Exterior Paint Progress

Oh my goodness, this school year is doing me in. I’m only homeschooling one of my kids again this year and only part-time, but it’s such a hectic schedule and lots of driving. I feel like a stereotype and have resorted to highlighting my calendar so I don’t forget where I’m supposed to be during any given timeslot. (Literally just got up to consult said calendar to make sure I’m not supposed to be somewhere right now.) All I do is drive and listen to WTF episodes. Marc Maron is feeling more like family at this point than my actual family. (Podcast recommendations???) As always, I have so many house projects that I can’t wait to get to, but my current reality is that I can usually only find 1/2 day a week to squeeze in extracurriculars, and right now that means slowly trying to put the lid back on the can of worms that the exterior paint job opened up.

In an effort to save money, but mostly deterred by color decisions and the repairs we needed to make before painting, I volunteered to paint all the random fences around our property. The work is tedious but fine; the decisions paralyzing. I was hoping to have a “hooray the exterior is done!” post ready by now, but the best I can do is tell you all the things I’m confused about:I started with our “trash fence,” the one that hides trash cans, and the long curved fence that separates our driveway from our backyard (we have a weird corner lot). After loving the high contrast of our new exterior lights (more cute lights here), I toyed with idea of painting the fences black, ultimately deciding that I love a sun-drenched view of the backyard from inside the house. Went with white. Needed 3 freaking coats and I’m almost done but not quite. And of course I discovered a termite infestation and rotting boards and the whole fence should be replaced ASAP but who has the time or money? For some reason every fence post on our property, besides 3, was put into the ground with no concrete footing = a never-ending buffet for termites. WHY WHY WHYWe desperately need to build a new back gate after wind storms trashed this flimsy one. I wondered if yellow would be fun so I took the opportunity to try it out on the junk gate before we dismantle it, slapping on a coat of the same color I used on our kitchen pocket door. I didn’t love it at first and thought it was too much with our orange door, but now it has grown on me so much and I can’t imagine any other color. Put me down for multiple crazy colored doors please. I’ll probably go with a slightly less fluorescent acid yellow, like the one nearest turquoise below.And I’d like to return the gate to its original design, as seen on this google maps screenshot below from before we bought the house. I am that creep. The diamond!Aaaand then we have this weirdo back fence situation. The entire stretch of our driveway and backyard has this 4′ cinderblock retaining wall at the property line. The trellised fence above belongs to our neighbors and is set back a foot. Behind that fence is our neighbors’ driveway and garage at eye level and I hear that, long before we moved in, there used to be nothing between the houses! I’d love to have a monolithic 10′ tall fence across the entire back stretch of our property to hide this current mish mash, but I have no idea how to approach it. It’s no simple thing to add height to an existing cinderblock wall, and we can’t put posts directly in the retaining wall or in the ground directly in front of it because there is footing below. Our only option for in-ground posts would be about a foot into our yard. Privacy plants might be the easiest and cheapest solution, but those require maintenance and water and take up space – not ideal. I’m thinking about a wall topper/extention, where you screw “posts” directly into the side of the cinderblock and build up from there but I’m not sure if 6′ of height is feasible. I decided to go ahead and begin painting the mosaic wall white where the tan is while we think more about this one. Ideas welcome because we are stumped!!! Now on to this other fence between our backyard and side yard. Of course, it also needs repairs. This time, a water damaged gate. (But look how fresh and crisp!)Again, the mess of back fences where properties converge. How do I make that pretty??? Should I paint the chimney??? We weren’t 100% sure so we didn’t have our painters touch it. And now that I see it with the new paint job, I’m even more conflicted.  Around the side yard is where things really got thrilling! We know this fence was rotted and we keep doing quick fixes on it hoping to squeeze another year out of it. But this time the quick fix revealed the obvious, but one we oddly never considered, reason for the rot: major termite damage. OH MY GOODNESS CALIFORNIA I LOVE YOU EXCEPT YOUR TERMITES. If this sounds really irresponsible, it kinda is, but I just painted over the whole thing like nothing is happening because I need a few months before I can deal with this. Went with a dark charcoal black and I love it. It makes the fence (and my termite problems) disappear instead of looking like a continuation of the longest rambling ranch ever built.  Lastly, I’ve been so stalled on these screens. I was set on painting them black but then decided to go with textural white, and primed them accordingly. But they are so lost from the street in the sea of white when I need them to break up the long stretch of house, that I’m thinking of going back to the original plan of black. Pardon the weeds and random chair collection.  A very lo-fi mockup has me excited. Now trying to decide if I should use the same dark charcoal on that side fence or go true black. And what sheen? I drove to the paint store the other day and then drove away because I couldn’t make decisions.Oh and I forgot the other thing I need to deal with. The painting inadvertently killed some of our plants. Agaves are generally ok with abuse. Don’t water them. Dig them up and leave bare roots out in the sun for a month. NO PROBLEM. But dare cover them up with something like a drop cloth for even one day, and they will revenge rot/die on you. Our beautiful agaves by the front door took the brunt of it. And the sansevieria experiments in the rock bed above that were barely hanging on before the dropcloths are pathetic now.
So there you have it. My can of worms. The good news is that I LOVE LOVE LOVE the white house. It made our black roof look beautiful (who says stuff like that?) and offers a minimal and graphic backdrop to all the plants and furniture and colorful doors/gates. Best of all, it’s such a better match to what is going on inside the house. I still have a moment of doubt every time I see a dramatic black house or a pastel aqua beach bungalow, but I think I made a good choice this round for this particular house. Now to nail the other 50 decisions and ignore my termite problems…And I’m sure there’s typos in here but carpool duty is calling so sorry goodbye!!!!


