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The Back of Our House Gets a MAJOR Facelift!

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When we shared our new interior attic access, we also gave you a preview of the shape of our back yard. So sad! Our little attic hatch door was actually the tiniest piece of a huge puzzle for our backyard, one that included tearing down that beast of an exterior staircase. Since turning the first and second floor apartments into a single-family-slash-duplex-up, we no longer needed that (really rickety, really scary) fire escape – although we did pick up one of these safety ladders to stash under our bed.

This was back in May, and soon after we hit ‘publish’ on that post, we hired a contractor to begin the back-of-the-house repair! For years, we’d been counting down the days until we could say peace out! to that dilapidated staircase, and once we had saved the funds to make it happen and gave our contractor the green light, it was a pretty quick domino effect to get us from point A to point B. See what I mean?:

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When we bought our house, there were two back doors, both leading from kitchens – one on the first floor, one on the second floor – one for each apartment. In the last 3 years, we added a double sliding door to our kitchen and most recently, we turned the second floor kitchen into our master bedroom. The next step was taking down the staircase and repairing or replacing the current vinyl siding, and while that sentence is so easy to type, it did take a lot of thought and consideration, of course!

Initially, we thought we might be able to repair the vinyl (just until we could re-side the whole house!), but once the staircase came down, it became obvious that 1) we’d risk rain and/or snow seeping under the repaired area, and 2) it just plain, ol’ wouldn’t look good. So! The main hurdle became deciding on what we wanted to use for siding. Although the back of the house would get all new siding right this minute, we wanted to choose a product that we’d love and would eventually use for the whole house. We considered concrete board siding (Hardie Board was our first contender), but tracking down enough information on the product was a challenge from our location in Chicago. Simply put, not that many homes in our area use this material. The other option that popped up a few times throughout our research was LP SmartSide, an engineered hardwood product with a 50 year limited warranty. There were a few things that had us keep coming back to LP:

  • It promises to protect against extreme climates, insects and decay.
  • Like concrete board, it can be painted any color we wish.
  • Unlike vinyl, it can be patched and repaired pretty easily (just like we’d repair any wood product!), and we were able to touch and feel samples at our local Menard’s hardware store.
  • The siding comes in 16′ lengths, resulting in less seams.
  • Plus, it’s just really, really beautiful!

Although LP SmartSide felt like a good-for-the-long-haul choice, we couldn’t get the idea of concrete board out of our minds, so I used a lifeline and phoned a friend. I told Scott, you know who’d know what to do? Daniel. (He just went through a very similar project himself, after all!) He talked me off the ledge, reaffirmed our suspicions about LP SmartSide, and he even helped us narrow in on a 5″ smooth lap.

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Feeling more comfortable about our choice, we chose the pre-finished color Rustic Silver to closely match the rest of our home’s vinyl siding, but again, we’ll eventually take down the vinyl on the other three sides of our house and replace it with LP SmartSide. The soft grey is safe and easy on the eyes, but when we do replace the rest of the siding, we have dreams of painting it all a color that’s dark and bold; time will tell. Note: We had our contractor provide us with a quote on HardiePlank, LP SmartSide and vinyl. While vinyl was definitely the least expensive choice, we were in it for our home’s long term health and durability of the product. 

With the hardest decision behind us, our contractor got to work. The old vinyl came down, and we were surprised to see that our house used to be green! For a moment, we considered salvaging the original clapboard, but upon further investigation, it was missing in large parts and rotted in others. After repairing our roofline, they removed any existing rot, repaired soft spots, added insulation, patched in our attic door and finally, installed the LP SmartSide!

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There were only a few surprises along the way, some of which caused delays when new product had to be ordered (there seemed to be a lot of confusion on our contrasting white corner trim), but a big glass of wine always helps. And although I wished with all my heart that the doors, windows and staircase could be centered on the house, the only solution would have been to, well, build a new house. There’s a main support wall that runs down the entire length of our home, dividing our kitchen, living and dining rooms from the bedrooms and main staircase. This is typical for our style and age of home in Chicago, and so, I deal with it. Besides, look at her! What a babe, right?

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By no means do we want want to downplay what a difference this made, but this is really only our starting point for the entire Back of the House Project. You can see we added a new, wide and shallow staircase – a plan that was modified no less than a dozen times, as these stairs tie into our backyard plans. We’ve already ordered brick pavers, and we’ll be sharing those details soon!

