Editor’s note: This Milwaukee couple has taken on their second home renovation project, dubbed the “Midwest Malibu Cottage,” and has invited us along for the ride! Stay tuned for all those ups, downs and delicious before + afters! Check out the first installment here.

Illustration by Tallulah Fontaine.


midwest malibu cottage exterior — west elm


midwest malibu cottage exterior — west elm

midwest malibu cottage exterior — west elm

The Approach

We list the monochromatic color scheme as a detractor when describing the original conditions, but actually felt that a single color for the wood siding, eaves, and fascia trim was a smart strategy, and that were there any complementary colors introduced onto the color scheme, it might just make it even uglier. Merely changing the color here was going to be the key win. Evaluating all of the parts and pieces, the only thing we wanted to really stand out and honor was the stone at the chimney and the facade of the dining room space, and we also wanted to figure out how to draw more attention to the front door to try to direct traffic in that direction.

midwest malibu cottage exterior — west elm

With our love for all things white in our homes, the initial instinct here was to just paint the whole thing white and call it done, but on our short, three-block-long street, there are three houses that have already been renovated to white exteriors so we stubbornly didn’t want to follow the pack or steal anyone else’s architectural thunder. Additionally, while performing the inspections during the closing process here we noted that, with all of the shade from the trees here in the humid Wisconsin environment, mildew is going to be something we battle here, and on this giant lot with so much organic material, there’s always going to be dirt and muck splattering about, so we began to imagine this as a dark-hued structure going forward. And we felt that our beloved white lends itself to bright, optimistic, sometimes delicate forms, and that this house has a serious, not-fooling-around sense to it so a strong, bold color would be more fitting to the character of the form.


Honestly, we were so annoyed by the color of the house from Day One and wanted it changed ASAP. We moved in during Winter so we knew we had to patiently wait several months until it warmed up, which in Wisconsin doesn’t happen until May. And, you may have noticed, we often speak of our painter, which means we have a strong aversion to painting things ourselves (after months spent in our last house trying not to strangle one another in frustration while painting every square inch of the place), plus we’d never painted anything exterior before and didn’t want to screw it up, so we earmarked within our budget to pay to have the exterior painted.

midwest malibu cottage exterior — west elm

midwest malibu cottage exterior — west elm

We spent the colder months asking around casually and found people’s schedules already booked for the summer – a short window here in this climate so there are house painting waiting lists! We even found painters that straight-up refuse to paint exteriors in this intensely-humid environment. Next thing you know, it was already Labor Day and we still hadn’t been able to find someone to help us. We had kind of given up and thought maybe this would be a next-year project until a neighbor gave us a reference and that team had one final slot left in the season so we were excited to finally have this done, but then an unexpectedly wet early Fall delayed and delayed us until October. Basically they slapped the color on us and the next week the first freeze dropped on us. We scurried around doing all of our landscape preparations for Winter, looking at this cool new paint job we had, but everything surrounding it was dormant for the season so we’ve yet to see how amazing this feels amidst all of the green that surrounds this property. We’ve been so excited to share photos of this project and decided it would look great in a wintery snowscape so we waited until we had the perfect snowfall event to capture these scenes and, let us tell you, driving home on a cold Winter night, pulling up to this dramatic box, all aglow with light from the interior is a very satisfying feeling.

midwest malibu cottage exterior — west elm

The Color

When it was decided that white was not the color to-be, we were immediately certain that it would be black – it’s our secondary go-to color! We didn’t consider any other color, but trust that when you say you’re going to paint it black, you do second-guess yourself, and so do your friends and family. We got a lot of puzzled looks and weird sighs on the phone when we were describing our intent, which kind of made us doubt ourselves to the point that when the painters did show up, we made sure to be gone for the day so we wouldn’t chicken out as they sprayed the first walls. But we wanted to do something that pushed our comfort level and challenged the traditional perceptions of what a house can wear.

