• The 10 Most Endangered Features of Midcentury Homes: 2012 report

    10 most endangered retro house featuresWhen I first started the blog almost six years ago, I kind of bumped into launching a “campaign” that called attention to the death-by-evil-glee sledgehammering threat to vintage Mamie pink bathrooms. This campaign came together almost as a lark… I started the Save the Pink Bathrooms website, like, to see what would happen. And wouldn’t you know it, there was lots of news media attention to the issue ever since. A whole New York Times story even. As a result: I think the attention really made a difference, shifted the tide of ‘fashion’, and that today, there is significantly greater recognition that there is nothing inherently wrong with the color pink for bathrooms — and by association, vintage green or blue or yellow, etc. — and that original colorful vintage bathrooms in good condition are worth preserving. I think we can declare the campaign victorious, although we still must keep spreading the luv.

    Which got me to thinking (which sometimes happens when I take a vacation week, can’t ya see the smoke from Massachusetts): What else now? That is: What are some of the other lovely but kind of still pooh poohed features of midcentury homes that we can shine our spotlight on. I brainstormed and came up with a nice round my list of the 10 Most Endangered Features of Midcentury and Vintage Homes. So here is my list, in David Letterman count-down order. I count down to the final item — #1 — as the feature I’m most worried about, based on the criteria: overall cost-value + difficulty replacing, roughly speaking.

    jalousie windows#10 Jalousie windows:

    Number 10 on our countdown list is jalousie windows. I tend to believe that jalousie windows were used in millions of homes, often in the three-season porch, but sometimes even as main windows — as in Dawn’s house, above. I am no expert on the whole issue of jalousie windows. I need to do more research — and I welcome your help on this. I think there may be super-valid energy-efficiency reasons to replace your jalousie windows if they are the windows in your main living areas.  On the other hand, if you have them in a three-season room, maybe lean toward preserving them rather than replacing them?  I think they are interesting… coolio.

    wood paneling#9 Wood paneling:

    Wood paneling, along with knotty pine (#3 on my Most-Endangered list) is one of those things that get the scrunched-face “it’s so daaaaaated” complaint from so many folks on home decorating TV shows and in more mainstream design media. But, slap yourself in the face and step back from the ceaseless dictates of current fashion: There is nothing inherently displeasing about natural or finished wood walls, if the paneling is good quality. Au contraire. Our ancestors lived for hundreds of years with wood-paneled walls. It’s only in more recent history that the invention of drywall made smooth, painted walls affordable to the masses. Yes, there is poor quality wood paneling out there, in droves. But there is also plenty of beautiful, quality old paneling worth saving from the dumpster. Above: Wood paneling from States Industries.

    tile countertops in kitchen#8 Tile countertops, especially in kitchens:

    Tile is durable. Tile resists water. The grout can be cleaned. Tile counter tops have been fashionable in an on-again, off-again fashion from the 1940s on. I think they are charming. Above: Tile counter tops in Karen’s kitchen.

    wood kitchen cabinets#7 Wood kitchen cabinets:

    1950s and 60s wood kitchen cabinets may not have the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses appeal of brand spanking new new (particle-board-laden) wood cabinets today, but they were often — usually? — made just fine. Better, even, maybe. If you have ‘em original, heck, they have lasted 50 years and could likely last 50 more. Or forever. New kitchen cabinets are one of the most expensive parts of a kitchen renovation — and way overpriced, I think. And remember: Replacing a ‘dated’ kitchen with an all-new 2012 kitchen means: You now have a dated-2012 kitchen that will be out of date in 10 years, probably less. This marketeering cycle is ceaseless, ridiculous. The wood cabinets that are/were original to 20+ million midcentury modest houses across American likely suit the “unpretentiousness” that runs throughout their entire design… so, why not go with the flow and instead of spending $ thousands on new cabinets, use the money for other stuff, starting with maybe: Ensure you have a solid, 6-month of living expenses emergency fund, pay down credit cards, save for retirement, pay down the mortgage and in general, avoid the terrible stress of debt. Above: Nancy’s original wood kitchen cabinets.

    pam with vintage wallpaper#6 Vintage wallpaper:

