Front Yard Painting and Landscaping

My 2016 exterior blitzkrieg concludes here, in our front yard. When we bought the house, it looked dated and lifeless. The awning darkened the front (both inside and outside), the bushes didn’t offer much curb appeal, and the siding and stucco were in bad need of paint. Oh, and a section of our roof was on the walkway.

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Julian Collins has been our go-to guy for several projects since buying the house. He demoed our basement and hauled it away, he painted our exterior, and he helped us remove this hideous awning. I highly recommend him anytime you need extra muscle – he’s fast, affordable, and insanely hardworking.

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Jarrod and Julian conquered this awning – my contribution was suggesting they use a board to hold it up and push it away. What I lack in muscle I make up for in smarts.

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Removing the awning made a huge difference in our living room and sunroom.

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Our landscapers dug out the bushes in early spring, and then it was time for house painting. (The landscapers took out that dead light post as well, after I had an electrician sever the power connection.)

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I came to a decision on the exterior paint color quickly, which isn’t usually like me! I tried three swatches and had a clear winner: Gunsmith Gray from Benjamin Moore (the bottom swatch). It’s a gray-green; Benjamin Moore calls it a “deep, blackened gray.” The color is from their Williamsburg Collection. The historical vibe works well on our 1913 bungalow: it contrasts the red brick really nicely, and I feel like it adds some much-needed life to the front of the house. The white is off-the-shelf Benjamin Moore white. We used MoorGard Low Lustre Finish in white for the trim, and MoorLife Flat Finish on everything else.

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Julian power washed the exterior and then returned the next day to paint. He charged around $800 for everything: the siding, trim, stucco, and back mudroom. He and a helper knocked it out in a single day, working from early morning until after the sun set.

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When Julian found out I had bought Benjamin Moore Regal Select paint, he said “Thank you, thank you.” Apparently the coverage is significantly better than Behr, which makes his job easier. I definitely noticed the difference in quality when we used it on the garage. So, I’d recommend it and will use it again. If you’re on the north side of Chicago, JC Licht on Irving Park is a great paint store.

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After painting came landscaping. Here’s the plan Monica from Red Stem put together:

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We used all native plants and shrubs, as we did in the backyard. We disconnected our northern gutter downspout from the city sewer system, extended it to the garden area, and buried it so provides water to the garden area. (“DS” in the diagram above – we didn’t end up doing the southern one because we didn’t want to dig under the sidewalk.) This guide was helpful for us as first-time homeowners: Understanding Your Sewer: An Introduction to the Chicago Area’s Combined Sewer Systems. Did you know there are no ninja turtles in Chicago’s sewer system? That’s unique to New York.

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Of all the things we planted, I’m most excited about the multi-stemmed serviceberry tree. It flowers in the spring, produces berries in the summer, and turns bright reddish-orange in the fall. It will grow as tall as our front porch roofline. The cranberry viburnum bushes flower and berry as well, and they’ll grow at least 6 feet tall.

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The Red Stem crew was great. Really nice guys, who shared a meal on our new patio and were so considerate of our yard. I love this photo with Doozy overseeing the job from the window.

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Plants and sedges are interspersed between the bushes. Everything will fill in and fill out in the coming years. I will also replace and enlarge the windows someday with something more bungalow-appropriate (similar to this).

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One last before and after:

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And that is where I’ll leave you for now. I’ll return in early January with a list of everything I hope to tackle in 2017. Happy New Year!

Backyard Patio, Painting, and Landscaping

The 2016: Year of the Exterior blogging bonanza continues with painting, patio installation, and landscaping. This is where we started:

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Let’s dive in!

Lipstick on a Pig

Here’s the situation with the tacked-on room at the back of the house: it used to be an exterior porch. At some point, it was enclosed – very, very poorly. So poorly that they didn’t even finish the job, even though they started it years ago. The drywall on the interior was never mudded (you can get a glimpse of it through our kitchen door). The proportions of the windows don’t make any sense. The siding was installed totally incorrectly (visible screws!). It freezes in the winter and bakes in the summer. It’s a cobbled-together garbage mess… but it’s sturdy, and it’s not unsafe. Fixing it will essentially require that we tear it down and rebuild it ($20k-ish?), which isn’t in the budget for the foreseeable future and simply isn’t a priority. It may never be. It functions fine for what it is (a mudroom), and my goal was to make it look as decent as possible for as little money as possible.

Which is a long way of saying: I put some lipstick on that pig.

When I posted about re-routing our dryer vent, I mentioned that it previously vented under the back porch: that’s what led to the mold you see on the siding. I scrubbed it and power washed it.

