Home Renovation, Victorian Home

Color Ways

My mother always used to tell me, “Once you make your mind up about something, there’s no stopping you.” Very occasionally this statement was a compliment, referring to my tenacity and stick to it-ness, but the truth of the matter is she was probably exasperated by me and was referring to my stubbornness and singleness of mind when pursuing something or proving a point, a trait I feel certain she realized we shared.

Take paint colors, for instance. Choosing them can be exhilarating, infuriating, and intimidating, yet it’s an opportunity for change that can go either way–beautifully or else very wrong or else land in that in-the-middle meh space. Our 1860s Victorian home with its rich history, striking architectural details, dramatic verticality, and prominent bay windows was ready to go, all stripped and scraped, and just waiting to be painted. No pressure. No pressure at all.

Finding the right color for this beauty was no simple task. But is anything? I recall early last year when I was knee-deep into paint research and we were noticing houses on walks, drives and online. We often talked of painting it grey–not just any grey, but an extremely pale grey such that the visual jump from clapboard to trim was so minimal that it would look unique in the subtlest of ways, a head turner. Still, we’re talking grey, and as it is, the world is saturated with greys and greiges.

After a walk with my sister, Anne, visions of color began dancing in my head and a new approach took hold. There was a beautiful house we’d walked past which was painted a gorgeous found-in-nature green with touches of blue and grey–lovely, storybook even, in Anne’s own words. It made her heart go pitter patter, and because she has exceptional taste, my own heart couldn’t help but do a little skip, too. 

From all the previous back and forth, I’d assumed my husband was hellbent on grey, so there seemed little point in making the case for color. However, when Anne returned this past April, we did our walk again and found ourselves back on the green house’s street. She gushed again and I could see how much this color fueled her sense of wonder and joy. If I could have then and there, I would have bought her a sweet little house on a hill that she could paint this dreamy color. Later that day, we drove to the mountains to visit a favorite pottery shop and have dinner near there, and talked more about the green house, wondering where my own house color choice would land. 

On the drive, I noticed on a hill all by its lonesome a lovely boxy old house painted a most extraordinary blue. I gasped and couldn’t take my eyes off it. It was darling and looked happy and it pulled me in, but still trying to make it to that store, we kept going. On the way back, we drove past the blue house again, a charming B&B I couldn’t wait to see up close. Making our way up the drive, we found several cars parked in the gravel lot, and Anne stayed in the car while I walked to the front door to see if I could learn the house’s color. I found it odd that this special place had no name plaque or marker outside, but it did have screened French doors, which were unlocked and open, and so I stepped in. 

Looking around the foyer, something felt out of place, and I quickly realized that something was me. There were family portraits on the walls and in the room to the left, an upright vacuum stood in the middle of the rug, its long cord connected to the wall, as if someone mid-vacuuming had been interrupted. This was no inn. I was inside a family’s private home! It was too late now. I was inside and still very much on my paint color hunt. Without advancing from my position in the entry, I began calling, “Hello? Hello?” to which an increasingly and understandably agitated female voice in the distance replied with the same. Seconds later, a woman appeared, the homeowner, whose expression made it clear that the stranger standing in her foyer had some explaining to do, and explain I did. I calmly said how beautiful her house was, especially its color, and apologized profusely that I’d come inside, but I didn’t realize… and then I moved on to the reason for the visit: Would she be willing to share her house’s beautiful color with me? 

Meanwhile, still waiting in the car, my sister was growing concerned because she’d seen a loose dog running around the property. Recently bitten by a stray dog and with that memory still uncomfortably clear, she could only assume the dog would lunge in my direction. The dog turned out to be a love bug and its owner was friendly, too, and she introduced me to her mother who stood smiling in the driveway as we walked out. Like me, they’d lived in Atlanta before, and also like me, the daughter had struggled choosing house colors, moving toward greys before deciding on color. With a pay it forward style exuberance, she graciously and proudly handed me her extra paint chip to take with me, Sherwin-Williams Dutch Tile Blue, and off we went, mission accomplished. 

Back home, Anne and I went walking past the green house again. I was of course done knocking on stranger’s doors, but with a new-found fearlessness, Anne had to uncover this magical green’s name, and so she knocked. It took some time, but after a while, an older woman came out, understandably guarded and with arms crossed, to see what it is we wanted. It took no time after seeing these two beaming fans of her house and its color, for her to go back inside and retrieve her own paint chip: Sherwin-Williams Halcyon Green. This time, it was Anne who was the victor, and with this information, the year plus long color search felt complete. She left the next day to return home to Chicago, but with so much invested, remained ever close to our house color saga.

Next, I bought poster board and paint samples and painted one board the blue and one the green. My husband, presumably still in the grey camp, would now have two more choices to consider. I seriously loved this blue but didn’t want to let on because it might not work out as I’d hoped. I reminded myself I’m merely half of this equation, and we both have to love the paint color we land on. With uncharacteristic zero pressure, I presented the two poster boards outside in the sun for him to peruse. I gave him plenty of time and shut up about the benefits of each and told him it was his decision, knowing full well I was DYING for that Dutch Tile Blue while my sister miles away held steady with team Halcyon Green, confident either option would be stunning. After what seemed like an eternity with Joe pacing in front of the house, looking up at the front façade, and then back down at the poster boards, he uttered a simple, “I’m thinking the blue?” as if it were a question that needed answering. I was screaming inside, but let out a simple, “Are you sure?” and after that, he nodded and said he thought it looked great. I offered a succinct, “Okay, sounds good,” and moved quickly to remove the poster boards and any chance of a change of heart. And that was that. 

