Exterior + Landscaping Updates

Well, this post is a bit belated. I just realized that I never wrote a post last year about painting our house white … um, HOW DID I MISS THAT? Not sure. (Can I still blame every mistake I made on my adoption? Oh, I CAN? Great, thanks!)

So, I’m here today to catch you up on everything we’ve done to our exterior so far. And at the end of the post I will also tell you about what we’re still planning to do.

But first, a walk down memory lane. Here is what our home looked like the month we made our offer a little over three years ago!

Want to hear a little secret?? We almost didn’t even view this house because I didn’t like the front of it—like AT ALL. Laura actually talked me into looking at it because it was close to the area she was shopping in (thank you, Laura!!!!). Compared to a lot of the other homes we looked at when we were shopping, this home definitely had the worst curb appeal.

Since it is a l-shaped ranch with a walkout basement, it is quite a bit larger than it looks from the street. The backside is actually way more beautiful than the front (go ahead and insert a Michael Scott, “That’s what she said.” It’s fine). And the inside of the home (see my full tour archive here) is PURE MAGIC. As soon as we went inside we knew it was our dream home with endless potential to be everything we needed and wanted in this season of life.

So I made it my mission to improve the curb appeal of our home and make the front of it flow a little better with the rest.

Here’s what it looks like today!

I am so happy with the changes we have made. It has definitely been a marathon, not a sprint! The first year we didn’t do anything at all to the exterior because we wanted to allocate all of our money to making the inside functional for our lives and work (my husband and I both work from home, so this was a top priority).

The second year we had the house painted white and a lot of the old bushes removed. You can kind of see in the before photo, but they weren’t special or kept up. So we just went ahead and removed them all before painting because it made it easier for our painter. Then, last fall, we added flower beds.

Then as SOON as frost season was over this spring, we began the process of adding new bushes, trees and plants. It took about three months to complete the front of the house and one side. (The other side you won’t see in these photos has an air conditioner that is concealed with boxwoods that we kept. It’s nothing fancy but it’s totally functional.)

Here’s a before/after of the white paint. I LOVE IT. I totally understand that painting brick white is not for everyone. In fact, it is a very regional thing. In Missouri, almost no one does it. Here in Tennessee, it is super common. I love the look of painted brick and would probably choose it even if I was building a home from scratch, so it was a no-brainer for me. And I really feel that it modernizes the exterior of our home, which is what I so desperately wanted. Our home was built in the early 1970s, so it’s not like painting a historic home (although I personally have nothing against that either!).

White paint—my forever hero!

In hindsight (at this stage), I wish I would not have painted the stone. But after our deck is completed (more on that below), I do think the white stone will flow better with the rest of the design. So don’t judge too harshly until you get the full vision on that.

We painted our door pink, around the same time we painted the brick. At the risk of sounding dramatic, this door brings me so much joy! At first, I thought about painting it every 1-2 years (I was going to do orange next), but then I grew really attached to it. I feel like it’s a part of the house now. So I will probably leave it pink as long as we live here (although don’t hold me to it—haha). The color is Noble Blush by BEHR.

P.S. Here’s a link to my flower wreath (best Target find ever) and my Howdy doormat.

I love how the white paint brought out the details of the brick. And we do have to repaint the white porch every spring (but it’s an extremely quick job—and the only part of the house that requires that level of maintenance).

We are still loving our house number planter that was a DIY from last year.

If you’re curious, that little gap in the brick at the bottom of this photo is intentional. All houses built around this era in our region have them. I think it’s to help your house either breathe or settle over time. We learned this because Laura asked her painter if they could fill them in and he explained to us that there is an actual function to the gaps. Always learning!

We added a variety of different plants, trees and bushes. My favorite plant store, Hewitt, came over last year and helped me with ideas (you can hire them for a consultation). They helped me with ideas to mix more traditional plants with the (cold weather hardy) cacti and banana leaf plants that are my obsession.

