Fixer-Upper Infatuation: A Concord Colonial

At some point over the past five years, most of us have probably asked ourselves if we have the guts to take on a fixer-upper (I know you've seen at least one episode of that show!). My answer, at least in my imagination (and not if my husband is asking), is a resounding yes. I love a good before-and-after, and the idea of living in a house that I reimagined and designed to my specifications sounds exciting.

That's what drew me to this old house in Concord, MA. The listing says it needs "a complete renovation."

Concord-Colonial.jpg

The outside is rather deceiving—it looks pretty perfect just the way it is, with the lavender-hued front door, stone walkway, and cute little fence, all of which look well-maintained and cared for. Then I scrolled through the interior photos, and sure enough, it's in need of some TLC. There are some really special details still intact, such as the millwork, the beamed ceilings, and the huge turned newel post. It remains a blank canvas, however, and just needs someone with a good imagination to breathe some life back into its walls.

How would I freshen this place up if it were my fixer-upper? Let's take a look.

THE EXTERIOR: FRONT EXPOSURE

I wouldn't change too much about the outside of the house. The simplicity of the side gabled roof and white clapboards speaks to the house's Shaker-style architecture, which focused on simplicity, neatness, and function. It was common for these houses not to have shutters. I think the lack of shutters actually increases the aesthetic appeal, so I wouldn't add any. That beautiful lavender color on the door would stay.

Concord Colonial 2.jpg

What I would change about the house is the roof—a cedar shake roof, as shown in the top two photos below, would look incredible. I'd also spruce up the fence, give the house a new paint job in white, and add some minimal landscaping that wouldn't obscure the structure. 

THE ENTRYWAY

The foyer and staircase show off the house's good bones. That turned newel post is such a fantastic detail.

Concord Colonial 3.jpg

To make this area feel warm and welcoming, I'd freshen everything up with a warm white paint, install a runner on the stairs, put down area rugs in rich and vibrant colors, set up a console table with a lamp or two, and maybe even add a bench to create a small seating area. I'd also hang a mirror to reflect light and make the space appear brighter. 

THE KITCHEN

The kitchen needs a total overhaul, but I would save the beams and work them into the new design. I'd love to see a combination of warm wood, white paint, and taupe or gray trim used in this space. 

Concord Colonial 4.jpg

I would keep the bones of the kitchen looking traditional in style, but I'd probably add a few contemporary touches here and there. Wood accents would play a big part in the design scheme, and a butcher block island countertop or wood-framed work table would make great accents.

THE DINING ROOM

This next room is probably the dining room since it has built-in china hutches. How great are those window seats?

Concord Colonial 7.jpg

I could see this room looking fabulous in high-gloss, peacock-green paint. It would certainly feel cozy with dark paint, low ceilings, and a huge fireplace. But seeing as I've gone light and bright in other areas of the house, I would bring that look into this room and soften all those hard wooden edges with super plush cushions in the window seats, woven window shades, sconces or pendant lights, and a warm white color on the walls with a taupe or gray color on the millwork. 

The same room from a different angle, showing the fireplace:

Concord Colonial 5.jpg

Light walls and a warm, gray trim color are in keeping with the traditional look but would make the space feel updated and on pace with today's trends. Traditional does not have to look dated!

THE LIVING ROOM

The interior architecture of this room provides a lot of woodwork to work around.

Concord Colonial 6.jpg

I would consider adding more millwork to the space, as shown in the photo below. I would add some non-structural beams to the ceiling and build out the wall to include panels of painted woodwork in a soft taupe or gray. A cute dog is definitely the best finishing touch!

THE MASTER BEDROOM

This looks like a good-sized master bedroom with a straightforward layout that would be relatively easy to work with.

Concord Colonial 10.jpg

I'd lighten everything up with fresh paint, add floor-length drapes on the windows, and layer lots of textured linens in soft blues, chocolate browns, and creamy whites. A soft wool rug underfoot would feel luxurious.

UPSTAIRS ROOM #1 WITH SLOPED CEILINGS

Given the sloped ceilings, this room is most likely on the third floor of the house. I could imagine transforming the space below into a light-filled bathroom that uses the sloped ceilings to its advantage.

Concord Colonial 8.jpg

Ambitious? Perhaps. This space makes excellent use of the knee walls, though, and the chimney stack could most likely be camouflaged by being incorporated into the built-in storage.

