...because home doesn't happen overnight.
05.28.14 / Exterior Evolution

It’s been three years since we made the decision to downsize and buy the Underdog. From the beginning we said “it isn’t the house of our dreams but rather the house in which to pursue our dreams.” We still stand by that motto. Renovating this house hasn’t always been easy (or quick!) but we feel we made the right decision for us. Some days when we’re feeling especially disappointed about our progress (or lack thereof…yes, kid bathroom, I’m giving you the stink eye) it helps to look back and see how far we’ve come. So today we’re taking a look at the exterior’s evolution.

exterior tree removal

When we bought the house it was barely noticeable from the road, hidden behind several large trees. Our inspector found evidence of a previous termite infestation inside and outside the home. One of the first things we did was have many of the trees removed to allow the house and yard to dry out properly. The tree removal also optimized natural light inside. (I had to fight to save that one remaining tree. I’m so glad I did. It provides the only shade in the front yard.)

exterior lawn redo

Shortly after removing the trees, we did away with the wood shutters and installed a metal roof. Still, the yard was horrendous – bumpy, full of weeds, stumps and bare spots. It actually sloped toward the house. After talking with a neighbor who happens to be a landscaper, we had the yard excavated in the fall of 2012 and started from scratch. We had new concrete walks installed, completely reseeded the lawn and put in some basic landscaping. Eventually, we rehabbed the front entry.

exterior spring 2014

It’s taken us a while but this is how the exterior looks currently. It’s nothing special but it’s clean and uncluttered and well-maintained which was basically our goal all along. Really, anything other than “crack house” was our goal!

exterior spring 2014-6

We endured a brutal winter and, unfortunately, we lost some of our young plants. I spoke with employees at a local nursery and they said they are having a hard time keeping up with the demand right now. Many commercial and residential customers are having to replace plants that didn’t make it through the winter while the nursery’s own plant inventory (they grow their own shrubs and trees right here in Ohio) suffered as well. A few of our gold mop cypress have a bit of brown on them and that has me worried. I guess we’ll just wait it out and see how they do. Two grasses aren’t sprouting yet so it looks like they may need replaced. Many of our plants aren’t meant to withstand temperatures colder than -10ºF and we had many days much colder than that this past winter.

exterior spring 2014-3

As far as I can tell, the roses are fine. The hydrangeas are greening up. One of them started sprouting way ahead of the other but the second is starting to catch up.

exterior spring 2014-4

We did lose the miniature evergreens in the front bed. Personally, I wasn’t all that sad to see them go. They were one of those hasty “I don’t know what to put here so let’s do these” choices. I replaced them with Elijah blue grass. I don’t think I’ve shared a good picture of the planter under the picture window that we turned into a storage bench.

exterior spring-5

Steve built a wood frame within the planter and used leftover Trex deck boards to create three separate “lids” that form a bench seat. We store potting soil and outdoor toys inside. It’s worked out really well so far.

exterior spring 2014-7

Last year we created flower beds along the east and north sides of the house but held off on planting anything in them. We didn’t have the time or money to devote to them. A few weeks ago I spent $350 and one day planting them. The east-facing bed has spirea, grasses and variegated liriope.

exterior spring 2014-8

The north-facing bed only receives a little sunlight in late evening. A nursery employee suggested chardonnay pearls (left of the heat pump) and an azalea (right of the heat pump) for this shaded area. I threw in a few more liriope.

exterior spring 2014-9

The chardonnay pearls are my favorite. The have the slightest sweet scent that drifts in through our bedroom window.

We went with a different mulch this year. It’s browner and finer than what we used last spring. I like it better. The previous stuff was chunky and almost stick-like…although I did like the black color. Steve had the mulch delivered last Friday afternoon and by the time he got home from work, I had spread it all. I really enjoy spreading mulch. Is that weird?

exterior spring 2014-2

The grass seed has taken really well. We pay an organic lawn care company to come out and fertilize regularly. We recently reseeded around the deck we installed last summer. Hopefully, it comes in as nicely as the rest.

For comparison’s sake, a look at where we’ve been and where we are now…

exterior before & after

Again, it’s nothing special but it’s definitely an improvement. Our neighbors and mailman have noticed. In fact, just last week our mailman came to the front door and said “Don’t take this the wrong way but I don’t think I’ve been up here since you got a new front door.” Imagine his surprise when I told him it’s the original door. It feels good not being embarrassed by our home’s exterior anymore. We’re really looking forward to having the driveway replaced and I’m anxious to see how everything fills in over the years.