    If you are new owner of an old home, please please please don’t rip out the vintage wallpaper. Not right away, at least. The old wallpaper may shock you initially. But once you dive into this website, and see other rooms full of the vintage-originals, you may start feeling the wallpaper luv. Vintage paper often had precious designs, and it was printed with rich, vibrant inks — lots of the wallpaper I see today just does not have the same printing quality, not at cheap prices, at least. Reflecting both its quality but also its increasing rarity, vintage wallpaper also valuable — $100 a roll or more if you try to buy New Old Stock today! I have always heard dissenters say, “Oh, wallpaper is so personal”, which is what can make it hard for Incoming Owner to like Outgoing Owner’s wallpaper choice. I understand this, for sure. But, when it comes to the original vintage wallpaper in a 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s or 70s house, golly, I usually always like it what I see. The stuff had amazing character. Live with it a while, give it a chance, before you start rippin’. Above: I love vintage wallpaper, ‘most all of it. I put 300 squares of it, 18 different design, on my office walls!

    vintage laminate#5 Original laminate counter tops:

    I put original laminate counter tops significantly higher on the Endangered List than tile counter tops, because the vintage laminate patterns so often found in original 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and even 1980s kitchen are impossible to replicate today. (On the other hand, you can get 4″ ceramic tile and bullnose in nice colors today, to replicate a vintage tile counter top.)  When it comes to vintage Formica and other laminate patterns, except for some boomerangs and dogbones, charming decorative designs are simply  not available. In fact, we are besieged by low-chroma, greiged out colors of laminate today, almost every where we turn. Sigh.

    Also, and this is IMPORTANT: The way back time machine laminate was better made. It was almost indestructible. It is awesome stuff. I do not have hard data proof of this. But I am sure. Don’t rip out your vintage laminate out if it’s still in good shape. At least not until you live with it, and you are sure it’s time for it to go. Above: My vintage Textolite samples — which makes us eat our hearts out!

    house with awnings#4 Awnings:

    Our parents and grandparents and great grandparents and so forth did not have window air conditioners or central air conditioners. Instead, they depended on window treatments — and often, awnings — to help control indoor air temperatures. Golly, if you are lucky enough to buy an old house with functional awnings — metal even? extra yay! — well, golly, you are lucky. Because you get temperature control for FREE. Hey, you should be able to sell carbon credits to the EU. Original awnings are not ugly. They are comfort-enhancing, money-saving, environmentally-smart features. (Note: I am not saying that putting up new awnings would necessarily cut  carbon overall — the cost/benefit would have to be analyzed. But, if you have ‘em already, that’s sunk carbon, embodied energy, done deal, leverage the fact.) Above: I have several stories about awnings including 12 places to buy awnings today.

    knotty pine kitchen#3 Knotty pine paneling:

    knotty pine websiteWith so many first-time home buyers finding their way into old homes, I think I’m seeing increasing chatter about knotty pine and what to think of it. Right now, knotty pine is like pink bathrooms were five years ago: Original vintage knotty pine is in great danger from folks who are not getting enough information about the history of this material and aesthetic to make their own decisions whether to love it, or not. To me, knotty pine is a sentimental, wonderful wall finish. Totally cozy. If the knotty pine is the original 1940s or 1950s stuff, the wood is likely really good. No need to paint it just because it’s not today’s fashion. I’m telling you — just like pink bathrooms — it will be a benefit to your vintage house, down the road, if it still has its original knotty pine den or bedroom or whatever. Oh yes, read more on my website, KnottyIsNice.com. Above: Eartha Kitsch’s world famous knotty pine kitchen (which just recently underwent a gawdawful plumbing surgery, ugh, our thoughts our with you, EK.)

    steel kitchen cabinets#2 Steel kitchen cabinets:

    You know I love vintage steel kitchen cabinets. I have them in my kitchen. My five-year hunt for my 1963 Genevas is what led me to start this blog… and led me, after four years, to make a full time living from it. We now have 220,000 unique visitors every month. Yes: 220,000 a month! Oh, I digress with my little bootie dance. STEEL. Do you know what steel is? It’s what they make cars out of etc. etc. Crikey, if you have steel kitchen cabinets, you are Set For Life. Note: I am thinking, that if I did not buy the aqua cabinets that made their way into my kitchen, they would have ended up in a landfill in Staten Island. I kid you not. Above: A 1948 St. Charles steel kitchen from my A Short History of Steel Kitchen Cabinets.

    original windows#1 Original windows:

    Okay, windows are not a super sexy topic. But they make #1 on my list because Americans have been fed a bunch of baloney that they need to replace their windows to (1) save on their fuel bills and (2) that new windows are ‘better for the environment.’ I advise to PLAY THE SKEPTIC and ask anyone trying to sell you new windows using the save-money-save-environment pitch to: SHOW ME THE DATA. Ask for a third-party validated cradle-to-cradle Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to back up any environmental claims. Ask for a financial payback calculation regarding the money claims — and be sure to calculate in replacement costs if/when the new windows themselves need to be replaced in 20 years.

