great neighborhood, dumpy house. best way to improve?
July 27, 2013 9:35 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I just bought a house in a great neighborhood, and it has a wonderful interior. But the exterior looks like this, except with a completely flat roof (we live in Arizona). It is made of concrete block in the shape of Phoenix brick (a long thin kind of bricks popular around here). The concrete is painted white, with paint that is now peeling. We have talked about doing a roof-over with elevated pitch and spanish tiles, and/or about building a facade but have no ideas on what it might look like. Googling has failed me. Can anyone link us to houses that are made like ours: (a concrete shoebox) that have been renovated to have great or much-improved curb appeal? Or any other suggestions? Thanks in advance.
posted by powerbumpkin to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The house you link to doesn't look so bad to me: utilitarian and modern.

Obviously, you want to deal with the peeling paint, but adding a roof that doesn't fit stylistically with the architecture, or changing the facade, will be expensive, non-contributing alterations that are unlikely to make your house look better to you, or your neighbors, or a future buyer.

I'd focus on keeping up what you have so that it looks fresh and well maintained. An architecturally appropriate low wall could add some character. If you have a large empty yard, then landscaping can have a huge impact on your curb appeal, especially if you use succulents and interesting large rocks. Drive around and take pictures of houses like yours that look good to you. Then talk to some local landscape architects and see what they suggest.
posted by Scram at 9:58 AM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

The photo might be hiding the surface flaws, but it looks like a well-proportioned mid century modern style house to me. I think good landscaping would help this house a lot. Unfortunately my point of reference for such a house is Eichler houses in Califonia, so that kind of landscaping might not work well in the Arizona climate, so I can't offer specific suggestions.
posted by zsazsa at 9:59 AM on July 27, 2013

to clarify: this is not our house, this is a similar house with much nicer, taller windows than mine and fresher paint. and I'm gone!
posted by powerbumpkin at 10:01 AM on July 27, 2013

There are a lot of houses like this in my neighborhood.

Some of them are clearly owned by people who take pride in them and have a real sense of aesthetics (or maybe hired someone who does?). Fresh paint in a stylish color. Doors, windows, and trim painted in a crisp contrasting color. Everything in good repair. Things like fences, gates, and house numbers look up to date and like someone with good taste chose them. Attention to little details.

I'm also a fan of the slightly less "Curb Appeal" take on this, the little concrete shoeboxes painted bright colors, with kitschy yard art and creative landscaping. Will it help you turn the place around? I don't know. But it'll at least have personality and be a nice home to live in.
posted by Sara C. at 10:04 AM on July 27, 2013

If you change the roof to something more Spanish, you will probably need to change the windows and paint the entire exterior new colors in order to create a uniform, cohesive aesthetic.

Personally I think you should rock the mid century looks. Here are a few examples of what you could do:

House One

House Two

Home Three (Less modern but a good reference image all the same)

Many Houses from

Just searching for Mid Century Modern Homes Palm Springs yields a lot of great stuff. Congrats on your new home!
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:09 AM on July 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Definitely look at images of the "mid-century modern" aesthetic. There are lots of possibilities there. If you haven't looked at the Houzz site/app, you might want to explore that. They have lots of images of of home design (interior and exterior) and a pretty decent way to filter searches by keywords.
posted by pantarei70 at 10:13 AM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

New exterior paint will make a world of difference.
With the help of google I found this nice blog on Mid Century modern houses called Mad for Mid Century The link goes to their posts tagged with paint colors.

Here is a post on Mid Century exterior color palettes
posted by donut_princess at 10:37 AM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite], being a Phoenix-oriented blog, has a lot of pictures of befores and afters of that style of home. (A little paint and landscaping does a lot, it turns out.)
posted by kmennie at 10:53 AM on July 27, 2013

These little houses, believe it or not, reflect a Frank Lloyd Wright aesthetic. It gets schizophrenic after 50 years, also, people thought they liked modern and sleek, but then they added fake shutters and crap.

I recommend getting some of the original Frank Lloyd Wright mojo working on your house. The exterior of the house is supposed to look at one with the environment, copper, wood, earthy tones, but the interiors should be bright and pop with color.

This is the house my parents built in 1971. It's been painted, it used to be natural golden wood colored. It too, had a flat roof. That was a tragic design flaw, it leaked like a sieve. When we lived in the house there were no neighbors, no paved roads it was all desert. But you know, 40 years later....

What I'd suggest is head out to Taliesin West in Scottsdale. Take the tour, soak it up.