Exterior White Paint: How I Picked a Color

Great news over here: we are having the exterior of our house painted. As in, HIRING THE WORK OUT! I was planning to spend the fall doing the job myself, but after such a stressful and overwhelming first month of school/homeschool for me, we were curious what it would cost. When the quote came back extremely reasonable, we decided to clamp down on our spending over the next few months and go for it. My very talented designer/DIYer friend, Karen at Destination Eichler, described watching her house get painted by someone else like a mini vacation. I hope that’s how I feel too… because yikes are we ever dipping into that travel budget, haha!

The change of plans really truncated our timeline and I needed to pick a paint color like immediately. Thankfully, I already knew I wanted to go all white. Our painter expressed a preference for Sherwin Williams, who happened to be having a sale the week we decided to say yes. Pro tip: turns out they are pretty much always having a sale to create false urgency in suckers like me. In an effort to save every penny we can, I spent hours choosing a paint color to buy everything at sale price. FYI, I did ask if I could buy 30 gallons of untinted at sale price and come back to have it tinted if I couldn’t decide before the sale ended and got a reluctant “I guess.”

There are like 100 white paint colors. What the heck, do we really need this many options? Talk about agonizing over a boring decision. After reminding myself how much money we were spending and how this is basically a 10 year commitment, I dedicated myself to doing my best, turning into the neighborhood freak who painted white squares all over her house and stared at them for days.

Here’s my process in case you are in the same boat on a sea of tedium:

  • Search for exteriors you like. I’ve been gathering exterior inspirations on Pinterest for the past year so I already had a good collection going. I picked a few favorites to investigate further and see if I could get any info on the paint color. I did come up with a few, but none were SW. (This was my favorite for sure, in Dunn Edwards Whisper, and also this!!)
  • Pull together a general idea of what you want. Me: bright, warm but NOT BEIGE. Crisp but not blue. Clean and fresh without feeling dead. Basically a glowy white. We have mostly stucco so it was super important that it didn’t look depressingly beige.
  • Pay major attention to the different light at different times of day in your neighborhood, and what hits the majority of your house the majority of the day. Here, we generally have gray overcast mornings that pull out every weird undertone of paint. Then a good chunk of the day offers bright, sunny, contrasty light that blasts the front of our house, making even the faintest pastels appear saturated. Late afternoon brings the warmest, orange light where every surface glows.
  • Get like 50 paint chips. I grabbed even the ones I thought I wouldn’t like, walking outside at the paint store to double check my direction in the natural light.
  • Bring them home and eliminate. I tried to do this outside but my current exterior tan color was distracting, so I moved the operation inside to a sunny pure white wall. For me, blue undertones, the only thing I was sure I didn’t want, were the first to go. I wavered on whether I wanted green undertones, but ultimately I eliminated those too because I lean warm and generally don’t love cool colors (though Makerista’s recent gorgeous paint job had me thinking maybe that greenish SW Moderne White was all I ever needed). I liked a lot of the pinkish/red undertones, but since we’ve lived with a pinkish hue for 5 years, I ended up eliminating those too for a more dramatic change. Next, I eliminated grays because, after some thinking, I remembered CRISP not murky. I kind of continued this process until I was left with 12 colors, all falling in the bright warm white/vanilla range.
  • Google exteriors in all of those colors. Painfully, I whittled it down to 7 colors. I really liked this exterior color in SW Alabaster and this one in SW Westhighland White.
  • Buy paint samples of the finalists and paint them directly on you house. I painted on several different sides, on both wood and stucco (after pressure washing the spots and drying ugh).