    Most all the research I have ever read indicates: New windows will likely cost more to purchase and install than you will ever save in improved fuel bills. Also, even in the absence of an LCA: If new windows end up costing more, I posit that new windows also are not ‘good for the environment.’ This is because: Money is a pretty darn good proxy for carbon — meaning: Every time you make money, and every time you spend money, you are fueling consumption, which causes economic activity that emits more carbon. Using my logic, the only energy efficiency steps that really make net improvements to carbon emissions are those that have a demonstrated financial payback. Insulation usually pays you back pretty fast in terms of recouping what you spent in saved energy costs. But other fancier technologies usually don’t. Or don’t, yet, at current costs unless there are significant taxpayer-funded incentives.

    Note, my discussion is in regard to carbon, not other environmental concerns or public policy reasons, which may prove to be valid reasons to make a change… and, I don’t have the data to validate my theory! Another note: New windows may well improve your “comfort” level, eliminating drafts and such.  And, there may be very valid safety issues: Old windows may not feature tempered glass — and old windows may be painted with lead paint — consult with a professional on these issues. All this said: From my experience seeing advertisements and the like, I think I keep seeing replacement windows that are being sold with the spiel that they will “save money” and “help the environment.” It is this claim I question: MAKE THEM SHOW YOU THE DATA.

    On top of all this, new windows are getting a reputation for failing after 20 years. I don’t really understand the complaints. But if they are true: Then you need new windows. Which will lead to more spending, more carbon.

    Conditions may differ house-to-house, so it’s critical to do your own research on this issue with Eyes Wide Open. If leaky windows are an issue, some more cost-effective ideas may include: (1) Caulk, (2) Window Quilts, (3) Exterior storms. Be skeptical, do lots of research that taps smart professionals and demand data.

    Above: My longer story discussing why you should consider keeping your original windows.

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    Comments

    1. Holy cow! How in the world did I miss this post last year? WOW. Those are my windows up there! What I thought were Jalousie but apparently are Awning windows!!! (I did have jalousie on my door, and as another reader mentioned, the entire glass fell out and broke one day so we had to replace the door. I totally miss that door) VERY unsafe…

      Awning windows! Who knew??

      Well, we did end up replacing our windows. All 21 of them. OY!

      And after our first winter with the NEW windows, I fear you are correct. We did not notice much difference at all in our engergy cost. I am very disappointed. I still dont know how I feel about this 9 months later. I miss my awning windows…Ahhh Regrets!

      Not having central air they were GREAT to get airflow going. The casements are okay…I just really miss my windows!

      One pro: SOUND. These new windows are WAY quieter. Inside. And out. I have had several neighbors tell me they cant hear my dogs anymore.

      An unexpected con: I have BEAUTIFUL Italian marble window sills in all my windows. DEEP. I used to be able to put things there. With the new windows thickness, my 6 inch sills are reduced down to 3 inches. Never even thought about that, but I miss seeing ALL of my sills.

      On an upnote we did recycle our aluminum windows AND we gave our neighbor, also an original owner, several extra cranks and hardware sets for HER Awning/Jalousie windows…I do belive she is now the last one in our neighborhood with these types of windows…

      All others have been replaced…Endangered indeed!

    2. Hi:
      Our home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida (build in 1953) has many original cool details… We are preserving one of these details thinking that it probably is there for a good reason, but we have NO IDEA which…..The windows are set about 6″ into the walls towards the outer part of the house. On the left and right sides of the wide living room windows, in the walls forming the window casings, there is a groove starting from the base of the windowsills (almost touching the old original tile windowsills), going straight up to about 4 inches from the top edge of the casings. The grooves stand parallel to the windows, 5″ away from the glass closer to the inside part of the walls. They are about 1/3″ deed into the wall and about 2/16″ wide. Does anyone know what these are for? Sorry for the confusing explanation… I hope I am making sense! :-)…. Anyone?

      • Would those grooves make it easier to cover the windows with plywood if a hurricane was approaching?

        • No, they are on the inside part of the house/windows.