What about you? Did you lose any plants due to the harsh winter? Were / are you embarrassed by your home’s exterior?

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking



You and Steve have come a verrrry long way. It’s truly impressive, though understandably, it may not feel that way day to day, living with your to-do lists. In no way is this house now an “underdog”! The two of you have done wonders with vision–seeing the possibilities–and sweat equity to create what you both determined works best for your family.


…”anything other than ‘crack house'”…brilliant! And a worthy goal, of course! Beautiful work, you guys.


I lost some of my ornamental grasses due to the winter…not really sure whether it’s worth even replacing them if it’s going to happen again :( I totally thought you had just dirt, that mulch isn’t something I’ve seen before. It’s so fine! I have the horrible stick type mulch and the weeds are just growing on them like nobody’s business. *sigh*

That storage bench is pure genius! Your home is looking night and day better – great work! :)


Wow, what a huge difference! Really, you all have done a phenomenal job!

We spent a couple of years being embarrassed by our exterior, but we slowly turned it around with a fresh paint job and lots and lots and lots of new plants. We also have a brick ranch, and when we had it painted (just the trim and shutters), the painter suggested painting our white gutters and downspouts a darker color. I ended up going with the same charcoal color we used on the shutters, and it really made a huge difference not to the see the white downspouts contrasting against the brick. It’s much more subtle. I never would have thought to do this if it hadn’t been suggested. I bet the same treatment on your house would also make a difference. Though, really, what you’ve done is just lovely, so there’s really not much you could improve upon!


You’ve done an amazing job transforming the house, your exterior fits perfectly with your interior. We also live in Ohio (North of Cincy) and I lost six of my perennials. I don’t have a lot of greenery around the house because we live in the woods (enough said) and because I just love all of the beautiful blooms they produce. We’ve lived in our house for four years now, I planted them the first year we moved in so they had a lot of maturity to them and they still didn’t make it. Now most of the house looks bare because I can’t decide what to replace them with. I love the gold mop cypress, its a nice change from the standard boxwood.

What an improvement! In the “before” images, you couldn’t even see the front door behind the evergreens. Now everything looks much cleaner and purposeful. We are hard at work on our own landscaping as well – it’s not something we’re experts at, but with nature it’s always somewhat of a guessing game anyway! We lost part of our boxwoods from the winter harshness and are doing a lot of pruning (and hoping things come back).


We live in Illinois and we lost several bushes, plants and ornamental grasses. We have replaced some in the last couple of weeks, but still have 4 bushes and some ornamental grasses to replace unfortunately. Our landscaping was in pretty good shape when we purchased our house 2 years ago, but it is a lot of work and upkeep.

Wow, everything looks amazing! I love all the plants you’ve chosen and your lawn is beautiful too.
I lost a couple of perennials and many of my shrubs had lots of damage from the winter. I will have to cut several down almost to the ground, but thankfully they are showing new growth at the base. Hope we don’t have another winter like that one!


What an amazing transformation! Looks great!


Dana, things look great! I love what you have done outside.

Our outside is still a work in progress. We are in the process of taking up several shrubs that bit it in the Minnesota arctic tundra! It is going to leave us with a barren front of house, but the half dead thing is probably the greater of two evils.

Hopefully this summer will be kind and we can make the front of house sing again. Thanks for the inspiration!


I am SO in awe of your progress, Dana! We were very embarrassed of our houses facade when we purchased it three years ago. So much so that we entered DIY Network’s Desperate Landscapes casting call. We lived with crunchy, dead grass and what I can only assume was once a dry creek river bed until DIY’s team of mastermind landscape architects came in and redid the entire front yard and facade for us!! HOWEVER, I can honestly that if they hadn’t chosen us we’d still driving up to a mess of a front yard everyday. Like you, it was more important to us to make the inside liveable first… and we’re still a year away from calling the inside “finished”. Well done to you and the hubs!

This.is.amazing! It looks gorgeous and I love how clean and crisp everything is. Going back to old pictures to remind yourself how far you’ve come is such a great thing! We overhauled our neglected backyard over the last four years and I can’t believe how far we’ve come (B&A here: http://tableandhearth.blogspot.com/p/our-house.html). I would look at your pics all day long if I were you :)


You’re “underdog” house doesn’t look like an underdog anymore!

I have definitely felt embarrassed by our home’s exterior. As newlyweds, my husband and I purchased an old home (1937!) in need of some serious TLC. By day I am a commercial interior designer, so of course I dove head-first into renovating the inside, ignoring the outside until I couldn’t anymore. This spring, we finally feel like the front of our house (don’t get me started on the backyard) is a reflection of everything we have going on inside. It’s amazing what a little landscaping and paint can do!

