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Design Dilemma
Design Dilemma

What to do about front of house? Any color suggestions?

hollyfhigginsNovember 17, 2012
Hi! We're currently thinking about purchasing this house. The inside is gorgeous. We're not crazy about the color scheme, but of course that can be fixed.

What we're more focused on is the window situation on the front of the house (first picture listed... the other pics will give you an idea of how the house looks overall). There's a lot of awkward space above the two main floor windows, but if we put second floor windows above, they'd probably have to be pretty small.

Any creative suggestions? Are we the only ones that think this looks awkward? Color suggestions are welcome, too. The neighborhood is very eclectic, vibrant and historic. Thanks!
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Anne Gibney
I agree looks unbalanced. Maybe lengthen the windows visually by adding window boxes below window and possible architectural feature above window to reach same height of porch roof. The pitch on the roof seems very low as well for the front. I would add window boxes in the garden area as well. Definitely paint home when you can maybe a grey color?
    Bookmark   November 17, 2012 at 11:15PM
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I actually like the color. If you were to put in windows the same size as the others, you would have to add gable dormers. Sort of like this, but it would not be near as high:
Traditional Surprise · More Info
    Bookmark   November 17, 2012 at 11:21PM
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If it's structurally doable, I would enlarge the two front windows length and heightwise. It will give the house more of a cottage and uniform look.
The white apears too stark and I would warm it up with a grey such as Metropolitan ~ Benjamin Moore.
1 Like    Bookmark   November 17, 2012 at 11:41PM
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The easiest and least expensive way to fix the extra space above the windows would be to add a band of color halfway between the roof line and the top of the portico. Say for instance you paint the house a beige color, you could add a band of rust or a darker brown.
    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 2:57AM
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I agree with houssaon, 2-3 dormers across the front with windows the same width as the ones below would help greatly. If 2, the certer could be a small window centered over the doorway.

Interesting house--when was it built--about 1940 with the porch added later with salvaged sollumns? although it could be considerably earlier because the chamfered column style dates back to 1860-1880 or so, but they look kind of like the bottoms were cut off, and the porch roof is missing the lintel and brackets, and maybe the porch roof was lowered and rebuilt.

The more I look at this, I think it might have started life as an Greek Revival or Italianate style house and lost the cornice (and brackets) that might have crowned the front, possibly with small windows integrated into the arrangement. If it dates to about 1900 or earlier, I would consider adding in the cornice as a cheaper option to adding dormers, as illustrated below. Do you have any documentation on the house? It might be worth checking the property records, city directories (if addresses haven't changed) and Sanborn Maps to figure out about how old it is. Your local library might be able to help with information like this. That's how I found out my bungalow actually dates to about 1890.

If you post photos of the interior, it will be easier to date based on style, unless it has been totally gutted. Woodwork, stairwells, mantels can give clues.

I don't know where you live, but it reminds me of houses I have seen in the Pittsburgh, PA and Cincinnati, OH areas--modest in front, back cascading down the hill. The yard looks nice too.

You could just reverse the color scheme--make it olive green with a purple door. I like the dark colors on this house. Traditional color schemes for Italianates are earth tones--tans, browns, olives and mustard, and terra cotta type colors, although many different colors have been used over the years, including the more "painted lady" type colors you have now.

Here are some pictures and a rendering of what it would look like with

1)A new wide cornice with brackets and panels in simplified Italianate style (don't use scalloped vinyl shingles for this--it just doesn't look right),
2) Moving the roof pitch so it is a bit steeper and moving the porch roof up a bit, and adding a lintel.and some molding.
3) Adding simple Italianate style brackets to the top of the porch posts
4) Adding a simple LOW railing (standard height won't look right) with possibly a sitting fitted on top.
5) Adding sills to the bottom of the windows and a bit of top molding (notice how the tops are thicker? and a drip cap over the windows. The windows should have these anyway to keep the window frames from rotting--can omit the sills if you have to, but doesn't look quite right without them.