          • By the way, thank you Uncle Atom for trying to help us figure out what these grooves are. For new readers, please see my question above from Nov. 2nd. I would really love it if someone could enlighten us on the window “grooves”! Thanks again!

            • I am not sure, but could this have been for the ropes used to open the windows that I have seen in older homes? The ropes eventually would wear out and need to be replaced and they were wonderful when they worked right. Opening a window with them is effortless.

    3. Jeanette Taylor says:

      I am buying a 1950 home. Most windows are replaced, but Florida room has awning windows in good working order. There are 2 jalousie doors in this house. Glass panes are topped with metal mesh (probably security and privacy) and a screen. My inspector says they are an invitation to break-in and theft. These people were trusting as there is only the doorknob lock on both of these doors. I need advice on whether to replace for safety…they are in perfect condition.
      My dad was a GE dealer for many years. Their home will soon be on the market with the full set of GE metal cabinets in wood-tone brown. It had the appliances, but finally all were replaced with almond color. Everyone who looks at house plans on replacing. After reading this, I will encourage new owner to at least give these to a charity who can resell. They are sturdy and beautiful…very “Jetson” looking.

      • pam kueber says:

        Jeanette, to answer questions related to safety, I recommend you get your own properly licensed professional to help you assess the situation.

    4. It’s been a while since I commented on this thread, but I had a recent experience that seems to fit the theme pretty well. I have a few extra pieces of mid century furniture that I am looking to sell and since there is growing demand here in the DC area, I decided to check with a few local consignment shops and see what I could do. The two pieces that I have are a credenza and a matching china hutch. I was surprised by the consistent responses about the china hutch. Absolutely no one wants them anymore. One dealer seemed more interested in my house and asked if it had a mid century living room with a fireplace. I told him yes and he said that the china hutch is more valuable as firewood than furniture and I should at least get that much use out of it. It’s a beautiful piece and I felt insulted as though he just told me my child was ugly, stupid and should be dropped on someones doorstep. The more time I spent looking for fifth, sixth and seventh opinions, I kept coming up with more of the same. The reality is that no one has an available wall or need for a china cabinet anymore. Using a dining room for entertaining dinner guests, serving Sunday dinners or holiday parties just doesn’t fit into the ultra-casual culture of today’s family dynamic. As I thought about that, I realized that in the last ten years of friends’ weddings, I have yet to see one couple include china on their registry. In fact, a recent one included a request for an Xbox 360, but I digress. Then it occurred to me that it isn’t simply the china hutch or the china that has become extinct; the actual dining room itself has become extinct. In fact, if you’re shopping for homes in an older neighborhood and have digested enough hours of HGTV, you too will become programmed to look at that wall and, in a Pavlovian response, realize with contempt for the builder that it’s the first thing that must go. I know this from experience because I bought a 1960′s rancher and had all these great plans to grab a sledge hammer and turn my separate entry hall, kitchen, dining room and living room into one massive space when you walk in the front door. Instead of rooms, It would have areas or “zones” decorated with whatever they told me was hot that year. I watched many DIY episodes teaching me that this is the only logical and tasteful thing to do. Seeing young couples on TV convulse at the appearance of vintage modern architecture and watch the episode’s transformation from mid-mod to 19th Century Tuscan or French Country almost reinforced the notion that I needed to gut my space if I wanted to have a home to be proud of. So I moved in and a sudden budget change meant postponing these ambitions. What I discovered over time, is that our home is not only functional, but actually perfect, as is. The architect wasn’t really a moron after all and the family that had to “deal with” this brick veneer dinosaur for nearly 50 years really cherished it and lived quite comfortably. I love my family dearly, but there are times we all need our space, not just “zones” in the same big room. We truly love this house as it is and we USE our dining room. Many friends have questioned the logic of having a dining room since we also use the table in our eat-in kitchen (E-I-K: another feature on the brink of extinction). It has made perfect sense to us as we use the dining room for most dinners but all other meals and snacking in the kitchen. Don’t get me wrong, dinner around the dining room table is not a hugely formal affair, but it does provide the best venue for teaching the children proper table etiquette. I just wish I could impress it on so many young homebuyers to just pause before diving into a demo. Sometimes a demo, or at least some type of modification, is necessary, but I strongly recommend waiting. If I hadn’t, I would have spent many thousands of dollars on a reno that would not only disrespect the design of the house but also require an ongoing investment to keep up with the current trend.
      Thanks for letting me share this novel!