What a major improvement! I always feel like we didn’t come very far either, but then when I look here…I remember, we’ve made great strides!!! Keep up the good {even though sometimes slow-feeling} work! :)



Our neighbor has an absolutely beautiful yard and garden. The kind that people stop to look at when they are out for walks- that kind. Ours has always been “meh” at best. This year I dug up a bunch of stuff that I have never liked, and planted a few things that I was assured are “hardy” (read: will take abuse and neglect). I think I’ve felt so overwhelmed by my neighbor’s garden that it never occurred to me to just make mine more enjoyable at all. Until this year!


I’m so embarrassed by my home’s exterior, which is why I’ve never posted it on the blog, but we’re beginning to work on it little by little. Right now I have a few unsightly and large shrubs that are half dead due to the winter, so those are first on the chopping block. My hydrangeas didn’t make it either, but that was because of my husband, not the horrible weather. I was keeping them in pots until I figure out the landscaping and the best spot for them. My husband just thought they were big pots with dead sticks, so he decided to be “helpful” and throw them out for me…..needless to say, he still hasn’t heard the end of it! :)

I just talked to my Garden Guru Frank of Frank’s Perennial Border Nursery (that’s what I call him anyway) about a blanketflower that was gorgeous in my front flower bed last year and didn’t ever come up this spring. He said lots of plants that are hardy to zone 5 (we’re zone 7) didn’t make it in our region this year. We had multiple snows that stuck; in a typical year we get maybe a dusting or two.

I love your style, but even more than that, I’m inspired by your decision to pursue your dreams (and the home of your dreams) rather than merely the house of your dreams. I’m with you.


gorgeous changes! doesn’t gardening take sooooo long? i spend hours outside in my garden and its much smaller than yours. so, i can’t imagine how many hours you have put in already, and it’s definitely paying off! i also find spreading mulch incredibly satisfying.


Dana, your yard looks so great! That grass!!!

I’ve searched around but couldn’t find the info. Where did you get the rocks you have in your beds? I’m interested in turning a few of our weedy beds into rock beds due to their proximity to the house. I’ve had trouble finding rocks the size you have, they are normally much smaller.



Dana, your place looks great! I was able to see the house with Freddie before your family moved in. (I think the previous owners had not even moved out yet.) You two have done an AWESOME job making that house your home!!


I love huge planters turned storage! Still loving the painted front door, too. We are in a relatively small home as well, and I love how it allows us to experiment without a ton of expense/risk. It feels very doable! Your blog continues to inspire me – your home just has that calm vibe :)


We have a Deutzia Nikko, and I love it. The little white flowers look like foam for 2 weeks. A lot of my hydrangeas have needed a hard pruning down after our really cold winter, but they seem to have survived. Your plantings look great, but you really need to move your hydrangeas away from the house at few feet. You don’t want a plant with a 6ft diameter so close to your foundation.

I love spreading mulch, too!!! It’s the most satisfying gardening job out there!!! :)

What a difference! It looks great so far! We lost a couple of deodar cedars. I’m so bummed. Now I need to shop for replacements.


After we finished our build we ran out of steam. We have over half an acre in our front garden. It had been a field prior to the build and the weeds just took over. They basically grew into a forest of little trees. No exaggeration. We would stop the car in the driveway and it felt like we were in a jungle. You would look out the windows on either side and weeds were 4 foot high. It’s so cringy when I think back! Lucky now it’s a nicely manicured lawn with hedges on the boundaries and nice trees planted. Still need to tackle the back garden but it’s nothing as bad. Just high grass mostly. That’s this summer’s project!


I LOVE seeing posts looking back at how far something has come – it’s hard when you live with it every day and don’t notice the little differences. The yard looks spectacular, thank you for sharing!


I love the clean look of your exterior, and anyone who has a place to call home should be proud. Owning and taking care of a home is hard work, especially with little ones. Keep up the great work and I look forward to seeing all of the great things you have in store for your abode next.

We have major work to do on our new front yard. It has a hill and used to have trees. The trees are mostly gone now but the ground is more forest like than grass. I think we are going to have the whole thing excavated and start fresh. I am off to read your post about that.

What a great transformation- you guys are really breathing life back into that home. The metal roof is my favorite. Great memories of the rain creating perfect napping music!


