exterior paint: how to offend and flatter your neighbors before meeting them

As I have mentioned a few times during Home Improvement (HIMP) Month, my husband Rob and I knew we loved our house from the get-go (i.e. from the first time we saw the photos online), but one thing we didn’t love from the get-go was the color of the house’s exterior. It was yellow-ish with brown accents:

original exterior paint

I am sure this paint job was stylish at some point, but it just wasn’t speaking to us. Fortunately, Rob has a way with photoshop, so within a week after we made an offer on the house, he “painted” the house grey with white accents on his computer. It sure looked fantastic on the screen: we gazed at it often while waiting for our closing, a process that took six months.

Though our house was built in ’65 and the interior has a very Mid-Century Modern vibe, the outside doesn’t really look all that mid-century modern. It is a long-and lean-ranch, but slightly boxy. The fact that the converted garage/studio ceiling is lifted up contributes to that boxier profile. Anyway, in darker tones, we thought it would look a lot more Mid-Century Modern, or at least somewhat dwell-ish (as in Dwell Magazine, which is our standard for all housey/design things that are nice.)

We knew this was one of the first changes we were going to make once we got in the house. So, as soon as we moved in, we got three estimates and chose the painter who came in mid-priced between the other two. We set the date, and he came to put on a sample. Here is the house with a soul patch:

house with soul patch

Doesn’t that brown strip around the middle look like a belt? The seventies called and asked us to return it. Instead, we’d be going with our own two-tone effect: a lighter shade on the top, “rock gray (1615),” and a darker one below, “stormy sky (1616),” both from Benjamin Moore.

Rob was in Seattle for work when the painters got started. A few hours in, I went out to check the progress.  I walked down the driveway and turned around to get some perspective. When I did so, I experienced a strange and very upsetting sensation. My face probably turned red, and I swallowed hard.

I realized, in that instant, that it was the EXACT same color as our neighbor’s house. Apparently there are fifty shades of gray and we had to go and choose the exact same one.

These are the people who live the closest to us, right behind us, albeit facing a different street, so their house is perpendicular to ours. Admittedly, we had wondered about this, so we had held the paint chips up to the window while looking at their house and determined that what we’d chosen was very different – we thought their house color was much darker and had a lot more blue in it. Now that more of the paint was on our house, it looked identical. It would of course feel far less scandalous if we were painting our house a more common color, like white (the color of two other houses near us), but this color, at least for our neighborhood, was rather unique – now there would be two houses right next to each other with it. Rob and I pride ourselves on being individuals, creative-types, somewhat unconventional, and here we’d copied our next door neighbor’s entire facade.

Oh, awkward moment! We hadn’t even met these people yet. I dialed Rob across the country. We decided I had to go over there right away and explain the situation. It wasn’t easy to walk over there – I did so quickly and without thinking too much, so I could get this weirdness over with. I knocked on the door. When she answered, I introduced myself as the new dingbat owner of the house next door.  I was all nervous laughter and self-deprecation. I stammered…we’re painting…and it’s turning out…and we don’t want to offend…and the last thing we want to do is upset…and if you want us to stop…and change…

I mean, I knew we had every right to that color and I was very tied to it (not to mention that all the paint had already been purchased), but I couldn’t get that excited about it if I knew these people in such close proximity were going to hate us because of it. Not a great start to neighborly relations, especially in a house where we planned to live for a very very long time.

Whether it was genuine or not, she was cool about the situation. And quite complimentary. “After all,” she said, “I see your house more than I see mine. And I obviously like that color. It’s a lot better than the other one.”

When is all is said and done, I don’t really know if we flattered them or offended them, or some combination of both, but I do know that it took me a while to get over that social gaffe. Though I did feel like an idiot, and the whole situation made me cringe for weeks (and still does, a little bit), I do love the way the color turned out. Here’s a Before shot from another angle:

House with before paint

And here’s the current look (notice that we also got rid of the shutters):

House exterior after


house exterior gray paint

Funny addendum: Just this Fourth of July, we had some dear friends over for food and fun in The Enclave (that post here). Their adorable four year old daughter looked out our big picture window and pointed through our backyard, quite confused: “Is that your house?” she asked.

“No,” I said, laughing at the understandable confusion, “you’re standing in our house, but ours looks a lot like that one!”

Oh well. So much for being originals.

Do you think we’re jerks for continuing with the paint job? Or is imitation the best form of flattery? Stacey @ the Goode house wrote a very thoughtful post on a similar topic a few weeks ago…It’s certainly a “gray area”!


