How To: Make Your Own Mid-Century Modern House Numbers

created at: 05/04/2011

The architect Richard Neutra is one of modernism's iconic artists. He's best known for his integration of both his residential and commercial buildings into their landscape, and for his care in matching his work with the lifestyles of his clients, rather than imposing his own vision over their needs. His attention to detail extended into every element of his buildings, including signage and house numbers. Foundry House Industries says of Neutra's type, "It is no wonder that Neutra specified lettering that was open and unobtrusive, the same characteristics which typified his progressive architecture."

You can still get house numbers based on Neutra's specifications, through a collaboration with his son Dion. They're absolutely beautiful, precisely crafted in aluminum, and, if you can afford them ($50 a piece), a lasting addition to your home. But for my four digit address, they're out of budget.

So, I made my own, for less than $20 for the whole set. And you can, too. Here's how:   

Materials and Tools

created at: 05/03/2011

1. I knew there was no way I could create mine out of metal, as that'd require lots of fancy tools I don't have, and thick aluminum stock that would probably cost as much as just buying them from DWR. So, I knew I'd need to paint a wood-based product to resemble aluminum. Since they're going to be outside, I wanted to use something that can stand up to the weather. I opted for Extira, which is an exterior-grade panel product, that looks and works just like MDF, but won't soak up water. You can also use decay-resistant woods like redwood or cedar, or even acrylic. Extira will send you a free sample, so you might be able to get enough to make these for free. I found mine at a local lumber yard, who was willing to sell it in a quarter-sheet. Cost $12 for a 2x4' panel. 

created at: 05/03/2011

2. Once you've chosen your material, print out the template at full size. This will create house numbers that are 4" tall. You can adjust as you'd like if you're going for a different application. Attach the template to the panel using spray adhesive.

Use a jigsaw or inexpensive coping saw to cut out your numbers. Don't be a hero and try to cut right on the black line. Cut a 1/16th" on the outside, and then sand it to the line with rough grit sandpaper. Also, cut any internal angles first, and then complex curves, and lastly the straight line that attaches the shape to the rest of the panel. Note: This is not what I'm doing in the photo, and I regretted it!

created at: 05/03/2011

3. I made my numbers so that they'd sit away from the wall and cast interesting shadows. To do so, I epoxied nuts into the back of the numbers, and then attached bolts to the nuts. I did this after painting, but recommend doing it before, so you don't have to repaint the holes later. Just drill a hole 1/4" into the back of the number at its thickest points. 

created at: 05/03/2011

4. I recommend prepping the numbers for paint using the method I described here. You will be covering everything in oil-based paint, but I don't see any reason to take any chances. Basically, you want to seal the "edge grain" with joint compound, and then cover the faces with an oil-based primer. Lastly, sand everything smooth.

created at: 05/03/2011

5. Then, brush on at least two coats of exterior paint. I used "Aluminum" from Rustoleum, and found the sponge brushes to work better than bristly ones. On your final coat, use down strokes only, to mimic the look of brushed aluminum.

created at: 05/03/2011

6. Lastly, epoxy the nuts into the cavities, and allow to dry. Be sure not to get any epoxy into the threads.

To attach mine to the wall, I used some 10-24 bolts off of which I cut the heads with a hacksaw. You can also use threaded rod, available in the weldable steel section of the hardware store, cut to size. Use an anchor designed for the material the exterior from which your house, wall, or mailbox is made.

Minus drying times, the whole project took me about 1 1/2 hours and cost around $19.

Can't beat that.

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Christine on May 26, 2017:

I purchased the 4 inch numbers in this style of font that are available in most big box stores. Somehow they just didn't seem to have enough of an impact while viewing from the street. I think I'll try making 6 inch numbers with the street name in the same font but in a 2 inch size underneath. Your post has been most helpful.

Anonymous on Mar 24, 2015:

Could you tell me what font is it? it would be very helpful Thank you

Ben on Sep 27, 2014:

And despite reading the comments, I still can't work out how these are fixed to the wall....?

Ben on Sep 27, 2014:

Sadly the link is broken to the bit where you explain the jointing compound (what is that?) and the primer.

alete on Aug 06, 2013:

I've been looking for these for a long time, but couldn't justify the cost either.   Where I live now, I have 2 O's in my address. (100)  It doesn't do the font justice, but I LOVE the other numbers! Maybe I'll give it a try anyway.  But the 0's are the hardest, huh?  I just finished installing a prarie style door and framed it with wide trim- they would look great on the top 6" board.

Louise on Aug 18, 2012:

These look amazing... nice job!  Do you mind telling me, how thick the numbers are that you made?  thanks so much,


Denise on Feb 10, 2012:

Thanks for another project (like I need one). But I really have wanted these numbers for a long time and couldn't justify the $$.

Brian on Jan 19, 2012:

Thanks for the posting. This fits my mid-century modern house perfectly. Admittedly, the 0 was difficult to do (I was ready to move to a house with a different address!), but I think I got it right on the third try. I have attached a picture. I just need to attach the piece of wood to the fence in the front of the house. Thanks again.


kmj on Oct 30, 2011:

hey, what typeface is this? i've been seeing it everywhere and  love it! but i don't know what it is :-(

Pete on Aug 29, 2011:

Can yo please elaborate a little more on how they were aligned and fixed to the house?

Housesignman on May 10, 2011:

Great tutorial, once you've done the house number why not try a house name!

Chrisjob on May 09, 2011:

They're attached by inserting the threaded rod into anchors in the wall, and then spinning them into the nuts in the back. As OrangeSugar mentioned, there's a series or two (non-Neutra) at the home improvement store. Have a look at the fasteners on one of those. They can be seen without opening/destroying the packaging (wink!)

jet on May 09, 2011:

awesome, love it, great idea and great cool tute as well!!!!

orangesugar on May 09, 2011:

Home Depot sells floating house numbers for way cheaper than $50 per number

ModHomeEcTeacher on May 07, 2011:

Chris-I'm with Anonymous, how do you attach them to the house? I've wanted to create these for the longest time, but couldn't get past the metal issue. Thanks for a great tutorial and please tell me how to attach them to my concrete block shop wall.

Anonymous on May 06, 2011:

You are a talented woodworker.  I don't really understand how these would affix to the side of a house.  Thank you for your originals.  I like them a lot.

Marina on May 06, 2011:

Hi! This is Marina from Barcelona, Spain. I love these numbers. I'll try to work on it, but I need a "B" as well. Please, do you want to tell me how could I get it a template? Thank you very much. I can imagine these number (15 B)  in front of my house. When I finish  this work ( well, I try) , I send you a photo ;D

Chrisjob on May 05, 2011:

@Jay - I put the numbers on a piece of plywood to use as a baseline, and then traced the ends of the rods, which I then drilled out. I bet the offical ones have all the female inserts in the same line, which would make it easier. If not, they should!

@ElseaJane - these numbers were designed by Richard Neutra, for use on his mid-century structures (See opening paragraph)

Jay on May 05, 2011:

I would be interested in how you got all those threaded rods so perfectly aligned when you mounted the numbers to the wall.  I am pretty sure even if I made it to that point, I would fail miserably at that.

elseajane on May 04, 2011:

Your right Chris they do look just like the expensive ones. But now I need a lesson in MCM, I understand Eames and atomic and can recognise most at a look, but, what exactlly makes the numbers Mid-Century? They look like pretty classic Arabic Numerals in a great font...please educate me. EJ

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