Now that I'm out of school, and the kids nearly finished themselves, my main job will be shuttling Adam and Kate to their various activities (although it could be argued that it will be tending the garden and preserving its bounty; we are experiencing the calm before the tomato storm). I find this leaves me a little adrift; I don't like being idle, and I've always got a list of things that I want to do around the place. For a solid year now I've wanted to repaint the interior of our house and this seems like the perfect time to do it. We moved in 13 years ago and the whole house was the color of putty, with the kitchen cabinets (some sort of particleboard, yuck) a depressing fake grain. I painted everything before we moved in, and at the time, I was very much into bright, vivid colors: Adam was in the midst of chemotherapy, and both kids were very young. We were also leaving a very new house in a very new development, for this older house which was half the size. (The big, newly constructed house we were leaving was in a very sketchy neighborhood and the schools were terrible, plus Tom was commuting two hours each way to work; this house is in a fabulous old neighborhood with excellent schools and is closer to an hour away from Tom's work. Cutting our space in half and managing an older, shabbier house seemed like small problems in light of those facts.) So I painted every room a different color, and that really helped us feel cheerful and welcomed into this older house. At the time, I couldn't have cared less about the historical 'rightness' of my paint choices; I just wanted us to feel at home.
We also have a very eclectic collection of furniture, nearly all of which was made by my dad (I've written about that before here), and all of our artwork is homemade as well. We have a hand-me-down couch and rug. We are happy with our furniture and decoration, we have neither the budget nor the inclination to re-do any of it, and so whatever paint I choose has to fit in with all the stuff we already have. This isn't a big remodel, it's merely a change of color, and hence a change of mood. With the kids in high school now, and our personal preference for natural materials and light, we'd really prefer more neutral colors.
Plus you can see we've got lots of color and textures going on already, so something more neutral on the walls would be a help. "Calm" and "natural" are words we tend to use over and over again.
And now that we have a new floor in the kitchen, we see how shabby everything else looks. We will hold on to our appliances as long as we can; I think the next big project in here is a new countertop (I'd really like wood). And the cabinets, while really subpar, are just too expensive to replace right now. So a fresh coat of paint will do wonders.
The kids both repainted their rooms last summer and both chose blues, so now all three bedrooms are differing shades of blue and so is the bathroom. I won't change our bedroom or the bathroom just yet, though I suppose in this painting frenzy I might just get inspired to do those too.
Before I chose colors, though, I wanted to do some research on our house and what was happening here in the late 40's. It's been a fun project, and though I can find very little information on our actual development outside of what I've heard from the old-timers who still live here, there are still many interesting facts from that time period. It was post-war, of course, and suddenly it seemed there was a shortage of housing all over the country. Folks were anxious to make homes and families, and wanted the safety of putting down roots and owning property. This is the period when large tracts of land were developed quite quickly, the most famous of which is probably Levittown, NY. Many homes of similar style were built in planned communities; most of these homes were 1,000 square feet or smaller. They were affordable and attractive to small families. Many of the homes were 'ranch' style, that is, one story, convenient for aging in place.
In California, the first ranch homes were based on Spanish Colonial architecture and influenced by the adobe of the Southwest. During 1949-1966, Joseph Eichler began building a completely different kind of California ranch house, which had much more specific style. A lot of mid-century furniture seems to stem from his Modernist architecture. California is also heavily influenced from the Arts and Crafts movement earlier in the century, and many of the bungalows in Oakland and Berkeley are of this style.
Sadly, our home missed both of these great architectural movements, and was built during the reign of Levitt and that style of home. All of the houses in our neighborhood were of similar size, with fairly bland exteriors, attached garages, and just under a quarter acre of property. At that time, there were no other houses in the area; you could walk straight up to Mt Diablo if you chose. The one telephone was on the corner and served the entire community. The towns of Orinda, Moraga, and Lafayette, all tonier and built earlier and slightly closer to San Francisco, were originally built as vacation homes for folks who lived on the peninsula; but our neighborhood was likely built with post-war soldiers in mind. Walnut Creek itself had been established in the late 1800's as a farming community, parts of which are still evident, even though it is now considered a shopping destination for high-end buyers from all over. Most of the newer homes in Walnut Creek are gargantuan in size and look like Italian Villas. Steph Curry, our recent neighbor, is selling his home not a quarter mile from our house, and it is a spectacular monstrosity. This mix of old and new is very inherent in Walnut Creek, and while we still love our little old neighborhood, it is a relic. The new will eventually take over as it always does. Most of our neighbors have redone their homes to be quite a lot larger, we are one of a very small percentage that still has only one bathroom.
It was fun to read about the history of the Ranch House, and how they would have originally been decorated. (If you're interested, look here and here and here.) It seems wallpaper and jewel tones would have been very popular, with white kitchens (white means clean!). If I wanted to have our home be a paean to 1940's Western Ranch Homes, I'd have to do a lot of remodeling. We'd need mid-century furniture, for one, and though we have a couple of pieces that Dad has designed in the style of Hans Wegner or Sam Maloof, most of our stuff is a mix of Colonial, Shaker, and 18th century styles. I like that and don't want to change it. Plus, as the floor company salesman described me, we're just 'down to earth' folks. We want to keep things simple. I don't want jewel toned living room walls or fancy wallpaper. I just want something that goes with or philosophy of bringing nature in, of handmade and crafted items, a restful place that feels like it might belong in a farmhouse in rural Kentucky rather than five miles away from a Neiman Marcus and Tiffany Jewelers.
Plus, we're saving up for an Elon Musk solar roof. :)
So, I'll just do some painting. We'll stick with neutral colors (though I've spent a few happy hours going down the rabbit hole of different kinds of neutrals; I enjoyed very much the Farrow and Ball website). It'll be a big project and it'll take a few weeks, but that's exactly what I'm looking for right now, something to keep me occupied between driving to various camps and canning tomatoes. I'll let you know how it turns out! Before long, it'll be time to work on the exterior paint, and that will mean more research.