      • pam kueber says:

        Yup.

        • Cheers for David. Frugality is the best form of historic preservation! Doesn’t make good TV though. Even “This Old House” has been into smash and replace lately.

          Karine, without pictures, I’m wondering if the old grooves are for interior storm windows or some type of shutter window treatment. Can you track down some old timers in the neighborhood or previous owners to give you a clue?

      • Xefi Rah says:

        I agree. The open concept has gone too far for my tastes. I had the architect do a built-in dining hutch just like the one my husband’s family had in their 1950′s home. Our house doesn’t have a formal dining area; we eat a dining area outside the kitchen.

    5. Michelle says:

      I have one den, one playroom, and an entire upstairs (2 bedrooms, hallway, and stairs) in knotty pine paneling and I wouldn’t trade it for the world!!! I do have a Mamie pink with green tile board bathroom that is in desperate need of change because of the lack of storage and age. Not to mention, the room has gotten the western sun for over 50 years and the pink fixtures are more peach now! My parents had done renovations over the years (my grandparents built the house), but nothing has been completely changed. The den has a red tile floor (it has a white border). The kitchen has the original wood cabinets and one counter of white formica with green shot through it. It looks like the picture above. Up until the early 90s, the original porcelain sink was still in the house, but they did put in a stainless with butcher block counters. I will be making changes, but will be keeping as much of the original feel/pieces as I can. I told my hubby not too long ago that if the bathroom had been the blue that my Aunt had, I would NEVER change it!! I do love my 1950s house and hope that anyone who has a chance will love one too!!

    6. Jacki Anderson says:

      I’ve lived in our 1965 ranch since 1996. The “knotty pine” is what made me fall in love with this house. Both my kitchen and den have beautiful knotty pine and my kitchen lamintate counter tops are original. While I did have to totally re-do my small master bath due to water damage under the floors, and a somewhat never finished shower stall, the main hall bath has all the original tile on the floor, counters, and up the walls, and original wallpaper. My only concern is that one of the sinks (double sink counter) has some cracks/rust damage that gradually gets worse and the way the sinks are set below the counter with small tiles framing them – if I have to replace the sink the whole counter-top/tile will have to go too! I’m hoping I can find replacement tile to match if I ever get to that point. Recently, my daughter, in a house cleaning/painting mood, attempted to talk me into “brightening” up the kitchen by painting the knotty pine, but I cannot bring myself to do it. She’s almost 21 and I’m hoping she’ll be out of college, working full-time and on her own soon, so me and my knotty-pine can live happily ever-after. Whether my daughter likes it or not!!

    7. I have a house built in 1954 and am the second owner.i replaced most of my windows 5 years ago. They were the old awning type windows very inefficient energy wise , I may have not seen a savings in bills but I can cool the house quicker and keep it warmer in winter I don’t feel the wind blowing thru the cracks. Plus the hard wear was breaking down.
      The orgial wod cabinets are still here and we are trying to get rid of smell from the wood.
      The Florida room ceiling is tounge and groove wood, down the stret from me that is finished that way.
      And these houses can survive a fire and just need cleaning and som new rafters.

    8. Norma Whelan says:

      I have 6 of 10!!!

    9. We have another original endangered feature in our new (old) house: push button light switches!!! Our 1961 house is almost entirely original. There is something satisfying of turning a light on or off and hearing that click on the basement switchboard. Love it!

    10. Xefi Rah says:

      Original windows must be replaced in order to get a mortgage in many markets- Low-emission glass must replace the old and the metal post-war frames do not insulate. That said, the replacements should be glazed to match the original windows. It irks me to see ‘colonial pane’ windows in a modern ‘picture window’ or Chicago window opening.
      Park Forest, IL is where I first had metal cabinets. They get bent and no longer close!!! Replacing them with wood is fine *but* I like to keep the ‘feel’ of metal by painting or staining mid-century- styled wood cabinets. It is awful to see 70′s style ‘Mediterranean’ panels in a lovely ranch-style home!!!

      • pam kueber says:

        I’ve had my steel cabinets for quite a few years now without one ding or bend; both the doors and the drawers are doubled-up steel…. I guess if you ran into the door while it was open, that would be a problem — but that would be a problem with wood, too.

        A requirement to replace windows to get a mortgage? I’ve never heard of that… Can you tell me where, I’d like to check into that.

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