Awnings mounted above the windows would make it a bit more balanced as well.
4 Likes    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 3:26AM
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Durpetti Interiors
Depends how much you want to spend. Easiest is to add architectural moulding above windows and paint all trim darker color. Redoing the front porch with an arch would be best way as it would break up the lines and add interest. If you like the house, buy it and know that things like this can be edited to make more appealing. Best of luck.
    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 4:59AM
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Definitely beef up the the size of the trim around the windows and porch. This will add visual height to the windows and improve the proportions.
    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 5:36AM
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Hi victorianbungalowranch,

Wow! Thank you for your incredibly thorough response! I can't believe you actually Photoshopped in those elements (it looks much better, by the way).

The link to the Zillow profile is here, where you can see pictures of the interior: http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/305-E-Cross-St-Ypsilanti-MI-48198/24711333_zpid/

A bit of remodeling has occurred, but the interior still maintains charm (that banister is amazing!). The house is in Ypsilanti, Michigan (right outside of Ann Arbor Michigan), and the listing says it was built in 1875. Ypsilanti has an incredibly active heritage foundation which is dedicated to preserving historic buildings. I'm sure I could get in touch with them and maybe even find old pictures of the house.

Many others have commented about adding length to the windows. I'm not sure if it's structurally possible — if you look at the side, it leads me to believe the bottom of the top windows hit the floor. And if you look at the picture of the green bedroom (below and on the Zillow link), you'll see that those windows go to the floor.

Thank you all for your help! I would love any additional insight you have about the possibilities of the home's original style.
    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 9:15AM
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I think that victorianbungalowranch is right that the house has Italianate roots. Hope you can get some information on the house. I love doing that.

I found another example of dealing with the large space a horizontal lattice:
Stone Style - Oxford Road · More Info

I would paint the walls and the ceiling the same light color when you get around to doing that.

Good luck!
1 Like    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 1:30PM
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Super cute house! Go for it!
2 Likes    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 1:45PM
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The listing identifies it as a Greek Revival and it does fit the general profile. The 1875 is a bit late for this style, but entirely possible, and Greek Revival and Italianate share some characteristics. It can be a very simple and dignified style. An Italianate circa 1885 that was torn down near me :( had nearly an identical staircase, and not a shred was salvaged.

Wow, looks like really nice neighborhood, yard, nice size rooms, georgous staircase, farm style kitchen (is the Hoosier cabinet staying?) and new foundation and water and sewer, updated electric and plumbing. The bedrooms are a bit tight, but that is typical of 1 1/2 story houses. I'm in house envy.

The casings in the hallway and staircase look original. I'm assuming you have storage in the knee walls of the bedrooms. as the attached pictures show, small windows in this area is a characteristic of both styles to light small bedrooms under the eaves or storage areas. Look at the framing behind the knee walls, and you should be able to tell if there was any framing for narrow horizontal windows, as long as it isn't totally obscured by insulation or plaster..

This was a very simple style house and whatever you do, you should maintain the simplicity and symmetry of the facade. I may have gussied it up too much if it is truly Greek Revival--of course it might have gotten some window dressing along the way and then lost it about the time the siding was redone, but I would try to research it first. Local newspapers can also be a good source--I estimated my rental property to date to about 1910 and was told it was 1924, and it was actually 1903, so the listing isn't the most reliable info.Talk to the sellers--they obviously put a lot into the place--and the local old-timers and the historical society and see what you can learn about it.


If you do add a railing, it should be approx. equal to the bottom of the windows--an easy way to do this is to add two benches on each side so that no structure is altered. It does look like it is missing something in the porch lintel area- and-quite possibly the porch was added after it was built, or the brackets and arched trim was removed along the way...

I took a look at the old street view photos and it looks like the landscaping was built up a bit--I would check to make sure that the mulch and planting isn't touching the bottom of the siding because it sits so low to the ground. The old pale blue and white paint didn't do much for it. It probably sat a bit higher when it was built--I found a flagstone path right behind my rental nearly 2 feet below current ground level! Just years of grass can build up the ground level quite a lot--4-6 inches or more in 100 years.

Anyway, here are some Greek Revivals and Italianates so you can compare details, and a couple of renderings of the front porch trying different cornice patterns (which maybe can be stenciled on with some simple molding for now) and a arched or flat awning for the windows.


