Retro Design Dilemma — Nicole’s 1953 Cape Cod Exterior

Reader Nicole loves the history of her Cape Cod house — but she is torn between sticking with its current traditional look, versus giving it a more modern look that reflects her furnishings and decor insdie. In this story — our second Google live chat video — Pam and I ponder Nicole’s questions and suggest two different makeover options. Which design direction will Nicole choose to revive her home’s curb appeal?

Note: Next Thursday, Dec. 20, at noon Eastern — we will be taping our first Retro Design Dilemma LIVE. You can tune in to watch — but also to ask questions — and contribute your own ideas — too! How to participate? You need to join Retro Renovation on Google Plus — and add us to one of your circles. That way, we can invite you to our Hangout Events. Join us and see for yourself –>

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The old-fashioned write-up for this Retro Design Dilemma also is featured, below.

1953-cape-cod-style-home-exteriorNicole writes:

1953-Cape-cod-house-exteriorDear Pam and Kate,

I need help with the exterior of our 1953 Cape Cod. We love our home and one of the coolest features about it is its location, near an old amusement park.

I have cleaned the exterior of the aluminum siding up. Originally, there were forest green louvered shutters on the outside of the windows, but they were rotten. I’ve included photos of the aluminum awnings on the rear that I hope to keep, but can paint for a new color scheme. However, now I am stuck between recreating the tame original owners’ vision OR going in a new direction that is still deferential to the era. I could go back and put new green shutters on and clean up the aluminum awning, keeping the white and green theme. OR I could paint the whole house and get a crazy door color and redo the porch cover and steps. The fence in front needs to be replaced too.  I could use some ideas with plantings, shutter style, colors, fence.  As much as you can throw at me I will take.

1958-cape-cod-exteriorWe used to live in a 1903 cottage in the same town and that confined us to a “cottage” look.  In this new house, I love the ability to use more modern furnishings and play with brighter colors.  And the location seems to warrant a dash of whimsy and fun as a nod to its past.

I’ve love your website as a resource, it’s helped me to love our home in a new way.

Right away it was apparent — this exterior makeover can go two ways — keep the vintage charm and maybe pep things up with color… or, go all the way modern. Anything in between might feel too much like a frankenhouse — and we wouldn’t want that to happen to Nicole’s charming Cape Cod. The photos of Nicole’s house reminded Pam of some of the retro illustrations of 1950’s dream houses that she’s featured before — where every detail has been accounted for and even the window treatments match when viewing the house from the street.

Go Vintage

cape-cod-house-vintage sketchIt is important to note that both concepts only make cosmetic changes to the facade of Nicole’s home — which could easily be changed up again down the road. With the vintage dream home and the history of Nicole’s neighborhood in mind, the first concept was born.

For the vintage concept:

  • Keep the white aluminum siding as it is — aluminum siding was marketed to be installed right over existing clapboard to keep the exterior the house low maintenance — no painting needed. The white is also very versatile and coordinates with many color schemes.
  • Use cues from what is already there — repair the idealistic white picket fence to once again nicely frame the yard.
  • Add whimsical shutters in a bold and playful aqua to replace the louvered shutters that had rotted. Using a shutter designer custom shutter tool makes it possible to add horse head cutouts — a design element that gives a nod to one of the classic elements of an old amusement park, the carousel. We’re not sure if this horse head is really right, but you get the idea — maybe you could think of something more appropriate.
  • Keep the awning but repaint it a bold aqua — painting the scalloped edge red to add contrast and highlight this whimsical and fun detail.
  • Paint the trim and door to coordinate with the new bold color scheme.
  • Paint the white foundation battleship grey to visually anchor the house.
  • Add window shades with scalloped edges to mirror the scallop detail on the metal awning — repetition helps a design to feel more cohesive — giving the house the 1950s dream house appeal.
  • Hang planter baskets from the porch to dress up the entry and soften the ironwork.

