Warning: This is going to be a long rambling story, because writing this out helps me analyze, and I am not always sure *exactly* how I feel. I will probably continue to edit for clarity, based on your feedback. So here goes:
- I always seem to open a can of worms when I allow myself a (usually highly caffeinated) rant — like this past weekend when I launched into Lowes and their recent bathroom-meets-sledgehammer TV commercial. I’ve also *allowed* the rant a few other times, when discussing Resist the Greige Nation, for example.
- On the other hand, I have a mantra about reader comments: “No one should be made to feel bad for their decisions”… and I do not like and will usually editcertain words like h***, u***, h******, and d****. <– My edits are usually comprised of adding the asterisks, blanking out the letters.
- Hmmm: Do my prohibitions about negative reader comments become hypocritical when I launch a rant? In the same vein, then, is it “okay” or “wrong” for me to edit comments that include the irksome h***, etc. words?
- Whenever I launch a rant, I think I may also be leaving the impression that I oppose remodeling… that not keeping what’s original is *wrong.* Clarification is due.
So in this story, I’m gonna try to outline my thinking about and approach to these points, with the caveat — make your own decisions — it’s your house!
1. Yes, this blog is pro-preservation.
When I first started this blog, I consciously made the decision to stay away from politics and social commentary. I’ve tiptoed in only occasionally, I *think*. For example, there were lots of bad social things going on from 1946 onward. I don’t try to illuminate or opine on them, that’s for other blogs. This blog is, fundamentally, about researching and reporting on resources to help you renovate your home in period-appropriate style — delivering products and ideas to help owners of midcentury houses get their jobs done more easily — in a marketing world that doesn’t make it easy, because our journey is not with the mainstream.
In the same vein, I kind of consciously made the decision that I would try to stay away from the politics of renovation and remodeling a house. Although in this area, I am sure I have been less successful.
In general, I have tried not to *preach* that you should keep what you have, versus gut remodel it for something new. I *think* I understand it’s more effective to *show* rather than to *tell*, so I show photos of how our homes and interiors were originally designed… so you can see how it was done… I show photos of how other readers are renovating… all, so that you can make your own decisions. I try not to tell you what you should do.
But do I *believe* that a homeowner should try to preserve what they have rather than gut it?
Yes — as a first approach to your new/old home — yes, I do. And, I am very sure my beliefs comes through in what I write. There is no such thing as objective journalism. So, even though I say I don’t want to tell you what to do, of course, I am going to bend that way in what I write about and how I write about it.
Even so, like I said, I try not to preach. Instead, I try to “show”. For example, if a reader sends me photos of their renovation to consider for the blog, and they gutted what I believe was a perfectly nice looking original room and replaced it with something kind of … 2012 … well, then, I don’t post it. I figure, “They don’t understand the focus of this blog.” The focus is: Renovating in period-appropriate style.
Why do I believe that preservation is a wise first route? Let me count the ways:
- (1) Don’t kid yourself, every room in your house is, and looks *dated*. Dated to the date when what was added was “hot.” There may be some truly timeless rooms out there, but golly, they are hard to find.
- (2) If you are gonna renovate for longterm value, you might as well *date* your interiors to the *date* of the house, because at least when people say it’s *dated* it will be *dated* historically appropriately. One day it may even be desirable as an “authentic period restoration” — and there are usually markets for authentic.
- (3) This is especially true about kitchens and bathrooms — which cost a lot of money to renovate. Heck, do whatever you want with your furniture, but anything expensive affixed to the wall, think long and hard before plunking down that credit card for today’s latest fashion, unless you plan on putting the house up for sale the day your renovation is complete. Even then, flipping is risky business.
- (4) Midcentury homes are historically interesting, beautiful and increasingly desirable. Over the past five years, I have heard more and more and more examples of folks wanting time capsules in great shape. Why rip out what is going to be desirable?
- (5) Much of what was built in midcentury America was better made that what’s available today. If it has lasted 50 years already and is still in good shape today, I’ll bet that it has many more decades of utility ahead, if it continues to be well maintained.
- (6) How much of your money do you really want to spend on renovating your house? Maybe you would rather save for retirement instead? It may be fun to be young and poor, but it’s not fun to be old and poor.
- (7) If everyone in the world lived like we do in America, we would need four Earths to supply the materials.
