Rebecca and Keith’s 1961 split level house

rebecca-and-keithMEET REBECCA AND KEITH, new owners of a 1961 tri-level home.  Rebecca has been totally sucked into the mid-mod vortex… and has a great eye. It is just so fun for me to see all the young couples feathering their nests. That was me, too :). Rebecca has a few questions… and shares photos of the fabulous features of this gem of a home — including an asymmetric fireplace with a “Feastmaster.”

Rebecca writes:

Hi Pam,
I LOOOOOOOVE your site. Thanks for all your hard work!  I have been bookmarking MANY pages on your site for all the redecorating I plan to do. … I just bought a 1961 tri-level.  It has a brick wall with a fireplace and a “seat” that runs the length of it, if that makes sense.  It was the reason I decided to look at the house! I would LOVE your help with what to do with it.  Did they put pillows on it? Also, was cork floor ever used in a kitchen in the 50’s or 60’s?  I am thinking no.

I respond: THAAAAAANK you, Rebecca. That is so sweet. Question #1 re the fireplace; Hmmm. I am going to have to scour my materials this week, and look for examples of circa-1961 asymmetric fireplaces like yours to see how they were decorated. My initial response is: No, that ledge is not intended to be a seat. It doesn’t make sense – as the mantel is kind of too close for comfort… like, you’d bump your head and also, it seems kinda narrow for seating although no doubt they had smaller tushes that we do today. One thing am I pretty sure of is that the first thing I’d look for is a mid-century style fireplace poker set to go to the right of the fireplace. Even if you don’t need it, well, it would look cool. Then: Tchotchkes or art on the mantle, and hmmmm, what else on the seat? That is a good question we now have on our plate. Readers…what do you think? How were these things decorated?
Question #2, regarding cork in kitchens. Yes, I think this was done, albeit less frequently, so go for it. The key with cork — is that it can be porous. But, today, I think that there are many cork styles that are very well sealed through the magic of modern chemistry. So, when you go shopping for your cork flooring, be sure to check to see how it’s specified. Does the manufacturer say it can be used with kitchens… that it’s watertight enough? If so, you’re in business. Note – Maribeth installed a cork floor in her renovated kitchen, I am pretty sure.
I ask Rebecca to tell us more about her Retro Renovation story.
We moved from the East Coast (I moved back) to live and buy a home in the Midwest.  First I decided against the areas of town that the homes were from the 30’s because the yards are small and all are too close together.  I really didn’t want a 70’s colonial, which also seem to be everywhere here.  I decided that I wanted a split-level or tri-level, because I generally love things that look “dated” andor are from the 60’s.  Once I figured out that that was what I wanted, I was determined.  I wanted a real neighborhood of streets, not a subdivision.  My realtor sent me the link to this house along with many others.  THE aspect that made me want to see it was the brick wall with fireplace.  We liked the neighborhood because it has a lot of homes from the 60’s, and it’s very nice but modest.  The house we saw right before was a 1969 colonial, which my fiancee liked, and I remember feeling like an argument would occur when I had to tell him that I just couldn’t do it.  I didn’t have to deal with that because we loved this house immediately.
Right when we got to the door we loved the windows on the sides of the front door with diamond shapes and wavy glass.  And when I saw that there is an attached, screened-in, three-season porch I actually said ” this is enough to buy it!”  The four rooms on the upper level are hardwood, and the lower level is better-than-usual-looking pergot.  The only major work that NEEDED to be done before moving in was the awful green carpeting on the main level.  (atrocious!)  Other plusses include big bay windows looking out to a nice and private back yard, a pink-tiled guest bathroom, and shiny new Dishmaster!
Me: Woah, an in-situ Dishmaster! And tell me about that coffee maker thingy. Coffee is my life, even before this blog. That coffee thingy looks cool. Also, what did the realtor think about your response to the house … the fact that you “generally love things that look ‘dated'”? Rebecca says:

She thought I was funny.  I hated the 50’s ranch because they added a new bathroom that looked like a restaurant’s bathroom.  She thought I was funny that I LOVED the dishmaster.  It’s the “Imperial Four” edition.  I also think my Dutch coffee maker looks incredibly cool and retro on accident.  It makes amazing coffee… Terroir Coffee Company

