Cottage-ify this split level

August 6, 2006

I've really enjoyed reading all of your posts and contributing on occasion. After an exterior painting disaster yesterday (more in the Home Dec forum for anyone who wants to know the details) we will be repainting very soon. I would like to give my 1960's split-level as much of a cottage feel as possible.


So far we've converted an awkward, ugly gravel drive across the front of the house into a yard and huge (YES!) perennial bed (currently filled with many tiny plants - soon to be luxuriant, cottagey goodness) and lawn surrounded by a 3-rail fence. I'm thinking I would like a cream or light beige for the body color but I don't know what to do for trim or door color. We will be installing windowboxes under the windows on the left of the photo and re-doing to bed under the picture window on the right. Would shutters be overkill on the upper windows? Where could I place a bench? What other touches could I add?


Comments (35)

  • gardeners_hands

    oh, gosh, I just love it when people ask my opinion. It doesn't mean you should follow any of it... just like to give it! heh.

    You've got a great clean start. Don't even wanna know about that pink on the front of your house...

    One of the first things I thought was 'shutters!' but what does everyone else think on a ranch? I think they could be great, especially if they have nice little shutter-dogs. ALSO - my personal pet peeve = shutters that obviously could never cover the windows. Even though shutters now-a-days seldom actually work, I believe they should LOOK like they could. Each side should be half the width of the window, and equal or even a tad taller than the height. JMHO. Oh, also the window boxes and shutters should appear to work together, not as if window boxes prevent shutters from closing.
    I'd love to see this house in a soft gold with deep forest green trim + shutters, and a dark gold door. The window boxes could be painted to match the roof, a medium soft brown.

  • gardeners_hands

    What do you think of a white trellis up each side of those garage doors and across the top? Jasmine, potato vine, tiny climbing roses, clematis??? No dirt there? Plant in large tubs/boxes.

    It wouldn't be at all hard to build.

    You have several magnificent trees, lucky you.
    Would it maybe be a good spot for an arbor by the dark car, at a 45 deagree angle between tree and house?

    What is the area right in front of the door like? Is is a long cement porch? Can you add a few columns and a railing or not?

    It'd be nice to have a birdbath within a few feet of the faucet (hose bib).


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    Smaller scale palms on the front, such as Date Palms grow to a max of 10ft. Also really like your front door. Something like the picture attached for carriage style garage doors and possibly a garage pergola may add some weight to the house on the left side and give the entire look more balance. You have very nice garden beds established, possibly consider adding some large clay planters of colorful annuals through out. I don't know if you could really add a trellis on the utility poles without planting something beneath in a large container because of the concrete side walk, and would need to be watered. However, if your house and landscape have some added curb appeal, it is very nice already, the house and gardens would command attention. The back yard plan looks great!
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  • robinco

    GH - I completely agree about shutters needing to look as though they would actually cover the window (even if they're never closed). I love these shutters - I guess I'm going for a sort of European look - I worked in Austria one summer several years ago and loved that every house (from the most extravagant - of which I saw few - to the most humble) had gorgeous gardens and window boxes and charming shutters. I also like the recommendation for the color scheme... I'll have to ponder that! I also love the trellis idea - I'll work on some designs... The area right in front of the door is a very small "stoop" with no railings. I'll have to think about some options there.

    If you're interested in the whole story or seeing some other color ideas, I would love your comments:

    I really appreciate the suggestions - I love my trees, too, and my 1.5 acres with irrigation water! We've been here less than a year and my head is so full of dreams.

    Here is a link that might be useful:

  • gardeners_hands

    oOooOOoh, those are nice shutters!
    I wonder, since you like the European look, if you might like to add some trim to have a bit of half-timbered look? Although they are often thought of as tall two asnd three storey buildings they can also be lower long rach-type structures. Here is one to take a look at; . You wouldn't want to 'go crazy' with the trim... it would look, uh, crazy. Just a little flavor.

    Take a look at these half-timbered; click on the first one to see a larger picture. They are in Bavaria Germany, aren't they adorable?

    Here is an excellent example of ranch half-timbered;
    see the trim around the garage - and the little lamps?

