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Before & After: Moody Blues for an Elegant Victorian in San Francisco

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Before & After: Moody Blues for an Elegant Victorian in San Francisco

March 8, 2018

If anyone other than my friend Amy Lindburg wanted to buy a Victorian two-flat in San Francisco in “almost original condition” with knob-and-tube electrical wiring and no central heat, I would have pointed out that the situation could easily become the sort of costly nightmare not seen since Mr. Blandings built his dream house.

But anyone who knows Amy knows she is extremely effective. And daring. She was a hardware engineer at Apple at a time when there were practically no female engineers anywhere. She’ll take her family on a two-week trip to eastern Europe without booking a hotel room until the day she arrives (and has never had any problems). When she says she is going to do anything—from playing the French horn in the local orchestra to shipping virtual computer environments ahead of schedule—you can consider it done.

So when Amy said she was going to buy a house in extreme vintage condition, remodel it, and live on the top floor with her three children, I had no doubt the project would be a huge success. (Wait until you see the kitchen on Remodelista.) Painting the facade the deepest, darkest shade of blue was a risk. Here’s how it turned out.

Photography by Daniel Dent for Gardenista, except where noted.

A dark blue facade, accented by glossy black trim, lends the house an elegant air.
Above: A dark blue facade, accented by glossy black trim, lends the house an elegant air.

It seems obvious now, this elegant paint palette. But when Amy bought the house a little more than a year ago, the facade’s future was less clear…

Before

The first time Amy saw it, the house was painted beige, for want of a better word, with taupe-ish trim and a green entry stairway. Photograph by Amy Lindburg.
Above: The first time Amy saw it, the house was painted beige, for want of a better word, with taupe-ish trim and a green entry stairway. Photograph by Amy Lindburg.

The conventional wisdom is that if you want something to appear bigger, paint it a light color. But in this case, the off-white, two-story house looks diminished, almost as if it’s shrugging in defeat between its two taller neighbors.

The five blue paint colors that Amy considered for the facade were (from top:) Benjamin Moore&#8\2\17;s Hale Navy, Evening Sky, and Polo Blue; ICI Paints&#8\2\17;s Gabled Blue, and Benjamin Moore&#8\2\17;s Washington Blue.
Above: The five blue paint colors that Amy considered for the facade were (from top:) Benjamin Moore’s Hale NavyEvening Sky, and Polo Blue; ICI Paints’s Gabled Blue, and Benjamin Moore’s Washington Blue.
Amy knew from the beginning that she wanted to paint the house dark—and blue is one of her favorite colors. But which blue was the right blue?

The problem with paint swatches? They all look alike.

Sample cans of (from left:) Benjamin Moore&#8\2\17;s Hale Navy, Evening Sky and Polo Blue; ICI Paints&#8\2\17;s Gabled Blue, and Benjamin Moore&#8\2\17;s Washington Blue.
Above: Sample cans of (from left:) Benjamin Moore’s Hale NavyEvening Sky and Polo Blue; ICI Paints’s Gabled Blue, and Benjamin Moore’s Washington Blue.
Amy bought samples of each of the five blue paints so she could paint large swaths of color directly on the facade of the house.

Painted in bigger patches on the facade, the colors looked markedly different from one another. Photograph by Amy Lindburg.
Above: Painted in bigger patches on the facade, the colors looked markedly different from one another. Photograph by Amy Lindburg.
Differences in depth, tone, and saturation revealed themselves in the sunlight. Photograph by Amy Lindburg.
Above: Differences in depth, tone, and saturation revealed themselves in the sunlight. Photograph by Amy Lindburg.

It was clear to Amy that a single dark color for body and trim would would unify the facade and give it a stronger presence. She also decided to paint the building’s lower-level details—including the garage doors, entryway doors, front stairs, and fence—a glossy black to ground the house.

After

&#8\2\20;I wanted to do as little as possible, to preserve the original architectural details,&#8\2\2\1; says Amy.
Above: “I wanted to do as little as possible, to preserve the original architectural details,” says Amy.

And the winner is … Polo Blue. Depending on the time of day and the ratio of sunlight to fog (this is San Francisco, after all), Amy’s house can appear to be nearly black, navy blue, or a deep jewel tone—as on the winter afternoon when this photo was shot.

To emphasize the rich tones of the paint palette, Amy added warm gold and brass accents:

Gilded house numbers, like jewelry, dress up an entryway. For more on the subject, see Outdoors: Gilded House Numbers by See.Painting on Remodelista.
Above: Gilded house numbers, like jewelry, dress up an entryway. For more on the subject, see Outdoors: Gilded House Numbers by See.Painting on Remodelista.
A vintage brass ceiling light fixture mounted above the entrance to the garage is a reconfigured porthole from Big Ship Salvage. For a similar weather-resistant fixture, start with an Authentic \15 Inch Brass Ship&#8\2\17;s Porthole for \$4\25 from Big Ship Salvage.
Above: A vintage brass ceiling light fixture mounted above the entrance to the garage is a reconfigured porthole from Big Ship Salvage. For a similar weather-resistant fixture, start with an Authentic 15 Inch Brass Ship’s Porthole for $425 from Big Ship Salvage.
A copper downspout will develop an aged patina over time.
Above: A copper downspout will develop an aged patina over time.

If you’re considering a paint job, see our curated guide to Exteriors & Facades 101, including Black Magic: Architects’ 8 Top Paint Picks. And see more of our favorite Before & After projects:

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