Lookin’ At Lights

Our exterior light situation is a little ho-hum, as evidenced by this tiny fixture outside the back door on our garage (don’t mind the grimy green brick that’s screaming out for some scrubbing).

And yes, I realize the door itself is looking a little rough. It originally sported a rusty, loudly-banging storm door (not just a medium bang, this was SCARE-YOUR-NEIGHBORS LOUD) that we removed. So we’re getting ready to repair some of the trim and prime/paint it white to match the door in the sunroom veranda that we already updated.

But let’s turn our attention back to the light. It was too small and very weather-worn, so we decided it was time to make an upgrade. Choosing the fixture to upgrade it with proved a bit more challenging than we expected. Maybe because we’re not really used to shopping for them. I think we might have bought three exterior lights in the course of seven years. So after hitting up a local outlet and some big box stores without anything screaming “I’m perfect!” at us, Sherry took the hunt to a few online sites to see what she could come up with. After about an hour of clicking around (and waaaay too many windows being open at the same time which led to not one, but two browser crashes) there were eight contenders:

  1. Black lantern $69 here (inspired by the ones here)
  2. Seeded glass lantern $75 here
  3. Outdoor wall lantern $87 here
  4. X-Lantern $37 here
  5. Bronze cross-cross sconce $35 here
  6. Bronze lantern $79 here
  7. Antique copper wall light $219 here (purely just for eye candy, since it’s way above our budget)
  8. Bronze lantern $117 here

Making that mood board didn’t give us a eureka moment either. But what did was strolling through the lighting aisle at Home Depot and Lowe’s again, and discovering that Option #1 had gone on sale (down to $59). It had been my favorite all along anyways (Sherry was really into #6, but it was significantly smaller) and my argument for #1 was that we were looking for something large and in charge, and it was the second biggest of the bunch while also being among the three most affordable ones in the roundup. Sherry gave me one of those “hold on I’m thinking” faces and then said “ok, let’s do it.” And into our cart it went.

Installation was just like installing any other fixture:

So installation went nice and smoothly, and you can see from this photo that it’s a big improvement. Well, not the door. Or that green wall. But at least the light is no longer rusty and small.

You think I’m joking about the size difference, don’t you? Here’s a side-by-side with the old fixture so you can see just how much more substantial the new fixture is compared to the old one.

We personally like an outdoor fixture that has lots of visual presence, so this guy is doing the trick for us. Just imagine this with a freshly painted door and non-green bricks and a nice welcome mat and some plants on either side. I know… that’s a lot of imagining. We have a long way to go back here.

I like this shot the most, since it helps to show the size of the light, along with the traditional shape, which we think is pretty fitting with the exterior of our house (we’ve admired it on a lot of our neighbor’s homes, and also were inspired by this photo of an outdoor space with similar ones). At one point I suggested that we put them in The Artist Formerly Known As Prince The Veranda Formerly Known As The Sunroom (we’re looking for four sconces to go on the posts in there to provide some eye-level light) but after holding them up they didn’t look right – so we’re still on the hunt for what might work in there.

I’ll share just one more “after” photo of this guy because when I came out to take this picture I opened the door to find a herd of deer standing right outside. Of course they ran away at the sight of me.

But they didn’t go far and still make an appearance in the background of this picture.

Here they are, just giving me the ol’ deer staredown, when I stepped a little closer. If you’re on the edge of your seat for more of my stellar wildlife photography (or are just a fan of Where’s Waldo: Deer Edition) we’ve got this post on Young House Life for your deer-loving pleasure.

Sorry I keep getting sidetracked. Lights. We’re talking about lights. And obviously that back door isn’t our only outdoor fixture. We’ve got one more wall-mounted one above our garage. It was also looking a bit worse-for-wear and was also on the diminutive side.

So we purchased a second one to match the one we added to our backdoor.  And… the results were a little less impressive.

Even though it felt nice to have a sparkly new light up there – and the ORB finish commanded a bit more attention than the rusty gold – the size wasn’t reading as much of an improvement between those two giant garage doors (we’ll be painting those black or charcoal if that helps you visualize where things are going). And yes, we have more green stuff to attend to on that concrete driveway pad. Yeehaw, I smell some power-washing in my future…

But back to the light.

It’s not terrible, but it’s not exactly what we were hoping for. It just looks kinda lost on that big brick wall with those big garage doors. And I’ll admit we’re feeling a little defeated because of all of the lights that Sherry mood-boarded, it was among the largest of them all (it’s about 19″ high, and the biggest – and most expensive – was only 20″). Update: We also have a pergola planned for over the double garage and we want to add shutters to all of the windows on the side and back of our house eventually (as seen on Listy McListerson) so those are things to consider for this side of the house too.