    You know there is softwear that will allow you to color a photo of your house so that you can see it in many different color combinations. Lots cheaper than changing the paint later. Our own Homemaker on GardenWeb does it often... Homemaker - where are you?

  • gardeners_hands

    Magnificent arbor over the garage - AND trellis over the garage;

    Hey... what do you think of a courtyard in front? Stone or brick floor, and low wall of stone or brick, little gate with a spring to shut it behind you... hmmm?

  • robinco

    I do love the half-timbered look (in Germany) but I don't think I would like it on my house - perhaps I don't have enough imagination... They look really nice in the Estes Park area (very near where I live). In fact, I like this a lot The challenge is always adapting the scheme to the house I have to work with!

    Homemaker posted a great color scheme for me over on Home Dec. Thank you also for the pictures of the arbor - really nice! Keep those ideas coming - I really appreciate it!

  • keesha2006

    good start....I like very much shutter idea..I think cottage almost always calls for shutters and I think there are very few houses that don't benefit with that addition..I say yes shutters....what about some porch columns and or railings? How about a min..three foot white pergola over the garage doors that continues toward the front door, maybe even to it? Garage doors with windows that look like carriage doors? If that is not a option what about just adding carriage hardward, strapping hinges, handles..ect to look carriage without a door change? Another down the road expensive change..what about stamped and stained concrete driveway that looks like brick? What about maybe several benches..the more places to sit and take in a country garden the more cottage it feels to me....maybe a tree wrap bench in addition to a regular you have room for a rocker on the front porch or a wicker couch maybe? I think any color that relates to the earth would work...all depending what you like..browns, greens, One thing that is really noticable for me is how undersized the windows are for the facade of the shutters and window boxes would help balance that out. Do a search online, there is a company that makes plastic strips and connectors that you can make 6 or 9 light panes for exsisting windows..they snap in with clips on the inside and are easily removable for window washing. I had them once and from the outside no one would be wiser and the inside is about the same. I can't recall the company but I think they were out of California. I really like your shutter choice and if you use those shutters, the diamond panes might be nice rather than square...I also vote for terrace or seating area in the front that says linger here...also according to Euopean trends....the path to your front door should NEVER be straight lines.....if you can't change that...can you fake it? Curve the beds in the general area? I also noticed you have the eave bracket (I don't know what the tech name is for those) but what about adding two more on each side...I always think they remind me of older houses and cottages also...any kind of gated entrance reeks of cottage....Just my two cents and I am bad about thinking of ideas and ammending as I some of these might not be viable after one was done....I really have to see it as I go to get the feel of where I want to keep going. And many are costly so they might have to be a least at my house they would have to be.. :) Another thing I also think that says cottage is white....not white houses exactly but white repeated often...whether that be in trim...or in flowers.....but it seems to breathe light into things..and makes colors pop...again..just my two cents..but I noticed you have white trim on the windows and front door...what about taking it further..the soffiet bracket....doors? A pergalo or trellis across the garage doors in white...all just rambling ideas... I think you have a great slate to begin with and could go many places with this..the work you have already done is nice. Good luck and share with us whatever you decide and post pictures often of the work in progress...I don't know about anyone else..but I live for those picture posts...

  • keesha2006

    I just read your story about the paint on the home dec have your hands full...when life throws you lemons..make lemonade.....:) You can smack me now if you like....I think your handling it well considering all ahead of you.

  • robinco

    Thanks, Keesha - It's going to be a huge task, yes. On the other hand, these kinds of challenges always remind me how lucky I am to have the life I do - Great husband, kids, home, and good health. Compared to the challenges the painter has ahead of him, our challenge is a piece of cake!

    Great ideas, too. The front walk is curved from the gate to the front door. I agree with you that the shutters will help with the scale of the windows and will also be a great way to introduce color. I think we will probably go with a cream color on the body of the house. I really like the bracket idea - I'll put that on the list. Yes, we're definitely working on a budget - this little "surprise" is not exactly opportune, but I'll be making lemonade all the way to the paint store ;-)

    I will keep you posted and continue to share pics.

  • Fori

    I want shutters on those windows, too. That house has alot of cottage potential, strangely enough! I think I'd like the house in a light elephant grey, with white trim. But you'd have to re-roof I think...

