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Chez Larsson

Troubleshooting for Katie

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After Martin and I did the troubleshooting post for Juliette I received an e-mail from Katie, who lives in a small mining town in the US. She asked for our opinion on the exterior of her house. I knew Martin would jump at this, having strong feelings about architecture in general and exteriors in particular so I passed the photo on to him.

Here's what Katie wrote:

This house has gone through a major facelift from when we first got it. It's not the most beautiful space, I'll admit. For some reason, people in the community just fell in love with attaching indoor porches to their homes in the 70s. It has a screen door (you can see it leaning against the wall for repairs), then the main house has a standard exterior door. The whole neighborhood is like this.

The problem I'm curious about your opinion is the wood paneling. It isn't fake paneling. It's real, tongue and groove, 4 cm thick stuff. Should it be painted, replaced with something else in a different color…? I guess the paneling just feels too "interior" in my mind to be across the whole front of the house, so I blame it for the weird feel the front has. I'd take any suggestions on the space, really. 

First of all I have to say I disagree with Katie. I love the house! I love the porch! I DO think it's beautiful!What I love most about it is the symmerty, the square structure with the centered porch and centered door. There's always room for improvement though and here are a couple of suggestions for Katie and Martin ( Yes, she has a Martin too!).

For the interior of the porch we suggest painting the paneling to give it more of a room feel than the sauna (sorry, but you know how I feel about bare wood) look. I think a couple of coats of white in there will give a totally new feel to the space both when looking from the outside in and once your inside. We would also go for white trim but since all white's not everybody's cup of tea a nice pale shade of grey would look awesome too.


For the exterior of the porch we would paint the paneling in the same color as the house itself. It's a really nice green and painting the rest the same would make the porch stick out less and be more integrated with the main house.

For the outside trim we would again go for white. There's no denying that painting trim white will give the walls or in this case the paneling that added freshness, at least in our book.


Martin got a little carried away (as he does with these types of things) and threw in a few more things that will give give the house more curb appeal.

How about making the front steps more substantial by running them along the front and sides of the porch? If there's no frost in the ground where Katie is it's quite an easy build. With frost there's a bit harder labor involving digging for plinths but it would be so worth it. Imagine some nice pots and lanterns on there…

Another suggestion is that because there's not much of a yard at the front of the house to put gravel down there so there's no need to mow a thin strip of lawn. If laid correctly the gravel will be virtually maintenance and weed free. Pick the color of gravel carefully. Martin and I stay away from anything with pink in it because it tends to look fleshy and clashes with a lot of paint colors. White-gray-black gravel goes with everything and looks fresh.


What we're not crazy about is the metal fence and gate in front of that cute house and if it were up to us we'd switch to wooden fencing. Here's one version which is open and airy but maybe not a great idea if there are doggies involved.


The other version is more closed in to contain any four leggers.

So these are our two cents. Anyone else have any other suggestions for Katie and Martin?


  • Sarah says:

    I really like the idea of painting the the inside of the porch white–I think it would look great!
    Also, for what it’s worth, I think this house is SO CUTE. It just needs a little more love (or some white paint, Bentia style) and it will look even better 🙂

  • Rattling On says:

    I also love the house AND the porch- which I think looks like a sports pavilion. Love the new ideas, especially changing the fencing- railings would look good as well.
    Also, I’d go for some window boxes all round the ledges, they could even be low-maintenance and have box hedging planted in them.

  • Anne says:

    Great ideas. Lovely house and it will look so good with some (or all) of this idea.
    I am getting really, really tired of my little hopeless apartment… I too would like a porch and a wooden fence.
    Book suggestion: out on the porch…

  • What a great house! I LOVE Martin’s idea of the stairs running all the way around, that would look amazing. and of course replacing the fence with a nice fresh white fence… you just can’t go wrong with that idea!

  • Sara says:

    LOVE the ‘surround’ steps, and I love the porch too. What if you changed the windows to screens?

