Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Plain House (1)

Victorian Spring by Susan McClure, from

The plainest home of the 19th century seemed to have an allure even without embellishment. The architecture was so much more interesting, that it did not take much to make the house interesting: a few plants,and lace curtains in the windows. Inside, the little nooks and crannies had so many built-in features--shelves and ledges, etc. that even the plainest furniture did not detract from it.

Today there are special problems with plain houses. Often they are little more than boxes with windows. I often wondered what the secret was to getting those plain homes to shine out a feeling of love.

I have lived in many of these kinds of houses and after puzzling over them and finding that even the decorating schemes of the times were too expensive and did not really help, have come up with just a few, inexpensive things that might help make a plain house look more like a home.
Today I'm just going to deal with one feature: the outside front entrance.

If all you can do is put a pot of flowers on the edge of the front stoop, it will be a big transformation. If you can't afford that, just look around the place and dig up any flowers already growing around, and put them in some kind of container you already have. That one feature will be a bright spot on the edge of an otherwise plain house. A hanging plant is also quite welcoming. You do not have to go to a lot of expense for these, as most plants, when hung, will eventually lean over the pot and come trailing down.

I noticed on this porch there is a little rug. That also, adds a lot, but so many of the outdoor mats curl up and cause more trouble than they are worth, so they have to be chosen with care. It has to have meaning to you beyond just being a mat to wipe the feet. Considering the color and design will have an impact on making that plain house more interesting on the outside


candy said...

Hi Lydia,
I cant even tell you how excited I get when bloglines says there is a new post at Home Living! :) This is my favorite blog to read.
I especially enjoy when you write about making our homes pretty, and that it can be done affordably.


Lynn said...

In England we don't have the pleasant porches that you have in the US - how I wish we did! So the front of my home is very very bland. I have used a window box & hanging baskets. I have a mat and an empty terracotta pot is used as an outdoor umbrella stand for visitors to leave wet umbrellas. It all looks pretty but I am ashamed to long for something when I have so much but gosh to have a porch would be lovely. My US relatives sit out on their porch in the evenings - how lovely!

zetor said...

Hello Lydia, that a good post. I am a great believer of plants in pots. I have a little paved area in front of my garden wall which I cover with pots in the Summer. Even on a dull day it brightens my mood.

Just Me said...

I'm with you, Candy! Whenever I see a post from "Home Living" I immediately read it. Lady Lydia's is my favorite blog. :)

Anonymous said...

I agree on being careful with choosing the outdoor mats. Some of them are just water sponges and never dry out after rain. And it is important to find one with a design and color you like also, as it is the first thing people see. In addition, a good quality one is not cheap, so you want to find one that will last.

~ Ann

Jennifer C. Valerie said...

You just fueled an idea for my front entrance area. Thanks alot.

Lydia said...

Jenn, I have not been to Dominica, but have visited Antigua. I am impressed with their colorful houses. They are very small but painted in bright colors and they have flowers on their little porches.

Lydia said...

I had planned on doing window boxes tomorrow. I do not have a window box because I cannot figure out how to get one on a flat brick outside wall.

Anonymous said...

I was just wondering the other day why I find it so depressing to drive through certain suburban neighborhoods. The houses are nice enough. The lawns are well-maintained. But, there are no personal touches whatsoever near the front entranceways. This is a sign there are no women relaxed enough to think of this token of hospitality. A fern or a pot of flowers is so uplifting. It's as if the sterility of these forlorn exteriors reveals the busyness of the lives inside. Have you ever noticed how you actually drive slower in a neighborhood with charming touches? It's as if the women in those homes are waving to you as you pass, saying "All is well!"

Lydia said...

When I drive by something really nice, like a front porch decorated with plants and furniture, bird feeders, and so forth, and the mail box has a flag up, I think, "A woman lives in that house." Those touches just require so much patient thought and so much time getting them just right. The front of the houses where women are at home are no careless happenning.

candy said...

Hi Lydia
Thanks for visiting my blog earlier.
I just posted pictures on my blog of my living room and am looking for ideas and suggestions and advice on how to decorate.
If you have a moment to stop by again sometime, that would be wonderful. Otherwise, I am sure I will get ideas from your posts :)


Tracy said...

I just added pots of petunias on each side of the steps leading up to the house today! :)

Just Me said...

I cannot wait to put a pretty plant or flower outside my new entryway. It's very hot summer and all I have right now is an orange tree with orange blossoms (I live in south Florida). So that might have to work until I can plant in October. :)

Anonymous said...

I agree, the way the front door area looks is so sets the tone, so to speak. I can't wait until the weather is warm enough for me to put plants, that are now inside, out on my porch. And planting flowers in the boxes that hang on the front railings is always such a joy too!


Anonymous said...

IN india we have torans to decorate the front door they can be as simple as a flower galand or a leaf garland stretched acrross just above the door frame whch are renewed daily by the lady of the house (evening ritual actually while lighting the household lamp and incense (SP?) sticks for evening prayers)and in front of the house they have rangolis and kolams. There is a belief that when a girl comes of age ie attains puberty and then she daily cleans the front porch, early in the morining before sunrise, deocorates the frontage of the house and offers her prayers, she will be blessed by a good husband. May be this was a practice to encourage young girls to get up early and be active which naturally leads to be productive. Anyway, when we walk through the streets we are greeted by decorated doors and steps and all that. I am getting nostalgic about india here. Check out this picture which is typical in south india, Toran,
a really magnificient one