 Go Modern

cape-cod-house-modern sketch

In this concept, Nicole could remove the aluminum siding and paint the clapboard that likely lives underneath. By removing only a few key elements and changing the color scheme — a more modern looking house emerges. While this concept is very modern — it would be easy to revert the house to the vintage look again by changing the color scheme, adding shutters and sprinkling a bit of whimsy here and there in the details.

For the modern look:

  •  Either remove the aluminum siding and paint the clapboard underneath or paint the aluminum siding a light green — (note, painting aluminum siding negates its maintenance-free appeal.)
  • Paint the foundation a coordinating brownish green to help visually anchor the house.
  • Add a thicker fascia board under the roofline to “connect” the awning to the roofline and create a more streamlined and modern feel.
  • Remove only the scalloped portion of the awning to continue the streamlined look.
  • Paint the trim and awning a darker olive green to add contrast to the light green siding.
  • Paint the front door a bright orange to create the focal point and amp up the color.
  • Instead of shutters, install window boxes on the lower front windows and fill with bright flowers.
  • Remove the white picket fence and instead use greenery to create dimension in the yard. Ornamental grasses line the sidewalk while more dense evergreen shrubs frame the house. Adding more flowers around the shrubs brightens up the landscaping.
  • As a finishing touch — add a modern bullet planter in a complementary aqua — to dress up the porch.

Whether Nicole decides that her exterior should look Vintage or Modern, one thing is sure — she has a classic, ever-so-versatile Cape Cod.

Retro Design Dilemma

 Readers, do you have additional ideas to suggest to Nicole to pep up her house’s curb appeal?

  1. Kelley says:

    I have just purchased a 1962 mid-century modern style ranch. It has both brick and siding. (Red and Red) I would really like to update the exterior paint, but am having so much trouble choosing the right color that I am ready to pull my hair out! I can send a photo if anyone would like to take a look. Thanks!

  2. Daniel Kristak says:

    I’m a little late here, but if you decide to go the modern route (and I absolutely would) think about how to integrate nature into your immediate exterior. I have always admired how the mid-century architects did this so well by creating green space seamlessly into the homes they built. I found a new product a few months ago, called Wellspring, that has helped me do this. Almost half of my deck is now a garden. Wellsprings are build-in/flush mount planters that nest just below your deck or patio. I wish I could upload a few pics of my place so you could see what I mean, but it’s just as easy to go to the product’s website,where there are lots of examples: http://www.wellspring-systems.com
    Hope you go modern! 😉

  3. george says:

    my clients have had good luck removing aluminum siding. basically the cost is the removal labor (homeowner can help or do most/all of it). hauling cost is offset by the money you get at the metal recyclers.

    some trim work is usually needed, especially if the aluminum installers trashed the window sills.

    but other than that, total cost is not insanely more than a usual house painting. get a bid! the result is so much nicer. your windows will look 100x better. plus your house will look original.

    1. pam kueber says:

      When we had our 1912 house in Michigan, we removed the siding very successfully with no drama. We actually UNCOVERED a window that had been covered over… along with lots of wonderful bric a brac trim and even just “regular” trim. We DID have to repaint, which cost $$$, but, yes, the house was much much better looking — the town even gave us an award, unsolicited. Again, my understanding is that aluminum siding was sold by the truckloads to homeowners with the promise they would never had to repaint. Which they didn’t… but if you’re into historic restoration — and have the money — going back to the original wood can be very gratifying.

      Finally, I’ll agree with someone else that the other aesthetic issue with the aluminum is that it tends to look “chalky” after so many years. This makes me wonder — if you have a single story — could you try to spiff it up by treating it like a car finish? That is: Polish it with Turtle Wax or whatever? I know that would *some therapy*, but I wonder if it would revive the finish somewhat, and hey, cars are out in the environment, so the wax or petrochem finish (whatever it is) might work????

      And repeat: Consult with a pro.

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