Labor of Love
Have you ever painted your house?
I believe all worthwhile projects are a labor of love. We are painting our 1910 Craftsman house this summer. It had been badly neglected for years before we bought it. Neglected like humans are neglected. To the point of not knowing who she was anymore. Lost in a land of discontent, shame and embarrassment. Many of us have known that feeling. But the good news is that we can choose to recalculate, re-evaluate and reinvent ourselves. I am choosing for her. I think she will be thrilled!
The plan from the moment we bought the house last summer was to paint her this summer. Now that we are close to finishing the project, I am finding I can take a breath and think (and write) about the process. Not unlike human processing, this has been a bit overwhelming and anticipatory. I changed my mind or questioned my choices of color and placement numerous times before, during and after the painting began. Although I knew that I would become impatient as we went along, just like any art project, I kept wavering. Will I like it when it is done? What if it doesn’t go well. What will people think? The usual misgivings that for me at least, always end in some version of satisfactory if not complete assurance that I made the right decisions. Sigh.
It’s about the process
It always seems to be about the process with me. You too? I am often more obsessed with the process than the result. Whether it be a journal entry, a painting, a yoga practice or my garden. I just love getting in there and making a mess. I get nervous as the project transitions, and then at some point completely hate where I am at. But eventually I finish; am thrilled with the results, and realize that I miss the process the most. That leads me to the next project or being willing to do it all over again!
Don’t get me wrong. The final result is satisfying too. Even the planning. Although I am not the most patient person with a long process like painting a house, the bigger picture is important to keep in mind as well. Her (the house’s) renovation and preservation is always on my mind and remains simply a labor of love. I like thinking about the next step and the next and the next. Planning colors. Problem solving how we are going to get to the top of the eaves, where to go to get window screens, what are the best tools for the job. I think obsession is the right term at this point.
For those of you who don’t know me well – I save everything. I don’t mean like hoarding. I mean literally I try to save things from dissolving into nothingness. That includes our house, inanimate objects, antiques, plants, clothing, you name it, I am willing (and sometimes able) to salvage it. Human beings are no different to me. I always think that every human has a lighter, kinder, more empathetic side, and I work to bring that out in others around me. I hate waste and I love problem solving. I am happy and willing to take on a “project.”
The littlest cutting from a plant gets put in water or propagated in soil to grow roots. I re-match earrings to a new partner when I lose one. I save and reuse whatever I can. I am a saver, a repurposer – a recycler. I hate to throw things out. And houses are no exception. I love our old house and I want her to shine again
Back to the process of salvaging and saving her. This old house is still charming. She has “good bones” as they say. But even so, she needed some serious prep work before we could even begin to paint. Removing old gutters, scraping, sanding, caulking, replacing sections of rotted siding, the list went on and on. Four full days just to get her ready for paint. And then lots of TLC as we went.
And unlike most people. I can’t just use a color for the body and one for the trim. I have to add detail and accent every dang part so she has personality. Her previous owners had chosen hideous colors years ago and she had been stuck “wearing” it shamefully ever since. The neighbors told us that the old colors were ugly. And asked immediately last year if we were going to paint. (We expected that question) They had nicknamed the house the “cappuccino cowboy.” I thought the old colors reminded me of Halloween candy corn . All orange and brown and tan and yellow. Horrible colors that didn’t go together for any purpose. Hideous in fact.
Before and After
When you see the “afters” it will make sense. But she needed more than just a spit-shine, she needed a complete make-over. Like those people on the morning shows, where they take them backstage, cut and color their hair, do their makeup, put them in new clothes and they look 10 years younger. It has been a long couple of weeks, but she is about ready for her debut. Someone asked my husband if we were still painting. “What is taking you guys so long?” He answered. “Do you know how many colors we are using?” and “You know my wife…” I think that is a compliment. Really I do.
- Body- light gray
- Trim – white
- Windows – black
- Upper shingles and lower trim – dark gray
- Screen doors and accent molding – light grass green
- Main doors and porch accent – deep Bordeaux wine
There is always more!
Outside we have also salvaged the landscaping. Fixed and recouped the lawn. Trimmed perennials back to tame and separated bulbs to replant. We brought in starts of lilacs, tiger lilies and peonies from the family lake place and gathered rocks from the lake bed over the winter for pathways through the garden and larger ones for accents throughout the beds. We brought in over 5000 lbs total of sand, gravel and river rock to make paths and create water runoff areas under the eaves. We even recreated the lattice under the porch. We rebuilt and reattached flower boxes and added hanging plants and other planters from found objects. All in all, most things, other than exterior paint have been foraged, reused, or repurposed saving so much money! It has taken time of course – most of my husband’s vacation, but we are close to the finish line as I type this.
Inside, over the winter we pulled carpet, painted, removed and replaced lighting that didn’t fit the decor and in general gave the interior a facelift. We uncovered a window that had been paneled over, and completely redid the screened in porch as well.
Icing on the cake
But the outdoor painting project this summer is the icing on the cake. Really thick buttercream frosting kind of icing. She is finally going to be pretty again. A proud old lady with a new haircut, color, mani and pedi. All the things any girl needs in her life, old or young. And I think she might be the most exciting art project I have ever created in my life.
So when you look at the befores and afters, and even though we still have many more projects to do, remember that this old lady is getting younger every day. Like humans, who get to grow and change and learn no matter how old we are. I believe houses also have a long life; a story to tell; inspiration to lend. Both houses and people need others who love us, respect us and nurture our souls. Those who will share and support us as we age – our village. Those that can see through the age and experience to see the beauty inside.
We have experienced such support by all the people who have literally pulled over to compliment our project while in progress. Even taking care to social distance! As if somehow they already knew we would be successful in our monumental endeavor. People have honked in support, walked or biked past and even stopped to give thanks for what we are doing. Admiring. Encouraging, complimenting and sighing. The support has been downright awesome! What a lovely experience to live in a small town where people have taken the time to care. Today a women stopped to invite me to join the “garden club!” She’s not finished yet. I will add more to the slide show later this week but you get the idea. I think this labor of love was worth every part of the process.
Process this: the depth and breadth of it all is that we long to be more, do more, and ultimately be our best selves. To do that, we need support. We just need a hand up, a little nudge, some inspiration and a paint brush to get us started. Then one day, when the process has run its course, we have sloughed off our old skin and we are new again. I think she appreciates that we cared enough to see beyond the surface and search for the beauty that still lies within. Process leads to discovering what you knew was there all the time. You just have to jump in and do it!
P.S. Next we are tackling the carriage house!