I ask Rebecca to tell me more about the house, and how it’s coming together:
My style is basically all things retro, but not too kitschey, and I love Scandinavian/Danish Modern…. We still need to PAINT!  I hate white desperately.  Keith is going to make something to have printed on canvas, with my helpful opinions, for above the teak record stand.
So much of this room is craigslist, btw.
I want this area, which is the lower level/media room, to feel good for cocktails near the fire.  :)  I have a Room & Board couch down there, and an orange Ikea rug, and Ikea coffee table. I love that wall!  Honestly, we were practically sold when we saw just that.
BTW, the fireplace has a “Feastmaster” on the right side, of course written in fabulous typeface.  Do you know what that is?  It’s a grill on which to make steaks!  So 60’s – love it.  We were thinking of this Ikea lamp for it because we love it.  What do you think?  But, we didn’t actually buy it, yet. Oh, And I would love to do something to the walls.  My dream is wood paneling-the nice beautiful hardwood kind.  My god if I could have it be teak, I think I’d die.
The kitchen isn’t retro, except for my tupperware, Martha Stewart clock, and Typhoon scale. Typhoon makes these adorable items!  I LOOOVE my bread box so much.
Keith’s lifelong dream…a built-in bookshelf.
[The living room’s green carpet…before.]
I love the plate around the bathroom shower faucet!!!
The tile in shower is different than the floor. The milk glass vase is from a thrift store (I collect them ) but the soap dispenser, toothbrush holder and box are all Martha Stewart from last year.  I love the formica on the countertop.

BTW, you know how you took that old ad for the pink and green kitchen (with the fabulous lady talking on the fabulous pink phone) and you broke it down telling people how to get that look?  Complete with the laminate color, cupboard pulls, and floor?  That was great!  I love it!

Phew. Those were a lot of photos, Rebecca, so I am pooped. I’ll be comin’ at you again tomorrow with some ideas and suggestions. This has been a fun one. A Feastmaster! And after cookin’ those steaks, clean up with the Dishmaster! Awesome. .

Back tomorrow with ideas for you! Many thanks for sharing all these great images, and your story.

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  1. Cindy says

    Ooooh, Rebecca, your house is a gem and you’re doing all the right thngs! I have a Feastmaster barbecue grill set into my brick wall and there’s a damper above so that we can grill on it… plaque looks just like yours but I can’t tell if you’ve got the grill, too……..if so, use wood chips to make a fire, open the damper, and grill away!

  2. sablemable says

    Hi, Rebecca! Great, great home, but what else? We in Michigan have wonderful MCM homes!
    I have seen pillows/cushioned seats on the fireplace spaces like yours, however, I have to agree with Pam that you might crack open your head on that ledge when you stood up. But a nice wooden vase ala MCM would look nice. I like how you displayed pictures on the ledge.
    Nice tile in the bathroom! And like Keith, I LOVE built-in bookcases!

  3. says

    Rebecca, you hit the jackpot! I love what you have to work with, your great furnishings and what you’ve already done. The fireplace is wonderful. I could see you putting several sculptural pieces on the extended hearth/seat over on the right, maybe a great mid-mod vase and even an appropriate lamp. They’d just need to be big enough to have a presence there.
    The bathroom tile is pink perfection!
    You asked about 50s-60s cork flooring: we used cork in our 1956 ranch kitchen and breakfast room and it feels authentic. Pam posted about it here: I also have a friend whose architect dad built their home in the mid fifties and he used cork throughout: it was a hip look then. It’s very waterproof if sealed with several coats of urethane.
    Enjoy your lovely “new” home and keep Pam posted with pics for us!

  4. Jeanne says

    I love that home and it looks like it’s in good shape and hasn’t been (previously) overly redone and has kept it’s mid-century integrity. Just some cosmetics and you should be in good shape!
    I’m in my fourth mid-century home and hopefully last one. Looking back, I’ve been second owner in each of my homes (all built 1948-1952 period) and each maintained their original integrity, with no extensive remodeling.

  5. says

    Fantastic! The bookshelf, flooring and furnishings really transform that room. Love the original detailing (Dishmaster, knobs, shower fixture) and that diamond patterned glass in your screened in room! I think the fireplace ledge might have been for indoor firewood storage, but that wouldn’t stop me from doing a custom naugahyde pad in a fun color. I bet your guests would use it during parties.