Another thing that helped me a lot was just paying attention to what plants I saw around town that could actually live through our winters. That’s how I got the idea for the banana leaf and cacti, actually. I saw some in nearby yards that were giant and had obviously lived through a lot of winters.

I mainly stuck with perennials that will come back next year (or some will live through the winter and look alive the whole time). But I did add a few that will die at the end of the season just because they are super pretty!

Overall, I tried to make it a mixture of practical decisions and things that appealed to my design eye. Landscaping is EXPENSIVE. I didn’t realize before I started, but it’s so easy to spend $1,000 on plants—augh! So I do think it is important to ask a lot of questions and try to focus on plants that can thrive in our climate and hopefully live for many years to come.

Nova’s “help” with watering was definitely one of the cutest parts of our summer! I learned the hard way to only let her help me water outside plants and not inside—haha. Maybe next year. That’s about it for the front of the house. There is one more cactus bed that I forgot to get a photo of, so I’ll show you on Instagram.

Here’s the side of the house. It was completely bare all winter and was driving me INSANE every time I drove up to the house. And now it makes me smile every time I drive up!

These cacti and banana leaf plants are both cold weather hardy. The cacti is actually super common here and native to Tennessee. If you pay attention, you will see them in yards ALL over Nashville. They grow super quickly and some of mine bloom flowers. In a couple more years this view will look way more full and lush!

Do you think I should leave the mulch line as-is or add some stones or rocks or another barrier along that edge? I can’t decide. It looks a little unfinished to me, but I think a big part of that is that the plants need some time to grow. Just because … I can’t possibly NOT post this photo.

OK! Let’s talk about the backyard for a bit. Last year, we added two playhouses to the side of our backyard—the mid-century play set and the a-frame playhouse. They were one of the best decisions we made on the whole renovation and we use them all the time with Nova and anytime we have friends over.

Our house sits on one acre and has zero porches. So for the first year, before we began working on the exterior, it was a little depressing to me because we were paying to have our yard mowed, but not really enjoying the outdoors. Adding the playhouses helped significantly and has motivated me to invest more in our yard! I love being outside—we just needed something to do!

So our last REALLY big project will be to add a deck to the backside of our home. Can you envision an l-shaped deck right there behind me?? I can!

I actually began the design process last year, but we haven’t pulled the trigger yet. It’s a big project, so I needed time to fully envision every detail and also save up. That room there is our bedroom—how cool would it be to have French doors from our bedroom onto the deck?

I’ve spent a LOT of time daydreaming about different possible features. Hammocks or swings? A grill or a pizza oven? A fireplace or a fire pit? Currently, I haven’t felt ready to make those final decisions. We’re thinking maybe next spring we will finally go for it. If you have done a major deck project I’d LOVE to hear what you loved, enjoyed or regretted from your experience.

Beyond that, I would love to add a garden next year. I decided to wait a year and then learn from Laura’s first garden. We had a garden at our last house that I didn’t water enough and I am definitely still living that down. Ugh! I think I am ready to take it more seriously, though, and excited to give it another try next year.

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions about painting your home or landscaping for the first time I’d love to help in the comments. And if you have any advice for my deck or first garden that I 100% will not kill … I’d love to hear that as well. xx! Elsie

Credits//Author: Elsie Larson. Project Assistant: Collin DuPree. Photography: Amber Ulmer. Photos edited with A Color Story Desktop.

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  • Love the white! You’re right, the back of your house is SO beautiful…I love those big glass windows. Must give you lots of natural light inside too!

  • I’m about to run to Home Depot this weekend to buy white paint! It looks incredible, and your plants really pop against it. Did you use a true white or more of a cream?

    • On our exterior we still used Marshmallow (same as our walls inside) which is very close to true with white but a tiny hint of warmth. xx!