Dana the yard looks terrific…what a difference! Now, am I crazy or was there a cute picture of Mabrey on instagram that’s gone now. It’s driving me nuts!?!


IT is amazing how much cleaning up the landscaping and freshening up with some paint can do. It is so worth it to have a landscaping company come out over the few nice summer months to help with the grass!

We lost five rose bushes planted last summer and one hydrangea. The rose bushes I purchased from Costco and they were willing to refund my money if I brought them in! So….out they came and I got my $80 back. I’m just trying to figure out what I will do in that spot this year…. I think a mix or roses/grasses. Ironically, all of our boxwood and azalea’s, which were buried under 5 feet of snow most of the winter, survived!

We too have slowly renovated our home over the past few years. I recently shared the exterior changes – which took five years to complete – here: http://inspiredlivinghome.blogspot.com/2013/09/exterior-updates.html


I have never felt embarrassed about our yard, though probably other people would. We mow it when it gets bad enough that landscapers looking for work start stopping by. We have many different kinds of grasses/weeds, but it is all green so we just go with it. We have loads of old trees so it is nice and shady and they mostly block the view of the house from the street. I would never want to cut them down, I think trees look much nicer than most houses, honestly. One of our shutters fell off the front window and that was a little embarrassing. I took the other one down so that there is not just one sad shutter.

Thankfully, our next door neighbor has a terrible yard. He first clear-cut it so it is all bare dirt, then dug huge pits in the front, then (after about a year of leaving the gaping pits just open) he started building what he says are planter boxes but what look like maybe fall-out shelters in the pits. Then he planted a bunch of stuff in the fall-out shelter planters and it all died immediately, so now there are enormous cinder block boxes full of dead plants. Anyhow, our yard is no great shakes, but we look awesome in comparison!


Lovely! Your home is so charming.


Yes! Instagram must have deemed Mabrey in her brother’s Spidey undies too risqué. Honestly, it has bothered me ever since. I know it’s because she is a girl but COME ON she is TWO! The #theoandbeau hashtag has just as “racy” photos of a boy Mabrey’s age but I guess two-year-old male nipples aren’t pornographic but two-year-old female nipples are?? I don’t get it.


Thanks Laura!


The larger river rock came from Broadway Sand & Gravel in Dayton, OH. I really REALLY like the look of pea gravel but my kids would have those lil’ pebbles everywhere! As is, we find a rock or two in the yard on occasion.


So sad about your hydrangeas!


It’s amazing what clearing away overgrown shrubs will do, isn’t it?!


Your backyard doesn’t even look like the same place!


Ahhhhh! I’m so jealous!! How awesome to win a landscaping makeover!


Yeah, we had a lot of weeds growing through the stick-like mulch last year. I hope this stuff is better at keeping the weeds at bay.


Wow I can’t say enough about this transformation, it’s just amazing. I love how thoughtful you have been through the whole process. My dad is a landscaper and I draw landscape designs for him, most people want as many plants as they can cram in their yard and I love that you had the foresight to pull out trees and keep a nice clean, healthy yard. I think with landscaping, as with most design, less is more. I think your yard looks so fresh and beautiful.


Hi Dana! Your yard looks wonderful. I’m in Cincinnati and would love to hire an organic lawn care service. Would you mind telling me about your people? Thanks!


I think your house looks great. You’ve done such a good job and it’s nice to see a makeover that doesn’t happen in a weekend since most of us can’t do that. And the hidden storage in the built in planter is brilliant!

I feel you on this one! We’ve spent the past 13 months restoring our 1902 house, and it’s looking SO much better, but the curb appeal could still use a lot of work. We basically had to cut out all plant life when we started, so it’s looking pretty sparse. I love your approach though of we don’t have to do everything immediately!


You have a beautiful home…inside and out. I appreciate your attention to detail and I can definitely relate to being embarrassed by the exterior of a house. My husband and I bought our first home 2 years ago and the front yard was horrendous. Luckily, within that first year, my brother and one of his crews (he owns a landscape company) created a beautiful new front flower bed for us. Normally we are “do-it-yourself” people but this red clay in Oklahoma is a beast to work with. We gladly allowed them to take control on such a large project….at least this time. We don’t have a large home, but fixing up the yard gave us a sense of pride. Our neighbors continually compliment us on the landscape(despite it being there for over a year) and that feels good too. Now our backyard is another story…but things take time, right? :)


I love what you’ve done! It looks so clean and bright!

