If you’ve gone through a major renovation project and you live in a place with seasons, you might know what this time of year feels like. There was a time in my life when fall was my favorite season, but now it’s all stress and craziness and just trying to get everything OK for the impending winter. It’s not like everything comes to a screeching halt in these upcoming cold months, but cold and snow are definitely added challenges that don’t make anything any easier. Multiply that by three houses (yes, Bluestone and Olivebridge Cottages are still in the works…exciting updates to share on both fronts, FINALLY!) and you’ve got yourself one crazy, nervous little blogger person who is me. Hey, October? YOU WERE BANANAS. Hey, November? You don’t seem much different. Just darker.
That’s not really the point of this post, though. The point of this post is my fence. Remember my fence? To review, I used to have a really awful chainlink fence until the nice professional installers from Lowe’s came to replace it with a nice simple wood dog-ear style privacy fence that I love. It was maybe the single biggest quick improvement this house has seen to its exterior bits under my care. Now my backyard is pleasantly private and my house almost looks fancy from the street, which is unusual and thrilling after living with chain-link surrounding my property for 2+ years.
Last year, I built a short (in comparison—it’s still 30-ish feet long) section of fencing to demarcate the front yard from the back, and I stained it with an opaque black stain. Black might seem like a weird, goth-y, ominous, bold, scary, whatever kind of a choice, but I think in this context it works. Greenery, which I keep adding more and more of, looks great against the backdrop of the black fence, and I think the color helps offset the white house by allowing everything else to recede. It was one of those things that I figured I’d try out—worse case scenario, I could spend a day painting over it with a different color, but I ended up feeling glad I trusted my instincts because I really love it. No regrets!
After living with my black fence for a while and really liking it, I committed to doing the rest of the fence to match. I may have underestimated how arduous of a process that would be. Staining both sides of 200 linear feet of fencing (2,400 square feet, with nooks and crannies all the way) is a big job, just in case that wasn’t impeccably obvious to everybody except me.
I started the staining process by working between a roller and a 3″ angle brush. It was taking a long time. One side of each panel took maybe half an hour (more?) and I quickly started to feel like this was a really bad plan that I wish I hadn’t signed up for.
Then Edwin got home, saw me working, and immediately offered the use of his paint sprayer. A paint sprayer! What a guy. So he retrieved it from his basement and brought it over with a slice of watermelon for each of us and taught me how to use this magic futuristic device.
I’ve always written off paint sprayers as being more trouble than they’re worth and a big waste of paint (or stain, as the case may be), but YOU GUYS. It was so amazing. I don’t feel like I can really justify buying one for myself (this is the kind of tool you really don’t want to skimp on, and I guess the good ones are several hundred bucks), but if I ever have a really huge project where it’d come in handy and save me lots of time and money, I’d budget for it for sure.
Holy cow, this poor backyard. I promise I’ve really cleaned it up since this picture was taken. Mostly.
The trick with the sprayer, by the way, is very short, consistent strokes that sort of “feather” in and out at the ends. It’s harder than it looks or sounds and definitely takes a little practice to get into the groove of it, so I’m glad I got to get my sea legs on the fence with a product that’s really forgiving—if I sprayed it on too thick in sections, it was easy to just back-brush the excess and move on, and you can’t tell once it’s all dry. Since the wood is so rough, there wasn’t really any need to back-brush to avoid that sprayed-on finish that can look bad on the siding of a house, for instance.
ALSO! Sprayers are, well, sprayers, so you have to be very cautious of what’s around you when you’re using them! Professional painters actually need additional insurance to use sprayers because of the risk of overspray messing up someone’s car or house or whatever. One area of my fence is very close to the neighbor’s house so I switched to hand-brushing for those sections, but masking off her house with plastic would have also worked.
Anyway! Even with the sprayer, staining the whole thing took several days of 3-4 hour sessions, but I got it done! You can kind of see some lighter spots in this picture so after I was done I just went around and did touch-ups where necessary, and that was pretty much it!
Let’s talk for a minute about this stain? I used about 15 gallons of stain for this project, but the friendly folks at Cabot decided to help a brother out and send me 8 cans on them! So nice. I love this Solid Color Acrylic Siding Stain—it’s such good stuff. This is the same product I used on the other section of fencing last year, which still looks basically like the day it was done. Unlike any stain that I’m used to using, it has about the same consistency as a normal can of paint and the application is the same (you don’t need to wipe off excess or anything, like when you stain a piece of furniture), but it seems to really soak into the wood more than paint would and provides a really nice, totally opaque and totally matte finish. Because it’s water-based, clean-up is just like a normal latex paint and it cooperated beautifully with the sprayer! I think opaque stain is such a great alternative to paint especially when you’re dealing with pressure-treated lumber, which is typically supposed to dry out for several months before being treated especially with normal paint. Even after letting PT lumber dry out for longer than the recommended period, I’ve had a couple experiences now with regular (but high quality) exterior paint flaking and peeling after only a few months, but never with this stuff.