Part of us feels like we should just stick with this one for the time being and withhold judgement until we can do some other things to the garage side of the house (like the paint the doors). And the other half of us feels like we should just return it if we don’t love it there, and not settle for something that we might later end up regretting.

What do you guys think? Would you keep it or return it in the hopes of finding something better? Any tips for where else to look besides local lighting shops, Lowe’s, Home Depot, or Overstock?


As a little Friday bonus, here are four fun projects, chats, or questions going on over on the Forums. We also announced this week’s giveaway winner, so you can click here (and scroll down to the Rafflecopter box) to see if it’s you.

by crabandfishblog by blucas by Gnomelover by rentalrevival



Landscaping In Fast Motion

Update: Things are really picking up with the Habitat For Humanity showhouse (ahh! the foundation is being laid and framing starts next week!) so there will be some Wednesdays without an afternoon post. Thanks for understanding!

Fall is the best. It’s my favorite (well, that and smiling). I love it because the weather rocks my socks and most years we’re treated to several weeks of beautiful fall colors. Yet somehow we always find ourselves rushing to accomplish something each autumn. One year it was trying to sell our first house before the leaves fell (along with our curb appeal). Last year it was cramming things in before setting off on our book tour. And this year it has been trying to grow grass in our sad excuse for a front yard.

I know, I know – landscaping posts aren’t always that exciting. But we’ve crammed about two months worth of progress into one post in the hopes of making it a bit more satisfying than “hey, we threw down some grass seed. Doesn’t it look… seedy?”

The shot above is actually from this summer, right before we asked a landscaper who was working a couple of doors down to level out some ground stump piles leftover from having a few trees removed (more on that in this post). That quick leveling job set us back a mere $60 and gave us a grass-seed-ready front yard. Or so we thought. The only issue with that one area of leveling is that it revealed that the rest of the yard wasn’t well graded at all (those freshly flattened spots were surrounded on almost every side by low points that collected water during every rain). So we had to accept that our yard wasn’t as ready for seeding as we had originally thought. Le sigh.

We contemplated just dumping a few bags of topsoil down and calling it good, but we (well, mostly I) kept having the nagging thought that it was going to annoy me for years to come if we didn’t just do it right the first time. I eventually got Sherry on board with the idea of having some dirt delivered and getting the whole area properly graded, something we acknowledged was a possibility in this post, but were still a little reluctant to dive into until we saw how bad the yard was after a heavy rain.

So we decided to just pull the trigger and do it right once instead of working to establish a lush yet bumpy grass yard that we’d later need to redo. Yay, right? Except we couldn’t find anyone who was available to do it. It was late September by this point and every landscaper and dirt delivery service seemed to be booked up already (we called at least ten people – even some folks from a few towns over). We had all but given up on the entire idea when, by some miracle, the original landscape guy (Steve) who did that quick little flattening session called to say that he could squeeze us in that weekend. Huzzah! And then a miscommunication got us pushed off to the following weekend. Urgh! And then a week of heavy rains bumped us back another weekend. Double urgh! So it wasn’t until the Bowers visited in mid-October that they finally arrived and we all gathered outside to watch the main dirt-centric event.

Steve assessed how much topsoil we’d need based on the size of of our yard and how much grading was necessary to leave us with something nice and flat (no more swampy low points). This was just one of two heaping truckloads that we got. Yes, there were about five car-sized dirt piles.

With that much dirt, there was no way Sherry and I would be able to get things done with a wheelbarrow and a rake, so we let Steve the landscaping guy go for it instead.

This is the part the kids enjoyed watching the most – although Clara played shy and hid behind the railing for a good portion of it.

Steve had suggested that we mark off what would become mulch beds so that we didn’t waste dirt (oh the precious dirt!) in areas that wouldn’t be getting grass. So a few days before, Sherry and I used a hose to plan out some curvy beds around some of the tree groupings. A hose is nice to use because you can bend it and move it around until you like the shape, and then when you like the look of things, you can trace its shape with some marking spray to outline those future beds. We won’t actually mulch them ’til spring, so this is the last we’ll speak of them until then most likely. Shhh, these are the mulch beds that shall not be named.