  6. Caryn says

    Here in “upstate” NY, we have quite a few homes that had cork in the kitchen during those years. We looked into it for our home a few years ago, and Pam is right, they seem to be really well-sealed now for kitchen use. Good luck if you get it–it is better than anything else to walk on!
    That great fireplace wall was where we kids all congregated when we were small; my skinny mom and aunts also would “warm their tushes” there.
    Love this house and what you two are doing–can’t wait to see more.

  7. gavin hastings says

    You hit a split level jackpot….especially since your garage enters from the side! Front garage entries change the whole look of this style of home.
    IF your fireplace platform was at least 27″, I’d be running over with square naghyhide(sp?) cushions in green, yellow and orange.
    Now…to open a hornets nest…has anyone suggested whitewashing that brick? (and lived?) Don’t start screaming…but from 1959’s “Imitation of Life”/ Lover Come Back and every Bobby Darin-Sandra Dee movie I have ever seen: that was “Lux Look” and I can also see a 10 x 14 white shag.

    Enjoy a great life in your new home!

  8. gavin hastings says

    And…upon further reflection….is that mantle shelf part of the structure? If that piece was added…it may be removable giving you greater freedom decorating the remaining wall as ONE unit.

    So now I am seeing a white shag, a whitewashed wall and 2 Haitian pierced barrelheads crntered vertically across the brick, balancing the fire opening. Suburban Joan Crawford! The possibilities are endless. But, first things first: please paint that plug and switchplate the EXACT color of the brick.

    I know that sometimes my posts may seem a bit …, but I intend them in the best possible manner. And I know that in matters of say, the plug…many people don’t see it…or really care.


  9. pam kueber says

    Yes, Gavin, you are threatening to fall out of my good graces by recommending folks whitewash original brick and take down ledges that I really tend to believe were original.

  10. says

    I could see a nice big metal wall sculpture like a Curtis Jere on the brick fireplace wall, or a long vertical Harris Strong or mosaic tile panel. I’d line the ledge with mid century German and Italian floor vases, although normal people might just have 2 or 3. Great house, thanks for sharing!

  11. Cindy says

    Gavin are you an interior designer? I love the detail of your suggestions. Hmm, maybe a new feature available on RR?

  12. gavin hastings says

    I’m gonna lay low for a bit-which is killing me because I didn’t even get to suggest a Tommi Parziner for Stiffel lamp (with a shade taller than me) to balance out that wall. Thanks for the compliment.

  13. lippylibrarian says

    I have been to Rebecca and Keith’s house quite a few times and I must say, it is even cooler in person. (Although I have yet to experience the fruits of the Feastmaster- we should get on that, you guys!) They are a delightful couple with impeccable taste and everytime I come over there is some fabulous new detail to admire. (Of course, Pam, I always think about Retrorenovation whenever I walk into their pink bathroom.)

  14. atomicbowler-dave says

    The sweet little MCModest house that I once lived in had an asymetrical fireplace/fireplace wall in the upstairs living room.
    Our brickwork stopped at the mantle ledge and took off into white wall, and there was about 18″ of brick and hearth ledge to the “near” side of the fireplace before the whole thing ended. The rest of the wall before the hallway “T” was a built in bookcase.
    The lady of the house put the set of fire tools to the left (short) side, and we would stack our kindling and round limb-wood ‘starter’ logs to the right. She made an arrangement of seashells on the mantle ledge with a few smallish framed photos from her days as a commercial fisherman propped up amongst, and hung a couple of nice pieces of framed artwork on the white wall above. Not what I personally would have done, but it really did look pretty good.
    We also had a little seat cushion out on the very end next to a blank spot left for footwear. Great place to sit briefly and change shoes as it was within feet of the door.
    If there is a cat in the house he, she, or it will always enjoy a little basket-bed placed on the hearth (a safe distance from the fireplace opening, of course).
    Congrats to these two on a really sweet new-old home, and kudos for knowing what to do with it (and what NOT to do)!