  • Oh French doors from your bedroom to the deck would be lovely! I also think you should put stones between the mulch and grass (just looks more “finished” even when the plants are all grown). I wish Cacti could survive in my climate (Canada’s capital is too cold in the winter) because I absolutely adore the look of them! Any plant with personality makes me happy. My mother has a dwarf Japanese maple tree that is just so beautiful that every time she moves, even though we know how much of a pain in the butt it is to move it, we move it anyway (can’t leave it to someone who might and up not taking care of if and let it die). I currently live in a townhouse and the boyfriend just doesn’t care about plants (I know….I should dump him right now ;p). Trying to convince him of the value of a nice plant bed in front of the house is like trying to convince him a third child would be fun!!! And in this last week’s unusual scorching heat, the front grass patch (literally 40 inches by 60) is completely dead and covered in weeds (it hit 45 degrees this weekend so like 113 F for you guys. I personally love it but I can’t remember a time in my 31 years where I have felt this hot in a Canadian summer). He won’t let me turn it into something pretty! His reasoning is that this is where we dump the snow from the laneway in the winter so there’s no point in making it pretty as it will have to be re-done every spring……….valid point…….still boring ;p

  • I love it. The white might be more modern but it is more classic at the same time. Certain shades of brick don’t age well (in a fashion sense). The white looks great. I love the pink door–it seems to echo the color of the roof.
    I just got back from Casablanca where I visited a house with a tiny garden full of faux bananas. Loved it and want to replicate. I figure it’s too hot and dry here in summer, and also possibly too cold (we have lows in the mid-20s once or twice each winter). I was leaning toward bamboo–the kind that doesn’t have big rhizomes–but now I’m going to investigate bananas! That would be a dream come true.
    As far as where to put decks, here’s what we did. Our house had been a restaurant, and we had a huge parking lot in front. We had a bunch of plastic garden tables from a party and plunked them in different spots around the yard. Some didn’t work out and got moved. Eventually, we realized we always had dinner at one spot, and that’s where we put in a pergola. Before the pergola, we finally replaced most of the parking lot with a pool, but the placement was different from the plan we had when we bought the place, thanks to actually seeing how we used the house (and we practiced with a little kiddie pool for a year, too). It’s good to site patios and decks based on where the sun is during the time of day when you’re using the space, or where it’s easy to carry dishes from the kitchen or where you can keep an eye on the kids. It’s something that comes with time.
    I look forward to seeing your next projects!

  • What a dramatic improvement! Responding to the mulch line vs. stone barrier question: we have left our beds as just a mulch/grass line with no stones or bricks and the grass and weeds eventually creep into the bed and we have to re-cut the line and pull all the extra grass out every spring, even with landscaping fabric under the mulch for the last 2 summers. so putting in an extra barrier would probably help with the weeds, and look nice too!

  • LOVE the white! I’ve had several homes with doors out from the master bedroom onto decks, both private and the big shared one, and have never once used them for what you would think you would use them for. Morning coffee or tea out there sounds great, right? Nope. didn’t once do that. I’d save the money and use it somewhere else. Another thing I’ve learned is to measure measure measure how big your table and chairs are with the chairs pulled out far enough from the table for when people get up out of them. This is a LOT of space! SO many decks of our friends aren’t big enough and it’s a pain when you can’t walk around a table when people leave their chairs out (why doesn’t anyone push them back in ?) and when people are lounging at the table not necessarily eating pulled up to the table close. Have fun, decks are a great addition!

  • Putting some sort of barrier around your flower beds helps it not only look more ‘finished’ but it’s also practical. It will help keep grass (especially if you have centipede) from growing into your beds. Also helps keeps weeds out and your mulch in- keeps it from washing out into the yard with heavy rains.

