and I was sanding down the years of paint on the older wood that was still good:

Our main goal with the entry was making the doors weatherproof and ultimately more energy efficient. In order to do so while retaining the historic integrity, we hired a local contracting company with a woodworking specialist who had a long history of working on historic homes. Given the overall damage, we considered completely removing the doors to rebuild the entry with a new single, wider door that had tall sidelight windows flanking either side. That being said, when looking through the historic records of what our home originally looked like, we soon realized the double doors were actually the original design and our contractor confirmed that these doors were also the original doors, made from cyprus wood.

Fun fact: It turns out most of the front doors in the Fan area were originally made from cyprus wood because of its high weather tolerant qualities.

Learning more about the history of the entry and our original doors, we gained a new sense of interest in the double door design and Mary says we'll simply need to get two wreaths for each of the seasons instead of one — and despite what Basil may be thinking, this suited just fine over the holidays:

The door restoration process was labor-intensive and incredibly interesting to follow along with. For the first portion, our doors were completely removed and taken to a local wood shop to be fully stripped, sanded and re-prepped for a custom fitting back into the entry. Because of that, plywood was put up and we did not have the ability to leave from the front of the house. Not a big deal until you order takeout and you tell the delivery guy to hold on while you run through the house, out the back, through the garage and around the block out of breath with tip in hand.

We had the brass foot plates removed and all of the previous hardware holes and mail slot were filled in. New holes were machined for the hardware system we chose, which was a much more solid locking mechanism in a natural brass finish that should patina with weather and use over time. We also had a new threshold, bottom door sweeps and weatherstripping installed to seal everything tight. It's amazing the difference we now feel indoors without so much air seeping through.

While a bit grainy and dark, here's a shot we snapped of Basil on Halloween where you can see how the doors looked stripped and filled just before the paint project was set to begin:

As a way to save on funds, we worked with the contractors to leave the door & entry work in a completed but unfinished state. We'd already had the exterior paint job lined up to start and for the smaller areas of interior trim, I was confident enough to prime and paint these portions.

Related, the picture above is also a good example of the cracking along the ceilings we've encountered in some areas of the house, which we've been in the process of repairing. We look forward to sharing the details for these "home adventures" here on the blog soon.

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In the future, we'd love to construct a full double porch out front, as it would have originally been built in all of its historically-correct glory. That being said, right now we simply needed the stairs & stoop in solid condition.

In the last couple of years it's become rather rickety, with faded paint and some rotted wood due to the same water damage that's caused so many other headaches. You may recall I'd replaced a few boards a few summers back and Mary gave the porch a paint touch up, but it became progressively worse. For a while, we used even decorative planters to try and help disguise the damage until we could address it:

The porch structure is made of simple pressure treated lumber and is by no means historic outside of the salvaged balusters, however the guidelines do allow for repairs to structures in their current state. Whew!

The in-progress photo below shows a good view of the porch railings in their worst condition — peeling, pulling apart and portions completely rotted away...

It's a small area and our basic needs were covered by the restorative work our painter included in the scope of the painting job — replacing rotten boards, tightening up the entire structure, filling in areas of rot on the historic railings with balusters before priming and painting to match the details of the home.

This next photo is another good in-progress view of how some boards were replaced, others filled in and everything getting tightened up. I even participated where I could by replacing cut boards in between waiting for filler to set, seal and dry...

We weren't sure what to expect given the state of the porch and are surprisingly happy to report on the outcome now in solid condition, retaining a touch of history in the salvaged balusters and the paint gives it a brand new feel.

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For the exterior paint job, we opted for a local company with primary experience in our same historic neighborhood. We considered it an added bonus that the owner (also named Tim) was a graduate from VCU's Sculpture program around the same time Mary was also in the Arts School there.

He and a very small curated team of co-worker friends came out daily over the course of 3 weeks to repair the porch, power wash & fully scrape down the peeling paint, re-point any damaged mortar then reglaze and caulk the windows before applying coats of primer & paint. We were really happy with the final outcome, would recommend their work and will definitely be keeping in touch as future projects arise.