Another nice design/architecture thing to do is to go to Cosanti in Paradise Valley. Get yourself a nice wind bell. If you really want to have your brain expanded with futuristic ideas, go to Cortes Junction and check out Arcosanti.

Check out a show at Gammage Auditorium at ASU. It's so beautiful and the acoustics are amazing. I took a class there, Jazz in America. A-MAZING!

My point is, DON'T go all Mediterranean, no barrel tile roof, no stucco over the cement block. It's a cop out and it's boring.

Do modern as modern was envisioned at the time the house was built. You will thank me and you will love it.

As for the roof, these are some good ideas. You for sure want to change that roof elevation, flat is NOT a good idea.

Have fun with it!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:23 AM on July 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

A flat roof is not necessarily a bad thing. There are ways to guide water (assuming it rains occasionally) safely off of it. And possibly even collect it for irrigation.

Congrats on your new home! It & you will be happiest to keep to its original modern nature. :)
posted by yoga at 11:34 AM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Check out It is a site that focuses on the modernism in the Phoenix metro area with a ton of information about the ranch homes built in the 50s-60s. If you are not oppose to the modern look, that community would have tons of ideas for your home and can point to numerous examples of similar homes remodeled in a modern style. It is a community full of local designers so it would be a good place to start if you wanted to hire a professional to help as well.

I am very against changing the roof line or adding a facade. If you are happy with the interior. Painting the exterior and some landscaping will go a long, long way. From the small image you linked to I cannot say what other larger project would be a good idea, but for cost of rebuilding the roof with spanish tiles or building a facade (a presumably stuccoing the whole house) you could do a lot within the style that currently fits the house.
posted by Ommcc at 1:19 PM on July 27, 2013

Compare your picture with Three Birds of a Feather's House Three: the very first thing that strikes me --- other than nice landscaping! --- is how in Three Birds' picture, the house has matching windows, and in your picture, the three windows are three different styles. That, plus a warm paint color, contrasting trim, and landscaping, might really be all you need.

That light brown plus the white trim and black door & shutters really make Three Birds' house look warm & classy, where a solidly plain white or off-white house is stark and glaring. If you were to do anything to the roof, I'd limit changes to making the shingles brownish instead of black.
posted by easily confused at 1:46 PM on July 27, 2013

The photo is NOT powerbumpkin's house.

powerbumpkin, I think you'll get more useful answers if you can post a picture of your own house, and talk a little bit about the style of house you like.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:55 PM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's a cool makeover of a brick mid-century. I don't think you'd want charcoal paint in Arizona, but a pale color with wood contrast will look pretty too.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:21 PM on July 27, 2013

Sorry, I did not read carefully. I didn't realize the photo was just an example. And you mentioned a completely flat roof.

The completely flat roof is throwing me. Many of the mid-century ranch homes in the valley have the low pitched roof such as the one you showed. While there are some flat roof homes of the same time period I generally see them in homes build a bit later (late 60s, early 70s) and more likely to be slump block.

Here is a some info on Paradise Gardens neighborhood a Phoenix neighborhood where many of the homes (most models but not all) are attributed to famous local architect Al Beadle. They are block homes with flat roofs. Here are some links to some photo tours of homes in that neighborhood: ONE, TWO.
posted by Ommcc at 2:44 PM on July 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

i'm not sure what exact style that house is, but i think your best bet is to research the original style in your specific environment and to make changes fitting to that original style & location. please don't add red tile roofs to a house that is not mediterranean or spanish revival. it just won't look good. the phoenix blogs people are posting might lead you to a good architect for even just a consult. like others have suggested you can do a lot with paint and landscaping, so you really may not even need to alter the home. if you can post pics of your actual home it would be easier to make suggestions.
posted by wildflower at 7:27 PM on July 27, 2013

Wow, thanks for the amazing answers! All your education has totally revised my vision for the exterior. I lacked the googlable phrase "mid-century modern", and was therefore unaware that a little love can really make this type of home look beautiful! I kept thinking it looked like a trailer home and previously had no other design reference to work from. It turns out I don't need to redo the lines to have a house I love to come home to. :) THANK YOU.
posted by powerbumpkin at 8:18 PM on July 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

There's a cool magazine called Atomic Ranch that has a lot of great stuff to look at for ideas. The other nice thing about the magazine is that it has tons of advertising that can help point you in the direction of things to buy or people to hire. You can usually find it at a good newsstand. They also have some books (which have some weird errors, but most of the info is good) that you can probably find at a local library. I envy you your house -- I love that style.
posted by emcat8 at 1:48 AM on July 28, 2013

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