  • quinn says:

    I see these porches all the time in New England, not only on tiny houses but also on big farmhouses. It was/is a way to have a bug-free outdoor space in the warm weather and a way to make the most use of the available sunshine in winter – for clothes-drying, for example. It’s a treat to be able to step outside in winter without putting on one’s boots.
    Often there are big windows in the “inside/outside” wall – and I do wonder where all the windows are in Katie and Martin’s little house…
    I’d be tempted to put windows (back?) on that wood wall. Or, since Katie really doesn’t like the added-on-porch look, consider ripping out that dividing wall (with care to structural requirements) and making the porch a part of the room/s behind it.
    Cute house, anyway! I once lived in a little square house on Colorado. It was a worker’s house for a cattle farm. Nice to think of a time – and not very long ago! – when people in the US expected to live where they actually “made a living” instead of spending hours of every day “commuting.”

  • Nichole says:

    Cute house and great suggestions! Sometimes we just need a fresh set of eyes to show us how great what we have is or can be.

  • French Knots says:

    My first thought was ‘what a sweet house’. I’d love a porch, what a lovely light space.
    I think changing the fence would make a huge difference to the overall look of the house but that could be a big expensive project. I would paint the boarding to match the house so it looks more cohesive and maybe dress the windows too for a more homely look.

  • sharon says:

    One other idea re. fencing is to add a nice neat hedge at the front – less expensive and provided a neat/dense bush is chosen it could look very quaint… with this type of fence it would also grow through the gaps in the fence and fill it out/hiding the chain wire look. Of course the hedging would be be ongoing maintenance… then you could just add a cute picket gate in between the hedges and wa-lah!

  • Alicia Jensen says:

    If the budget was there, I would play with the roof line to give a more defined front door/entry space. I do love the extended steps and fence change. And with the green paint, and white trim, I would go for a bold front door color, maybe a deep red.

  • Rosa says:

    I love it. It seems like a very doable project that will bring amazing curb appeal to this darling house. Great suggestions from the both of you. Thanks for giving me ideas that I will hopefully apply to my future home in the far distant future.

  • Vicki K says:

    I agree that this house has Charming all over it! Really like your suggestions, Martin.

  • Elissa says:

    I don’t know how you’ll feel about this, but I’d rip out the windows and make it a real porch again. For some reason I find that people rarely use enclosed porches because what the hell can you do with a 7 foot by 22 foot room? They usually just wind up being a “junk room.” The windows somehow make it look less welcoming. I’d take out the windows and go back to the original siding, who knows it might be under that paneling? Even though you’re close to the road, you should have enough privacy to feel comfortable out there since there is a half wall instead of an open railing. Hanging flower baskets and some flowers between the porch and the fence would help pretty it up a bit too!

  • unabridged says:

    Love the house and the suggestions. I would argue for some nice landscaping out front instead of lawn or gravel. Switching from weedy gravel to native plants actually lowered the maintenance requirements for a long, narrow patch of land I have.

  • Elle says:

    Kudos Benita and Martin! I love this blog, I always get so inspired, next step is actually implementing that inspiration….
    Thought adding to the steps was a fantastic idea, as well as the painting. What a difference they made adding a bit of weight and symmetry to the front.

  • Sally says:

    Also love this house! Very cute! In addition to fixing up the trim, I think a little landscaping would go a long way to making your house more homely. If you don’t want to change the fence to a wooden one (chain link is great if you will ever have pets or want a better sense of security), try planting honeysuckle all along it. It will vine up and cover the whole fence, giving a sense of privacy. Hall’s honeysuckle (yellow flowers) is pretty drought tolerant, while the pink-flowering ones are pretty, but like a little more water. Both will stay semi-evergreen, smell amazing, and be low maintenance. Some shrubs along the side of the house would also look great-maybe rose bushes, hastas, or something evergreen? Even a small tree might be nice in that yard- a mimosa or dogwood, perhaps?

