No strangers to renovations, Melissa Johnson—the Sacramento-based creative behind the lifestyle website Best Friends For Frosting—and her husband, Andy, recently took on their most demanding DIY yet: Painting the exterior of their mid-century-modern home.
“It was like a time capsule. It was frozen in time,” says Melissa. After sitting empty for 20 years, the property was in rough shape. “There was chipped paint. There was exposed wood. There was dry rot. It was just one of those things where we couldn’t wait to paint it.”
Despite its iffy condition, the couple jumped at the opportunity to purchase the fixer-upper once its semi-reluctant owner agreed to sell. At first, the pair planned to hire out the work but in the thick of interviewing paint contractors, Andy realized he could pull off the job himself. That is, with a little extra help from YouTube tutorials, industry experts, and Facebook community groups. “All these bits of information gave him the confidence to do it himself,” says Melissa. “He put the pedal to the metal.”
After changing their primary paint choice three times, Melissa and Andy landed on Behr’s French Silver—a light-medium gray—for the siding and a punchy kick of turquoise, dubbed Tahitian Breeze, for the front door.“There’s something about doing work on your own house. You take more pride in it,” says Andy. “It’s a labor of love.”
Want to give your home a fresh face-lift this spring? We asked the duo for a play-by-play of how they pulled this dramatic transformation off. Plus, Mike Mundwiller, a field integration manager for Benjamin Moore, weighs in on the dos and don’ts of working outdoors.
Step 1: Gather Your Tools
Before you even head to the hardware store, know that this won’t just be another easy weekend project. “Anytime you go into a job, realize that it’s probably going to take twice as long and cost twice as much,” says Andy. “Do it right and take your time.”
To make what was sure to be a taxing project a touch less stressful, the pair rented their heavy-duty equipment, like the pressure washer and paint sprayer, from Home Depot.
Here are a few other things you’ll want to add to your shopping list: exterior flat paint, paintbrushes, paint rollers, roller screens, trays, painter’s tape, a ladder, a paint scraper, a primer, a sanding block, plastic sheeting, drop cloths, and a caulk gun.
Step 2: Powerwash Lingering Grime
After bringing in a professional contractor to repair the dry rot, the house was ready to be wiped clean. Before washing away debris, however, Mundwiller notes that it’s important to make sure your workspace is as tidy as can be. “To begin, remove as many items as you can (planters, hoses, outdoor furniture, light fixtures) and cover other items (steps, plants, sidewalks/paths) with drop cloths,” he suggests.
With the yard ready for action, Andy used his rented pressure washer to rid the entire surface of debris and dirt. “It can also help remove loose paint,” he says. “Then let everything dry out for a day.”
Step 3: Chip Away
If there’s one exterior paint rule to remember, it’s this: “Your paint job is only as good as the surface you’re painting,” says Andy. Any loose chips that may be lingering on the surface will do your main paint job a disservice.
“Use your scraper to remove excess chips—this will take quite a while,” he continues. “Then, sand any rough edges—anywhere there is bare wood—to smooth the transition.”
Pro tip: You don’t have to scrape your entire house. Focus on the chips that are coming loose. Before you know it, it will be time to get down to color. Finish your chip job by smoothing the surface with a sand block.
Step 4: Let Your Swatches Sink In
You might be able to redo your bedroom or bathroom paint color if you don’t like how it comes out, but when you’ve committed weeks (or months) to paint the exterior of your home, a change of heart simply isn’t an option. Instead of second-guessing, get to know the colors you’re using by observing how they look at different times of the day.
“The most stressful part, surprisingly, was trying to pick the right colors,” says Andy. “One word of advice: Try out a bunch of samples and paint swatches on the house to get an idea of what they’ll look like. Let the color choices marinate. Wait a few days and let the right color come to you.”
Andy and Melissa painted a dozen different swatches on their house before settling on the final four they would ultimately use for the siding, trim, eaves, and front door. “We tried out the final gray color we ended up selecting for the siding in direct sunlight and in the shade,” says Melissa. “In my husband’s words, ‘we can’t go any lighter than this.’”
Step 5: Prime for Perfection
Whether you’re spicing up an interior hallway or revamping the back porch, priming is an important part of the paint process—inside and out. “Primer acts as a seal and creates a surface for your final paint to stick to,” says Andy, who used Kilz’s Premium Exterior Primer to set the perfect base. “Ideally, you want to prime over any bare wood, but I ended up priming the entire house.”
Step 6: Pick Up the Brush
The moment you’ve been waiting for has finally arrived, but don’t grab your paintbrush without checking the weather first.“In order to get the best paint job for the outside of your home, ideally, you want warm yet dry weather with little temperature fluctuations,” suggests Mundwiller, noting that the best times of the year to take on a project like this is early summer and early fall. Additionally, Mundwiller suggests avoiding windy days, as a strong breeze can lead the paint to dry too fast and cause lap marks.
For their mid-century-modern gem, Andy and Melissa landed on four different colors: a mid-tone gray for the siding, a darker gray to accentuate the trim and the beams, a pure white for the roofline and underside of the eaves, and a rich turquoise for the front door. Compared to all the prep work you’ll do, the real painting will go by a lot faster than you think. Andy used a combination of hand brushes, sprayers for getting fast coverage in tight corners, and rollers of various thickness to achieve a smooth finish.
“For the application, there really isn’t one method,” continues Mundwiller. “Rolling increases production, and even spraying the paint can speed up the project. The important thing when it comes to brush or roll is that you use a quality tool, and two coats are better than one.”
Pro tip: Don’t stress over the finish. “The paint will smooth itself out if you apply it on really thick. It will melt together,” adds Andy.
Step 7: Mark Your Entrance
Of course, the real fun in giving any adobe an exterior makeover is getting to select a fresh hue for the front door. Per Melissa’s penchant for pink (you may have seen her adorable blush Airbnb), the duo originally had their door a bubblegum color before they deciding to swath it in a tropical blue.
“Before we even bought the house, we were excited to have a colorful door. [Melissa] is always talking about repainting it, but I’m the one that’s gotta do it,” laughs Andy.
Before you walk away thinking the Johnsons pulled this transformative DIY off in one week’s time, think again. Almost an entire year went by between when Andy finished the front half of the house and the back. The holdup? Life.
“We work, we have kids, and everything else gets in the way,” he continues. “You have to fit it in with your life, but I’d definitely do it all again.”