31 January 2012
The Before and After: Exterior Edition
It took well over a year to install some personality into my house - primarily through a paint transplant (personality in a can gives you a good look at what my year was like). It started with Seapearl and then moved on to Emu and Baltic Gray and Berber and Waterfall and Peacock Blue and Split Pea and Woodlawn Blue and Light Pewter and Revere Pewter and Pewter Tankard (Paul Revere was a pewter smith, wasn't he? When in Rome, as they say). I am so familiar with the entire family of Benjamin Moore colors that I can identify most of them by sight. Like a lightning round of "Name That Tune." When someone shows me their new kitchen, I can say "Oh! Is this Wasabi? I love Wasabi!". The guys at the paint store put my name on the mailbox and gave me a key. We talk shop. I've finally gotten to the point where I know the palette better than they do. If we were playing "name that color", I could do it in one note (which is my actual "Name That Tune" record, by the way. It was "Tempted" by Squeeze).
Just like our interior was covered in "Flesh" and "Sadness," our exterior was a color we called "Milquetoast." The trim was "Creamy Milquetoast." Or maybe "Stale Milquetoast." The color was so noncommittal that most people had trouble assigning it to a color family; was it a yellow? A beige? A mauve? And a crazy number of people thought it was blue. How do you go from "Is it yellow?" to "Is it blue?" It's like saying the moon is either round or square. But that's just how lacking in conviction this house was.
My house in Minneapolis, the gray one with purple trim, would suggest that I would seize the opportunity to create something bright and daring but when it came time to paint this exterior, my methods had to change. This was no longer about my vision and what I wanted it to feel like when I cocooned myself in the privacy of my own walls. This is our public space. To a certain degree, it belongs more to the neighborhood , the other houses that make up its family and the people who look at it as they drive by or gaze from their windows, than it is about me and my taste.
This house is surrounded by a neighborhood cloaked in understated formality, proudly adhering to its colonial template without veering into anything that would reveal too much about its inhabitants; white with black shutters, gray with black shutters, beige with black shutters, and an occasional yellow with black shutters - the only actual color from the colonial palette that's acceptable in such a restrained place. To fight that template would not only be disrespectful, it would simply be unsuccessful. Or worse, absurd. Having lived in a neighborhood of much loved turn-of-the-century homes that were often torn down to build McMansions, I have to be sensitive to what this neighborhood strives to be. No one wins when you try to override the persona that has naturally developed over the lifetime of the neighborhood - imposing my own ill-fitting preferences would make only one statement........interloper. And just like property values, my out-of-context home would dilute the design value of those around it.
So........what is a former purple trim house owner supposed to do? In actuality, houses from the colonial era were not white and beige and taupe and greige but a variety of saturated tones based on the natural forms of pigment available at the time. Until the 1900s, all paints were made with organic pigments which made more nuanced colors impossible to achieve. Instead you got orange, cobalt blue, emerald green, ochre and chartreuse. Seriously! If you drive around Portsmouth, where the houses date back to the 1600's, people are not only serious about their colonial era homes, they are also less afraid to express themselves, less afraid of being judged. Even if that judgement is "trashy." Personally, I'd rather be trashy than boring (bring it on, Muffy!). So it's not uncommon to see pink or purple houses and orange is downright common. This is a much truer interpretation of the colonial color palette........but understandably, and ironically, "untraditional." The highest complement to a home in my neighborhood would be "tasteful" - and as much as I love it, I don't think I could pull off orange as "tasteful."
So I stalked the neighborhoods in Portsmouth, trolling, looking for a house color that made a mild-mannered statement without disappearing into the background. This ubertraditional / untraditional town would hold the key to my paint dilemma.
And I found it......
I had to knock on a stranger's door not once but twice. After getting home with the paint name in hand, I realized that I hadn't gotten the trim color. So I had to go back and humble myself again. Knocking on strangers' doors is not an acceptable New England activity. Especially FRONT doors! GASP! But this was an emergency. An aesthetic emergency.
Was she friendly? No. I would say "annoyed" would be a better descriptor. But now I know that mildly annoyed is a New England version of happy so I don't take it personally anymore. So friendly, no. But helpful, absolutely. Each time, she went to her basement, rummaged around, and managed to find a leftover can with a label and a paint formula on it.
The winner is called..........Monhegan Sage.
Monhegan Island is an island off the coast of Maine inhabited by several generations of lobstering families. At the moment, it's best known for a shooting that took place on the town dock involving some vigilante lobster policers and an island resident who allowed a non-islander relative to drop lobster traps too close to their island. Big no no. That lobster is for islanders only. Says who? Says them, that's who. And if you trap "their" lobsters, they'll shoot you. So there.
THAT is just the kind of personality I was looking for! It's deep, it's dark and it's steeped in tradition. And it looks like this..........
By adding the birch trunks near the door, I connected the house to its wooded setting and added a little texture and dimension to it's giant, flat face.
We also removed the fanlight above the front door, an embellishment popularized by Alexis Carrington in the 1980's. Ok, I made that part up. But it seems like something she would popularize.
Now it's clean, unfussy, bold, at one with its setting, warm, welcoming, and thoroughly traditional.
I think I did it. Whew.