  • robinco

    We are actually planning to put on a new roof when we can afford it and are leaning toward a standing seam metal roof or galvalume roof. I'll try the gray on a Photoshop mock-up and see what it looks like! I've got to get serious about the whole shutter idea -- it seems to win universal favor!

  • keesha2006

    I just thought I would share how this worked for me if you have not settled on a paint combo yet....I also have a brick is a manufactured brick built in the 50'
    s that looks like Indiana Limestone but is not...but it has this odd color cast to it. I have never been able to find a good paint combo over the years...been all over the color charts with attempts over the years..was never happy really. Three years ago after reading an article about getting designer "looks" without designer price, I tried it the way they suggested and BINGO..Finally after 25 years..a good match..hello..where was I for 25 years :). Start with something that will be in your color scheme that can't be changed....take that and go to any paint store and pic one of those flyers that listed suggestions with three or four co ordinating colors and look ONLY at those that have one of those three or four colors that match your UNCHANGABLE object.....and pick from there.. Those are picked together because the tones go ...some are all in same families..some are opposites but enhancing...once you narrow it down to only the kinds that match your UNCHANGABLE then you can decide if you like the color blends..or the opposites for more is much less confusing since there are so many tans, or greens, or any color and some might go with one color but another may not at all... I used home depot outdoor swatches and it was easy for me...and it took me down a direction I would of never chosen myself but it was the best for the house and the parts I could not change. I later used the same swatches to chose the siding color for our guest house/garage also. Anyway, if your not settled on your color yet or not postive..try it...use your brick..match it exactly to however many of those swatches it fits into..and then base your decision upon only those. If nothing might be fun even if you don't agree with it....I just wanted to share it with you since it worked so well for me after 25 years of just ok paint attempts until now. Again...good luck and share your progress, we will be anxious!

  • robinco

    How great to finally find the "right" combo, Keesha! I will give that a try today!

  • Fori

    I didn't even realize that was brick! Need a new monitor maybe. :) That'll definitely affect the color choice. At least it's a nice bricky color and not one of those nasty brick colors.

    Any chance those garage doors are needing replacement? They aren't bad of course, and they're not central like they are in som any homes...but...old fashioned carriage house doors with windows...sez me with awful doors that clash with my house and only work half the time. OO you could faux finish them with bricks and windows if you're not too close to the street.

    Yeah I get goofy when I haven't had my coffee. please disregard. :)

  • robinco

    I agree, fori - new garage doors would look a whole lot better. I think (especially in light of the latest developments) we will have to put that off for a few years. I really do like the cottage style ones, too!

  • Fori

    Those doors aren't bad, really. When you paint, just do them the same color as the body of the house and not an accent color. They aren't prominent and the way you have the fence, it's like the driveway is a side yard, which is sort of a nifty trick, whether you meant to do it or not.

  • maggiemuffin360

    I second the idea of painting the garage doors the same colour as the house. We repainted our house last year and decided to paint the gargage door as well. Best spur-of-the-moment decision we ever made; now the garage door blends in and the focal point is the clematis that is growing beside it (and hopefully above eventually).


  • robinco

    Yes, we plan to paint the garage door the same color as the house. I'm actually considering a grey-blue color right now, too... we'll see! One of the few painters with good references who said he would do it isn't available until late this month so I have some time to consider it ;-)

  • robinco

    Well, here it is. {{gwi:740836}}

    Trim is yet to be painted (shade darker of blue) and door color yet to be decided (I'm leaning to the yellowish green of newly emerged grass). I love it and look forward to shutters, brackets, trellises, etc. when the budget can bear it!

    Thanks again for the ideas and support!

  • keesha2006

    nice job...looks sharp...way wayyyy diff than what you began with. I think it was a smooth move...!!! Hats off....the changes will only improve!

  • robinco

    Thanks, Keesha! I'm really excited about springtime and planting the windowboxes, etc. Now I will turn my dreams towards planning a Halloween thank you party for all of our friends (and good tradespeople) who have helped us get this far!

    I'm so glad our pumpkin patch has gone wild this year!