PS! A bunch of little elves (aka, this girl) have been working hard behind the scenes to make The Print Shop a more affordable place to dress your empty walls. ALL prints have been reduced (permanently) by at LEAST $10 each, and the quality is still exactly the same – top notch. We hope you’ll take a peek around

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  • Julie7.6.16 - 6:43 AM

    I hope you didn’t tell Daniel you were throwing away the original clapboard. He would have lost sleep over that pile of old, rotten wood not being salvaged! :pReplyCancel

    • Kim7.6.16 - 9:10 AM

      The original is still under the new siding! It was just patchy and missing in parts, so those had to be filled in before we could do anything to give the new siding an even surface. The sad part is that we know the original clapboard isn’t necessarily on every side of our home, from what we can tell. It has been re-sided SO many times over the years, so there will be a lot of peeling back layers… one day!ReplyCancel

  • Emily @ Go Haus Go7.6.16 - 6:55 AM

    It’s all coming together! I would love to hear your tips and tricks on dealing with contractors/hired guns when it comes to home repair. It’s always been a big stumbling block for me, but you seem to have such a good handle on it. Love your attitude and of course… love the back of your house!ReplyCancel

    • Kim7.6.16 - 9:11 AM

      Thanks, Emily, but boy do we have you fooled! Haha. We have our fair share of heartache when working with contractors, but I’ve had a post like that on my list for a while. Honestly, I’m just not even sure where to start typing… but it’s on our radar for sure!ReplyCancel

  • Trish7.6.16 - 7:23 AM

    It looks absolutely wonderful! And don’t worry about lack of symmetry – you can fix that pretty easily with a beautiful tall arborvitae or juniper tree to the left of the stairs, which will also hide the gas meters (so NOT pretty, right?!). But….have you thought about expanding to a bigger deck that goes across the whole backside of your house? We are fellow Chicagoans and recently took the plunge to do just that. Our house had a very small balcony type deck off the back and we built one that is all the way across the back of the house and goes ten feet back. We gained another whole room in our house! So many people have rooftop decks that are rarely used because it’s such a pain to take everything upstairs. As a plus, the gas line was right there to run to a fire table and a built in grill. You have such a huge yard, so this would still give a pooch room to run too. (key!) P.S. Daniel is the best, no?ReplyCancel

    • Kim7.6.16 - 9:14 AM

      Hi, Trish! We did consider a wider deck. We even considered a larger/deeper deck at one point, but then ultimately nixed it – it all ties into the backyard plans. :) The biggest reason why we can NOT do a wider deck, however, is because you’ll notice in the bottom left part of our house, there are stairs that lead down to the back door of our garden apartment. If the deck is wider, it wouldn’t allow for head clearance to walk up or down the steps! The reason it DID work on the horrible thing we had before was because there used to be deck stairs that led up to the second floor landing, creating the headspace needed. Does that make sense?

      More on why we chose a shallow deck in the coming weeks! We still have a lot to talk about when it comes to the yard!ReplyCancel

  • AnnMarie7.6.16 - 7:51 AM

    Wow, what a transformation! I can’t wait to see what else you do in your back yard! Just one question (not a criticism) – did you consider putting in a small window in the space left by the old attic door? I think it would have balanced the back of the house a little bit…and also I’m a sucker for a cute little window.ReplyCancel

    • Kim7.6.16 - 9:17 AM

      We did! We also considered adding a piece of horizontal trim for interest as well, but in the end, we decided to keep the back of the house REALLY simple. We do have a cute attic window on the front of the house though! :D https://www.yellowbrickhome.com/our-sweet-home-chicago/house/ReplyCancel

      • AnnMarie7.6.16 - 2:06 PM

        Oh my goodness, it’s an OCTAGONAL cute little attic window! Be still my heart! I dream of the day I can have one of those. ^_^ReplyCancel

  • Michele7.6.16 - 8:07 AM

    I second Trish, a wider deck would help balance. It looks awesome and it’s so great to see a project complete, on to the next! Cute window is also a good idear.ReplyCancel

  • Sarah7.6.16 - 8:37 AM

    What a wonderful change! It looks awesome. I love how you already have a bottle opener on your new stairs; first things first!ReplyCancel

    • Kim7.6.16 - 9:12 AM

      Absolutely! That little opener got a LOT of use this July 4th. ;)ReplyCancel

  • Courtney @ Foxwood Forest7.6.16 - 8:49 AM

    Wow! I cannot believe how different it looks! You guys must be so excited about it. :)ReplyCancel

  • Jennifer7.6.16 - 10:23 AM

    I’m a new-ish reader, but just wanted to pop in and say you guys are doing a great job! I look to this blog for inspiration on not completely losing it during a renovation (about to start one ourselves) and for encouragement that slow and steady wins the race. Your place is gorgeous, keep up the great work!ReplyCancel

    • Kim7.6.16 - 10:33 AM

      Aw man, thanks, Jennifer! Best of luck on your own renovation. If it wasn’t for our ‘slow and steady’ mantra, we’d be beating ourselves up. Slow and steady always wins the race… right?ReplyCancel

  • Julia [Chris Loves Julia]7.6.16 - 10:26 AM

    What a difference!!! I’m so happy for you. She’s a looker, alright!ReplyCancel

  • Lori7.6.16 - 11:27 AM

    Looking good! I can’t wait to see what your backyard plans are, now that the back of the house is done. I’d never heard of LP SmartSide til now– in Austin, everyone seems to use Hardie. I have old board and batten siding that is going to need to be completely replaced at some point (and I want to replace all my crappy old windows and add a few doors), so it’s nice to know that there are other options out there besides the Hardie.ReplyCancel

