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We Had a 'Ball' Painting Our Porch! DIY Front Door and Victorian Finial Makeover

Front view with blur

By Lisa Brunette

Last fall we were treated to a long 'Indian summer,' with temps in the 70s to low 80s (that's balmy and beautiful for those of you on celsius) throughout September and October. Weather like that is perfect for painting projects because the paint goes on smoothly and dries quickly, and you're not miserable working in the heat or cold. Besides that cool blue dining room redo, we also tackled the front and back entrance door exteriors, in addition to a row of gingerbread ball finials lining the top of our front porch. 

Here are the finials before the paint went on: They're perfectly round balls set in a 2-1-2 pattern on dowels (1-1 on the sides). Most likely they are original to the house, which is a lovely feature to have still intact, especially since the porch, which is plastic, certainly isn't original to this 1904, World's Fair-era Victorian. 

Finials Before

A couple of times I've been out working in the front yard, and passersby compliment me on the finials, which look like a row of gumdrops. But I wanted to highlight them even more, as they sort of get lost in all the whitey whiteness of the home's exterior. Side note: Since the house is clad in vinyl siding (sigh), we can't paint that part. But we can paint the finials! So we went with a bold, three-color scheme. The first color to go on was a golden yellow.

Finials During

Harmonizing with that one, we chose a burnt orange.

Closeup Finials

Finials During 2

But these warmer colors needed a cool accent. So the other color is... what else? Aqua, light turquoise... whatever you want to call it. My favorite hue. Here you can see it with a little solar bird lantern. Note the gingerbread scroll bracket in the corner.

Finials and Lantern

Now, I'm afraid of heights, with an inconvenient vertigo response to make things interesting, so mounting a ladder poised on top of a raised porch took some courage on my part, especially since painting the tops of the balls required me to get up there pretty high.

Lisa Painting

I guess this is part of why a lot of people would hire someone else to paint their house. But vertigo aside, I enjoy painting. As someone who spends her days running a business via computer, physical work like this can be a welcome respite. It's also deeply satisfying to paint, especially with a vibrant color. Since we chose a paint that is low on volatile organic compounds (VOCs), the fumes didn't bother me, either, especially working outside. 

Lisa Painting 4

Lisa Painting 2

I'm no noob when it comes to house painting. My ex-husband, Tom, was a professional painter, and he taught me everything I know. We funded our honeymoon, in fact, through the funds we earned painting an historic home not far from where I now live. To this day, one of my pet peeves is to watch DIY home improvement shows and see amateurs totally doing it wrong.

Here are some tips I've gathered from my ex, as well as a lifetime of frequent moves and many, many painting projects:

  1. Prep the room first. Remove light-switch covers, move furniture away from the walls (or out of the room entirely) and cover with drop cloths, and fill nail holes with putty and sand them down once dry. Set a drop cloth down where you're painting. If you have carpeting, you might want a waterproof drop cloth.
  2. Never mind the tape. I know a lot of people use masking tape to create an edge where you don't want the paint to be, but this causes a couple of problems: a) The paint often bleeds underneath the tape and b) when you pull the tape off, the paint often comes with it! Better to have a steady hand and sharp eye. Take your time.
  3. Cut in before rolling. That means painting the room corners and edges with a brush first. Then you roll.
  4. Listen for the 'kiss.' Get enough paint on your roller to create a 'kiss' sound as you roll the wall.
  5. Paint from wet to dry. Whether brushing or rolling, the paint moves more smoothly if you go from wet to dry.
  6. Clean up carefully. Latex paint can come up with water and a rag when it's still wet, but be careful about getting it into nooks and crannies. I've found with hardwood floors it's actually better to wait till the drops dry a bit and then scrape or pull them up.

Door and Finials During

But I'm not claiming pro status myself or anything. They call 'em drop cloths for a reason! In order to get the three-color scheme right while simultaneously going up and down the ladder and dealing with vertigo, especially since I had to paint all the yellow balls first, then all the orange, and then the blue... I drew up a schematic and labeled the balls before beginning. And I still painted a few the wrong color at first, having to go back and repaint them. Wah-wah...

But it was so worth the effort!

Finials and White Lantern

The finials weren't the only exterior features we painted. The doors actually kicked off the whole process by presenting us with a practical need for the otherwise aesthetic change: The ancient brown paint on the front and back exterior doors was cracked and peeling. Here's the front, after Anthony and I painstakingly scraped and sanded the warped paint away.

Door Before

This was an important step, as we wanted to care for the door, ensuring its longevity. After all, it's 118 years old, and they literally cannot make them like this anymore. We scraped away all of the cracked and warped paint with a putty knife and then sanded down the edges flush with the door's surface.

As with the finials, I believe you need to go bold or go home, and Anthony agrees, so we carried the same scheme from the ball finials over to both doors, back and front. The doors have some nice antique features that were fun to highlight. Because we used an exterior paint and primer in one, we did not need to use a separate primer first. But we did apply two coats in each color.

Door During

Door During 3

And finally... the best part: The aqua! Note the transom at the top, one of the architectural details I most love about the house.

Finished Door 2

This is maybe a bit too matchy-matchy, but it just worked out (lol, because of my obsession with turquoise) that the pots and flowers on the steps perfectly fit the color scheme.

Finished Door and Pots

Here's how the front door and finials look together. Front view...

Finished Door and Finials

And side.

Side Finials and Door

Not to be undone by the front door, the back door got some love, too. 

Finished Door Back

With the beauty all gussied up, we have more sidewalk gawkers than we used to, and I'm just thrilled to have less brown paint in my life. The doors cheer me up every time I come home.

What's going on in your DIY world? Tell us in the comments below.