UPSTAIRS ROOM #2 WITH SLOPED CEILINGS

Here's another awkward little room with sloped ceilings. These spaces are always tricky to plan when you have low, slanted ceilings to contend with, as well as something like a brick chimney stack located in the middle of the floor. On the plus side, the chimney stack offers a unique architectural detail to work into the design. It's just too bad that it's in such a weird spot.

Concord Colonial 9.jpg

I would try to work around it by creating a sleeping nook or daybed/reading nook in this area. Sleeping and reading are two activities that don't require much in the way of overhead clearance (unless you tend to sleep standing up or read while jumping on a trampoline). These cozy little corners make great use of this awkward space.

THE EXTERIOR: SIDE EXPOSURE

Much like the front of the house, this exterior exposure is in pretty good shape. I'd insert more windows in the breezeway and gussy up the barn/garage structure.

Concord Colonial 12.jpg

A trellis over the garage door would be a simple but stunning addition. Another lovely detail would be a brick or pea gravel walkway lined with some nicely-edged garden beds full of boxwoods or hydrangeas.

Any fixer-upper requires a lot of work and a ton of decision-making. Having a vision for the finished product and knowing what you want is half the battle. I think I'm off to a pretty good start here!

What would you change about this house? What details would you keep or add?

To learn more about this historic colonial house in Concord, MA, visit the listing page. All photos of the house are from the listing. Click through the inspiration photos for sources.

Create an Urban Garden in the Suburbs

I've always had a soft spot for urban gardens. I tend to think of them as secret gardens, small oases carved out of tight quarters, nestled behind iron gates or wooden fences, hidden mostly out of view of the casual passerby. One of the best parts of walking around Beacon Hill or the South End is catching glimpses of these secluded outdoor spaces that have been transformed into verdant hideaways. The same can be said of Charleston or New Orleans—those cities know how to make small green spaces feel like they're worlds away from a bustling city.

 Image is my own

Image is my own

 Image is my own

Image is my own

Aside from actually being in a city, urban gardens are defined by their size (usually small, or at least not sprawling), their privacy (typically enclosed by tall plants, hedges, walls, or fences), their abundant plantings (multiple containers or a mix of in-ground plantings and containers), and their focal point (or two). The concept is easy enough to recreate in a suburban setting, and it's an easy way to make a big impact on your yard's appearance with minimal upkeep. Rather than keeping up with lots of plants spread throughout the entire yard, you can concentrate your watering and pruning efforts on one dedicated area.

No matter how big your yard, you probably have a patio, deck, or grassy area where you spend time outside lounging, eating, or entertaining. This is the area to focus on if the thought of doing a full-scale, whole-yard garden installation seems overwhelming. And if you do decide to tackle the whole yard at once, the elements of the urban garden can actually be applied on a bigger scale. Here are some ideas to get started planning your small, pseudo-urban space:

Designate seating zones. Identify places for seating, whether it's lounge furniture, a dining set, or a hammock. If you have room for multiple types of seating, leave a comfortable amount of breathing room between them. Benches can be placed along the outer edges of the area, creating extra seating that won't take up a lot of room in the middle of the space. Keep it neat. If one seating zone is all you have room for, don't try to cram everything together. Overcrowding the space will make it feel cluttered instead of cozy.

Build a buffer. The idea is to create a privacy screen to make your space feel more intimate. The level of privacy you want will depend on how exposed the space is to the rest of your yard and neighbors. If you have two exterior walls that meet in a corner, your home's architecture can lend a hand in creating a natural buffer. If your space is wide open, a pergola overhead or a series of trellises will enclose the space (and offer shade). Fences and hedges are good options if you want a low wall that doesn't necessarily offer complete privacy but sets the space apart from the rest of the yard.

Cluster containers and plant border gardens. It might seem redundant to add more greenery to an area surrounded by grass or shrubs, but potting plants or adding a row of flowers along the edge of a deck or patio adds layers of color and texture, which makes the space appear leafy and lush. Treat potted plants and flowers as accent pieces, and tuck them in corners or along the borders of your space. Fruit trees and tomato plants can make great privacy screens because they grow taller than most flowers and herbs.  

Figure out a focal point. Depending on the amount of space you have to work with, this could be anything from a fire pit to a small fountain or a bird bath or bird feeder. You could also position your furniture to take advantage of a nice view.