Immediately below is how the house looked after being fully scraped...

If you note where the heaviest areas of scraping were, you'll understand exactly where the heaviest amounts of water damage match up from the outside and inside of our home. Tim the painter called us outside on this afternoon to tell us he'd uncovered the root of our damage. While we knew water has a way of winding down when not properly contained — we were absolutely shocked to see what he'd uncovered. You can see in the photo below just how much of the original brick mortar is missing from this corner of of the house, as well as the large gap between the brick and window where large portions of caulk had been applied...

It was at this point we were so thankful to not only have a specialist working on the house, but to understand why having a house professionally painted includes such a larger overall scope of prep and restorative work outside of the painting itself. Once all of these problem areas had been re-pointed, the windows properly glazed and caulked, it was finally time to prime & paint!

It was at the priming stage we got a chance to see what our house would look like if we'd opted for white:

The priming process was a significant improvement, but we were both so happy to see the final color getting trimmed out — we knew were in the home stretch!

When it came to choosing a paint color, Mary originally wanted to go with something colorful but muted and had ordered a sample of Americana Egg from the Joanna Gaines paint collection. Midway into researching paint colors, we discovered that the historic district our house falls within has regulations around paint colors that are appropriate for the area — of course they did! The "acceptable" palette ranged from whites and browns to several shades of gray. Would you believe that yellow (the color it was when we bought our house wasn't on the list either??).

While initially disappointed we wouldn't be able move forward with the green, we quickly settled on Sherwin Williams Colonial Gray and couldn't be happier with the end result. White trim was an obvious choice and we felt the black doors would keep everything feeling clean and classic.

Aside from the porch and doors, our little balcony was one of the finishing touches to complete the project...

...before we could call it a done deal:

When it comes to the little details and finishing touches, I polished up our brass faceplate, re-wired a single doorbell and installed a vintage brass mailbox we'd found on Etsy just outside the front door.

We'll wrap things up today with a shot of the house in this year's first snow. We're not only loving the overall look of the paint, but most happy with the feeling of being safe, solid and more weatherproofed than ever before as we head into the winter months ahead.

As you've likely gathered, we're quite pleased with the outcome, especially since it has felt like a long time coming and appreciate you're stopping in today to see how it's all come together. Like I've mentioned throughout this post, we've not only tackled the exterior, but have come through some interior finishing work in the past year as well. We'll look forward to sharing more about these rooms in the house as they come together too.

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  1. Wow, very impressive especially fixing the bricks. Your house looks better than a HGTV episode where they flip/renovate a house and they have a whole contracting team working on the house behind the scenes.

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words. We at times felt we had an HGTV crew working in our house! In the end, we too loved the outcome!

      Best, Tim and Mary

  2. Stunning (the house and the paint job)!

    Many thanks for this site (I just found it today) ... I'm about to make some woofer treats and yours will be the ones I make (I have 3 poodles at my feet waiting, not so patiently ...lol).

    1. We are so happy you found us! Good luck on your treats and a little heads up — we will be publishing some Valentine approved treats for the pups in the upcoming week!

      Best, Tim and Mary

  3. I loved your before/after Changes Tim, everything is perfect and looks beautiful specially entry doors with wreath looks elegant & beautiful, also orange pumpkin looks great on stairs. Energy efficient doors saves our electricity bills and provide natural lights to our home.

    Such a nice updates :)
    Thank you Tim, for posting such a great column.

    1. Thank Martin for taking the time to read and respond!

      Best, Tim and Mary

  4. Just found your blog and I am so excited! I too, am a fellow Fan resident (Grace and Davis) and looking into buying and renovating a home in the area as well. Excited to see your changes! I just love a good remodel.

    1. Yay, So happy you found us! Hope to see you around the Fan!

      Best, Tim and Mary


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