midwest malibu cottage exterior — west elm

Our entire interior has been painted with products from Sherwin Williams, and while it’s all white, it’s taken an entire suite of paint types to get the job done. We’ve thrown quite a few challenges at our painter and he’s been able to win ‘em all, but it took the help of the local Sherwin Williams representative, who had to come to the house twice to figure out the best product to cover our wood ceilings when we did our Living Room project. Because we’ve been so pleased with the outcomes and performance to-date of their products, we went back to Sherwin Williams for product recommendations for our exterior, because it’s a large, expensive project so we wanted to nail it from the get-go, it’s a very outward-facing situation and we didn’t want to be those people in the neighborhood with the screwed-up house, and, really, we’re nervous perfectionists that can’t handle any missed marks while we’re juggling so much work around here.

midwest malibu cottage exterior — west elm

Product-wise, Sherwin Williams recommended, surprisingly simply, that we use their Resilience line of latex paint for the entire exterior. One paint type? We did not believe but trusted because we’ve come to rely on expert opinions, even though we think we know everything about everything. They sold us on all the attributes of this paint that fit our situation: works on wood clapboards and trim, aluminum (we have existing aluminum fascia, eaves, and gutters), and masonry. This stuff could be applied in temperatures as low as 35°, so we didn’t have to let seasonality stand in the way of its application, which bought us some extra time on the calendar while the temperatures outside were falling during the day. Most importantly, as we mentioned the mildew problem we face with all of the shade around the house, the Resilience product has MoistureGuard technology, which helps it apply easier and under moist, humid conditions, then lends itself to mildew resistance, plus, and this is where we’re turning into our parents: it has a lifetime warranty. So while it’s not likely that we’ll never change the color of this house in the future, we shouldn’t have to worry about repainting this house for a very long time and that makes our (current) wallets very happy. If you’re wondering, we chose the Flat sheen, which has very low reflectivity yet is surprisingly easy to wipe clean.

We kid you not, they basically painted the entire house in a day. They sprayed with speed and precision, then came back the next day to detail a couple of things and paint our front doors and they were outta here. A two-day transformation, long-awaited, and we couldn’t have been more pleased with the quick fix.

midwest malibu cottage exterior — west elm

midwest malibu cottage exterior — west elm

midwest malibu cottage exterior — west elm

Color-wise, we did exercise tools that Sherwin Williams recommended, so first we played with their ColorSnap visualizer app, which allowed us to walk around the house with our phones and check out how different tones would look on different areas of the house. There are so.many. black shades to choose from so we definitely had to narrow the field, and, of course, Pinterest and Instagram gave us great places to see how colors we liked looked on other peoples’ homes. We narrowed down our picks and went to the local store to grab those colors in small containers – they call them Color To Go – for our finalists: 6990 Caviar, 6991 Black Magic, and 7069 Iron Ore, then excitedly scurried home and painted swaths of siding all around the house. We took a few days to observe the spots we painted at different times of the day, just to make sure we made the right decision – nervous Millennials trying to commit! In the end we selected Sherwin Williams 6990 Caviar as our go-forward because it’s a deep black that’s neither warm (brown) nor cold (purple) and it’s bold – like really bold. When we went to pick up the paint the guy at the store brought it out on a dolly, looked at us (obviously not professional painters) and coyly inquired, “Fifteen gallons of black paint, eh?” and we promised we would make good use of it!

Let’s talk about our front door’s color for a second. It needed to be something to draw attention to the main entry door, but we didn’t know where to even begin looking. Blue and green were out of the question for us, and white or grey seemed contrasting enough but not enough wow. One day in a Pinterest scrollhole (we have a lot of those you may notice) we came across a coral-painted door and it just clicked. While we were playing at the paint store we gobbled up every coral and Millennial Pink color card we could and made a decision. And because we are such trend-setters, we’d just like to confirm that we chose this color (Sherwin Williams 6611 Jovial, by the way) weeks before coral was selected as the color of the year. We smelled the trend coming, didn’t follow it, and we smugly patted our own backs when Pantone made their annual selection. It was scary to basically paint your front door orange but we love the pop it provides and, because it’s such a soft tone, we think it’s going to look great year-round.

midwest malibu cottage exterior — west elm

The Accessories

Amidst all of our storytelling about our big color switch, it’s easy for us to forget some of the smaller, yet still important updates we made here!

