Just bought a midcentury house? My 9 tips before you start remodeling + 21 more from readers

2016-0000_Every week, we are contacted by more new readers who’ve just made an offer on or moved into a midcentury house. They are usually extremely enthusiastic about getting started with projects — and that’s a good thing — but maybe not. Based on my personal experience as an owner of four old homes, and from seven years of blogging here about renovating and decorating old houses, here are my nine tips to consider before you go jumping into remodeling when you are brand new to your old house. Plus, 21 ideas from readers excerpted from an earlier story about planning kitchen remodels. Warning: This ain’t no linkbait — it’s 4,998 Retro Renovation University words. Perspectacles above provided by Anne Taintor.

Some of my thoughts if you are NEW to your OLD house and contemplating a remodel:


  1. Environmental and safety issues come first. Vintage houses can contain vintage nastiness such as lead, asbestos, and more. BE SAFE / RENOVATE SAFE: Get informed and be aware about the environmental & safety hazards in old homes, materials and products. #1 RULE: Consult with your own properly licensed professionals. More info and links: See our Be Safe/Renovate page… EPA asbestos websiteEPA lead website … U.S.F.A. – fire safety, etc
  2. Focus first on the functional fundamentals. For this story, Kate comment-mined reader comments from an earlier story [see them below]. Reading through them I am adding this important one highlighted by several readers. Chad D. reminded, “Know what should be done all at once (plumbing, electrical, and insulation for the whole house) and what can wait.”  He also reminded that home energy audits are usually free from your local utility. Ana said, “Even if you plan to live with things a while, get qualified and licensed professionals to look over your infrastructure (plumbing, electrical, etc.) to alert you of hazards as well as things that will need to be brought up to code. Those things can affect the changes you make (and the cost) and you should know those things up front, particularly if you do need to go ahead and fix something. Worry about the cosmetics later.” Jay’s comment began with the simple imperative, “Infrastructure!”  YES: A home is first and foremost costly shelter — before you start spending on the fun stuff pretty to look at, tend to the systems — plumbing, heating, cooling, electrical, insulation, windows, roof, painting, etc… and as mentioned above, important environmental and safety issues.
  3. If you are new to your old house — go slow. Before you proceed thinking you need to gut remodel the kitchen or bathroom(s), for instance, get to know these rooms super well before doing something that can’t be un-done. (Of course, if there are environmental or safety issues [see #1 above]… or structural issues [see #2 above] that need immediate attention, attend to them!) Live in your house — for at least a year, maybe — to get to know its flow and how it works for you and your family. This includes getting a rich, deep understanding of whether there is a real need to alter the architecture. During this time, you’ll also be able to study up on your home’s original style and features — we have heard time and time again from readers who initially “hated” something that typically, they had just never seen before; with time and research, their views changed 180-degrees — they came to LOVE that feature. By waiting and exploring (rather than quickly changing) you’ll also have time to explore your “Retro Style” — because there’s way more than one way to retro. As reader Annie B. pointed out, you will experience the seasonal shifts in climate and light. And, you can use this time to determine whether you have the stamina and true interest to take your time: Restoring and/or remodeling a home with an eye toward reflecting its original architecture is a Big Commitment. No matter what your ultimate course, it’s my experience that remodeling brings serious aggravation, time and money — take the time to think things through first rather than make quick knee-jerk decisions especially if they involve discretionary cosmetic “updates” that involve ripping out original features.
  4. vintage-retro blue and white-tile-bathroomConsider updates that are in harmony with the original architecture of your house. Sure, an original retro kitchen or bathroom is “dated.” But every kitchen and bathroom is dated. For example: Don’t kid yourself: Put a stylin’ 2014 kitchen in your 1955 house… and in a few years that 2014 kitchen will be “dated”, too — and, likely dated to a year that has nothing to do with the likely undisguisable, fundamental aesthetic of your house. But, either retrain the original kitchen and work with it… or put in a kitchen that is harmonious with the original 1955 architecture — and at least its date will match the date of the house. “Yes, but what about resale?” folks always ask. Well, my point of view is: Midcentury houses are now old enough to be considered “historic”, either officially or non-officially. “Historical restorations” or period-appropriate remodels are desirable to folks who are “into” old houses. Peeples are now a-chasin’ time capsule houses! Also, you can do a period remodel that isn’t “over the top” — one that’s kind of “flexible” and possibly even beginning to define modern-era “timeless” design (this is what I aimed for with my three bathrooms.) On the other hand, going back to our example, a 2014 kitchen in a 1955 house is unlikely to appeal to a shopper 10 years from now who is into what’s new in 2024; in fact, I hypothesize that your financial loss* (*See item #6, below) on your fabulous trendy 2014 kitchen remodel will only grow each and every year thereafter.  And finally, mind you, “trendier” has a shorter lifespan every year, again, IMHO. Disclaimer, thought: All this is IMHO, do not consider this financial advice, this is something you need to do your own research and consult with your own professionals on, based on local market conditions and other factors.