- (8) Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you were a perfectly nice vintage bathroom or kitchen and still had lots of life left in you, would you want to be gutted with an evil glee sledgehammer? Okay, so now I am getting kind of silly with my list. You get the point. But kinda bottom line: Default = Leave the stuff alone, make sure it’s safe and environmentally friendly. Bank your savings; debt is very stressful. Respect the old — and the life-energy of the people who built the old. (Could they really all have been wrong in how they designed these homes? Are we really that much smarter about design? I don’t see any evidence that’s so.) Love the House You’re In.
2. At the same time, this blog is not anti-remodel.
When Kate wrote about her decision to gut-remodel her bathroom, one commenter noted that she sounded almost apologetic. Actually — it was me who, in the edit process, asked Kate to beef up the story to ensure she showed gratitude for the old bathroom and the service that it had provided. This is something that grew on me and my focus over time. One thing that I *think* I have learned in the five years of doing the blog, is that in postwar America, people were immensely grateful to be able to build and buy the houses we are now in. I won’t belabor the point, but most Americans had diddly squat until after World War II. Like, a huge percentage did not have indoor plumbing. So my takeaway is: Who are we to think the bathrooms or kitchens or knotty pine living rooms that they so gratefully built and raised their families in are *fill in the blank with a mean-minded adjective”? Really. I never knew anyone who went out of their way to design an u*** room — the folks who installed these rooms thought that their new/now old (bathroom, kitchen, etc.) was beautiful. And in the day it probably was! Au courant! But, au courant changes… Usually because marketers want to dis-satisfy us with what we have…. They want us to rip out what they sold us 50 years or 30 years or 10 years ago…. and buy their new and improved look…. which becomes *dated* soon enough…. and the ridiculous cycle starts all over again. Be cognizant of the manipulation — and you can break the cycle in your own life and spend less time and less money chasing the fleeting fashion dream.
Did you know that gratitude is the #1 attribute of happy people? Be grateful for that bathroom, even if — and maybe especially if — you decide it is time to remodel.
But am against gut remodeling? NO. I gut remodeled my three bathrooms and my kitchen. I don’t want to go into great detail to defend my decision — because we don’t need to defend our decisions. Suffice to say, I think I was true to my beliefs on this one — I always compliment the 1970s kitchen that we replaced — it was really nicely done given the styles then — really! And, I really liked the multicolor bathrooms and would surely have kept them if they had been in better shape. In each case — with both the kitchen and the bathrooms — I surely did not like having to spend all that money to gut remodel, and the whole process was very stressful.
On Kate’s story, Brian T. asked this question:
Pam has started her list of things that are definitely valuable to a Retro Renovator. How about a list of things that no one needs to feel guilty about tossing, even though they’re “vintage”? Item #1: Plastic tile! I just got rid of it in a bathroom I gutted — there was no question of trying to work with it. It seem like “mauve” might make the list for some reason, along with “things that smell” and “things that will never look clean.” Pam, you’ve instilled a sort of moral code about “thou shalt not assume pink bathrooms are too dated to live with”; can you start up a list of “thou shalt not beat thyself up for throwing out ____”?
The Retro Renovator’s Creed:Thou shalt not beat thyself up for throwing out… features (yes, original bathrooms and kitchens, included) that you have lived with for a while, sought to understand (rather than just h*** in a knee-jerk way), decide just aren’t for you, and which you can afford to change without adding to the family into debt in a way that will stress you out. (Test: If you only paid cash, and you had saved up all the money, would you really use all the cash for this project?)
>If it’s broken beyond repair… or if repairing it would cost more than buying a comparable new replacement… do what you gotta do.>If technology has improved and a new product available today delivers important or useful new benefits — and especially if they relate to safety or energy and the environment… sure, swap it out.>
If you need to reconfigure the space to accommodate your needs and to lively happily there… yes, of course, make the house your own.>This is your house — make it the place you love. But: Let the old stuff go with respect for the service it has provided the generations before — no evil-glee sledgehammering. Remember, that bathroom/kitchen/etc. was someone’s pride and joy once — they raised their families there — they loved that room. Respect their decisions, don’t deride them. See: The Golden Rule. Most everyone I talk today bemoans the “loss of civility” in discourse today; let’s take the high road and be civil about how we treat and talk about the rooms that came before us.
Send still-functional materials to the Re-Store, if you really think someone else will want them.
>And of course, prioritize renovations that address identified safety and environmental issues — and when you renovate, engage properly licensed professionals and Renovate Safe.