  • Observe the samples throughout the day. Oddly, the three I loved at first glance on the wood board and batten were the three I hated on my stucco, mostly because they were so similar to the current color which I think is gross beige. And the one I thought was way too bright on my wood was the one that made the stucco glow. Eventually I eliminated Shoji White and Ivory Lace for being too gray/murky. I cut Creamy after being scared of the possibility of going real beige real fast. Westhighland White and Greek Villa were the ones that I was drawn to the most but I kept Alabaster in there because, although it didn’t wow like the other two, it was a good sturdy white. Eventually, Greek Villa went too because, compared to WHW and Alabaster, it was missing that hint of warmth.

  • Paint large papers with your narrowed down colors. Carry them around to every nook and cranny of the house for another day. WHW was a hands down winner in most locations and times of day…it radiated and glowed while Alabaster looked flat and gray. But in full sun, they were so similar and a few times I even liked Alabaster more.
  • This is so stupid just pick a color because they are all the same. OK, Westhighland White it is.

  • THIS ONE IS KEY: Go to buy the paint and then find out it’s only available in exterior satin when you are set on using flat. WTF even, I hate you SW.
  • Complain on IG. And get a color suggestion from one of your favorite Palm Springs designers that happens to be the same paint as your favorite inspiration exterior to begin with: Dunn Edwards Whisper. FOR REALS. Check with your painter if he’s cool with Dunn Edwards. When he gives an enthusiastic yes, swatch it, see that it is almost identical to the other one you wanted, love their customer service, and be done.

And that’s how you pick a white paint color haha. Such a joke. In the end, though, I chose one I’m really excited about. The one I should have just gone with from the beginning I guess!

Painting is almost done and wow what a transformation. I‘ll share more soon but lets just say 1. don’t forget your sunglasses and 2. we are SO Halloween ready with this color scheme. xoxo Jenny

Front Yard Landscaping

*I gotta preface this. I’ve been sitting on my posts for the past few weeks because I don’t at all want to contribute to a “business as usual” vibe and be all “yay for my house!” while children sit in detention centers alone in fear and their asylum seeking parents live out a nightmare. It’s one thing when human rights violations are happening on the other side of the world, but when they occur inside your nation AND ON YOUR BEHALF, it’s a whole new level of sickening. These families, not our house projects, are the ones constantly on my mind. Many hours of the past weeks have been spent reading, learning, thinking, praying, giving, and acting. If you have intentionally zoned out from the news and retreated to your bubble, I get it. This stuff is heartbreaking and it’s easier to go about our life and let the people in charge handle it. Except, the people in charge aren’t handling it. This is a disaster at every turn. Here’s the latest in a nutshell. Although a judge has ordered that children be reunited with their parents, very few have. They are spread out all over the country. And organizations on the ground report staggering numbers missing parents. And even when children have been able to communicate with a parent, this is what separation sound like. This is what reunification looks like. I can’t read/hear/see any of this without imagining my own children, who could easily be in this situation if fate would have landed us in other lands. And I know what I’d want the people of privilege and freedom and voice to do. Citizens, humans, we need to get these kids reunited NOW. I urge you to speak up, to donate (we gave to Together Rising, but many other worthy organizations here), and to demand just immigration policies for our nation and for the world. I don’t have a huge platform but a good handful of you show up here every time I post (thank you!). Today, I would much rather you click on through, educate yourself, and snap to action than read about my inconsequential front yard project. Our family is not business as usual and I hope yours isn’t either. xoxo Jenny


Landscaping the front yard was our big summer/fall project last year and it was mostly finished by the end of the year. I actually photographed it last December but it happened to be the week of those horrible fires and the light was just too apocalyptic and sad to share. Then Spring showed up with 26 million weeds which took me, our resident weed puller, a few months to sort out. But I’m here now, only 6 months late! I haven’t shared much of this massive project yet, so I might get a little lengthy as I cover some ground…ha. (And please excuse our house’s pathetic exterior state, we desperately need to paint it but WHEN?!) Much like our backyard landscaping, I’m really really proud of this DIY project because plants and yard stuff is not something either of us are naturally drawn to. But we did it 100% ourselves and saved a ton of money. I have a plant list and budget breakdown at the end, if you are curious.A brief history: Our front yard came to us with a patch of thirsty grass with a crumbling and steep drop off and an assortment of random flowers and bushes. We stopped watering everything when we moved in and let it go for a few years while inside projects demanded attention, turning the yard into a ratty weed/dirt patch (sorry neighborhood!!!). This is on a very good day after rains turned weeds green:
When the time came to tackle the front, we knew we needed some sort of wall along the top of our slope to delineate each section and offer more usable, flat square footage above (you can see the gentlest part of the drop off above). The border wall was born. We added a swoop of flexible composite edging on our driveway side to finish the rock/mulch separation where there is an awkward elevation change but we still needed definition.