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I hired a pro to paint the front of our house (more on that in the next post). I planned to paint the mudroom myself, but we were on a tight schedule with only a few days of cooperative weather, so I added $200 to our painting bill. Worth it, especially since there were ladders involved.

Behold the wonders of paint.

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The light is from Amazon (Outdoor Aluminum Barn Light). I installed it myself, and it fits perfectly under the eave.

Jarrod and I did paint the garage on our own:

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Goodbye Deck, Hello Patio

The existing deck had to go. It was rotten and splintering. It also had no stairs, so you couldn’t access it directly from the yard.

I stressed a little about the decision between building a new deck vs. putting in a patio, but it was pretty clear that a patio was the right choice for us. A patio makes maximum use of our available yard space. The deck took up far more room than just its footprint – it loomed over the yard such that no one (people nor plants) would want to hang out around the perimeter. For example, there was a good 3 feet between the fence and the deck that was wasted space.

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I chose Brussels Block paving stones from Unilock. We used the Limestone color, laid in a random-ish pattern. I like the tumbled, worn finish. It’s a nice break from the brick city that is our house.

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I try to be upfront about costs around here: I hope it’s helpful, not obnoxious. Paver patios are incredibly expensive – there’s just no way around it. To be very honest, this luxury wouldn’t have been in our budget had we not made some bonus money by renting our house out for filming (see Let’s All Watch Easy on Netflix). Since that money was unexpected, it felt like ~fun~ money, and it seemed fitting to put it toward something we really wanted.

Which is a long way of saying: we paid $6,800 for the patio plus the corner seat wall. That includes installation and all materials.

This patio could very well outlive us. If we spend decades in this house, it will have been a smart move. If something unexpected happens and we move in 5 years, it will have been a foolish purchase and a cautionary tale. $$ ÂŻ\_(ツ)_/ÂŻ $$

Thanks to our drive-through gate, the crew was able to back up right next to the deck.

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Demo went very quickly. They sprayed the patio outline (that’s a pano photo – it’s not curved) and then dug it out.

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Next came a gravel and sand base, which was compacted.

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I went to work the next day and when I came back we had a patio. Magic! Well, kinda magic. There was still a lot of work to do.

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Another Coat of Lipstick on the Pig

Again, my goal was to make the mudroom as decent as possible for as little money as possible. I’ve done a few things to make it look more intentional, and have a few things left to do.

I started by washing and painting the wallboard below the beam.

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Then I bought two pieces of cheap lattice, which I cut to fit.

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I stained them using Ready Seal and a pump sprayer.

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And then I affixed them to the wall using decking screws.

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Yes, it looks weird to have a sliding door to nowhere. I’m not sweating it. I actually see these a lot around Chicago – people use them as big back windows with Juliet balconies. In 2017, I’m going to put up a railing, plant some tall grass/sedges, and make a better area for our grill.

Plants, Plants, Plants!

As low-grade hippies, Jarrod and I decided to go with native landscaping. That means all of the plant varieties we used grow naturally in midwest prairies and woodlands. They contribute to the ecosystem of birds, bees, and other animals that live in Chicago. (If you’re interested, see the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Landscaping with Native Plants.) We hired Monica of Red Stem Native Landscapes. She was great to work with. In the future, we’ll tackle smaller landscaping projects on our own, but there was so much work to be done that it made sense to get help.

As someone who loves plants, I cannot tell you exciting it was to have a truck full of trees and shrubs arrive. Some of these were for the backyard, some of them were for the front, and some were for other people that I wanted to steal.

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We got an Armstrong Maple for the back corner. These trees grow fast and tall – but not wide – which makes it perfect for a Chicago backyard.

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We put shrubs and plants around the patio. They’ll fill in and envelop the space, softening the hard edges of the patio. The Blackhaw Viburnum shrub in the corner, for example, will grow at least 10 feet tall.

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Here’s a shot after the shrubs went it, but before the plants arrived:

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For fun, let’s compare that to a before:

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Yep, that’s better. Let’s keep moving. When the baby plants arrived, we still hadn’t totally finished painting, because painting is the very worst thing in the entire world.

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The plants weren’t much to look at during the toddler stage. Most of their energy is spent establishing roots. Monica said the rule of thumb with native plant growth is “First year sleep, second year creep, and third year leap.”

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With that in mind, I was pleasantly surprised by the growth and flowering we saw in our first year.

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Ooof, this post was a beast! Thanks for sticking around until the end. See you tomorrow for the final post: the front yard.