  • FlowerLady6

    The new color looks very nice with the brick. You are doing a great job. One day you'll look back on all this and remember how sweet the lemonade turned out to be. : -)


  • robinco

    Thanks, FlowerLady! I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel of SO many home improvement projects (of course, this morning I discovered that one of the tanks for our brand new Toto toilets has a hairline crack in it and the brand new lower level shower is leaking behind the brand new wall - luckily our contractor is a good guy and he will be by this afternoon to fix the leak and begin the patch job!) and vow to spend my winter perusing plant/seed catalogs, catching up on some reading, and eating food that has never been in a box, pouch, or can!!

  • jackied164 z6 MA

    I also kind of agree with adding shutters but personally my focus would be on huge beds to the right of the drive way and following the fence both inside and outside. Here I would plant tall perennials and annuals that would grow into each other, flop, and generally create a riot there on your street. I think this house has very solid cottage garden potential.

  • robinco

    Thanks, Jackie! Although nearly imperceptible in the photo, I have already planted several (tiny) perennials in the beds inside and outside the fence. It was so hard for me to leave my last house and my HUGE hardy roses, but having a bit of land was worth it. I can't wait to see my Champagne Arches explode in bloom in the next few years.

    The funny thing is, I never even considered planting in the area to the right of the driveway (which seems so obvious now that you mention it...). We've used that area for overflow parking before but it would be much better as more garden space!

    I feel so lucky to have discovered the joys of gardening.

  • robinco

    Thank you all so much for ideas last year. I must admit I haven't done much since then on our split-level-with-potential. I did get rid of the overgrown shrubs in the bed in front of the living room window, and we will be putting up luxuriantly-filled window boxes (same width as windows) under the 2 upper-level windows. Here is the latest photo (hurrah, spring!).

    Now... I'm torn between shutters and window awnings (like those seen in the link below, the tan house with awnings a few messages down from the top)... ideas?

    I'm trying not to rush my dear little roses and perennials to fill in the bare space (lots of it) in the front bed, but I need some big plants, FAST! Recommendations?

    Also, other then the requisite climbing rose (white or pink? - the windowboxes will be filled with pink wave petunias, Margarita sweet potato vine, and white trailing pelargonium... and possibly something yellow) trained on a trellis along the brick to the right of the front door, what should I put in the newly denuded front planting bed?

    Thank you all for any suggestions!

    Here is a link that might be useful: awnings on cottage-ified house

  • girlgroupgirl

    Frankly, I don't think awnings or shutters would do your home any justice!
    Your house is a typical Brady Bunch style ranch, and I think that awnings would look weird with that style of home, and that shutters will not make the small windows look any larger or more cottagey. Ya just don't own a cottage!
    That said, I think there is a lot you could do with the home from the standpoint of a garden and plantings. Window boxes would be great, that would help elongate those small upper windows. And I think a rose, right smack between the windows would give the home a little "something" special. It would be lovely.
    A shrub or some sort of structural plant (maybe a japanese maple?) to the right of the lower windows, on that corner would be really nice. In the winter you could add twinkle lights on it to play up the form of the plant. Weeping mulberries (or any weeping small tree) would also work really nicely. They stay in bounds with very little pruning.
    I think loads of nice soft colors would also do wonders for the home, and you would really see the flowers against the darker home.
    The fence is PERFECT for rambling, ambling plants - small climbing roses or anything that peeks over or around and through the fence. Airy things, a few structural things, hollyhocks in places you want something taller. How lovely it will all look!


  • robinco

    GGG - Thanks for the reminder not to put lipstick on a (albeit lovely) pig (or Laura Ingalls Wilder's dress and bonnet on Marsha Brady's pad). For this year, I will stick with the windowboxes and stuffing the planting beds full of floriferous wonderfulness (I couldn't resist 2 Iceberg roses at Home Depot this weekend... for $4 each, it's worth the risk!). Now, on to designing a suitable look for my chicken coop that doesn't fight with the general Bradyishness of our abode.

    I have a fabulously pink John Cabot rose ready to be plopped into the front planting bed (the picture window). I like the twinkle light idea, too.