My blog is my happy place. Hateful angry words distress me. They are usually not required — really: *Hate* a room color? I have said before, Let’s save our hate and the call-to-action it engenders for [fill in the blank, choose social/political issues that you really care about] that lead to real human suffering (rather than the suffering that comes from having to bathe in a pastel-colored bathroom, for example). So I don’t allow these words in comments on the blog: Hate, Ugly, Hideous, Dated. Please try not to use them, I will edit the word with asterisks. Most regular readers know my feelings and approach to this — and they’ve told me they appreciate it… that it is part of what has made this a supportive community. On a regular basis, this whole h***, etc. issue is not a very big issue on the blog. It usually comes up only when I start the rant. Then others jump right in to play. I totally understand. So, in a goodly number of cases, I’ll take the pin!
So: What if you don’t really like something on the blog and want to offer a critical comment? (1) If it’s simply a product that I have posted, say, something from the Crate & Barrel website, hey, no problem, say why you don’t like it and why and offer an alternative. Be nice about it, of course. BUT (2), if it’s a reader’s home, well, you know the answer already. This is a supportive site. Find something to like and comment on that and move on. Honestly, this is not much of an issue on this site, I can only think of two or three times I did not approve a nasty comment, and they were from passers-by, not regulars. I am writing this only to be complete.
What if you have “advice” for a reader and their room? A “rule” I read on this recently: Don’t offer advice unless someone has agreed you may offer it. As in, a made-up example: Mary has shared a shot of her living room so that we can see her Heywood Wakefield collection. There is no talk of wall color. You think you have a great idea. Before just spitting it out, you need to ask, “Wow, that room is really beautiful. May I offer you some ideas about a wall color that might make that whole Heywood Wakefield set pop even more?” If Mary responds saying, “Sure, I’d love to hear!,” you are good to go. But maybe she will say, “We just painted the room this color last week, and we are really happy with it.” Which means oopsy, shut yer trap. Or maybe she won’t answer at all. Which means…. yup, shut yer trap. Bottom line: If you ask permission to give advice, and the recipient says yes, the recipient is more … receptive. This is the civil way to do it. Mea culpa: On Kate’s post about her bathroom room layout, she didn’t ask for my help — and I didn’t ask permission. Yet, I jumped right in to offer advice. This was not the “right” way to do it. She gets mega props for responding with grace. (Next time, I will have her make her closing point in the blog post, “What do you think of my layout, readers?” haha)
Hey, the other thing I want to bring up is how we talk about other homeowners who choose current decorating styles. On this point, I also want to encourage civility… and I may start editing comments accordingly. Yes, folks continue to put in granite countertops etc. etc. etc. in droves. This does not make them bad people. I think about how to talk about this a lot, and here is what I have come up with:
I think that a lot of folks have only limited interest in decorating. They will buy what’s current. And move on. And that’s okay. They have other passions, other interests… whereas we are nutso passionate and highly visual and way way way into decor.
HEY: The folks who built and furnished our groovy mid mods also were most likely only interested in their decor up to a point. THEY bought what was CURRENT, too. I even have vintage marketing material — training for a steel kitchen cabinets salesman — instructing him that the first job he had, during a customer consultation, was to “dis-satisfy her with her kitchen.” This was like 1948! 50 or 60 years later, we are left with their desire for “the latest and greatest.”
I guess what I’m saying is: So, let’s be sure we are civil, too, about all other folks and their decorating choices. This means that even I will need to stop dropping “Save the Pink Bathroom” bombs on other blogs that continue to show decimated pink bathrooms, I’m pretty sure it’s not winning any converts, just annoying folks who are trying to do their best. I will revert to the approach I started out with: Show don’t tell. Does that make sense?
4. Is it hypocritical of me to rant, given the policies I’ve just outlined?
Yes, guilty. It’s easier to catch a bear with honey. Or is it, bees to honey? Whenever I rant — which I usually try to focus on marketeers, certainly not individuals — I always get lots of positive feedback from readers. Go, Pam, go! But I also almost always end up offending a few (maybe more), too — because this ain’t a real conversation where you can really explain yourself and talk things through, it’s writing, and sometimes it comes out …. wrong…. or harsher than you mean it to. I don’t want to offend. I want to make this a place where people feel good about and encouraged in their decisions to make a home they love — usually in a way that’s “the road less traveled”. So I recommit to trying to moderate my rants in the future. I think I can still make my points: By showing, not telling, and when I must opine — with civility.