  5. edges-for-vintage-laminate-countersHumble materials — This point kind of goes with the one above. Many — probably “most” — midcentury and older houses were decorated with materials that *today* would be considered kind of… low brow. Things like: Simple, slab-door wood kitchen cabinets… laminate countertops… vinyl flooring… knotty pine. This is pretty much opposite of what today’s”mainstream market” wants to sell you today — (more expensive) granite, marble and solid surface countertops… stone flooring, blinged out cabinetry. I personally found it a relief not to have to spec out my kitchen to “Keep up with the [trendy, possibly debt-laden] Joneses.” My kitchen — with its vintage steel cabinets, laminate countertops, and streaky VCT floor — “fits” with the rest of my (humble materials) house. And by skipping the luxe  — buying humble, shopping Re-Store and vintage — I saved a lot of money. Not that the remodels didn’t cost a lot — they still did — labor and building materials add up quick.
  6. money pitData indicate that most remodels are likely a bad financial “investment”. Looking at the Remodeling 2014 Cost vs. Value Report ( www.costvsvalue.com), there is not even ONE remodeling project, upscale or midrange, that was deemed likely to recoup a homeowner’s expenditure upon resale. Read my story looking at the annual research then go look at the research yourself, including regional breakdowns. Yes, you gotta live somewhere. Surely, you want to make your house your own. And even more surely, you will need to spend money on regularl home maintenance. BUT, don’t swallow marketeers’ hype suggesting there is an awesome payoff in all of this. Renovator Empteor: The way I read it, this study consistently finds that chances are, home remodeling projects are likely to turn out to be consumption that drains your bank account, net — not “investments” that increase it, net. Data © 2014 Hanley Wood, LLC. Complete data from the Remodeling 2014 Cost vs. Value Report can be downloaded free at www.costvsvalue.com.
  7. Consider saving your time, energy and money for the final fix. Unless there is a safety, environmental or infrastructure issue involved, I am not one for putting a drop of time or money into remodeling a space as a “stop gap measure” while I agonize (and then torture DH) over the big picture plan. Okay, I might paint the wall (off white), so that I can “see” the space better so I can figure out what I want. My husband is really good about reminding me: An old house — nay, any house — is a time and money pit poised at any moment to present costly surprises. Be careful about squandering on half measures. When it comes time to start emptying your bank account, empty it on well-thought-out plans that will endure for years… and then spend the time, energy and money — once and only once.
  8. Get a subscription to Consumer Reports. When you are in spending mode like this, your head will spin. As far as I know, Consumer Reports is the only unbiased resource out there to do testing to try and really triangulate to “value” delivered by available products. They are a not-for-profit entity, and they don’t take products from manufacturers – they buy their test products in the store, like you and me. Separately, when considering the wisdom (or lack thereof) of possible energy conservation projects, I am likely to turn first to Martin Holladay and all his research and also the Energy Efficiency Pyramid.
  9. “Test” contractors on small projects first. It took me a few smallish projects — staged over several years, as my plans gelled and as I could save money to fund them — to find a contractor I felt I could work with very effectively on my most costly project, my kitchen remodel. Similarly, reader JD Log said, “I left my kitchen renovation to the very last as I knew it would be a bear of a job. The kitchen and bathroom seems to be the show piece of every 50′s house no matter how humble it is. So did the rest of the interior first.” Yes. Hey, if you have the itch to get going with some ‘nice to have’ not ‘need to have’ decorating, do low-risk cosmetic stuff first — paint! — (but hey, don’t rip out original vintage wallpaper until you research it, the stuff is valuable); get all the ducks in a row for the big, expensive, showpiece spaces.
  10. Disclaimer and clarification to all of the above: I am not a contractor, an architect, a designer, a real estate expert or variant of some such profession. I am writing this from my perspective as an owner of four old houses over my lifetime, and as a blogger who has been writing on and listening to reader feedback about this topic for about seven years. Do your own research… identify and engage your own properly licensed professionals… make thoughtful decisions that are right for you.