  15. atomicbowler-dave says

    I forgot to mention! About those switch and outlet plates? Swich and outlet plates of many configurations are readily available in TEAK and not too horribly expensive. Check out local marine outlets, or look for them with Defender Marine ( or West Marine ( Should look really fine against that brick!

  16. Annie B. says

    What a fabulous house! Love the Danish mod look and that incredible fireplace. The fireplace brick is absolutely perfect as is. I do so love a split level; quintessential mid century modest.

    Is there enough room over the mantel / fireplace for a sunburst clock??
    Hope you’ll use orange everywhere.

  17. Rebecca Prichard says

    Thanks, everyone! BTW, the ledge is small enough that it’s actually impossible to hit your head on when standing up. The seat is about 18″.

    Jane, I did see your floor and was seriously considering it until I read about how it chipped, or dented. Right?

    Annie, a clock-nice idea! There is one at Design Within Reach that I almost wept when I saw it.

    Dave, great idea about the teak outlet plate!

    • pam kueber says

      Hmmm, the seat is 18″ deep? Okay. Cushions might be an idea. I still think that having that ledge overhead is bad-ish for seating feng shui, but you should be able to tell….

  18. atomicbowler-dave says

    I also forgot to mention the outlet…
    Seems like the box stores are big on black, white and ivory but not so big on brown anymore. If you have difficulty finding brown outlets, try an industrial/commercial electric supply house. Incidentally, there are actually high-quality outlets still made in an obscure country called USA under the Hubbel brand name, if it matters.
    I know Pam isn’t running a DIY show here, but I would like to offer a few words on getting the look one wants out of teak.
    Teak outlet and switch plates, and raw teak in general…may be lighter in color than you really want, depending. If you want that classy dane-mod vibe in spades, sand out your new part to 400 grit, wipe it clean with t-shirt material and paint thinner (Observe all safety warnings on das can!), and then treat it with Danish Tung Oil or Sea-Fin Teak Oil (both available at most paint stores under Daly’s and/or Watco brand names). Couple coats, wiping excess before it can dry, then a final coat that will be WET-Sanded at 400 grit (SeaFin Can has all the instructions for this thoughtfully supplied). Finish with a coat of paste wax (such as Johnson Paste Wax or TreWax) and you will have a lovely satin finish part that is a bit darker and much much richer than what came out of the poly-bag or off the project lumber one might use.
    This is an old-school, easy, low-volatile finish that is very safe and easy to apply. There used to be (long ago) a HUGE volume pleasure boat firm in Bellingham called Uniflite. They gave all of their offcut teak and teak veneer plywood to the school district for woodshop classes…an awful lot of projects were made quite fancy with free materials, and this was the finishing method my woodshop teacher taught us all. Still works great.

  19. Rebecca Prichard says

    Thanks Dave! I have Scan Care Teak Oil, made in Denmark. Would this work?

    And, yes, made in the USA matters a lot to me. :)

  20. atomicbowler-dave says

    Probably work just great. The 400# finish, final oil-sanding (turn the paper often, as it will load fast) and the paste wax are what really make it happen.

  21. says

    As a Realtor who adores this site I congratulate you! (and I’m a little jealous) Boy would you be fun to buy a closing gift for! If you put your furniture in the fireplace room it would be just like the photo Pam found. Have fun!

  22. MrsErinD says

    Absolutely gorgeous, I love it all, especially the furniture, that place will be fun for you guys to decorate!! What an awesome house!

  23. Dot says

    Hi Pam,
    I just wanted to thank you for a great website. I recently bought our family home here (my late father, an engineer, designed and helped build the house in 1961). I still have his original schematic drawings for the house. I’m glad I never owned it until now, because I used to think I would really ‘modernize’ it if it were mine.
    I’ve seen many so features of my house on your website, including the square recessed lights w/chrome trim, pink and gray bathroom w/original American Standard large 1 piece toilet (along with a built in planter in the vanity), the Feastmaster grill in the kitchen, built in dressers upstairs, etc.. I regret that we didn’t keep the gray metallic retractable lights over the built in desks upstairs.
    I’ll probably send an occasional email to ask your readers and you for suggestions once I get going on the actual painting, etc..
    Thanks again.

