Thrifty Shades of Grey


It was finally summer in Portland. We moved into the Retro Ranch in late October, the beginning of the rainy season in the Pacific Northwest, and never got the chance to spend much time studying the exterior of it until now.

This is when we determined that our house? Was the color of butter.

And I’m not talking about the organic, delicately churned, locally sourced butter that accompanies your dinner rolls at fancy restaurants. Our house was the family-sized plastic tub of “buttery spread” that no one should ever consume because 90% of the ingredients are unpronounceable. The type of butter that’s just about one molecule away from being actual plastic. You know, that kind. That was the entire Retro Ranch exterior, including the eves, gutters and porch ceilings.

And it had to go.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love yellow houses. I think it’s an absolutely adorable color for a little bungalow home with gingerbread trim, a picket fence and some window boxes. But that style is so not us. There are no doilies in our living room. There are no Home Sweet Home signs in our kitchen. There are no gnomes in our garden. Hell, there isn’t even a damn garden. Even that’s too cutesy for us.

Pick a Color, Any Color

We were officially on to the long-awaited task of selecting an exterior paint color. So exciting! But anyone that knows me is aware that asking me to select one color is like asking Chopin to pick his favorite piano key. Just one! You can only have one, Chopin!

The requirements for this color were also fairly substantial: It needed to be period-correct, but not dated looking. It had to compliment our partial roman brick facade without clashing or detracting from it. It had to hide any imperfections in the original wood siding, but not completely wash out the important midcentury architectural details. It had to work well with the bright white contrast color we chose for the shutters and eves so our porch would reflect light better. Oh, and most importantly, I had to really, really, really, really like it.

This selection process became a science. We developed a plan that included several high-resolution photos of the front of our home, a list of “approved” 1960’s Eichler home colors, and some serious Photoshop masking to determine which of those colors would best suit the Retro Ranch. And after much deliberation (read: sleepless nights for me, boredom for David) we determined that a beautiful shade of grey called Deep Space was the perfect one for our retro time-capsule. It even sounded atomic.

 Timing is Everything

Once the color choice was finalized, we talked timing to determine when we should schedule the house to be painted. This quickly became a discussion about when WE would be painting the house, because I discovered that hiring professional exterior house painters costs about the same as a used Volvo.

We had also heard several horror stories from friends about exterior painters that finished the front side but never returned to complete the back, or decided that covering and taping things off was too much trouble so instead they decided to just spray right over the windows, gas meter and shrubbery. Um, no. The Retro Ranch deserved better than that. This was going to be its second coat of paint in 50 years, so it needed to be done right.

After buying several 5 gallon buckets of paint from our favorite Benjamin Moore paint store down the road (sometimes you want to go where everyone knows your name) and then some really expensive-as-hell brushes (and they’re always glad you came) we confidently began this major house transformation project on a Saturday morning thinking if we worked extra quick, we’d be done by Sunday night. I mean, it’s just painting, right? How hard could that be?

Some Like It Hot

We started with the back of the house so if the color somehow went horribly wrong, then only we could see it. That day was supposed to be partly sunny and 83 degrees, which is a perfect dry-heat summer day in the Pacific Northwest. But as I was draped over our aluminum step ladder while also sizzling my arms on the hot metal, I noticed that our thermometer said 92. Yikes. Well hopefully it would cool down the next day and we could get a lot more done.


That summer was the hottest summer on record for Portland, Oregon with temperatures reaching over 100 degrees for several days at a time, only cooling down to low-90’s before rising back up again to triple digits. And there we were, in Arizona-esque heat, perched on metal ladders painting our wood siding one of the darkest colors we could find, while the rest of our neighborhood hid inside their houses with the blinds drawn and central air cranked.

Like Watching Paint Dry

I was beginning to really regret the fact that we decided to paint our 1965 house the 1965 way by using paint brushes and not a high-powered paint sprayer that would’ve wrapped it all up in one weekend. Yeah, this was a more even, thicker coat, but it was so damn hot that the paint was continually drying on the brushes, so this made the process even slower.

I desperately wanted to wait until the weather cooled down to continue, but we had already moved around to the front of the exterior. And lets face it: once you begin a massive project like changing the color of your entire house, you have to either keep going until it’s completely uniform, or put a rusty Camaro up on blocks in front of your two-tone home, and call it what it is.

David worked incredibly hard to move this along as fast as possible. He would assess the forecast each week and take any days off work that were below 90 degrees so he could continue at a steady pace. Some days he would spend the entire afternoon crawling around our steamy, asphalt shingle roof in order to properly caulk and paint the eves a high-gloss white. Incidentally, the angle of our double-peak roof gave him the ability to overhear every outdoor conversation on our street, which kept him entertained until he overheard one about how long it was taking us to paint our house.

Mad as a Hornet

I came home from work a little early one August evening, determined to help David finish the front. I volunteered to do the entire porch area while he worked on the garage peak. At least that would give more of an impression to the neighbors that we were actually planning to complete this project before Thanksgiving. But while I was rapidly slathering paint around the covered porch light, a swarm of angry hornets emerged from behind it. I screamed, threw the paint brush into the rhododendron bushes and ran into the driveway waving them off me and shrieking like a psychopath.

And if you aren’t sure where hornets like to go when you disturb their cozy nest with a big glob of paint, the answer is IN YOUR BRA.

David had to complete the rest of the front on his own, which was probably preferable for him based on my impromptu street performance. We certainly didn’t need any more attention than we’d already had. This project was taking so long that people out for their evening strolls felt it was their duty to comment on our progress as they passed by, night after night. David had enough of the rolling commentary, to the point where even pleasant remarks from strangers such as “I like the new color!” had him responding “I don’t care!”

He was done.

And very soon he actually was done. And it looked absolutely incredible. The new color had completely transformed our house into something so much more sleek and midcentury modern than I ever imagined it would. It finally felt like it was truly ours and not the original owners’.

And it only took 10 gallons of paint, 7 brushes, 4 tubes of caulk, 6 bottles of sunscreen, a jar of first-aid cream, and a whole damn summer.

BEFORE: (Mmmm… buttery..)




2 thoughts on “Thrifty Shades of Grey

  1. More, more, more . . . I can’t wait to read the next section!

    On Feb 17, 2017 1:47 AM, “99 Problems But Kitsch Ain’t One” wrote:

    > retrorancher posted: “It was finally summer in Portland. After a long > winter of continuous interior home improvement projects, David and I were > completely burned out on flooring, shelving, draperies and woodwork. And > since we’d moved into the house in mid-October (the beginnin” >


  2. I loved your blog and was thoroughly amused by it. We changed the color of our house in 2015, but unlike you we hired our young neighbor to do it for us. if we did it ,we would probably still be painting!..i would love to be on your mailing list for the next addition of your blog….thanks for this issue.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s