Next, we ripped up all the irrigation and nearly every plant. We put in all new drainage across the top level before covering it with a thick layer of weed cloth and float rock.

Then I spent a good six months slowly finding plants, planting them, and moving them around until it felt right. I tried to work in a few existing plants in an effort to save money and labor (you can kind of see my attempts to integrate them in this post), but in the end it wasn’t worth the effort. We ended up keeping nothing except two crepe myrtle trees on the slope, our huge beloved dragon tree in one corner, and our huge palm tree in another. It was scary to have such a huge blank canvas to fill up with plants and money, but once we actually got rid of things we didn’t like, it made it much easier to design a landscape that we truly love, that we are able and willing to take care of, that better goes with the look we are going for, and that fits into our low maintenance/low water needs. More about plant selection and specifics way down at the end.

Next, we mulched the slope areas with gorilla shred. The sea of brown isn’t my favorite, but the slope is steep and we need something that will stay in place and couldn’t find a better solution. The lower and upper garden beds have black mulch, which I love the punch of color it brings and wish I could somehow do black on the slope…though I recently saw a similar slope in black rubber mulch that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, so I may look into that further on down the line.

With our driveway and garage entrance in the back, our rambling ranch’s length is overly emphasized from the front. Our slope landscaping provides enough lushness that the top doesn’t need a ton of plants, but we did need something big to break up the long monotonous expanse of house frontage. We settled on building a decorative screen. It was originally supposed to hide a terribly placed electrical box floating in the middle of a wall, but I last-minute moved it. And then loved it so much that I decided we definitely needed a second one to cover the electrical box the original one was supposed to. Screen #2 coming soon.

The new front door and mailbox has immensely classed up the joint.

Time for so many photos.



Our slope was very much inspired by the slope landscaping at Fletcher Cove in Solana Beach, CA. I fell in love with it last Spring when we were there because it is very colorful and graphic, simple but interesting, and lush feeling without water requirements. Our climate is similar so I knew it could work. The slope is where the bulk of our planting happened and is basically a repeat of agave attenuatas, blue agave americanas, black aeoiums, yellow jades, and golden barrel cacti. A few spots veer from the pattern: a couple variegated agave americanas (the green and yellow stipes), jades that the previous owner left us in backyard pots (heart), a pony tail palm, an aloe tree, a few other aeoniums, and a spiky furcraea macdougalii that isn’t doing so good. Up top we have more attenuata, a gigantic americana agave, a bed of sansevieria, and a pair of palm trees that need to be moved…they were planted with the intention of making a front-and-center V of twin palms, but it’s unlikely that vision will be realized while we own this house and they are taking up valuable real estate and looking weird and small.

Our choices reflect two landscaping goals: “as zero-maintance as we can get” and as free as can be. Low water landscaping is important in our state, and much of the west, so thankfully we both love desert modern landscape design and ran with that. Faking Palm Springs til we make it. Everything in our yard is a succulent and will not need regular watering after getting established over the past winter. I will probably hand water a few times on scorching days this summer just to be safe, but I don’t expect to do any watering past that. Rain water only. We’re irrigation free besides our small backyard lawn.Free plants are hard to beat. Many of our agaves, which make up the majority of our plants, were scores from trash piles, neighbors, our own backyard pups, and craigslist ads. Once you get a taste of free agaves, it’s hard to go back. Savings really add up, especially when you are talking about 100+ plants. My husband dug up and wheelbarrowed that huge one by the front door from a few block away. (True love.)

The great thing about agaves, attenuatas in particular, is their ability to multiply. You cut off the pups, the bonus agaves that grow from the mother plant, plop them in the ground and they grow! So easy. In a few years I anticipate the slope to be lush and full, but still minimal. But a note about agave americanas, pictured below. They also pup and multiply but they are sharp and their sap is a skin irritant. If you let them clump, you can have an unmanageable mess on your hands. My proactive approach has been to treat pups like weeds…when I come across them while weeding, I pull them out (easy when they are little) and toss them to keep things nice and ordered.A few special plants, like the aloe barberae, are from a local nursery. Everything else was filled in with cheap(er) plants from Home Depot…big box stores like that sell regional plant standards at decent prices. What they stock is at the whim of what their wholesale nurseries have available, so it takes multiple visits to gather all you need, but it’s possible and such a money saver!