  • oh holland says:

    love the suggestions and sketches. i’m stealing those ideas!

  • bec says:

    such great ideas. I think they are all great.

  • Nancy says:

    We used to live in a house that had a similar front porch. It was great having a transitional space that separated the public outdoors from the private indoors. It was uninsulated, so it wasn’t feasible to open up that space to the main part of the house without major renovations. I’m assuming that since this house is located in a small mining town that it is somewhere that would get chilly in the winter.
    We had a small table and chairs in the porch and we used to love to sit out there with our morning coffee and the newspaper and watch people go by. Perhaps on the other side of the porch you could put a a nice bench with some pillows on it and storage underneath. A plant on a plantstand would also look pretty. I am assuming that there is some form of lighting inside. You should consider upgrading the the light fixture; perhaps something with a zinc finish. A runner from the stairs to the front door and a couple of throw rugs or a sisal area rug would also make this a welcoming place to linger.
    If you didn’t want to put stairs all the way around the front of the porch, then I would at least make the stairs wider then they are now. Make them as wide as one or two window sections and make one of the steps double width just at the ends to accommodate a larger planter pot with seasonal greenery. Urns might be too formal for this house but there are some great planters to choose from.
    Regarding the fence, if replacing it is an option, then I would consider something that is partially open, similar to a picket fence. If it was completely solid, I would always be conerned that someone could be hiding behind it. (this concern comes from living in the heart of a big city for 10 years)
    This house could become the most charming one on the block!

  • dolores says:

    I love the idea of stretching the steps out and around the indoor porch. Not to keen on the closed fence sketch. It may make the property look smaller than it really is.
    Thank goodness for google sketchup!!

  • Lisa Z says:

    I love the house and your suggestions, too. It looks like so many houses here in Minnesota, and many could use just such a “re-freshing”. We have a porch very similar, in fact, on our 1925 Foursquare. We use it 3 seasons of the year, here in frosty Minnesota. I know a lot of people end up putting storage on their porches, but I’ve never understood that. I have a Martha Stewart-brand wicker set from K-Mart on my porch, and I drink many cups of tea while reading a book or magazine out there. In summer all the windows are wide open for a screened porch effect, but in the cooler seasons of spring and fall I open and close windows as needed. With some cute, minimal furniture and a rule not to store crap out there, the porch could be a wonderful part of this home’s living arrangements!
    I love the idea to paint the house and porch siding all the same color, and to paint the interior white to minimize the effect of the paneling. You can see my front porch at my blog, if you want to picture mine, which is painted white inside. Just scroll down a bit on the main page and there is a photo.
    One more thing, the stairs all around look great, but if you don’t want to do that, just do some nice landscaping to tie the stairs into the entire porch.

  • devil says:

    This house really is very cute and wouldn’t need much to get it looking great.
    The whole (body of the) house should be repainted green (it works). I like the idea of white or gray for the trim and windows. I LOVE the idea of a contrasting color for the front door.
    I also love the idea for gravel in the yard rather than high-maintenance grass. Plants are fine, just no grass to mow.
    I wouldn’t replace the chain-link fence. Not so attractive, perhaps, but pretty secure.
    Oh, yeah, I’d paint the paneling inside the porch, too. Maybe a lighter shade of the same green as the exterior?

  • Jo in NZ says:

    Yes, yes! Bravo, you two! Please let us see the ‘after’ photos….

  • Morag says:

    To echo Quinn and Nancy, it’s also a common form on small houses here in New England, which is cold with long winters, and it does date to way before the 70s. Larger more formal houses and farmhouses often had similarly sized glassed-in porches too, but in that case they tended to be in the back or side, but always somewhere that could take advantage of the sun and extend the warmth a little longer through the year. A place for sitting, reading, eating a meal, but also for starting seeds and plants, drying laundry, keeping snowshoes and winter gear (like a sunny mudroom). When my brother and I picked potatoes as children, my mother used to make us take our muddy clothing off there before we came in the house. Juliette, please enjoy it, whatever you decide to do with it!