We’ve installed all new lighting around the perimeter of the house, and it was a bit of a dilemma, because we really wanted sleek, mid-century-inspired contemporary fixtures, but we only liked them in black. Not wanting black fixtures to disappear into the black facade, we decided to look in the other direction and chose raw galvanized finishes on a suite of industrial-inspired sconces. We added a couple of new sconces at each side of the garage door to help provide a sense of arrival, and added a super-long gooseneck fixture over one of our back patios; it’s amazing what lighting can do to transform the experience of your home from the exterior. And all of the circuits are of course controlled by our home automation system, so everything just works on its own and is always on when you need it to be.

midwest malibu cottage exterior — west elm

Our little one-car garage door was used as an opportunity to introduce some accent color and texture. It was quite a search to find the right vendor for an aluminum door with a maintenance-free, cedar-look graphic printed on it, but we landed on the perfect find, which of course came with a long lead time, but it was worth the wait for the item and our patience in scouring the internet and so many local resources to find it. We love the warmth and texture that the cedar plane provides, and it seems to help punctuate the asymmetrical nature of the facade, providing a little woodsy touch to the now sleek black box we’ve created. Of course we also nerd-out for the door being super well-insulated to help keep the garage a little more cozy (currently keeping all of our kitchen demo debris nice and toasty!), and having an all-new track and motor inside has been a very luxurious experience (also all smartphone-controlled as well!).

Looking Forward

Feels to us like a home run with this first phase of our exterior work at the Midwest Malibu Cottage. This Winter it has been so validating to pull into the driveway to this little black box nestled in the snow, and we can’t wait to see how it’s going to look in Summer when shrouded in the green of all our trees. We love the sequence of arriving at a dark structure then entering into our all-white interior, and in the dark of night the house disappears and, like a lantern you can just see straight into our white-glowing interior. The light-colored stone is now more visually prevalent (and allows our cute new metal house numbers to shine), and the deeply-saturated odd components now feel less odd, maybe even honored?

midwest malibu cottage exterior — west elm

There are some other projects still on the books for the house, including a new roof, which gives us another opportunity to set a tone, possibly with standing-seam metal, or a heavily-textured asphalt shingle, and we’re kicking around some ideas of black-painted pergolas at the rear of the house and a cedar-clad knee wall to create a courtyard in our front yard. We do have plans to eventually expand the house and the cedar accent we’ve started with our garage door will also be a part of the facade treatment as well. For today we’ve really put a personal stamp on our home, delivering a solid foundation upon which we can build an exterior expression of ourselves.

What do you think? Could you go monochromatic, particularly all-black on your own home? Did we make a mistake in kicking our beloved white to the curb on this project? We’re headed back inside now (what a Polar Vortex this year, by the way!) to keep hammering out more projects, and will be back with some room reveals that are really shaping up nicely. Thanks for following along with us and keep letting us know your comments – we love hearing your thoughts and answering questions. And in the mean time you can always grab some of our favorite picks from our Pinterest board for this room, and drop in for more details and background stories on Instagram (@florals4spring / @kielaaron) – see you again soon!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Grace Dim

March 5, 2019

A wonderful and incredible picture. I like the way how you explain in details. All of the furniture style is creative and interesting. I look forward to returning often.


March 13, 2019

Love it. Glad you went boldly forward.
I also love the writing of the blog piece.
Can’t wait to see what you do next.


March 14, 2019

Dark charcoal gray would have been my preference but the black in a flat finish is a great transformation but in my opinion it needs another choice of trim color as the pale pale pink is not an accent but a side thought that doesn’t work for this application. and you have lost most of the original appeal by using the galvanized lamp fixtures as opposed to more appropriate original design style..
And the next time you do a before and after photo shoot please get at least the same season.l…one is show covered and the other in a more pleasant spring or maybe fall setting. the before and after pics dont seem to reference the samehouse…..so where is the comparison?

Lisa Rae

March 15, 2019

So pretty! Love the Coral Door with the Black Body and the Stone. It’s got an updated Mid-Century Modern vibe without losing the cottage appeal. Perfection! Thanks for sharing 🙂


March 15, 2019

absolutely beautiful! thanks for writing. Where is the interior, do you have a post on it?


March 16, 2019

This looks fabulous! I would never have thought of this color scheme. Great job! Would you be willing to share your source for the garage door?
Thank you!

Related Posts