How can I add character to this house?

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Just bought a small home in San Diego that lacks a defined character. It's a 1950's cottage house, remodeled in the 70's. We can't afford any large remodel yet, but a leak requires that we rebuild the above-garage deck, an opportunity to change the look of the railing and the staircase. Considering a short arbor over the garage door. Too tight for faux shutters at the 3 deck windows. We do plan to raise the front retaining wall and create an enclosed courtyard. Please share your vision.

q how can i add character to this house
  8 answers
  • I would paint the white a darker color like a deep brown and then add something where the big empty space is at the bottom right corner. A trellis with climbing roses would look nice.

    • Katie Katie on May 06, 2019

      Thank you Adrienne. Yes, adding a third color (and texture) would help. I plan for the courtyard to help fill in that big empty space.

  • DesertRose DesertRose on May 06, 2019

    I would do something to the windows. Have you considered maybe shutters or window box plantings? Perhaps a small ever green tree/bush? Even hanging planters on the rail above the garage would help. You might change out the garage door when you can with some windows or perhaps paint it and the white part above the home to a more updated color. Sherwin Williams says the exterior colors for the new year are clay, dark clay, burnt orange, and light green. All of those would go with your present outdoor main color. I would include the white rails and window trim also. Hope this helps. Look at some color ideas at your local home improvement stores (they have catalogs also) and online for some combinations to update the paint and go from there.

    • Katie Katie on May 06, 2019

      Thank you. The garage door is around 40% of the front side. Windows would make a big difference. I also have considered darkening the color of the door.

      Because we are coastal, I'd prefer to work with grey-tones but probably shouldn't ignore the red tones of the roof. Lots of red tile roofs around us, so clay and burnt oranges would work well.

  • William William on May 06, 2019

    Paint the garage door wood grain.

    https://www.hometalk.com/search/posts?filter=paint%20garage%20door


    Paint the balusters only on the railing a dark brown to match the door if you paint it.

    Two narrow trellises on the right wall about 12" above the raised bed height. Plantings are not necessary. Just to fill the space. An arbor over the garage door would look great. As wide as the garage door and about two feet deep. Paint the gable vent same color tan color as the home as an accent. It gets lost with all that white.

    • Katie Katie on May 06, 2019

      Thanks William. Hadn't thought to keep the above-garage arbor to only as wide as the door.

      Would like to bring a more contemporary feel and plan to stucco the retaining walls, and so I'm still trying to figure out how to approach both the gable siding and the vent.

  • Lifestyles Homes Lifestyles Homes on May 06, 2019

    When you rebuild the deck above the garage, I would add an open air trellis or pergola, in a craftsman style- over the entire deck.

    Then I would make false beam ends on the gable in the craftsman style. Shingles would be very nice in the gable, for Craftsman.

    I would also add false beam ends and a small trellis on the face of the garage at the header level.

    Yes, no white trim. It’s a pain to keep dust & dirt free. Paint the garage door too.

    The area under the bathroom or kitchen window (the small high window) needs a tall design element there, like a 4’ urn on a pedestal or apply stone veneer on the exposed foundation & carry it to your retaining walls with a stone caps or quoined corners.


    Your local building department will have plans for Patio Covers. Follow their plans, or at least find the thresholds at which this is no longer an awning.


    If you need help with this part, let me know. San Diego’s building department is going to adhere to the California Building Code, Which supersedes the International Residential Code.

    • See 1 previous
    • Lifestyles Homes Lifestyles Homes on May 06, 2019

      sounds good.

      Just so you know, Fence Heights, Trellis & Arbor Heights will have restrictions based on how close you are to the Property Lines.

      These will be covered in either SDO’s Muni Code or their Planning/Zoning Ordinances.


      This is different than the Structural Framing Criteria for the actual construction- that’s in the Building & Safety Division.

  • Debi53 Debi53 on May 07, 2019

    I would paint the garage door the exact color of the house. Garage doors are not the focal point and I don't think attention should be called to them. We painted ours the same tan (much like yours) of our house and it just 'goes away' Your eye is not drawn to it. You can even paint the trim around the garage your house color. This will make your house look larger and not broken up. Paint your trim just a few shades lighter than your house--again this will create a cohesive palette and make your house look larger. I would also paint the white fence the color of your house to extend that wall out. The more you chop up a small house, the smaller it looks. Here's something we did for our 1970's two story: Instead of shutters, we had wide trim boards put around the windows. This made our house look a little more updated and modern. I would consider run one wide piece of trim along the top and bottom of all three windows and up the sides creating a unit. This will make it look like a large window with three panes instead of three small windows. Do matching wide trim on all the windows. For the very small window, I would put trim below it even with the bottom of the window next to it. Paint it the trim color. This will make this window look longer and the wide trim will widen it. I think the trim we used was 6inch boards.Now you have a very cohesive but very neutral house. Then have fun with your stair rails. Paint them a bright pop of color. Aqua is beautiful with tan and would work with your roof color, but any color you love would work. Paint your mailbox post this same or a darker color of your stair rails. Then use this color and a second accent color for flower pots, outdoor furniture, and your front door. I love the idea of a dark stained arbor/trellis over your garage door and consider stringing solar lights along the edge of the arbor for a welcoming sparkle at night-no electricity needed.

  • Katie Katie on May 07, 2019

    Thank you, Debi. All of this sounds... within reach! Especially love your idea for connecting the 3 small windows, and the large/small kitchen window combo (such an awkward setup).

    We will be immediately replacing the tile at the deck and stairs, I'd love to add decorative risers and can have fun coordinating these with stair rails. Thanks again!

  • Chloe Crabtree Chloe Crabtree on May 06, 2021

    Painting all of the white a brown, or something that is wood grain would make this look much richer. You could also add attractive wood shutters to your windows. The thing that would make the biggest difference would be to add a lovely wood pergola over the garden bed on the right hand side and then plant a climbing vine on it. That will break up all of the exposure of the house.

  • Holly Lengner - Lost Mom Holly Lengner - Lost Mom on Sep 30, 2021

    You can add some flower boxes to the upper area of the home. That would add some curb appeal for sure.