    As far as the deck goes- I think you’ll find yourself using your back yard so much more with the added deck. It would be wonderful to have french doors coming out of your bedroom. What a nice thing to wake up & enjoy coffee/tea right outside your bedroom door, watching the day come on. One thing I would suggest- consider doing a steel railing/concrete flooring deck. It’s NO maintenance whatsoever and lasts forever. My parents have an upper and a lower deck on their house like this & aside from having the rails repainted once in 15 years it’s required nothing else. At my house we have wood decking and it’s SUCH a pain to tear up & replace boards, then re-stain, etc. We’ve lived in this house 3 years & every summer it’s a constant battle to upkeep. Ugh. Just something to think about.

  • the little holes in the brick are called “weep holes” or “weeps”. since brick absorbs moisture through itself from the outside, this allows the water to drip / vent down behind the brick wall layer and out through those holes. if they were filled in, the wall would eventually rot! 🙂

  • Love this!! What a wonderful home!

    Quick question from a Texan who doesn’t understand why this might be seasonally-necessary: why do you need to repaint the porch every spring? Does salt and snow mess it up or something?

    Thank you!! Happy deck-planning! Ask Nova for tips bc her A-frame deck is perfect, haha! 🙂

  • I am a pretty advid gardner and am taking care of a friends garden right now when she is on vacation and it is shocking to me how hard she has made things for herself. So…. work smarter not harder. Use soaker hoses. Watering by hand takes a long time and you need to take care to not water the leaves of the plants to prevent deases. Mulch in your veggie gardens too! There are lots of awesome organic options that prevent (cut down on) weeds and retain water. And lastly, I find a veggie garden with no flowers so depressing. Flowers bring the bees and other diversity the garden needs and the beauty your heart needs. I hope you do garden, such a magical experience for kiddos to eat sugar snap peas and strawberries straight out of the garden that they planted!

  • I love the transformation Elsie. It takes a special eye to see potential in a dated house.

    I just wanted to pop in and let you know from a home maintenance perspective (especially in the south), you want to keep the mulch about 12″ from the house. This keeps organic matter that termites eat from touching your foundation. Bare earth is fine, but not as attractive, so rocks will be both functional and more attractive. 😉

  • In New England I rarely see painted brick but I LOVE the white. It is so classic and I adore your pink door!! I also think that you should put a barrier up between the grass and mulch. From personal experience, it is so much easier to keep the weeds out!! The part of my yard that does not have this either has the grass line growing into my garden OR more weeds. I think the idea of a deck would be awesome.

  • Hi there! Gorgeous renovation. Where is the front door lock from? The gold color is stunning against the pink door.

  • SO PRETTY. The pink door and wreath are perfect. We are about to buy an older home and I really want to paint the vinyl siding because I think it would update the look so much.

    The only way I’ve been able to keep plants alive (I live in the desert) is to have drip systems installed to every single plant, including our garden box. It automatically turns on with the rest of our sprinkler system and is a life saver (and a water saver). I just stick to tomatoes, cucumbers and strawberries after some trial and error. We planted peppermint one year and it keeps coming back and spreading everywhere and taking over everything. Which would be a great thing in a bigger spot, but not in a garden box!

  • I love how everything turned out! What happened to your cute pineapple door knocker though?

  • I would definitely add stone or brick to separate the grass from flower beds. It will look more finished and will help keep the grass from invading the flower beds. I would also add window boxes with annuals and perennials, will add dimension, interest and color.

  • I especially LOVE the way the back of the house turned out. It looks absolutely incredible! The floor to ceiling windows look incredible! I bet you always have gorgeous lighting inside. Depending on which direction the house is facing, how do you suggest handling bright sunsets and sunrises? My house has big windows in the living room, which I love and don’t want to block at all, but my entire house is east facing. So the sunsets get blinding inside at times. Any creative ideas there?

  • Landscaping and upping the curb appeal is no joke! My husband and I are slowly doing it at our home, ripping out the jungle mess of bushes and holly trees so we can construct a fence and add in landscaping that we love and that will add to privacy. It truly takes so much patience with these projects, but every year it gets a bit better!