Shout out to the tiny heroes of our yard: Golden barrels! Forever a favorite. They popped up last spring at our local home depot and I bought a ton! The sidewalk level “cutouts” as we call them, seemed like a perfect opportunity to display them symmetrically, in contrast to the more natural, lose placement of plants on the slope, where even more golden barrels dot the landscape. The cacti are only a few years old, and bordering on humorously tiny. And I know they are slow growers (they can reach 2 feet by 30 years). But the cost of older/bigger ones was more than I wanted to spend and specimens at any size aren’t something I find often in bulk locally so I am so thankful just to have ANY. They contribute such a fun pop, in both shape and color, and are the most commented on plants by passing walkers. Little balls of spiky chartreuse wonderfulness that everyone wants to hug.Some of our plant budget was literally thrown away on plant fails. I really wanted purple cordylines to line our rock bed, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t keep them alive. I threw close to $200 at them, they all kept dying, and I finally had to thrown in the towel and change course. Plants that continually die on you are not zero maintenance. My next attempt was Mexican fence post cacti but acquiring them here proved near impossible. Next experiment, San Pedro cacti, also failed: cactus sunburn. Luckily, I only attempted this on a small scale, mostly due to plant scarcity, and was able to move the burnt guys to the back. Going back to the drawing board for the 4th time led me to try Sansevieria, something I only considered a shade plant because they THRIVE indoors, but can actually tolerate sun. They are doing great! Only took 4 tries.

Things still look a bit sparse, but everything has already grown so much since Halloween. Hooray!



When going into a project this big with almost no experience, it’s really hard to nail down an estimated cost. We did get a quote for the whole thing with a concrete retaining walls on bottom and top, but it was in the $20,000-$30,000k range…what the heck even? If you are looking for motivation to do your yard yourself when you really don’t want to, just ask someone else for a quote. I promise it will provide you with the motivation you need! I know the price of materials and plants varies so much between regions and will definitely depend on your yard size, but if you are curious what we spent for our good-sized yard, we did everything for a little over $3000. AND A TON OF TIME. Here’s our break down:

Plants – $1200:

  • Blue Americana Agaves x so many, FREE (you dig from family friend and neighbors)
  • Agave Attenuata x so many, FREE (neighbor’s trash pile)
  • Agave Attenuata x 9, $100 total (craigslist neighbor)
  • Agave Attenuata long neck x 1, $75 (local nursery)
  • Jade Hummel Sunset x 9, $5 (Home Depot)
  • Jade x 2, FREE (previous owners left in backyard)
  • Golden Barrel Cactus small x 20, $5/each (Home Depot)
  • Golden Barrel Cactus large x 2, $20/each (Home Depot)
  • Black Aeoniums x 3, $25/each (local nursery, I split and propagated them)
  • random Aeoniums x 2, $25 (local nursery)
  • Agave Americana Variegata x 2, $20/each (Home Depot)
  • Aloe Barberae tree x 1, $45 (local nursery, I broke off one head noooo)
  • Furcraea Macdougalii x 1, $40 (local nursery)
  • Ponytail Palm x 1, $25 (Home Depot)
  • Sansevieria x 8, $20/each (Home Depot)
  • Mexican Fan Palms x 2, $50/each (Home Depot)
  • Cordylines x 8, $20/each (Home Depot, all dead)

Materials – $2000

  • border wall wood and supplies, $800
  • composite edging, $50
  • wood screen, $150
  • 3/4″ float rock x 6 yards, $250 total
  • gorilla hair mulch x 9 yards, $350 total
  • rock/mulch deliveries, $150
  • black mulch bags x 9, $30 total
  • landscape fabric, $250
  • round pavers x 30, $1/each

Not bad! I can’t describe what a joy it is to look out our window and see pretty plants instead of neck high weeds and dirt piles. The spiky plants feel more “me” and more ordered than the flower/lawn combo ever did. But really, having a done and clean yard is just such a relief. A front yard is not a project you can hide behind a closed door until you are ready to get to it. It’s the kind that stares you, and everyone else, squarely in the face day after day until you do the work. So glad the work is behind us!

Our future plans out here, besides painting that exterior ASAP, include rebuilding our falling down side fence and eventually laying a concrete patio outside our front door, the best views on our property. A giant circle seems right to me, but that is out of our DIY comfort zone, so we may just go for an easy geometrical patio out of square concrete pavers.

Phew, that was a lot! Thanks for reading and to all of you in the middle of your own yard projects, I feel your pain. xoxo