Emily vs. Barn, The Makeover Story

April 28, 2017   //  Posted in: Barn   //  By: Emily   //  5 responses

I mean, I’ll be damned if staining the barn didn’t add a few $$$$ to our property’s value. Not that we’re planning to sell, but if it’s going to be more than just for looks, it’s wise to direct efforts into DIY projects that would be worthy of a good return, right?


Like I mentioned when I kicked off the project last week, and as you can see above, the barn on our property has been a big eyesore as long as we’ve lived here, and probably for a few decades before that. Check out the original tour of the barn in this separate post (it has stables!).

I didn’t have to make a huge investment for this project to happen–that was part of the appeal–and that’s because we had a lot of the things we needed. A full list of materials that I used, excluding building materials like extra pieces of cedar shake shingle and nails:

  • 5-gallon bucket of stain: Olympic Maximum water-based stain in Oxford Brown ($166 + tax)
  • water (used to dilute the stain to around 40-water/60-stain or 50ish/50ish)
  • a paint/stain sprayer (I’m not really an expert on the types of sprayers for sale; we already owned two models from Black & Decker)
    • This HVLP sprayer priced at $100 was a real workhorse. It was good in the sense that I could fill up the reservoir and angle it up towards the soffits. Good target. It didn’t have broad or particularly heavy-coating spray, so I had to hold it much closer to the surface and spent more time spraying up and down and back and forth across the area. It worked best when I rinsed the nozzle in water during each refill. However slow it was though, it was steady because…
    • This was the other sprayer. That’s an affiliate link. The sprayer burned out on us on its first day of use. I have lots of great B+D tools and I’ll be the first to admit that it was my user error, not an issue of product quality. It had tremendous strength compared to the tortoise cited above–I could have refinished the entire barn in 8 hours if I had used it start-to-finish–but when I tipped it downward to reach a spot at knee-level the stain drained out the nozzle… and then I overcorrected and reached up to a high part on the wall, and the stain drained out the back of the gun (and down my jacket sleeve to my armpit, and definitely down into the motor, and then the damaged tool gently zapped (yeah, electrocuted) my trigger finger when I went to climb up a metal ladder, and to hell with that. Pete was able to make it work again for a short while after a good cleaning, but then it just stopped running for us all together.
  • new paint for the doors (honestly, I had 1/2 of a quart of Edamame green from when I painted our front door and side door, and painting the barn doors the same color was both logical and more cost effective, so I rolled with it (pun!). I ran out when I was almost done with the second door, and just bought one of those tiny sample containers for $3 tinted to match.)
  • and rollers and paint brushes. All the ones I employed were previously used. There’s some appeal in using the gunkiest supplies you still have on hand for projects that don’t really matter, like the stiffened rollers never cleaned perfectly, and the brushes that have bristles splayed in all directions…. you can let them do their job one last time before chucking them right into the garbage.

Beginning-to-end, this project only needs to take a couple of days. It took us 4 days, in between work and other things. It was a good opportunity to let our older girls participate, too. Julia, who’s 10, was able to test out the spray gun and learn how it worked. Hattie, who’s 3, helped me paint the doors. And we found that sometimes painting at 7:30am on a Saturday is just the zen we need to add to our routine.

Painting doors with a toddler.

Painting doors with a toddler.

While you’re checking out some of these before and after photos, I’ll mention that the only thing we’re really mildly disappointed about is that we chose a gray shingle when the barn was roofed. That decision was made so that the barn would match the house, and now we’re curiously asking ourselves if it would look super dumb to spray stain our shingles to be brown… yes? no? yes? I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it, and if it continues to bother me I might be inclined to correct it.

We started with a couple must-do repairs – scraping bubbled paint and some green, thriving moss off the bottom of the garage door so that the surface was smoother (still totally imperfect, we’ll have to replace the door if we expect it to look better), and replacing cedar shakes that were missing, loose, or rotten on the front and sides of the barn. We found a box of the original shakes at the house when we moved in, which was handy.

Replacing missing and damaged cedar shake shingles on our midcentury barn.

The angle that I showed you last week got a lot better, really fast:

Our really, really ugly barn, pre-stain makeover.

Staining a midcentury cedar shake garage a dark brown to blend in to its environment.