I am definitely ashamed of our exterior. We have some verrrrry old bushes in the front and on the side of our house that I am dying to rip out! I have considered getting the chainsaw out and whacking them myself, but I could cause some pretty serious damage to myself or it others, so I’ll refrain. The problem with taking them out now is that we have no money to devote to refilling the beds right now and I can’t decide if I can handle emptiness all the way across the front of our house for what could be a substantial amount of time. We also need to replace a couple porch posts and repaint the posts & trim. I’d also love to paint the brick on our house! So yeah, we have a long list, and we’ll get there eventually!!!!!


I used to love cocoa bean shell mulch — so chocolatey! Then I read that it attracts mice. All other mulches, even rocks, attract insects. However, it’s easier to spray for bugs than to battle rodents.

On an unrelated note: Have you any plans for completing the 2nd bath? Is Steve ready to hire it out?


Clap! Clap! Clap-clap-clap!!!! I don’t have a lot of time for all the blog readin’, because… well… TWO YEAR OLD IN THE HOUSE!! But when I do find a spare moment, I like to pull up your blog and just see what y’all are up to, because I kind of covet your decorating style. And this yard transformation is FANTASTIC.


Your gold mop cypresses are fine! I’m in Wisconsin and lost 5 yews, but not my gold mops. They have to be almost entirely brown before they’re declared dead. With just that little amount, they’ll be fine. You can always trim off the brown parts.


The house looks super fantastic. A few years ago we moved from our “underdog” which was all we could afford when we first got married to a much larger home and fancier neighborhood. Sometimes I wish we were back there. It was more affordable and we had put our hearts and souls in to that house. We had made it ours. It took seven years to get finished so don’t feel rushed. I bet the neighbors appreciate your efforts no matter what!


Whew! I love them so I was hoping it wasn’t anything serious.


Oh we’ve had plans to finish the bathroom for years now. Ha! We get some steam going and then it peters out just because we don’t have big chunks of time to devote to the main projects in there – which are kinda large in scale. It’s so hard remodeling with kids in the house and Steve has been super busy at work frequently clocking in 12-hour days. The kids and I are going to be out of town for a little while after school lets out. Steve is going to take some time off work to make more progress in the bathroom. So it’s coming along…just like every other project.

I can appreciate the improvements and agree with your goal of simply having a clean, uncluttered, well maintained outdoor space. Right now, our lawn is a serious embarrassment. We just moved in and unfortunately the lawn has taken a back seat as we know we’ll be re-doing the whole thing (it’s mostly just rocks overrun by weeds right now).


Hang in there. I was greatly embarrassed by our yard / curb appeal for almost three years! Take it one project at a time and do what you can when you can. xo


Mind if I ask where you found the chunky white planter by the front door? I tried to find it in another post before messaging but I couldn’t. It’s so pretty! I’m at the tail end of a landscaping project myself. It feels so good to pull up to your house and see all of that hard work (doesn’t hurt when the neighbors come over and tell you how much better it looks too : ) I’m sure you’ve had plenty of that!


You can find more info about the planter in this post…


It’s from Modernica.


Ugh, I AM embarrassed by our house’s exterior! It’s just low on my husband’s priority list and anyway he remembers how bad it was when his dad (a pack rat) owned it, so comparatively he thinks it’s wonderful. But the front and the sides are different colors, the front has patches of unpainted stucco and patches of gray paint samples, two of the three windows need refurbishing or replacing, the trim is a faded blue-gray that needs to be white, the sidewalk is weathered planks with irregular edges, and the porch is a small, low metal affair with a cheap scrolly iron post. However the roof is new and a good color, and I painted the front door glossy red for a consolation every time I come home. Someday soon we will paint it with the paint I bought last year in hopes of pushing THAT project forward :( Can you tell this weighs on me?!


Dana I think it looks so so good! A huge improvement! Landscaping is hard work and expensive, I never fully realized this until we became home owners ourselves. It’s so nice to see your updates in a somewhat reasonable time frame!


Amazing! We also did major landscaping updates to our ’54 Ranch. When we moved in it was a two tone creamsicle color with ZERO landscape. Thank god my husband enjoys landscaping…after we painted the house and replaced the windows – he went to town with planting, rocks, benches, etc …it’s been 6 years and we could not be happier with the growth of the yard. The trees were planted just so and now we don’t live in a fishbowl. I’m curious about the picture widow planter. We have the exact same thing. We’ve tried growing zebra grass, bamboo…and it’s just too much direct sunlight for anything. Can you send detailed instructions on how Steve built the hidden toychest (we have balls galore!) and or bench? This is such a great solution. Inspired.