Don't forget to decorate. Stone statues, sundials, decorative bird houses, and wind chimes are fun finishing touches that your guests can discover as they look around your space. For a soft glow in the evening, hang string lights. Large lanterns that can be set up with battery-operated candles are a slightly easier, mess-free (and fire-free) option and still provide accent lighting after the sun goes down. 

The key to successfully recreating an urban garden in your suburban space is choosing a small area of your yard to focus on and maximizing its seating potential and privacy while filling in the nooks and niches with lighting and decor. Use flowering plants in one or two hues to create a cohesive, calming atmosphere, or plant multicolored flowers to cultivate a lively, eclectic vibe. Start small to avoid overfilling the space (and overcommitting to lots of plant maintenance). It's easy to change things up from year to year with potted plants and decorative accents, so don't be afraid to try out new flower varieties and swap decor items until you find the right mix.

Think of your small suburban urban garden as an extension of your house and treat it like you would any other room—have it reflect your style, and always make it inviting. 

 

A Topsfield Summer Home for All Seasons

Sometimes I'm amazed at how many country estates exist in the greater Boston area. Many communities to the north, south, and west are home to large houses surrounded by acres and acres of land, many of them having been built in the early 20th century. The house I'm talking about today is a great example.

Topsfield_1.jpg

Sitting on 10-plus acres in Topsfield, this c. 1900 Ipswich River watershed estate is exactly the type of house I picture when I imagine a New England summer home. Most people's minds would probably take them to the Cape or somewhere closer to the beach, but for me, this countryside setting with a huge yard, multiple gardens, and access to the river is my idea of a summertime retreat! Just looking at the exterior of the house makes me feel relaxed and stress-free.

As much as I love the outside, I really fell for the inside of this house because it features one of my absolute favorite design details: brick floors. Brick is a wonderful material to use as flooring because it adds texture and warmth in place of plain hardwood or tile flooring. I think brick flooring is gaining in popularity because so many people are trying to achieve modern farmhouse style now, but it still feels unexpected when I see it. It's a great option for mudrooms and laundry rooms, but in this house, it was used in the entryway, sitting area, and dining room. It runs the whole length of the front of the house!

Topsfield_4.jpg
Topsfield_3.jpg

These rooms feel both cozy and cool to me. Imagine opening all of those windows to let a sea breeze blow through the house in the summertime! In the fall and winter, a roaring fire would warm guests at the dining table and make this small sitting room feel nice and toasty.

Topsfield_2.jpg

Brick was also used in this bedroom to create a small archway leading to a window seat. I'd love to curl up with a book in this spot! Notice how there appears to be three different types of brick used here—two different types on the arch and wall, and a third type around the firebox opening. Perhaps this was an original exterior wall at one point? 

Topsfield_5.jpg

Many of the rooms have fireplaces, and abundant windows fill the rooms with natural light. There's also plenty of built-in storage. 

Topsfield_9.jpg
Topsfield_10.jpg

And then there's the backyard, which is never-ending.

Topsfield_11.jpg

Small patios and walkways lead to different areas of the yard and connect grassy swaths of land to nicely tended gardens.

Topsfield_7.jpg

This view from the deck overlooks two small terraces and a tiny outbuilding in the distance.

Topsfield_6.jpg

The walkway leads to a pond and small sitting area. This would be such a peaceful place to enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning or unwind after a long day at the office. I'm not sure what this small outbuilding is used for, but I'd like to imagine that it would make a great writing or artist's studio, or even a potting shed. 

Topsfield_8.jpg

With so many inviting areas both inside and out, this property makes the concept of indoor-outdoor living in New England look effortless and appealing. This would no doubt be a magical place to live.

For more photos of the home, check out the listing. All photos shown here are from the listing.

Hello—er, Goodbye, Yellow?

Did you know the sale price of a house that's painted yellow can be impacted by as much as a few thousand dollars? According to this article published on boston.com, yellow houses sell for $3,408 less than expected. This information comes from Zillow, which recently conducted its 2018 Paint Color Analysis. 

Yellow City House_BleuSpruce.jpg

Another interesting tidbit from the study is the finding that houses with front doors painted black or gray (they specifically say "charcoal gray") sold for over $6,000 more than expected. I was slightly amused by that revelation. One of the first things I did when I moved into my current house was paint my front door a bright, sunshine yellow...and then I repainted it medium gray the following year, proudly telling my husband that I figured I just upped the value of our house by doing so. It wasn't the right color for me—but I do think it looks amazing on a lot of other house styles.