    • pam kueber says

      Welcome, Dot, and thank you for your kind comments. How wonderful that you are keeping your 1961 family house in the family. It sounds fantastic. If you are game, send me some photos — retrorenovation {at} gmail {dot} com. In the past week 1961 has become my new favorite year :) And I can’t resist seeing planters built into vanities!

  24. says

    Rebecca, I wish you could see my floor in person. If you have cats or dogs, they will likely scratch the floor somewhat. People damage, though, has been minimal. The floor doesn’t chip, but it can dent at pressure points from really heavy furniture or the skinny legs of chairs. A lot depends on the look you want: if you’re obsessive about wear, I’d say this isn’t the floor for you, but if you don’t mind some gentle, 60s appropriate, wear and patina, go for it. Part of what I like about my floor now is it looks like it could be original.

  25. nina462 says

    I have a 65 ranch-with a huge brick fireplace too. Thanks for the infor on getting retro fireplace implements-as I don’t like the ones I currently have.
    I noticed that it looks like you have newer windows. As much as I like my new windows (installed this year) when it comes to saving heat—I mourn the loss of the original windows/front door. They are saved in the basement however for someday when I can have them put back in.
    I really like your house–I have 2 friends back in MN who each have houses with the wall length fireplaces, too!

  26. Tracy Toepfer says

    Not to sound like a creepy stalker, but I was l reading this post and my husband was looking over my shoulder. (We live in A2 and he grew up here as well) He said “I think I know that house! My friend *** lived there”.

    Anyhow, love what you are doing with the place. It’s a great neighborhood!

  27. theirish says

    Rebecca, perhaps for the fireplace, a brass or copper holder meant for hold a few decorative small logs for the fireplace. or something of that sorts

    • Roberta says

      I had a neighbor in the 60’s that had a fireplace like that. The had a crate with white birch logs in it. it looked very cool.

  28. Katia says

    I had to smile when I saw this house — I grew up in a similar house. We called the ledge beside the fireplace the “hearth”. We had a sculpture* on the hearth but other than that, we kept it bare — the whole length of it. (Except that we put the last few days worth of newspapers in a stack at the far end before we discarded them. That way if anyone in the family had missed one of the sections of the paper we could find them for a few days.)

    To have spare, bare surfaces was the ideal. Especially on the hearth because of the fire hazard! Other surfaces collected clutter that had to be picked up and put away but we all knew not to put stuff down on the hearth.

    *I still have it — it is so spiky that it is kind of dangerous — you might impale yourself if you fell on it!

  29. Katia says

    Oh — I just remembered! Our garage was on the other side of the fireplace and we had a woodbox at the far end of the hearth. The woodbox had a pass-through from the garage to the hearth with a rough door into the garage and a cabinet door by the hearth. We kept firewood in the woodbox. If you kept a few logs ready to use down at the far end of your hearth that would be the same idea.

    Also, like yours, our hearth ran the width of the room and the fireplace was on one end (asymmetrical).

  30. says

    Hey, I just setup my Feastmaster Blog, showing homeowners of old Feastmaster Grills, how to renovate them. Mine are almost back to factory specs!


  31. db says

    OK, I’ve got the white painted brick fireplace and the white shag rug, but what on earth is a pierced Haitian barrelhead?

  32. amy says

    Hi Rebecca –
    As someone with a similar aesthetic embarking on the process of a kitchen remodel in our mid-century home, I enjoyed this story and loved the photos. So, you can’t imagine how excited I was to see that we live in the same town!
    If you’d be game, I would LOVE to talk to you about your experience from contractor to cabinet maker. To find the same project in the same style in the same MARKET? You’d be a wealth of insight!!!
    Anyway, lovely, lovely space – down to the tulip table that will someday be in my kitchen, too :)

  33. Sforza says

    I remember my grandma’s fireplace ledge would have potted plants on it (well away from the fire obvs!), along with the fireplace kit and a heavy (resin?) statue of a mallard duck! (she had a matching ‘duck’ bathroom in her house, and a duck chlorinator in the pool!) So I’d say go for little statues made of sturdy stuff, maybe mount one of those atomic star clocks on the brick next to the fireplace? There’s always a lot of metal wall art in that kind of area in a midmod.

    But if you ask me, it looks like what us CPs* would call a catshelf.

    (cat-people. alternatively, cat-parents)

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