    Loving the changes you’ve made so far and a deck with french doors opening up from your bedroom sounds amazing!

    The main tip I have is look at the decking material that doesn’t require staining or painting. I used to be a housepainter in my early 20s and have sanded and stained many a wood deck. The maintenance can be yearly or even bi-yearly on wood. There are so many options now on non wood decking.

    Also shoot for a lighter color (as I think you might anyway) if you want to be barefoot on the deck on the hot days. I say this after burning my feet a bit on my deck which is a medium dark color… ha ha!

    P.S. I’ve recently begun working from home full time and my husband works from home half his days now. I’d love to read about any tips you may have on a healthy way to work from home and set those “leave me alone to work” boundaries. Just an idea for a future post that I’d really love to read! Thanks!

  • You are smart to have planted sparsely with your banana leaf and cacti and will love their spacing as they grow. Very few people are courageous enough to leave adequate growing room, since they look naked for a few years. I’m so envious of your glass wall and love the colors. My front door is vibrant red and everyone walks in smiling. It makes me happy. I agree with you about the stone and hope the deck will blend as you expect. Outdoor space is delightful, and you won’t regret anything you do there.

  • What an amazing transformation!! The house is so gorgeous painted in white and I love your selection of plants, especially those three tiered topiaries. The outside gives you a definite preview of the gorgeousness to come once you go inside. 🙂

  • When we built our house it was to be painted white brick – the mottled brick they used was so ugly that I needed to put up a WILL BE PAINTED sign out front when friends kept going by to see the progress!

  • The white paint changes the whole look of your house. I like it much better!! I love your ability to see the potential of something.

  • I love it! I wish we had more houses like that in Seattle, where I live. The white brick is lively, and the pink door brings me joy, too. 🙂

  • WOW, your house is a dream! I love love love the transformation between the darker and lighter colours. You can see that you have the eye for it 🙂 Also love the detail of the bush colours!

  • Awesome! It has been turned into heaven. The effort must be appreciated. Great color choices and it is attractive with the beautiful garden.

    Cheers!

  • Definitely think some kind of edgjngr around the mulch. It was my first thought when I saw those pictures that it looks unfinished. Though that requires weed-eating versus mowing so I see the appeal of not doing it. We’ve been working on our landscaping for a year now. Our house was a rental and everything is overgrown and unkept. In Florida you have to work on it in the fall or early mornings or else you get heat stroke so it’s taking a lot longer but I totally get what you mean about driving up to the house and being sad or now happy that it looks better our curb appeal has come a long way!

  • Girl…I’ve killed about 5 gardens. BUT this years is thriving because I installed a drip system to water. Seriously- it costs $20 to put that in and your garden will be happy and you never have to worry about watering. You’ll love it and it’s an EASY DIY you can do yourself. I’m sure lots of people who read this blog would be interested too 😂

  • Where do you park your cars? Along the back side of your house? I think I remember you turned the garage into Jeremy’s studio (correct me if I am wrong!) so I am wondering if you just park your cars outside/on the street.

  • I agree with others about bordering your plant beds surrounding the house with stone … you can use bright white chopped limestone bricks. That would be really cute against blackstar gravel (it’s like a slate gray granite) instead of the damp mulch right up against your foundation. The slate and white would look awesome with all your plants. You could also, once you put in a deck, put in some large square or rectangular white limestone pavers into the gravel and create a path to the deck from other areas of your yard. Saves in mowing! I have something similar in our backyard. Amid the gravel and pavers I threw in some devil’s shoestring and red yucca … not sure if those work where you are, but they add some desert vibes.

  • I am in love with the updates!!! I also love that Laura helped you select the house! So fun! Dave and I are in the process of looking for homes and it has been super tough here in Springifeld… I feel like the curb appeal for many houses is horrible… I may just have to try and envision what it could be! Love all your decorating and design ideas and that blush door is absolutely perfect!