Bare bone changes until you know what you want to do and have researched the house:

Paint all doors Olive green to match front door.

Paint false cornice with simple molding to finish, possibly stencil simple panels or add with lattice. Experiment with subtle color combinations. If you choose to do a lattice effect, do it all the way accross or nearly all the way and paint the background a subtley contrasting color. It would be eaiest to do in 3 or so separate pieces.

Add bit of open arched trim to front porch to fill in lintel and sidessimilar to first picture--be sure to route edges. Make sure it is to scale. Perhaps could be made with scroll saw and router. Will be vulnerable, so fill with Bondo, sand, double prime and paint.

Add some taller landscaping away from the house

Add the simple window trim and drip ledge discussed, preferably to all windows and paint sills, possibly add bottom trim.

Consider awnings--Awinings come in all kinds of patterns to pick up the white, grey, olive and a touch of burgundy or purple. If you do an awning, I would consider repeating for the side entrance., and painting all the doors to match the front entrance. Awning were popular starting about the time your house was built to the 1920s. I would mount it quite high to help even out the scale. It is difficult for me to draw a good awning and the colors aren't quite right--perhaps square top would be better.

Consider adding brackets and more detailed cornice, perhaps frieze windows and such, when you learn more about house. It would be best if you could play house detective and find an old photo.

Adding dormers will totally change the style of your house==consider carefully, as you can see in the refernce below, Ann Arbor is a hotbed of venacular (commonly built by people, not architects) Greek Revival architecture, and your house may be one of them. See the farmhouse on the right.


Most of all, learn the style before doing anything too drastic, and hire an informed architect if you do. This house has real character and history that doesn't need a lot of frou-frou. Keep the old windows--they add a lot of character and can be just as efficient as new ones with proper glazing, caulking, weatherstripping and storm windows!

http://www.house-design-coffee.com/greek-revival-architecture-ann-arbor.html (right in your neighborhood!--not all the frieze windows in the farmhouses!)

And go to the library to find books on architectural styles and details and research colors. Meanwhile the purple might grow on you and it makes your house easy to find. Dark colors were popular from about 1880-1905, and it is sort of an updated version that is kind of fun, and looks pretty good with a bit more detail. Authentic color would be a subdued midtone for the body and darker tones on the trim--tastes later changed to lighter tones on the trim after 1900.

http://www.colorhunter.com/tag/italianate/1 (disregard most grass, sky and flowers colors)
2 Likes    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 4:15PM
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Thanks once again, victorianbungalowranch! If we do decide to purchase this home (which now I'm itching to, seeing how much better the exterior could look with these updates), it is going to be a big priority of mine to keep it true to its original era. Your suggestions have been immensely helpful — especially in convincing my husband that "the weird grape house with a big forehead" could easily be our dream home with just a few touches.

Everyone's advice has been so helpful. Thanks to all of you!
    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 7:29PM
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I hope it works out for you. You might be able to get a good price for it (although the list price looks good to me) because it is unusual, just waiting for someone to understand how special it is.

Paint is paint, but before painting it back to boring beige or something, try different combinations out in an online paint program and google Italianate exterior paint colors. As you can see there, once the detailing is brought back, they can be just beautiful in a range of subtle tones, although I would pass up on the pink, red and periwinkle blue and bright yellow options. I think it can be totally charming, especially if you get around to restoring cornice brackets and such, and since the inside is so nice, it isn't anything you have to rush into.

BTW, the sides might look better with a thinner trim board and a reveal. Take a look at the Ann Arbor link to see examples from the area (such as the white house above). This would provide a transition for the front cornice. It you do feel the need to add a dormer, the below example roofline might work (but not the colors!). The little dormers aren't typical for Greek Revival but were sometimes added around 1910 in Colonial Revival style as these examples show.

If your family thinks you are bonkers, just show them the pics with a cornice and tell them you are a proud owner of a venacular Greek Revival with Italianate porch that just needs a little TLC. A diamond in the rough outside isn't so bad, especially with updated kitchen, mechanicals, roof and foundation. If you don't buy it, give this link to the listing agent to add to the seller information. I love old houses and would like to see someone who appreciates its potential to get this one!
    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 10:06PM
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