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Transforming Our 1980s Contemporary House with a Stunning Exterior Makeover

Transforming Our 1980s Contemporary House with a Stunning Exterior Makeover

We purchased our 1980s contemporary style home in West Des Moines right before our son was born. We looked at a dozen or more houses that summer, and when we found this one, we knew it was the one. It had everything on my wish list except a front porch.

Aside from a few minor interior updates, we’ve focused mostly on improving the exterior so far. For five years, we sat in our backyard and stared at the deteriorating cedar siding. The siding was original but had been painted over the years. Some areas looked better than others,  but mostly it was rotting away. I knew it was time to get serious about the siding when I started inspecting the amount of peeling and rotting on front elevation every time I came home.

As a professional who designs both home interiors and exteriors, I was admittedly daunted by the sheer number of decisions this home exterior makeover demanded. From choosing the siding’s width and style to deciding on the trim boards, the orientation of the siding, and even the lighting fixtures—it was indeed an overwhelming journey.

1980s contemporary style house cedar siding west des moines
Our House Before We Moved In
1980s diagonal cedar siding
The Siding Over the Garage Door Looking Worse Every Day

Our Siding Saga

I fully take responsibility for wavering with indecision on our siding for almost a year. Our house was designed and built by an architect in 1986, and he lived in it for the first two years. We inherited the original cedar siding that is common to so many 1980s contemporary style houses.

Of course, my dream scenario involved new cedar siding installed in the same orientation as the original. We reluctantly ruled out cedar siding when we saw the price tag, which only increased during the pandemic. Also, the diagonal siding is apparently very bad at channeling water away from joints and seams, which contributes to the rot.

The Day We Closed (Vertical Plank by the Door).

When I gave up on cedar, I became pretty set on vertical siding. The architect had used vertical siding on some elevations, and I thought it was the closest look to the original. After much research and back and forth last winter, I had to give up on vertical plank siding as well. The only product that came close to what I wanted was 30% more than traditional siding and had a six month lead time. The vertical siding that was readily available would require seams, and it had more of cottage look.

1980s contemporary style house west des moines iowa
Our House Last Year When We Started Discussing Re-siding

If I’ve learned anything during the pandemic years, it was that ordering a product with a long lead time means you need to be prepared for it not to show up at all. Budget aside, I wasn’t willing to push the project another year when we had a firm quote and a contractor ready to go.

In the end, we settled on LP Smart Side with the wood grain in the medium width. It was the closest look to the original cedar and felt more appropriate than smooth siding or wide plank siding. The thinner plank felt dated, and the wider plank felt too farmhouse. We also considered staggered width siding, but I didn’t love it on when I saw it installed on other buildings.

Choosing an Exterior Color Palette

The color was a no-brainer for me. As soon as we purchased the house, I knew I wanted it to be dark.

At the time of the renovation, we also had to content with a brownish roof. I didn’t want to pick the exterior color based on the roof, but I knew I didn’t want it to look awful in case it took several more years to replace our shingles. I wavered between the dark greens and deeper bronze tones for a while, but none of them felt like what I really wanted. In my mind, I pictured all of the bright green foliage in our back yard popping off the dark siding.

When we landed on the exterior color for our Echo Valley new construction home, I knew I was totally stealing Sherwin-Williams Iron Ore for our exterior as well.

Sticking to all one color made the most sense for an 1980s contemporary exterior. Contrasting trim doesn’t work on a house with this architectural style.

I did want the new front door to contrast with the siding, but I wanted it to be low contrast. Sherwin-Williams Black Magic is one of our go-to black paint colors. Black Magic is softer than Tricorn Black, but it’s still black. I like how it makes Iron Ore look more like a dark charcoal than a true black.

We replaced our gutters as part of the siding project and chose dark bronze to coordinate with the windows, which are bronze colored. We did not choose to paint the gutters. I think they blend in nicely with the Iron Ore trim and siding.

Decisions During the Process

We had to make several decisions during the actual siding project that I never gave much thought to previously. When I have a client project that involves siding, it’s usually new construction, which have detailed elevation drawings that show all of the siding and materials as well as the trim.

The siding company we hired worked on the house in sections. They would rip the existing siding off one side of the house, fix everything that needed it, and then put up the new siding and trim on that section. Most of the sections required game-time decisions on things like how to treat the seams, the width of the corner boards, and certain transition areas. It felt overwhelming because we were starting from scratch and not simply putting up a new version of what had been there.

This photo of the garage clearly shows the siding size and texture with the corner boards and trim (slightly narrower). We selected and ordered the lights right when the project started so that the contractors could custom cut backplates into the siding. The custom plates allow the lights to sit flush, which is a much better look than gaps between the light and the siding.

80s contemporary home sherwin-williams iron ore black magic door fall mums

The front door area was tricky because the door was off-center by just a little and none of the math seemed to work out either vertically or horizontally. Thankfully the guys on our project were meticulous. And, I kept reminding myself that painting everything dark and all one color would mask any irregularities. I tried to remember what I tell my clients – things always look worse before they look better.

Back View During Paint Prep

The siding portion of the project lasted seven weeks due to the massive amount of demo. I was still working from home at the time, and it was challenging finding a room where I didn’t hear constant pounding. Painting our house took under a week because everything was fresh and new. If you live in Des Moines, we worked with Zeb at Dynasty Siding, and we were more than happy with them. We would highly recommend them for your siding project.

We love how Sherwin-Williams Iron Ore (SW 7069) completely transformed our 1980s contemporary. At this point, it’s hard to remember how it used to look.

After Photos

Here is the after with the Sherwin-Williams Iron Ore siding and trim and the Black Magic TrueStile front door. We chose new contemporary style exterior lights also in bronze to coordinate with the existing bronze windows and the bronze gutters.