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your website. You posted a long time ago about getting things done around the house one step at a time (if you felt they might be overwhelming otherwise). You mentioned a patch of weeds somewhere near your house that you told yourself you would just spend 15 minutes working on, and then you made so much progress in the 15 minutes that the inertia kept you going until you finished the job. After I read that post, I went out and weeded a 15'x6' patch of dirt that is in between two sidewalks that lead to my front door. The weeds were up to my waist, right in front of the house! This place depressed me as I just couldn't figure out what would work there and didn't have money to landscape it.
While weeding, I came across a little clump of struggling "Thuja" in one corner. This is a little mat-like plant that can be walked on without harm that puts up blue spiked flowers in the spring. I don't have much experience gardening, but I thought I might as well try to spead it around. I took that tiny bit, divided it into four little pieces, and two years later, that beautiful little Thuja is spilling over in lovely clumps along the walkway. It is so charming in an area that was just a badly-done pavement job before. It makes it all soft and curvy-looking, and any of the children may step on it without hurting it.
I didn't feel like planting it when I did, because I felt like, "what's the use, it will take so long to fill in, and I want it the way I want it NOW, and we might even move away, so what is the use? I want to go buy new, bigger plants that will make me happy now and get rid of this little one".
But two years will come and go whether you plant now or not...might as well plant. I just had to go sit outside and read this morning by my pretty walkway.
Thankyou, Lydia!

Lydia said...


After viewing the photos of your home, I feel it is you who should be at my house telling me what to do with this mess!! YOu've done a beautiful job on your home and it looks so peaceful and spacious.

It is hard to see the little shelf at the entrance as to how tall it is. If it is very long, you can hang one of those tapestry bell-pulls on it.

Another option is one of those white birdhouses with the sage-green roof or whatever color you like, that looks like an old Victorian house or church structure.

Then, maybe a white wood or ceramic pedestal that looks kind of shabby, with a pillar candle on it and a battery light inside of it. You can get battery pillar candles at Victorian Trading Co. online. Those kind of candles always look better on some kind of a pedestal dish. YOu can probably get one at a thrift store and paint it.

Another idea would be a wedding photo in the kind of frame you like.

HOw about one of those fake cakes?

Or one of those thatched cottages that you can put a light in?

What about a small easel on which you perch an open picture book--one of those nice gift books that has a painting one one side and a poem on the other, and change the page every day.

A vase that looks like an urn would be quite nice, if you had really expensive looking flowers in it.

Have a look at catolog online and get some ideas. Flip through the entire catolog and you will see some things that you might put in that space.

A Teapot might be nice, if it was unique.

A basket full of old postcards.

A small birdbath surrounded by one of those beaded garlands that looks like berries, with a bird in it.

A guest book and plume pen.

Some kind of plant.

A bird cage.

I do not have an entry way so I don't have experience with this. I live in one of those flat houses that you walk into and there you are, suddenly.

Lydia said...

An interesting clock.

A stylish mirror

Lydia said...

A ceramic plate with a scene on it.

BessieJoy said...

These posts are great. I truly need to work in this area! I can get stuck in the house doing all that needs to be done here and the outside can suffer.

I love gardening and do but my front entrance is far from attractive. I plan to power wash my deck this week and if it can dry out while we still have nice weather, I'd love to get it stained!

Thanks so much for the inspiration. I'd love to subscribe to your comment section, also. You are having such an uplifting conversation right now!

Thanks again!

JKaye said...

Hi. Another way to brighten a front entry is to paint the front door a nice color that complements the rest of the exterior, yet makes the door seem more noticeable or special. All of the trim on our brick house is white, including the front door, so we want paint the door a color that goes well with the brick yet makes the door seem more special and inviting. It will not cost much to get a small amount of paint for the door.

(Be sure to also think about the color of the walls in your front room or entryway -- if you leave your front door open, the door will be against the paint of the front wall, and you want those two colors to look good together too! You don't want to paint the door, and then get a bad surprise.)

Since it is hard to tell about paint colors from a tiny little paint chip, get ideas for colors by looking around your house for towels, sheets, coats, or dresses that are in colors you might consider for your door. They form a bigger sample of color. Hang them on front of the door, step back, and see if the color looks good. This is how we are doing it, and it's been fun to look around for color samples.

candy said...

Lady Lydia!!!
I love you!!!! :) Thank you so very kindly for all your wonderful ideas. I will write them all down and I can not wait to show you what I will end up doing with my home. Thank you, thank you, for all the great ideas!
I dont know what it is, but with my own home, I seem to get stuck on ideas. With other peoples homes, I have plenty of ideas haha
Funny isnt it.

Thanks again,
Candy :)

Lydia said...

Another suggestion: a mirror in an easel stand.

A long narrow mirror

Several little ornate mirrors in a line. They come from Dollar Tree and are quite expensive looking.

A set of three or four frames, connected by chains, with family pictures, or you can do as I sometimes do: cut out pieces of your favorite calenders and put them in the little frames.

What about that tierd metal thingy that you put tea cups on? You can put different things on it, like plates with sea shells. Or what about a large clear footed jar with an apothecary lid, full of pink sea shells or pink balls.

One of my personal favorites is a basket with soft yarn and silver-pink or blue knitting needles poked through it.

Sheet music is nice too and all kinds of arrangements have been done using it.

I've seen books stacked up and tied with a bright wired ribbon.

A Bible on a stand with today's verse highlighted.

I will take some pictures of things I have recently done to fill up narrow high spaces and post it when I get time. These days, if I get dishes and laundry done and some meals prepared, I do not have a lot of time for playing with the camera, which is my favorite thing to do!

Lauren said...

What great ideas!

Last year I planted some flowers in front of our little rented farmhouse just before leaving to visit family. When we returned, our landlords had blessed us by building borders around our beds and mulching them in! It was a wonderful and thoughtful surprise!

That being said, the beds are badly in need of weeding, and I have "junk" accumulating on my front porch from several afternoons where rain ended our playtime sooner than we were ready. That needs to get taken care of this week!