house-depreciationYes: A house is a depreciating asset. Saucy source: Anne Taintor

 Readers provide tips to consider before you start remodeling an older home

A while back, in a story about planning for a kitchen remodel, we asked readers to share their experiences and thoughts. They came up with many more, terrific tips on things to consider when you’re considering a remodel. <– We strongly recommend taking the time to read them all. Meanwhile, here are some highlights:

Tend to functional systems before cosmetics: “Pragmatism is universal”

Catherine said:

I agree with the “wait a while” advice–not just to see if what you have grows on you, but because old houses may have expensive-to-fix problems that weren’t immediately apparent and that may be a bigger priority. I mentioned in a comment yesterday that we hadn’t changed much with our “new old” kitchen, but actually, we did have the electrical brought up to code and the kitchen and utility plumbing completely replaced. The sink drained fine when we had the house inspected, but before we had even moved in, it stopped. We knew when buying that statistically, the plumbing was about at the end of its life, but we were glad that the immediate need to spend that money showed up before we had committed it to anything else. Many people don’t seem to like to put the money into what doesn’t show, but it does make a difference in your standard of living and your resale value if your house’s structure and systems are good. (As a house shopper, it was frustrating to see new countertops in houses with rickety furnaces or windows. Give me a sturdy, functional house with rundown decor any day–chances are, I won’t like someone else’s new decor any better anyway.)

Chad D says:

Yes, my house is a patchwork of different eras; I had woodwork and doors 1890′s, 1930′s, 1970′s, and 2000′s, and I uncovered (and saved) a few fragments of plaster with 1950′s wallpaper on them. That gives us a slightly different set of challenges but pragmatism is universal. One of my biggest challenges is that I do have safety concerns to address, and making other improvements at the same time makes so much sense I kinda have to do it all at once. The important thing to do no matter the scope is to have a vision and know what should be done all at once (plumbing, electrical, and insulation for the whole house) and what can wait (buying cabinets and countertops, deciding if I want a tall pantry or a little extra work space) but what I do to the place works toward what I want in the end, and gives me flexibility to let the house tell me what to do later. This does not pertain specifically to kitchens, but I got a home performance audit right away. This means that a professional came in to evaluate insulation, carbon monoxide, proper venting in the kitchen, bath, and laundry room, etc. I would definitely recommend one of these to ANY new homeowner.

Ana says:

Even if you plan to live with things a while, get qualified and licensed professionals to look over your infrastructure (plumbing, electrical, etc.) to alert you of hazards as well as things that will need to be brought up to code. Those things can affect the changes you make (and the cost) and you should know those things up front, particularly if you do need to go ahead and fix something. Worry about the cosmetics later.

For ideas, tour both old and new homes. I had a friend who lived in a 1 bedroom 1920s bungalow that had so much smart storage (original to the house) it was unbelievable. You can get ideas for built-ins that will help you work with small spaces. And new homes can sometimes be very creative as well, particularly those built on small lots in urban areas because they may also have to maximize space while appealing to a modern aesthetic. Set a budget and challenge yourself to try to come in lower. It will encourage you to be more creative with what you have, and you can decide what really matters to you and put the money on what’s important.

Get to know your house and don’t let people who dictate the latest trends push you around

Dan says:

Don’t get caught up in the hype of the home improvement stores and the TV shows they sponsor. It’s your house, and as long as it works for you, that’s what’s important. The only thing I would add is to pay attention to the underlying problems: If your sink is slow to fill or slow to drain, it’s not the sink’s fault – it could be elderly galvanized steel pipes, a clogged drain, or even just an aerator that needs a clean out.

Get to know your house and put all that energy into gardening and decorating before embarking on any major renovations.

Chris says:

DO NOT let the shows on HGTV sway you. If you have an old house and you bought it because you love old houses — then embrace it. There are so many shows on TV that do show lovely, new, sleek, open-concept (Oh, my, what an over-used term) kitchen and living areas. But have you noticed that after a while, they all look exactly the same??? Don’t allow these shows to brainwash you! (Allow US on the RR site to have that honor! Hee hee!) Get to know your house and don’t jump into anything without lots of research. This sounds really woo-woo “out there” but I think a house will tell you what it wants. (I mean this figuratively, of course. Your house should not actually be talking to you.)