1980s contemporary house sherwin-williams iron ore SW 7069
Photo taken in late August

Once the new LP Smart Side was installed and painted, I liked the horizontal siding much better than the original diagonal cedar. My biggest worry was that the “regular” siding wouldn’t look contemporary enough for this house. Painting the exterior, including the brick accents and trim, all one dark unifying color helped make it feel more modern.

80s contemporary home sherwin-williams iron ore black magic door fall mums
Photo taken in early October

I took some of these photos in late August and then again in early October. I love the way the purple Allium looked against the dark siding when they were in bloom.

1980s contemporary house sherwin-williams iron ore SW 7069
80s contemporary home sherwin-williams iron ore black magic door

The photos below are from early October with mums in our planters.

80s contemporary home sherwin-williams iron ore black magic door fall mums
80s contemporary home sherwin-williams iron ore black magic door fall mums

A clear view of the bronze gutters again the Iron Ore siding. The previous owners had painted this window, so we painted it to blend in with the trim and siding.

sherwin williams iron ore siding with bronze gutters

This is that same window earlier this summer before the hydrangeas changed color.

Before and after transformation of our 1980s Contemporary style home painted Sherwin-Williams Iron Ore SW 7069….

Sherwin Williams Iron Ore SW 7069 1980s Contemporary Style House

In the grand scheme of things, our journey from a very outdated 1980s-style cedar sided exterior to the new modern exterior was more of an adventure than we thought it would be. It was a whirlwind of choices, not a little uncertainty, and weeks of construction by a talented crew. But looking at our home today, it’s evident that it was all worth it. It’s really incredible how new siding – professionally installed with care and attention to detail and a fresh coat of paint made our almost 40 year old house look brand new. It’s a great reminder that many older homes – even the ones that aren’t steeped in the historical charm of the 1800s and early 1900s – have unrealized potential that can be brought to bear with a little vision, patience, and a lot of determination.

Click here for our last exterior update (for now) – the final transformation with our brand new roof.

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Karen

Monday 20th of May 2024

Hi Jillian, this is such a great post!

We are undergoing a similar exterior rehab of our 1984 contemporary and this is very timely. This reinforces our decision to go with a dark exterior color and to paint the new trim around the windows the same as the base color.

We are trying to locate the exterior light fixtures you put up on the house. Can you advise the brand and name of the fixture? Thanks!

Jillian

Tuesday 28th of May 2024

Hi Karen, thank you so much! The light fixtures are from Visual Comfort. They are the Quadrate in bronze: https://www.visualcomfort.com/quadrate-outdoor-wall-sconce-700wsqdr

Lindsey

Monday 18th of March 2024

This is such a kismet post for me to find. Out house is legitimately almost identical to yours. (I will literally email you pics if you're interested) and we need new siding because our cedar is bad (Believe it or not, way worse than yours. The last guy never even wiped a window let alone did routing maintenance). We were looking at vertical board an batten and I was pretty dead set on it, but now you've got me on the horizontal train! Ive thought dark blu-ish since the beginning (a lot like yours) and we even bought the same front door you have back in 2020 and painted it black! I'm so excited and mind blown by your house being virtually identical. I've seen similar, but never this close! Thanks for having great taste that I can kinda copy ;o)

Jillian

Thursday 21st of March 2024

Hi Lindsey, I'm so glad you found this post helpful! I'm happy to meet another person who has a similar home and enjoys this style of architecture. Definitely send me photos when you project is complete. I would love to see it.

Trish

Sunday 20th of August 2023

Love your color choices!

What colors did you go with for the interior of your home? Did you keep or change any of the original flooring?

Stacey Naughton

Tuesday 21st of November 2023

@Jillian, We have a 1984 contemporary home also. I love the color you picked. I have been on the fence about picking out a roof color.( As I sit here with my roof leaking!) What color roof do you have? Thanks so much!

Jillian

Sunday 20th of August 2023

@Trish, we painted the interior open spaces Benjamin Moore White Dove when we moved in. We've painted the entire interior since then and used either White Dove or SW Alabaster to keep things simple. Both are creamy with a touch of gray so the interior doesn't feel stark even though it's all white. Our trim and walls are the same color.

Coastinganon

Monday 14th of August 2023

So happy to have found your post - can you tell me more about the front door? Someone took our 1980's contemporary and tried to make it more "Cape"-like and we are hoping to move it back to contemporary. We went with a darker color than the Iron Ore because I didn't want it to read grey and we are adding on a new front entryway with Garapa siding planks to have a natural wood element that will (in theory) stand up to our New England winters! But we are completely stuck on a front door. We also need to pick an accent color for a wall near our front door and I am at an almost complete loss!

Eventually, we will redo the 1980's builder-grade kitchen as well so I am off to go see if you have updated yours :)

Jillian

Saturday 19th of August 2023

Hi there! So I think our front door is a True Stile door. We ordered it through Pella when they were one pause with supplying their in-house doors. Could you not do the accent color? If you already have the Garapa and the painted siding, why introduce another color? I haven't started my kitchen yet, but please consider signing up for my newsletter because I'll be posting about it soon.

Jennifer Sawyer

Monday 22nd of May 2023

Amazing transformation. What color light fixtures did you use, door hardware? Black or Bronze? I am only using Iron Ore as a accent (Front Door, Shutters) I feel like I need to decide on light fixture finish that will go on my stoney taupe trim. Thoughts?

Jillian

Sunday 20th of August 2023

@Jennifer Sawyer, the light fixtures are bronze to coordinate with the windows and gutters. The door hardware is black. I do like bronze and black for lights and think it depends on what other colors are already on your exterior.

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