Despite Zillow's report (and perhaps my own experience), yellow houses and doors continue to be popular. Country Living recently published a selection of yellow houses for sale around the country. Last fall, Boston Magazine rounded up five adorable yellow houses in the 'burbs that were for sale at the time. When John and Sherry painted their front door yellow, they received hundreds of comments from people telling them how much they loved the new color. And searching Google or Houzz for yellow front doors turns up thousands of results.

 One of the houses featured in Boston Magazine's article showcasing yellow houses for sale in the fall of 2017. Records on Zillow show the house sold for its asking price.

One of the houses featured in Boston Magazine's article showcasing yellow houses for sale in the fall of 2017. Records on Zillow show the house sold for its asking price.

So if yellow houses are so charming and easily marketable, what gives? The article didn't go into specifics, but it did say: "The analysis looked at more than 135,000 photos from homes sold via Zillow, from January to May, to see how paint colors may have affected sale prices on average, when compared to the company’s Zestimate. The analysis compared these homes with similar ones with white walls, according to a press release, and it controlled for other wall colors within each room type, square footage, home age, and ZIP code."

If factors such as outdated interiors and a lack of square footage can't be blamed, then the message is simply that yellow is a less desirable house color. 

In certain circumstances, yellow probably is less desirable. Let's look at the stock photo used in the article (in which the house has yellow siding and red-orange shutters). It's extremely dated. Just looking at it makes me wonder how old the kitchen is and whether the bathrooms have been updated. The shutter color is influencing my opinion more than the yellow siding, although the overuse of yellow is problematic. Imagine if the shutters were black, and imagine if all the trim around the windows, doors, and roof was white instead of yellow. It would go from drab to dreamy pretty quickly.

Yellow House_MDSikesBlog.jpg

In many other circumstances, as shown in the photos throughout this post, yellow houses exude a sense of beauty and romance that other colors can't quite accomplish. Context has a lot to do with it. Accent colors have a lot to do with it. The exact shade of yellow has a lot to do with it. The architecture matters, too.

Yellow House_GalMeetsGlam.jpg

I can't say every yellow house is perfect—let's face it, the house equivalents of Dwight Schrute's mustard-colored button downs do exist. I'd love to see the photos of the yellow houses from Zillow's research that led them to this conclusion, wouldn't you? 

Image 1 // 2 // 3 // 4

The Fetching Fox Hill Farm in Westwood, MA

The real estate listings in Westwood show that some beautiful historic properties are on the market right now. Here's another gem from the early 1700s known as Fox Hill Farm.

FXF_2.jpg

Fox Hill Street in Westwood has some gorgeous homes on it, and this one is no exception. As charming as the house is, it's the land that I find myself taken with. It is summer, after all, so my mind is in outdoor entertainment mode. Every stone patio looks like the perfect place to set up a grill and sip a cold beverage, and every lawn looks like the perfect place to run around with the dog, play frisbee, and enjoy the sunshine. This property has room to do all of that and more!

FXF_1.jpg

This view certainly illustrates the romantic locale. The gravel path leads to an 8-stall horse barn situated behind the house.

FHX_5.jpg

I love the weathered shingles on the barn's exterior and the brick wall that continues along the terrace. Can you imagine hosting a Kentucky Derby party here? I'm already planning it in my head.

FHF_4.jpg

The moss between the flagstones makes me feel like this place should be in the English countryside!

FXF_6.jpg

This arched gateway appears to be formed by old trees, perfectly framing the view of the apple orchard.

FHF_7.jpg
FHF_8.jpg

These photos were obviously taken during different seasons, but look how lush the orchard is in the warmer months.  

FHF_9.jpg

The inside of the house is expansive. The early American-style fireplace in the dining room has an extra-deep hearth.

FHF_3.jpg

There are many other instances of exposed brick throughout the house, along with several fireplaces. The fireplace in the room below is tiny, but the brick surround and angled door make up for in character what the fireplace lacks in size.

FHF_10.jpg

This house looks like a fabulous place to throw a summer soirée or two. Just add a few sets of string lights around the terrace, scatter around some potted flowers, stock the bar, and send out the invites. I doubt many people would decline the chance to relax in this idyllic setting!

To see more photos of the home and to learn more about the property, visit the listing. All photos shown here are from the listing.