  • LOVE the white brick and pink door! I think edging would make your landscaping look more finished. Corton steel edging would be lovely.

  • Ohmygosh such a transformation! A little bit of paint (or a whole lot in this case) does wondrous things! I vote YAS to an L-shaped deck! I can see the perfection of it 🙂 I also vote yes to edging your flower beds. I think it will make it more finished. AND THEN…..A METAL ROOF!! Can’t you see it?! I love a black metal roof, but copper would look amazing with your style. Thank you for sharing your beautiful home with us!

  • Love, love, love!! So encouraging that you mention it’s a marathon…helps me keep some perspective! Can I get details on the front door knob/handle?

  • Regarding gardens you won’t kill- check out “permaculture “ great way to cultivate a garden year after year with easy steps! So exiting to see your backyard !

  • the ‘holes’ are for bringing the condensation water out of your walls. you should never close them. the walls are breathing through them and would otherwise mold if you close them.

    we have build some decks and loft bed in our yard. we have build in a sandbox in one of our decks, for our toddlers and it s a bliss. you don t see it normally and if the kids want to play in the sand, we lift one part of the decking and tada…a sandbox.

    the loft beds we have for more than 3years now, and because of the height, they are really low maintenance when it comes to plant, harvest and watering. also i finally try to learn about permaculture. but even as a beginner in gardening, we didn t need to buy any vegetables for at least the summer and autumn the last two years and the kids are learning so much, too. (me and my husband are working fulltime, so you see, the loft beds are really low maintenance)

    i m really excited to see what you do with your yard! it s seems really big. we live in berlin, germany and there are no big grounds available, but we re doing our best to make our ground as pretty, playful and functional as possible.

    • I love the white paint! Totally changes the look of the age of the home. I would have never thought of a pink door – so unique~! Thank you for sharing your journey.

  • I love these ideas! I cannot believe the difference the white paint makes. The house looks like a new place. I would have never thought of a pink door, so unique! I am in the process of completing outside landscaping and love following your ideas.

  • Perfect timing! I just put up a post on the ‘gram about using native plants to achieve a Palm Springs look. I’m in Virginia but most of the plants are native to Tennessee as well. I recommend looking into Big Leaf Magnolia trees which are native and have huge tropical-looking leaves with beautiful white flowers. Southern Catalpa is another great native tree with a tropical look. Adam’s Needle would look amazing in your yard as would Dwarf Palmetto (native to NC) – both have palm-like foliage that stays green all winter. Pink Muhly Grass, Queen of the Prairie, and Joe Pye Weed are easy to grow perennials that will compliment the pink door and are a good scale for a large yard.

    Hope this helps!
    Sarah

    • Whoops, forgot to include my Instagram handle. IG: staymodernco if you are interested!

      Thanks,
      Sarah

  • Hello,

    Could you share the source for your front door handleset? I have been poking around the site and can’t seem to find it in an earlier post. I have a vintage brass bunny door knocker and it’s proving very difficult to find a matching handleset in brass with modern lines like yours.

    Thanks in advance! 🙂

  • Looks amazing! Love the white paint and pink door. I can totally envision some big sliding glass doors in that downstairs room leading to that patio(your husband’s studio I think?) What a beautiful space inside + out!

  • I have painted brick in Missouri! More common in the southern part. We painted it about 12 years ago and never looked back. Going to paint a lighter color next spring. Love yours!

  • The house looks AMAZING now! Where did you get the planter pots by the front door?

  • WOW. the white looks amazing!! i love it. what a huge difference from before!

    we’ve been in our house four years this september and only now started some landscaping (hides face in shame). i know nothing about plants and it always seemed so overwhelming to get started–especially because our yard needs a lot of work. i finally realized we could just GET STARTED and didn’t have to do it all at once (isn’t getting started always the hardest part??). we planted a few plants to the front and have some ideas now for what to do better next year. it’ll be a process but even making those few small changes made such a huge difference!

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