No more second guessing. We both love the color and I think the house feels the love too.
Home Renovation, lead paint


House renovations mess with your peace of mind, and if your mind and home are already a mess, well then bless your scattered little heart. It’s been a week, or is it a month, or how ’bout we just call it as it is and say years?

As we plow forth in this now several years long home improvement journey, the spaces are changing, some for the better for sure, but many temporarily piled higher with our seemingly endless mounds of stuff. I can’t solve the puzzle, full, queen and cal king bedding, for instance. The linen closet has been taken over with paint cans and new HVAC ductwork serving those changing spaces, so these items find themselves homeless. And whomever in the linen industry decided to not CLEARLY LABEL sheet sets with their proper FULL, QUEEN, KING designations was an inconsiderate buffoon. Am I the only one who finds herself draping these UNMARKED sheets across the tops of beds trying to decide which goes with which? When I achieve what feels like success, I get a fat Sharpie and duly note said size. We’ve two bathtubs in living spaces downstairs, another upstairs in the hall, and boxed sinks and toilets scattered about also waiting for their permanent homes. Seems there is nowhere to find calm except for the living room, which doubles as my husband’s part-time office, and the dining room, unless you’re just going to throw in the towel, go upstairs, and climb in bed under the covers. 


In addition to the new spaces we are adding, we also are finally getting around to some house maintenance things, the big ones that take forever to complete and which seem to require multiple equity lines of credit, like a new roof and exterior painting. The house’s origins date back to 1860 and the lead paint removal is tricky, requiring the half a dozen or so paint removers and scrapers to wear hazmat suits. For the last 48 hours our front entry has been off limits with a “KEEP AWAY, LEAD PAINT” banner draped across it. The back entry for now is a makeshift setup, requiring you pay attention and carefully grab a column if you’re going to not lose your footing going up or down. 

It seems topsy turvy is becoming normal. These days I’ve found I also am struggling to enter my car. The fob no longer works to open the driver’s door and the key isn’t helping either, so I must enter the front passenger door and climb over the console, this despite new fob batteries. It’ll be some time before I can get an appt to get it looked at, but I’m glad I’m flexible and can maneuver over consoles and up ladders to get where I’m going. 

Doors open and cats have choices again

Meanwhile there are the cats, bored out of their tiny little minds and being hustled here and there, wherever the work isn’t. I’ve made notes for doors, big sticky notes, with a “KEEP OUT, CATS INSIDE” warning which I move around depending on where the kitties must quarantine on a given day. I often remind my husband and subs which rooms are off limits so none of us forgets. The thought of crawling army style through the crawl space yet another time to persuade the rotund 17-lb Bo to move toward the treat I’m dangling is exhausting, and the hours-long effort is equally if not more so. The little one, sweet Sam, only recently weighing in at 5lbs, likely wouldn’t dash into the crawl space if she were to escape, and we’d worry about owls or hawks or coyotes that would find her a delectable snack. So corralling the cats is a must so we can continue enjoying them in our lives and so they can enjoy the screened porches to come. I remind them of this often.

Window of hope

The bits of improvements we see are huge beacons of hope, enormous concentrated beauty we continue to gaze at starry-eyed. The upstairs bathroom we’ve used for years has been getting lots of love. Since we moved here in 2009, that space was our shared bathroom for the four of us. It had zero HVAC, so we rolled in space heaters in winter and fans in summer. The floor was noticeably sloped, and I recall once when one of the boys was sick and I dropped an old-fashioned thermometer. Little beads of mercury rolled all over the place and I kept chasing them with scotch tape as they threatened to go under the claw foot tub, basically forever out of reach. The slope was such that when you were sitting on the toilet it felt as if you were on the low side of a sinking ship. But today it’s leveled and the room’s tiled and awaiting wainscoting, lighting and fixtures. 

In the middle of all this, two days ago my husband tested positive for COVID. Other than the fact that it’s highly contagious, it’s hard to say exactly where he picked it up. Regardless, he’s been congested, feverish and developed a hacky cough, but is otherwise okay like you are when you have a cold. He was able to schedule a video telehealth appt with our internist today who called in Paxlovid, a recent drug that is supposed to stop COVID in its tracks.

The dreaded two lines

As for me, I tested negative two days ago but soon developed my own congestion and headaches too, and today I tested positive. Much like a pregnancy test, it’s nerve-racking to wait those 10 or 15 minutes for the single or double line results. This same internist couldn’t do a video chat with me until next Tuesday, which isn’t ideal because you want to get Paxlovid in you within five days after symptoms start or else COVID can go right on replicating in you. I got on the horn to my oncologist and an on-call doctor called in a Paxlovid prescription without requiring a video chat. Despite my white count being back to normal since I’m 2+ years post chemo, they still don’t want cancer patients sick with anything. I am thankful to get this drug and feeling the ground underfoot steadying. 

The COVID congestion is definitely a thing which even DayQuil doesn’t touch, and the headache is a big ‘un, like a long thick wall, but get a couple of Tylenol in you and it collapses. Otherwise, because we’re vaxed to the max, it’s your basic head cold. Given we’re both quarantining inside, the plastic covering outside couldn’t have been better timed. It’s keeping the PEEL AWAY paint product toasty warm so it will best pull the paint layers off the wood and keeping our germs inside where they belong.

Pardon our dust…