I wasn’t sure how well the stain was going to adhere and cover when I started, so I began on a wall that’s out of my daily line of sight. I blocked off the windows with newspaper and painter’s tape (and evidently forgot to remove it from one window when I snapped the “after” photo) and applied the spray in a thin coat. It was really drippy, but more so than I attribute that to the water-to-stain ratio, it didn’t help that the cedar shakes have natural vertical grooves that welcome runny stain, and the surface had been painted and unprepped for stain adhesion (other than me lazily blasting it with a leaf blower to remove any cobwebs and dust). For what it’s worth, I used a 50/50 mixture of the stain and water, stirred it well in a container, and then poured the mixture into the paint gun reservoir. You can get away with a 70-stain/30-water ratio if you are going to clean the nozzle pieces at each refill, which is probably the #1 tip written in the “get to know your paint sprayer before using it” pamphlet. Didn’t read it, and you probably won’t either.

What I’m saying is, the combo of vertical grooves + painted surface + diluted stain wasn’t the perfect recipe for stain to soak in on contact, so it probably took a bit more product to get the coverage we expected. Nonetheless, with a few hours of dry time between coats, the layers of stain did result in a nice, rich chocolate finish.

I mean, look at that!

Our barn, a mid-century cedar shingled and semi-abandoned structure receives a facelift.

Our barn, a mid-century cedar shingled and semi-abandoned structure receives a facelift.

The lesser photographed barn entrance leads down a hill to the lower level, built on a hillside. The path was virtually non-existent for a long time, but Pete has spent a lot of time clearing brush to create our ability to see through the woods, and removed a lot of trees and bushes that cluttered the path.

Access to the barn's lower level through a stable door.

A little bit closer now (evidently I was so horrified of documenting how bad it looked… I only have a few photos of it):

Access to the barn's lower level through a stable door.

I shared a photo of Pete on Instagram while he was up on the ladder reaching some high spots, but the barn finished from this angle really makes the whole project feel worthwhile.

A few things to note:

  • We had enough stain leftover after doing all four walls–yesincluding the backside that no one really cares about–that we also sprayed the stain onto the visible foundation to help it blend in even more. I was going buy recommended cement paint for that surface, but I’m happy we saved $30 and just went with the stain. It looks just fine.
  • I didn’t tape off the windows on this side. We had gotten pretty good aim with the gun by this point. If you do this too, you can remove the dried stain from the glass super easily with a little elbow grease; the stain was water-based.
  • Try to overlook the fact that I haven’t cleaned up the window panes effected by some of the Edamame green paint. If the main house is any indication, cleaning panes is my least favorite DIY chore. If you look really, really closely you’ll be able to see that some of the panes are broken, so addressing that is part of phase 2.
  • I’m testing out some leftover pieces of flagstone on the retaining wall that Pete rebuilt last summer; I never went into much detail about how he rebuilt it or why, and in short it was being pushed over slowly so he disassembled it, and used the same blocks to correct it but reinforced with adhesives and rebar to make it last a long time. If we decide to keep the flagstones on top of it, more will need to be cut to size. For now, I stained the retaining wall too, it’s so matchy-matchy ’round here.
  • Phase 2 might also involve transplanting some lush greenery above the retaining wall. How pretty do the tiny leaves on our trees look in contrast to the dark brown?

Barn, refinished siding with a dark brown stain. The rolling barn door, original to the structure, was painted green.

Recap: If you’re planning on a quick makeover, I highly recommend a paint sprayer. Minimal effort payed off here, but keep in mind that you’ll want to do an appropriate amount of prep work to the underlying surface… the better the prep, the longer the new finish is going to hold up to the elements.

  • Kit
    1 year ago - Reply

    Looks AMAZING. Also, totally feel you on the shingle-regret… I’m having a little of the same over the roof on my house (now that I’m planning to reside the back of it and want to go with a darker color stain).

  • Choice Furniture Superstore
    1 year ago - Reply

    Oh my god. It is not an easy task but you have done this amazingly. Really you did a wonderful job.

  • Staci
    1 year ago - Reply

    Such a satisfying before and after. And I can’t believe Hattie is 3?!

    • Emily
      1 year ago -

      Glad you liked it, Staci! And… that she is! Toddlers are busy little people but fortunately always willing to help with a painting project.

  • Eve
    1 year ago - Reply

    It looks AMAZING. Also now I really want to paint our house dark brown instead of the midtone khaki we are currently rocking.

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