By the way, you also don’t need to prime—in fact, it’s probably better if you don’t. This goes right on the wood. According to the folks at Cabot, it can also be used to cover previously painted or stained surfaces too, which is pretty cool. I’ve only ever used it on fencing, but I also wonder if I should be using it on the clapboard on my house, except in white. Since it still allows the wood to breathe, it seems like it would last much longer than paint without peeling? Hmmmmmm. It might be worth buying a gallon just to see how it looks…
The coverage is also really amazing—I was concerned before starting that I’d need at least two coats but it just took one (!) to achieve the deep, even finish I wanted. YAY!
Cabot products used to be sort of tricky to find, but they recently started selling them at Ace Hardware locations nationwide which is great. Cabot for everyone!
This picture was taken while the stain was still drying (which is fast—totally dry in about 30-45 minutes) but check it out! I really didn’t mind the way that the wood fence looked with the black garage, but knowing how it would weather makes me glad I pulled the trigger on treating it this way.
The final piece was staining all the little post caps! These are just these simple wood post caps from Lowe’s that I think REALLY finish off a fence. I think functionally they’re supposed to extend the life of the posts by creating a peaked surface on top for rain and snow to run off of (much like the roof on a house), but aesthetically they also just make the fence look fancier and more finished.
I used the sprayer to get a good coat on the tops of each cap, but ended up staining each one with a brush so I could get into all the nooks and bottom edges and all that.
Post caps have a little adhesive strip inside of them to hold them securely to the posts, but they don’t seem particularly strong so I added some construction adhesive (liquid nails) to them before putting them in place. I placed all of them pretty quickly and then went back around and hammered them down with a rubber mallet to get them level and really set on the posts.
So! Here we were back when I bought the house…
And today! There’s still some serious landscaping that needs to happen even here, but I’m really happy overall with this as a foundation to work off of.
Those garage windows look a little funny because they’re sort of blown out in the photo, but there’s actually a cute ticking stripe fabric on the inside of the windows. I’ve been so busy and just wanted to get SOMETHING up so I rummaged through my extra fabric bin and pulled out this window shade I bought a while ago for a couple bucks (just for the fabric) and it was enough to cover all four windows. It’s just stapled to the door on the inside…it’s like the OPPOSITE of fancy but it looks nice from the outside and more importantly doesn’t expose folks on the sidewalk to the jumbled mess on the inside of the garage…
Also, I wired some lights on the garage! I like them! I don’t love them, but I like them! I ended up ordering the Harbor Sconce from Restoration Hardware during a sale. This is the large size in “weathered zinc”—the finish is kind of super lame and faux-looking in person, but the shape is cute and they look fine and sometimes fine is…fine. The bulbs are LED faux-edison bulbs which I LOVE because they are so super hokey but they really look good at night and the light is so warm and glow-y. The lights are on a timer switch (found at Home Depot) so they come on and off more or less with sunset and sunrise. Boom!
I know people have problems with exterior lights at night from a light pollution and environmental standpoint, but these have been met with GREAT enthusiasm from the neighbors. This is still an urban area, and this is a small under-lit cross-street—beyond just looking cute, a reasonable amount of light at night actually improves public safety, so I’m glad to have done this.
So here was the house about a year and a half ago, all chain-linked and mudroom-ed and white garage-d.
And today! I feel like the absence of the lush summer foliage isn’t making this comparison as dramatic as I want it to be, but whatever. You get the idea! This side of the house has a MAJOR makeover ahead of it, but it’s come a long way! And I really do feel like the black fence and garage go a long way toward sort of visually isolating the house and letting that be the focal point, which is kinda the goal.
In case you’re thinking this, I’m thinking it too: the contrast is TOO stark. It’s this big wash of white, and then this big wash of black, and that is not the intent nor do I think it looks particularly good as it stands. There are two major things that I totally believe will fix this:
- The fence and garage need to be softened. Everyone will tell me I’m an idiot, but fuck it: I’m going to let some english ivy do its climb-y thing on that sidewalk-facing side of the fence. I know it’ll spread. I know it’ll be hard or impossible to get rid of. I know it’s bad for the wood on the fence. I want it anyway. I’ll guard it from the house with my life, but the fence needs something to naturalize it into the landscape and I think it also needs that shot of traditionalism that ivy would offer. It would also be nice all winter, and…well, that’s that.
- The house needs more black accents! The house itself will stay white, but it’s very traditional for Greek Revival houses to have black (or dark green) windows, shutters, and doors. My window sashes are already black (whatever previous owner did that, thanks a bunch!), but the storm windows are yucky 70s aluminum and the shutters are longggg gone. Spray-painting the frames of the storms will make a bigger difference than you’d think, and I’m determined to get shutters back on this baby! Doing shutters “right” is one expensive endeavor—let me tell you—but of course I want them to all be sized correctly, with period-appropriate hardware and the correct style and all that. Bad shutters are a big pet peeve of mine so it might be a while until I can splurge on that exciting improvement, but let’s all just keep it in the back of our brains, cool?
This post is in collaboration with Cabot! Cabot generously provided a portion of the products used here but all opinions and stuff are my own, like I do.