By early afternoon, the yard was looking gorgeous. Okay, I realize a bunch of dirt doesn’t really deserve the g-word, but it was really exciting to see the whole area smoothed out and no longer spotted with erratic splotches of moss, weeds, and mud (that dry looking area between the two trees is going to be a mulch bed, where we’ll add more plantings someday). Rain was in the forecast for that afternoon, so Steve recommended that we get the grass seed down ASAP so that it could sink into the fluffy topsoil before the precipitation matted it down into more solid dirt (that’s less ideal for growing grass since you want the dirt to be soft when the seed takes root instead of compressed and rock hard). You can see a single track mark from our broadcast spreader when I was just starting to put down some grass seed in this photo below:

One of the reasons that we got so much dirt delivered was because we wanted to take care of this area that we affectionately call The Wetlands in the backyard. I know it looks like seed-ready dirt from this angle, but it was suuuuuper unlevel. It basically turned into an 8″ swamp after every rain (there was about a 12″ drop from the walkway to the area in the middle of this dirt-hole).

Here it is with lots of dirt filling in that entire gulley (after I had spread the grass seed).

And now, through the magic of the Internet, let’s fast forward about three weeks when I snapped this photo of things starting to come in.

About a week later it’s even more filled in (this shot was taken a few days ago). We got a much later start on this whole seeding thing than we had hoped, so we feared we might’ve missed the boat entirely, but it has slowly been doing its thing. Phew.

In our past experience (our first house had an all mulch front yard that we seeded from scratch), we’d never gotten thick coverage after just one season of seeding. So while it should still get even more filled in than what we have now, we’re planning to overseed next spring (and maybe again in the fall) to finally get a lush lawn back there. As for our tips for seeding, now that we’ve done it a few times, we like to use a broadcast spreader to drop the seed and then we just water it everyday for around 15 minutes with a broadcast sprinkler to establish it (we like to do it in the early morning when we wake up, just so we remember).

You might also notice a few more evergreen shrubs appearing in that “Progress” shot above. They’re our first step in trying to reclaim a bit more privacy back there – especially in the winter once the trees are bare. When we bought this house we knew we’d have to add some more evergreen trees to block the view of some other houses through those woods, so we told ourselves that each fall we’re going to buy a few good screening trees and shrubs in the hopes that we’ll eventually have year-round privacy when they all fill in.

These are from a local nursery (Great Big Greenhouse, for any locals who are wondering) and we just met with one of their all-knowing garden guys who recommended them for us based on our criteria: evergreen, deer-resistant, partial shade, and size (they’re all eventually supposed to grow somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 ft x 10 ft to create fence-like privacy when it’s all said and done). You can’t tell in this photo, but they’re staggered by about 6′ (they’re not all in the same line, so they should overlap in front of or behind each other instead of smashing into each other as they grow.

They were having a fall perennial sale so we scored them for 40% off and delivery was only $25. They also come with a one year warranty, so we’re hopeful that we can keep them alive, but it’s nice to know that we can return anything that doesn’t make it and grab something else that might work better. So far, so good, though. Oh and the wax myrtle is a native plant (we love working those in whenever we can) and it smells really good, so we hope to add more of them around the rest of the backyard as we continue screening things over time.

As for our planting tips, we’ve had luck digging holes that are twice as wide as each plant’s root ball, but only as deep as the root ball itself (sinking a tree too low in a hole is one of the ways you can really mess things up for it down the line). Digging in those big Nellie Stevens was no joke (it’s hard to tell from these photos, but they’re each about 7′ tall) but once you get them in the ground, just remembering to water them seems to be all they need to do well.

But back to grass. And back to the front yard. Here’s what it looked like this summer…

…and here’s what it’s looking like now!

Like the backyard, it’s not fully grown in yet – but things are looking waaaay better out there. The pictures really don’t do justice to those mounds and valleys in the before shots, but it’s so much flatter and more mower-friendly now, which is a huge relief – especially since we don’t have any more little swampy spots after a big rain.

Those giant loads of topsoil were $750 and the grading was $250, which is certainly more than I ever pictured myself spending on dirt (and the main reason that Sherry had trouble getting on board with the plan). But having seen the difference it made (and will continue to make) in our efforts to liven up this home’s exterior, we’re both convinced it was money well spent. Now if only there weren’t a bazillion leaves falling on the lawn every two seconds. Don’t these trees know our baby grass blades need sunlight? C’mon!

Is anyone else doing any major front and back grading or seeding? How thrilling is it to see those little green sprouts poking out of the dirt? It never gets old.

Psst- Sherry’s chatting about the bun and her pregnancy over on Young House Life.