We live in an incredibly friendly neighbourhood. People are always out walking dogs, riding bikes, going for Sunday drives. And because we’re often working outside, multiple people stop each day to comment on our (never-ending) renovation and cheer on our progress. It’s been such a lovely way to meet people, and they all have one comment: they can’t believe how different our house looks, and they are somewhat flabbergasted as to how we did it.
Here’s a “before” shot from the listing. The burgundy awnings and a hobbit-sized fence (not shown) were the first to go.
I get where they’re coming from. After all, we bought a white brick house with black shutters … and it’s still a white brick house with black shutters. So how the heck does it look so different?
We’re not quite done, but today it feels a little more like home. Looking forward to the day we can trim the new walkway grass!
Well, first … appearances can be deceiving. Yes, it’s still a white house, but boatloads of tweaks have contributed to its exterior facelift. Although we put an addition on the back of the house, it’s not visible from the front. So what did we do here? Grab a coffee … there’s a list!
Replaced the roof and raised a brow
The roof was intact but had seen better days, so we replaced the shingles and added an eyebrow window for interest. Unfortunately the roof pitch didn’t allow for larger dormers, but it needed a little something something to amp up the curb appeal. This seemed to do the trick.
Removed the Juliet balcony and rebuilt the front wall
Aside from generally being an eyesore, the Juliet balcony was crumbling. Because a) that didn’t feel particularly safe and b) we didn’t want to give our kids another way to sneak out, the balcony had to go. It meant rebuilding the wall, but it ultimately gave us the façade we wanted and a seamless double-height foyer inside. Win win.
I think this was the day we realized it was time to move into a hotel.
Removed, enlarged and replaced the windows
To me, what hurt the curb appeal most in the house was the windows. They were disproportionately small for the size of the home, and most were in poor shape. To create a sense of proportion and balance, we lost the bay windows, enlarged all the main ones and replaced them with brand-new versions with cleaner, less busy grills. Changing shapes and sizes meant hiring a stonemason to re-lay the brick around the windows, a task made extra tricky given that our brick is no longer available.
Making way for new windows and doors.
Improved the welcome
Before we began, our entry stoop was … well, it was kind of awful. It was slightly inset but didn’t add enough dimension to break up the façade of the house. The railing didn’t make sense. The octagonal windows didn’t relate to anything. The double doors, while solid and actually quite beautiful, were heavy and dark. There was no overhang to shelter the poor UPS guy from the rain while he patiently waited for us to answer the door. And on it went.
We chose a black steel overhang to tie in with our shutters.
We rebuilt the wall and turned the flagstone pad into a covered porch, creating a generous space to welcome guests, collect packages and decorate for the seasons. The shape of our new eyebrow window also dictated a curved overhang and front door, which helped tie in the curved element and brought some continuity to this elevation. We also added columns to an existing overhang, which was cantilevered off the front of our garage. They weren’t necessary for support, but visually they didn’t leave us hanging 😉.
Pillars on the side porch mimic our new entryway and give the deep overhang purpose.
Stained the brick and added dimension with millwork
Back to the white house again … it’s actually a different white! It’s warmer than the previous colour, but truthfully the colour itself made less of a difference than having our brick stained so that the mortar lines disappeared. While I’ve seen contrasting mortar work beautifully in more modern homes, in this case it made the house feel dated and busy. I think I did an actual happy dance the day it disappeared 😊. And yes, we stained the brick rather than painted, as we did some research and learned that made the most sense in our climate.
Before (top) and after (bottom) the first coat of brick stain. The disappearing mortar softened the look of the entire house.
We also had new shutters built and – you guessed it – painted them black. While that may sound silly, the old louvered ones were rotten and replacing them gave us an opportunity to create a cleaner design, as well as build them in proportion to the new windows.
Lost the jungle, gained a landscape
FINALLY (I think? I’ve lost track), we tackled the landscaping. When we moved in, the first thing we did was pull down those burgundy awnings and pull up the hobbit-sized fence. Then we hired an arborist to advise on the health of our trees and had the dead ones removed, as well as the massive yews that had taken over. While all these things helped, there was still so much more to do. The house had sat vacant for a couple of years before we bought it, and the yard was less of a yard and more of a jungle.
Here’s a patch of the yard we inherited — you wouldn’t believe what we found under there!
When we started tackling this, we found walkways we didn’t know existed, buried birdbaths, concrete blocks tied to the ground with vines … “overgrown” is an understatement. And while we haven’t had inground sprinklers in the past, given the size and scope of what laid ahead we decided now was the time. I’ll admit the new system is pretty cool – it self-adjusts according to the weather and can be controlled remotely via smartphone. Pretty hard to argue with that.
This is about 20% of the shrubs we removed.
After we removed the jungle we had the yard hydroseeded, which created some confusion in our ‘hood. Turns out most people aren’t used to seeing blue grass, and we had some fun trying to convince passerby that we were opening a golf course. But since our yard is so shaded, hydroseed allowed us to customize a seed blend so we’d get grasses that thrive in both sun and shade. Had we gone with sod, we would have inevitably lost patches that wouldn’t have survived under our trees.
The blue doesn’t last for long, but does it ever attract attention in the city!
With the grass established, we set about creating new beds, planting a simple range of plants I *think* I can keep alive: beech trees, plenty of hydrangea, boxwood, hosta and some lavender for good measure. We added two brick posts and a new front walkway to replace the previous birdbath/jungle combo:
These posts now have integrated lighting, and we’ll be adding our house numbers to one.
Our front porch now steps down to this landing area.
Because our house sits on a corner, we also inherited old interlock pathways that had seen better days. A ton (technically, five tonnes) of work later, a new pathway wraps around the side of our house, connecting the front door to the garage around the corner:
Time to take some new photos — these beds now have plants, and our lighting is in! One of the gooseneck pathway lights is visible in the photo above.
With the front and side yards relatively “done,” we’ve been able to cozy up the porches with pumpkins and potted mums for fall. It’s so nice to be at a phase where we can add those homey touches … it’s been a long journey!
As for the rest of our property, so far we’ve added a new fence to the backyard, built a shed, rebuilt a side entrance and planted a cedar hedge. Next up: replacing all our wooden decking, backyard patio, basement walkout and backyard landscape.
More to come! xo
p.s. If you’ve read this far, truly — thank you. This post is far longer than any should ever be, despite me leaving out a thousand things (soffit! lighting! moving the air conditioner!). If you’re considering a similar project, I hope it helps — there’s a lot to think about, but the results are worth it!