What makes a white picket fence so universally appealing? Is it its association with our idealized notions of American domesticity? Or maybe just the visual allure of a crisp silhouette standing in contrast to the world around it?
Whatever the reason, the color white is key. We had a new fence installed just after we moved in last August and left the picketed portions to weather over the fall and winter. The fence looked okay, but wasn’t particularly noteworthy, at least until this weekend. I knew this dreaded day was coming, the one when I had to start the tedious process of transforming hundreds of feet of ho-hum unfinished yellow pine to eye-catching bright white. There’s really no good way to paint a fence except one…picket…at…a…time. I know how Tom Sawyer felt.
Over the weekend I managed to paint the five sections of fence directly in front of the house. If you’ve walked by and counted how many are left to go, please don’t tell me, I don’t care to know.
Technically, I’m staining the fence with an opaque acrylic stain called Rubbol, by Sikkens. The product covers well enough to make this a one-coat job, a must for my sanity. Sikkens is well known in the building industry for durable clear coat products, so I’m hoping this stain will stand up to the elements for many years to come.
On this Memorial Day, I share this unquestionably American image of our colonial house with its white picket fence, and offer my sincerest thanks to all those who fight to keep my American dream alive.
The most interesting thing about old houses are the stories that they tell and the secrets that they reveal as you get to know them.
Last weekend, I removed our old electrical meter and the conduit that connected it to the breaker panel in the basement. These components became obsolete when we upgraded our electrical service this winter. Because the conduit had been painted over umpteen times, a relatively clean cross section of paint colors was revealed when I yanked the tubing off the wood siding around back.
As you can see in the photo below, it turns out that the new siding color is remarkably similar to another color used on the house many decades ago. That earlier color is a darker, more forest-y green than the gray-tinged “Link Gray” that we used on the siding. Even so, I find it fascinating that other owners had similar ideas about which hue best suited the house. Since then, various shades of light gray seem to have been the color of choice.
Another fun fact: see that block of wood posing as a brick just below the siding? Nowadays when contractors talk about “blocking”, they’re referring to pieces of wood concealed in walls to provide attachment points for wall-hung materials or equipment. But the origin of the term are wood blocks like these, buried in a brick wall, to provide secure anchoring points for wood windows and doors. Neat, huh?
If asked, I could sit down right this second and come up with a list of a thousand things that we need/want to do to our house. Any renovation project, particularly one done over time, becomes a question of priorities. Would we rather be sinking our hard-earned dough into the new kitchen? You betcha. But an ugly, failing paint job and gutters that were rusting through made it clear that our first projects needed to address these more urgent, if decidedly unsexy issues. Fortunately, the roof is only a few years old, so that portion of the exterior envelope is sound. And come spring, we’ll need to cap and repoint the chimneys. But the siding and gutters were at a point that any further neglect would have compounded our exterior issues, resulting in more expensive problems down the line.
The happy side effect of all this work is that (at least from the outside) the house no longer looks like it’s succumbing to its age. Instead, it wears it proudly, imperfections and all. The colors make it look dignified, formal, like it’s put on a well-tailored suit. I’m not going to lie: being located across the street from the offices of the Alliance for Historic Hillsborough and the Vistor’s Center adds some pressure to get the place looking good. After all, our house is staring every visitor in the face as soon as they walk out the front door over there.
I’ll address the specifics of these projects in more detail in later posts. But for now, a couple of before and afters can do the talking:
I’m still not sure what to do about that camellia tree. It’s beautiful in bloom, provides shade and privacy for the porch in summer, but blocks a full third of the front facade. Suggestions, anybody?
If you’re wondering what contractors we used for these projects, I’ve started a new page on the blog called “Highl[e]y recommended” where I’ll list succinct and forthright reviews of everyone we hire that does a reasonably good job. As an architect and advanced DIY-er, I can be a demanding and critical customer, so I can confidently say that a good review here is a strong endorsement for their services.