This Old House Gets a Fresh Coat of Paint

One of the greatest challenges in owning an old home is maintaining its exterior, regardless of its materials. In Virginia, you most commonly find wood and brick construction. It is not until you travel into Maryland and, of course, Pennsylvania that you see more use of stone.

After a few years of bandaging issues on the exterior at White Plains, it was finally time to start the conversation of giving the house a fresh coat of paint. I say, “start the conversation” because such an endeavor is not for the faint of heart! Finally by fall, we were ready to get started.

I have learned a lot about historic woodwork and masonry over the past few years, understanding what is required to keep it well maintained and attractive. For wood, maintaining a solid coat of paint adds protection and is essential for its longevity. Similarly, historic masonry needs to be patched and pointed-up as necessary to keep moisture out.

Like many other buildings from the same time period in the Tidewater area, White Plains is a traditional brace-framed house with a wooden weatherboard exterior. It is built over a raised cellar with walls of handmade brick laid in English bond, extending about 14 courses, or rows, above ground level.

While the old masonry has been patched many times over the years, the original portions still retain the 19th-century white wash, as can be seen in the picture above. Upon close inspection, you will notice that the patching appears to relate to the closing or opening of entrances into the cellar and repairing areas of water damage. The changes to entrances likely happened about 1840, when the cellar would have been turned into finished living space, including a fireplace built into the existing chimney[1]. I love all of the layers from decades and centuries of change.  

Wood Exterior

Preparation of the exterior is the most important part before painting. A poorly prepared surface means the paint may not adhere well, causing popping and cracking sooner than it would with a properly prepared surface.

Here, we only employed the use of hand-scraping and the occasional electric hand sander where build-up of old paint was extreme. Although I wanted a well prepared surface, I didn’t want to lose the texture and character that old wood has. Unfortunately, this can be a much slower process, requiring attention to detail and a lot of manpower. 

Each of the old shutters was removed and will be prepared in a similar way to the weatherboarding with repairs made to rotten areas and a fresh coat of paint. My current conflict is picking a color that both honors the traditional while giving a fresh look. My current choices are between Essex, Colonial Verdigris, and Waller greens, all Benjamin Moore colors. 

I once suggested that we consider a body color that evokes the type of excitement as August Boatwright’s house in Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, but I can reassure everyone that it will remain white. But you never know when color will strike! As August put it in the book, “I had a nice tan color in mind, but May latched on to this sample called Caribbean Pink. She said it made her feel like dancing a Spanish flamenco.” Who doesn’t want to dance a Spanish flamenco every day? But I digress.


In addition to preparing and painting the weatherboarding, almost all of the old windows need to be reglazed. At nearly 30 windows, this is no small task! First, the old glazing has to be carefully stripped from each window pane, hopefully without breaking the glass, and then new glazing is artistically puttied into each groove. After the glazing cures, it can be primed and painted. Not only will this help them look as good as new, but it will increase their energy efficiency, sealing all of the tiny gaps between the glass and wood-frame mullions. 

White Plains - Window

Waiting Patiently Until Spring

Although we started a little late in fall, we had high hopes that the weather would hold, and we would be able to finish by Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, we barely made it through the prep work on the North side and a handful of windows before consistent rain and freezing temperatures set in.

I was hoping to have everything looking pristine in time for the holidays, it will all have to wait until Spring and better weather. Hopefully that isn’t too far away.

[1]Dave Brown, Thane Harpole, and Libby Cook, “National Register of Historic Places Registration Form: White Plains,” Virginia Department of Historic Resources (March 2018).  

Shakshuka Warms the Heart

On a recent trip to the Denver Central Market, I had my first taste of Shakshuka, a traditional North African dish of roasted peppers, tomatoes, and invigorating spices that creates a beautiful flavor. Two large eggs are perfectly poached in the sauce, something to eat with fresh bread for breakfast or as a hearty cold-weather meal when you need that flavor to give your mood a boost. Shakshuka
Coming home to Virginia, I’ve tried several versions. Of course, I found that Melissa Clark has once again proven steadfast with an easy recipe for any night of the week or brunch. With two fresh eggs from the chicken house, homemade bread, and tomatoes from the summer garden, this meal brought North Africa to the Northern Neck of Virginia. It was a very welcomed visit and perfect when you need a bit of warmth on a chilly fall day!


Shakshuka Recipe

Here is a modified version of Melissa Clark’s recipe for Shakshuka. It serves 4 – 6 people, but is easy to scale up or down depending on how many you are serving. I highlight recommend a good crusty bread and salted butter served alongside for dipping. If you try it out, let me know how it goes. If you need help, come on over, and we’ll make it together!


  • 1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced or thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
  • 3-4 large fresh tomatoes coarsely chopped OR 1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes with juices, coarsely chopped
  • ¾ teaspoon salt, more as needed
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper, more as needed
  • 5 ounces (about 1 1/4 c.) crumbled feta cheese or something like a Bulgarian sheep’s cheese (very good!)
  • 6 large eggs


  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Heat about three tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. I prefer a cast-iron skillet as it retains the heat beautifully when you serve it at the table.
  3. Add onion and bell pepper. Cook gently until very soft, about 20 minutes. Add garlic and cook until tender, 1 to 2 minutes; stir in cumin, paprika and cayenne, and cook 1 minute.
  4. Pour in tomatoes and season with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; simmer until tomatoes have released their juices and thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir in crumbled feta. Note: If using fresh tomatoes, you may want to add more of less depending on their size and how juicy they are.
  5. Gently crack eggs into skillet over tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until eggs are just set, 7 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with hot sauce.

I serve my eggs just when they’ve set, allowing the yolks to run and integrate with the sauce, making it rich and creamy. I serve one or two eggs per person.