    • Kim7.6.16 - 1:03 PM

      It’s definitely worth looking into!ReplyCancel

  • Marti | Project Palermo7.6.16 - 12:43 PM

    That looks SO nice. I love the wide staircase – plenty of space for friends to sit, without eating up your yard like a deeper deck would have done. And as a former garden unit tenant, I’m sure your renter appreciates the changes you’ve made to make their apartment feel more open in the front and back!ReplyCancel

    • Kim7.6.16 - 1:04 PM

      Yup, one of the big reasons we nixed a deeper deck – more yard! We had some friends over on the 4th, and even though our yard is far from complete, we all chilled on the stadium style stairs, which was our whole goal.ReplyCancel

  • jannike7.6.16 - 1:50 PM

    Wow, looks amazing. It must feel great hanging out in your “new” backyard. I spied the bottle opener on the back deck. We are in the process of building our front deck at the cottage and we are using brown pressure-treated lumber. It’s a new-to-us product that is sprayed cedar-color instead of greenish and looks so nice. It will fade to grey in a few years if we don’t stain, but for now I’m in love. Can’t wait to see the rest of the backyard.ReplyCancel

    • Kim7.6.16 - 1:55 PM

      Oh, cool! I haven’t seen that product, but what a great solution to get by until you’re ready to stain. The waiting is the worst part with PT wood!ReplyCancel

  • Heather7.6.16 - 4:37 PM

    This is such an amazing change! I absolutely love it! Admittedly, I’m also excited about your house going super dark and sleek. I can’t wait to see what else you have planned!ReplyCancel

    • Kim7.6.16 - 4:47 PM

      Heather! Don’t get us too excited about a sleek house just yet… that could take YEARS!ReplyCancel

  • Tori7.7.16 - 2:15 PM

    This looks amazing, what a transformation! Your neighbors must be LOVING you!ReplyCancel

  • Dakwerken7.8.16 - 8:37 AM

    Wonderful change over. Awaiting to see the rest of your backyard. Good going Kim; Good luck! :)ReplyCancel

  • Amanda @ Our Humble Abode7.10.16 - 9:34 PM

    What a dramatic and fantastic makeover! I’m sure your rooms are now flooded with light. The exterior is so simple now. So glad you chose LP SmartSide. We have had it on our home for two years now and it’s held up to a monster hail storm. Not a single dent. It’s a great, long lasting product and will definitely enhances your home.ReplyCancel

    • Kim7.11.16 - 9:28 AM

      Good to know! We don’t know anyone who has used LP, but we’re happy with the product and the warranty they have. We have been known to have crazy hail storms, too!ReplyCancel

  • misie7.12.16 - 10:18 AM

    love it. all of it. I have been slacking on my blog reading these days – trying to catch up – everything is looking freaking fantastic! The future yard plans/pinspirations – I have all the faith you guys will make it perfection.ReplyCancel

  • Ben7.12.16 - 5:10 PM

    BELIZEAN CHAIRS. Just came from Belize. Look them up. Mahogany slat wood. I’m buying them after my back porch/deck is done.
    Also, I have the same MCM fireplace in my garage and I never thought to put it outside like a Chiminea. Lovely.ReplyCancel

  • julie7.14.16 - 11:50 AM

    awesome to hear that you are listening to your instincts on the red brick pavers. they will provide a nice color balance with the grey and wood that you currently have at the house — plus the earthiness will help to make the greenery really stand out as well. have you thought about adding wheels to the bottom of the dining table (similar to the island) in case you decided to host the block party in the back yard?ReplyCancel

  • Ashley9.6.18 - 12:58 PM

    Hey there! I came across your post while researching the LP products. I was hoping you could answer a few questions for me. Did you use the smooth fiber or the textured strand product? How is it holding up? I am leaning toward using LP but I am wanting the smooth instead of the textured but I can’t find any info on the strand vs fiber.ReplyCancel

    • Kim9.6.18 - 1:07 PM

      Happy to help! We used the smooth, and we absolutely love it. We only did the back of our house, but we have plans to do the other 3 sides in the coming years. We are thrilled with the results, and we can’t recommend it highly enough!ReplyCancel

  • shawn miller9.9.18 - 5:11 PM

    Kim,
    What is the actual exposure of you lap. I saw where you posted 5 inch siding. Can you check to see what the actual overlap measurement is. Is it 5 inches? It comes in 6 inch (5.5 inches wide) and 8 inch (7.5) inches wide. Just curious which you used and what your over lap is.
    Also, “Ashley” asked you if you used the Fiber version, or the Strand Version (Engineered Wood). LP comes 2 ways. They both can be smooth, but they are made differently. Do you know if it was the fiber version or the strand version? Thanks so much. It looks perfect.
    ShawnReplyCancel

    • Kim9.10.18 - 11:17 AM

      I believe it was the fiber. Sorry for the confusion! The exposed lap is 5″, with only a slight overlap, so I wonder if we got the 5.5″ siding. Our contractor handled those logistics.ReplyCancel

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