  • girlgroupgirl

    That is such a great house. We looked at a few homes similar to yours, but nothing at all as cool as that. Some friends of ours in NC do have a home quite a bit like yours. I love it. The interior is just super, and the exterior also looks great with a garden.
    Is your door acid green? (please read this with a very excited, tone. My kitchen cabinets are acid green!! I love it!)


  • gldno1

    I agree with GGG, it looks just great like it is. I love the fence. Once you fill in everything with roses, flowers and shrubs, it will look fantastic. That fence will be great for planting.

  • robinco

    Alright, GGG and gldno1 - you've convinced me to stick with it as is and just be patient with mother nature (and hope my husband continues to be patient with my mega-purchases at the nurseries!

    Yes, acid green... color-matched to a praying mantis. Glad you like it! I bet you'd love our sparkly quartz full-wall fireplace in the lower level ;-) We love the layout and the 60's charm... I'm just missing my old garden.

  • careytearose

    I haven't read about your painting nightmare- but am trying to follow all the posts on this thread. You have such wonderful mature tress and lots of space to grow plants-sigh. So many great ideas on the posts. I probably wouldn't be much help-- we took our late 1960's suburban tract house that was beige with dark beige trim with a boring but requisite front lawn like the others--- First we put a raised brick bed for roses in the front... then we painted our house periwinkle blue (honest!)with white trim and built a custom spindle white picket fence. We added english cottage flowers in the "picket zone" and recently took what was the front lawn and created bricked beds for more roses with brick pathways and added a metal gazebo! We are now at 112 roses, especially antique climbers, and proudly say we are the brightest house on the block! Here is some pics of the recent landscaping projects we've done to our house...


    Here is a link that might be useful: Landscaping Projects album

  • robinco

    Thank you for the compliments for our trees and ample space. We, too, love both of those things (as well as our 3-sheep flock obtained (I must admit) primarily as a source of manure for the compost pile. I love what you did with your house and yard. I think it's great when owners make their homes reflect their tastes and interests.

    Here in northern Colorado I stick primarily to hardy roses (preferably big, thuggy things) and Floribundas and this year I think I will try to establish some climbers against the brick at the front of the house (a bit of a challenge here). Your roses blow my mind!

    To make a long painting story short... I hired a friend of our (builder) neighbor's to paint the exterior of our house. This is the kind of thing I normally have the good judgment not to do, but we were in mid-remodel and although the exterior painting could have waited, it was an opportunity to get rid of the rust-and-mauve exterior color scheme that nearly deterred us from buying this great place. He showed up, got started masking, I ran to Home Depot to pick up some supplies for whatever our weekend project happened to be, returned, found the entire front of our house dripping with (in retrospect, a really ugly greenish-taupey color of) paint, including the door, some windows, some brick, and bits of the (asphalt shingle) roof. I then found the "painter" passed out in the (builder) neighbor's driveway, drunk as a skunk. Not a banner day.

  • rosefolly

    Oh no! The only good thing about that is you can tell people that story for the next ten years. It's a very (forgive me)colorful tale!


  • srosso

    re: galvalume. this is my post of july 23, which i'm sending to you fyi.

    "we just finished lining the ceiling of our glassed-in porch and also underneath our overhanging eves with galvalume (galvanized corrugated aluminum). (it's not on top of the roof -- you look up at it). it's reminiscent of the old corrugated iron shed roofs, but really beautiful.
    however, it has developed hundreds of whitish/gray spots, which look like a venting/condensation problem, although the spots do not rub off like dried cloudy condensation spots usually do. it's brand new, so i don't think it's corrosion, although who knows?

    the spots run along near the wall of the house, about a foot wide, exactly where the old soffit was. this is occurring on the galvalume under the eves, but not the galvalume on the sunroom ceiling. (i think the sunroom ceiling, which is 10'x20', has more space above it and the air moves around more, so there's no venting issue.)

    i looked at the mfg. website (U. S. Steel), which says that "storage stain" can occur if the materials are stacked without ventilation, causing white or black spots. maybe it's related? (the mfgr. does not warranty the materials if the area is not vented properly) the GC and the architect are coming out to look at it next week.

    when the galvalume went up, it was spotless and beautiful. does anyone have any experience with this? I would like to get some information before meeting with the builder. THANKS."

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