In mid-July we began to transform our house exterior with paint. We've gone from an ivory elephant with bright yellow and coral accents to a more stately and smaller (we hope) neutral gray elephant with darker gray window trim, warm brown fascia and eaves, and brick coloured gables and soffits. Although the job is still far from finished, the mood of the house is completely transformed. I'd like to say that neighbourhood feedback (direct, overheard, and rumored) has been uniformly positive, but in truth I think the comments are about 80 percent in favour, 20 percent against. This is probably a good average in a diverse and recently historically designated neighbourhood. Some people just don't like change. In the winter I wrote that we would probably paint the house ourselves, but after contemplating the massive undertaking--our house is a three story Victorian and requires a 40 foot ladder to reach its peaks--our enthusiasm waned a little and we hired a one-man painting company.
When I read on his website profile that he was an accomplished rock climber, I knew he was our guy. In addition to no fear of heights, he had insurance, a commitment to safe practice, and fantastic work ethic. The deal we struck was that he would prep and paint all of the third story wood trim, windows, gable ends, and get as much of the lower two stories, especially the parts most visible from the street done in the five weeks he had before moving on to another job. We would paint whatever trim remained as well as the windows on the on the first and second floors. To help him in his time limited task he hired two assistants: one a champion lacrosse player, one an aspiring singer songwriter with girlfriend problems. I'll leave it to you to guess who was the more efficient. Prepping the woodwork took almost two full three-person weeks. We never could have handled this job on our own. And yet, the job is only mostly done. Some crucial areas, like the windows on the second story front sunroom, remain incomplete.
Since we returned from our vacation we've been ready to proceed with the job and finish at least the most visible bits of the house before autumn denudes us of the cover of foliage and the paint job is on full display. But the weather seemed bent on foiling us. Although the tail end of Ike didn't hit us with the full predicted deluge, the (available) days of early September were wet and cold. N, who once painted with a good painting company in north Toronto between school terms, said that with nighttime lows under 10degrees C, the paint wouldn't properly cure and we were about to abandon hope. But this is where new technology came to our rescue.
It turns out that the paint we chose to use, Benjamin Moore's new Aura paint, only available in Canada since July, requires temperatures of only 4.4 degrees Celcius (around 40 F). This means despite the chilly evenings we have no excuse not to finish the job. The recent weather has turned in our favour and now we are hopeful about finishing. And a bit more about our paint: in addition to allowing cold-weather application, Aura is one of the lowest VOC paints on the market. It goes on beautifully and smoothly, much more easily than Farrow and Ball paints (except for oil). Its coverage is very good--last weekend N prepped and painted the sunroom windows previously ivory, now slate gray, in one coat, with no primer. We skipped the primer step for expediency, but really, the coverage is so complete you'd never know.
We took a long time choosing our colours because we knew our final choices would be very public. In our pedestrian friendly neighbourhood, nothing escapes comment. Because our brick was already painted, we had fewer limitations on our choice of palette. After cruising around many neighbourhoods to decide what look we liked, we consciously chose a low contrast scheme which relies on tensions between warm and cool colours of the same value rather than the more common high contrast exterior paint schemes. The palette seems to unify the house and bring out the textures of the wood trim, shingled gables, and the brick. For the first time in years, the house looks of a piece. N even admits that the new paint job has changed his mind about the 1940's tudor-style sunroom addition above the front porch that he's often talked about tearing down. We are especially happy with the dark window trim which recedes into the facade rather than standing out (this is an especially good feature on the upper floors where we still have some ugly aluminum storm windows). One thing that bothers us about many home exteriors is the default use of white for windows and trim. As a considered choice, white can look perfect: crisp and clean, but other times the white is far too stark against the rest of the house. Victorians often painted the window sashes dark colours to reduce the contrast between the black voids of window glass and the trim. Our preparations for painting revealed that our wood trim and and windows have been a very dark, almost black, green, a deep red, dark brown, mustard yellow, and in more recent years, tan, pink, and pale yellow. Now, they are a deep slate gray. The house looks good to us right now. I hope we feel the same way about it in mid-winter.