  • Leslie says:

    Lots of container plants and window boxes would be nice since there’s not much front yard. I love the idea of a sun porch if it would be warm enough. Some nice furniture, a little tv, a hammock or daybed… you could live on the porch year-round 🙂 I grew up with chain link fence and it doesn’t look real nice. An open white wooden fence with a gate would be cool. If you need to keep pets in, you could get an invisible fence. Very cute house!

  • Christine says:

    I live in Minnesota too, and grew up in Wisconsin. We have a ton of homes like that too. I don’t know if it is a three season porch or not. If it is you could put a table and chairs and use it for eating or crafting.
    I think that some potted plants are good. But maybe two large pots flanking the walkway or door. And the pots could be in a third accent color that you could use on the inside of the porch as accent as well. Also, don’t forget the house number. I didn’t see it in the photo, so I don’t know if there is one on the house or not. But you can experiment with script style and scale.
    Maybe also some light curtains to cut down on the light if you get direct morning or afternoon sun.
    I don’t know about gravel. I think it would be much more high maintence than people think. Plus would it fit with the neighborhood? Maybe a large bush plant like peoney or put in lilies along the edge of the porch if you are not going to put in the wrap around step.
    A neat lighting fixture on the inside of the porch or new ones on the outside depending on where you have them would work too.
    Post pics when you finish!

  • Erica G says:

    I sometimes get so frustrated with my little old house with all its quirks, but this blog makes me feel like I could actually do something with it. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Thank you all so much for the suggestions for Katie and Martin. What a bounty to go through and be inspired by!

  • carol k says:

    I love your ideas and Martins. This house has good “bones”. It needs some love and sprucing up. And some landscaping -trees- could really add curb appeal. Budget allowing.

  • Martin actually uses Adobe Illustrator to do his sketches. I have to check out Google sketch up though because I need a new tool. I use Corel Draw at the mo to sketch but it’s not ideal.

  • Katie says:

    Oh wow! I have been pouring over all of your ideas and thoughts. How could I possibly thank you, Benita, and everyone who has chipped in? I really felt hopeless about the front of the house. Now I’m bursting with ideas!
    It’s really refreshing to think about extending the steps (which need replacing in the next few years anyway!), painting, and so much more. I’m still torn about the fence – not because I don’t like the idea of ditching the chain link – but because we’re just so big on trying to reuse at our house… which goes right along with using what you have. Hmmm.
    Nice to hear that other communities seem to confront the same troubles with these porches. Ours is a foursquare miner’s cottage, too!
    Benita, I owe you so very much for the help.

  • Sharna says:

    If you can’t replace the fence due to cost and there is no real “need” for it I’d just yank it out. we did that when we bought our house. We had an unsightly chain link fence that cut our yard space in half. We did not have an animal that needed contained so we pulled the fence out thus creating a much larger usable yard space… A days work won us a much larger and attractive yard! I think the house is adorable, by the way!

  • Jennifer says:

    This could be a very cute, welcoming house if the these ideas are used! I am not quite sure about the gravel though, but maybe I am just not getting it? From what I understand, your idea was to replace any existing grass in the front with gravel?
    I would think it would be best to accentuate what grass you do have by adding a tall-ish, by skinny tree. A couple of bushes, just try and add a bit of color with flowers because of the house being green.
    I hope that we will be seeing a follow-up post with updated pictures! 😀

  • Ruthie says:

    I totally feel Katie’s desire to reuse things. What about planting a nice looking, full vine, painting it, or putting in some slats? Those all improve the look, to me. My neighborhood has a lot of chain-link (wood doesn’t last long here in the swampy south) and I have come to see the benefits of it. When we have money to tear down the rotting wood side fence we’ll def. put in (hopefully purchased used) chain-link. And grow some more morning glories on it!