Thanks for reading and stay tuned – HIMP Month will be wrapping up next week. (And yes, in case you’re counting, we’ve been celebrating that for about six weeks – hey, if you “declare” a month I think you can also redefine how long a month is, right?)  The Home Tome is going to move onto more of a design focus for the next “month” AND we will be making a very big, very exciting announcement…queue drum roll.

27 replies

  1. i think it looks great (and a much more blue grey than i was imagining, at least from the picture. and the white trim really makes it pop). i don’t know much about house paint etiquette with neighbors, but at the very least you did the right thing in going over right away. and, as long as you love it, i don’t see that there’s a problem.

    • Thank you! Kind of a strange situation! I am looking out the window at their house right now 🙂 It will be interesting to see, over the years, if they end up re-painting their house to something entirely different to “escape” this house-twin situation – that would be understandable but sad – bc it does look great. For all I know, they really didn’t mind and didn’t give it much thought…who knows?

  2. Love it. How funny. Probably not so much from your perspective, we painted our house almost the exact same colour too. Your neighbour shares your good taste that is all.

  3. Looks great and what a fun story! When we repainted a few years ago, changing from a boring beige to a rich Van Cortland blue, maroon door and white trim, one neighbor asked if we were repainting the whole house! As it turns out, he didn’t like the darker color and was hoping we’d leave the wall facing him beige!! (Alas that didn’t happen.) But a year ago, someone a few blocks away followed our exact color scheme and we were pleased. Every time I drive by I think, wow that does look good! Looking forward to reading your upcoming design posts. Dwell magazine is a favorite of mine too!

    • Oh, that is too funny: the concept of leaving one whole side a different color, ha! Patchwork House! The image reminds me of those cars that get a replacement door or some other part that doesn’t match the rest…

      Glad to hear that you were flattered by your neighb’s paint job – I think I would be flattered, too, but also a little weirded out if it were RIGHT NEXT to our house. ha!

      Yes, Dwell: dreamy. We get a few magazines at the house, but that’s the one that my husband and I fight over when it first arrives! 🙂

  4. Awkward! How fun for you!
    Hopefully the other house has long been painted the same color, and they’ve had time to detach from the feeling of “owning” their colors— that feeling that’s bestowed by weeks of deliberation and the certainty that NO ONE else could possibly replicate your good taste…

    Our neighbor bought a giant old Victorian. And set about restoring it in a way that is both impressive and a little crazy (even to us). He started his overwhelming paint job in the back of the house… very intricate with gingerbread and trim variations and highlight colors… one night he put some empty cans of paint at the curb. The next day when he went to call the township to find out when they would pick them up… the cans were GONE.

    Two weeks later? The house FOUR doors down had their house painted. Since they hired professionals, it was done fairly quickly. WAY sooner than renovation-guy… so that when he was finally finished painting? It looked like HE had stolen THEIR colors.

    I could not make that up if I tried. Their houses are the exact same base color, trim color, highlight color, and lowlight color. And it was so weird, he never felt like he could say to them—you STOLE my paint cans, and copied all my choices.

    • OMG!! That is some crazy neighborly “messed-up-ness” WOW – that took some serious coconuts – they just didn’t care, did they? Cannot imagine how annoyed I would be if I were the DIY-er. Absolutely no grey area there – not cool! Thanks for sharing that one, yikes. 🙂

  5. That was so funny and made perfect sense how Maribel thought the neighbor’s house was an extension of ours from that window – brilliant actually…it shifted my perspective for a minute and I envisioned the largest block-long ranch house in history.

  6. First let me say that your house looks amazing! Big improvement… glad you matched the “belt” with the pants!!! 🙂 And losing the shutters was a the best decision…make the house much more modern.

    As far as the color goes I would have worried about that day and night and it would have caused fifty shades of red as I felt the anxiety! You did the best thing you could by letting your neighbor at least know that you care and you thought about it and would never want to offend. That in itself makes you the kind of neighbor I would want!! Now they know what kind of a person YOU are and that speaks louder than any shade of gray paint.

    The thing is that gray is sort of a given for modern style homes. My house is gray! (come to think of it… every modern home where I live is gray)
    I tried to think of something else that would work.. but failed.
    I would imagine that your neighbor was flattered and if they were a slight bit irritated or felt “copied” I’m sure they got over it very quickly. Having a gorgeous, well painted, beautifully maintained home right next to yours is something to celebrate!!! Good job.

    P.S. I’m a Dwell girl too. (of course!)

    • Ha! Yes, you’re right…we were just trying to keep up the property values…for the good of the group. So magnanimous of us. 🙂 And yes, we were hard-pressed to get pumped about any other color…

      The shutters were a weird thing: they weren’t in the original online pix and then when we made our first visit, there they were. We think the realtor suggested they put them on for a more conventional curb appeal? Of course, shutters are great…on the right house.

      The way I have further justified all this is that our neighbor’s house has a different shape (I think it is a split level ranch) and they are going for a whole other look, with iron railings up the stair case, etc. Besides, their lawn and gardens ALWAYS look perfectly manicured and beautiful – we can’t keep up! So, paint color aside, the two lots are not complete twins!

      Dwell: sigh…if only it were a weekly… 🙂

  7. I guess it’s kind of like showing up at a party wearing the same dress as another woman, except that you can never leave the party! 😉

    Good choice on removing the shutters — your house looks wonderful.

    • Ha ha! True! Homeownership: The Party You Can Never Leave.

      I’ll never forget when this happened to my best friend growing up – we were 13 and all decked out – she was devastated that someone had on her cute dress and I was, too, on her behalf, nothing seemed more tragic. Now, she and I laugh about it, but I think some real tears were shed back then! 🙂

  8. That’s a great makeover! I love the colour grey (wait it’s a shade…you know what I mean). BTW – I wouldn’t have noticed the brown stripe til you mentioned it. Then when I did, the whole thing reminded me of a ‘deadpan emoticon’ face. LOL!

    • You are so right! If we had kept “the belt” I would have had to curl it up on either end a bit so that it made a smiley face. Thanks for your astute observation! ha!

  9. I would have felt the same way you did about the color and I probably would have mustered up the courage to talk to the neighbor about it. Sounds like your neighbor had a great attitude about it. Your house does look better and more mid-century modern in that color scheme.

    • Thanks Paprika! It wasn’t easy walking over there, but had to be done right then. Yes, she was very cool about it! Now…for a vintage (yet sturdy) hammock where I can eat an ice cream in an eco-friendly cone…we’re always wanting more, eh? 🙂

  10. What a funny story! Thank you! The painters arrive in a couple of days to my house and it’s only after seeing your photos that it’s occurred to me to take “before” pictures! Thank you!

    • Yes, I have missed a few “before” pix in the house process and sorely regretted it (notice that a lot of our before are from before we even owned the house – ie from the internet listing, ha!) Hope the paint job goes well! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  11. House looks amazing! And removing the shutters was such a good call. You guys have a great design instinct. If you ever want to consult on someone else’s house, call me! I think our house hates us because we basically ignore it. Can’t wait for the surprise…

    • Thank you Runaway Mama! Yes, we are available for consulting services, ha! I secretly want to have a show like Novagraatz’s on HGTV – except we’ve never done anything like that before…we have no actual qualifications, and we don’t have 6 kids to spice up the story…AND we don’t have a fab building for a home right on the West Side Highway…well, we can dream… 🙂

      I’m sure your house doesn’t hate you – just give it a hug anytime/anyway you can! Like…BUY it some new stuff 🙂

  12. What a funny moment for you. I am pretty sure that your neighbor doesn’t mind copying their exterior paint. It’s just a good sign that you have a good taste. The first time we painted our house we also looked for other house painting and copied some of their paints so I think there is nothing wrong with that. After all it’s common nowadays to have the a similar exterior paints with neighbors.:)

  13. You should go to the neighbor on the other side and tell them that you are G.D. sick and tired of looking at their G.D. white house, give them the leftover paint from your job, and tell them you want it painted rock gray and stormy sky by the end of the week. Tell them all the cool people in the neighborhood are doing it, and they don’t want to be left out.

  14. i just learned this lesson, but from the other side. we’ve been planning major rennovations on our home, and our neighbor has been very nice. well, i guess i got overly chatty about our plans. when my contractor left our house, the neighbor caught him in the drive and hired him to do the exact same thing to her house. her house was fine and she had told me different plans than ours. she pushed to schedule her work first and now we’ll look like we copied her! i’ve spent a year on this design and it just really makes me mad because the design was the only thing we could do to our home and she had a multitude of options and chose to copy ours. we would have done it sooner, but our home needed tons of repairs that had to happen before this step. she beat us to the punch by a frigging week. its not a trim paintcolor or anything so small and easily changed either. its a major materials choice that is very unusual and unique and it doesn’t go at all with her style. My husband told me to relax and that it doesn’t matter, but I spent so long on the overall design its just insulting. i said something passive agressive to her about it and now she’s trying to be extra nice, butafter all we’ve done for them, i just can’t get over this insult.

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