AWade says:

As someone in the process of refreshing a family home (it originally was built by my grandparents), the best advice I can give from what I have learned thus far is not to let anyone (friends, family, even websites, LOL) “guilt” you into keeping anything you really don’t like. Of course, the article is right – you should not rush into anything, but keeping something for the sake of it that doesn’t really please you is a mistake. I have those knotty pine cabinets which are mentioned in the article, which you find an almost religious reverence given to in a lot of the Mid-Century modern community. I am typing this right now with paint under my fingernails from the enamel I am currently redoing them with. My kitchen is dark to begin with, and after repainting everything else in the kitchen they continued to keep it feeling like it was dark and never going to have a clean look. Personally my style moves more toward the black/white Art Deco classic vein.

I also have been staring at them for all of my 35 years and have never really cared for them, and I certainly have lived around them long enough to know that. No matter what else I did to enhance or restore the look of the kitchen, they just kept nagging me. So I’ve redone them in white enamel and simple black handles. I am on the last section now (I work a ton so I have been doing it in batches over a few weeks now). I am so happy with the sections that are done it almost brings a tear to my eye when I see them, because I am so in love with how they look now. I cannot wait to be done so I can fully enjoy them and finally feel like my kitchen was complete. I know that wouldn’t work for everyone, but it did work for me. And I hope no one holds it against me, LOL, as I know how loved those cabinets are to some in the community.

Samantha says:

I just want to chime in, with something about insurance companies. Never let them force you to throw out your kitchen cabinets if you don’t want to! My home had custom maple cabinets built on spot, which a lot of homes did, solid wood. Instead of having them refinished, they made me get new ones, which were top of the line. They are not solid wood, and after a few years really start showing it. =(
I regret not keeping my cabinets and standing my ground!!

Lynne says:

As I was once told by an elderly neighbor, when we moved into our first home: “Ain’t nuthin wrong with old, as long as it’s clean”

Make sure to plan, plan and plan some more before renovating

Lena_P says:

I’ve never owned a home, but I’ve “helped” with quite a few renovations. One VERY important thing is plan the layout first, especially with a kitchen or bath. I don’t care if your kitchen is made from solid gold, it’s no good if the food prep area is ten feet away from the stove and the dishwasher opens in front of a door! Think about HOW you use a room before how you want it to look. Use graphing paper to sketch out your layout exactly and imagine moving through it. If you have a hard time visualizing the 2D drawing as 3D space, cut an oval about the same size as you (I’m about 20 inches by 15 inches as a broad-shouldered and busty woman) and any other people likely to use the space (24 inches by 15 inches for a man, maybe 15 by 12 for a kid). Now move the ovals through the space as though they were cooking pasta or making brownies or eating over the sink. Does the layout make sense for how you’re actually going to use the space? Is the counter where you need it? Would tall, shallow cabinets work better? How deep do your drawers really have to be? When my mom did her kitchen, the cabinet maker tried to convince her she needed drawers at least 12 inches deep for her pots. She wanted them nine inches deep, and measured one of her deepest pots in front of him to convince him it really was only six inches deep. He admitted she was right, and she got three drawers under her stove instead of two, increasing her storage by 50%.

Lisa says:

A shout-out for ventilation. Most likely you won’t need the restaurant-strength vent hoods that are all the rage, but many older houses don’t have a vented hood at all. Or they used to have one, but it was closed off when someone installed an over-the-counter microwave (which usually can be vented, but often are not). Think about the stove you have, the one you hope to have in the future, and plan the ventilation accordingly. I never knew how important this was until moving into this house, which did have a wall-mount vent fan in the kitchen, but an underpowered one in a spot that did little good nowhere near the stove.

Jennifer says:

Going in a different direction: A book that has been a great influence on me is Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language (affiliate link). (He’s a major influence on Sarah Susanka, who wrote The Not So Big House (affiliate link), and beyond architecture has been an inspiration to programmers and engineers.) What Alexander did was to study architectural spaces that worked and those that don’t, and from this study, he developed a short list of design principles that make a room or a house feel right. When we bought our MCM/adobe house, we did renovate some things before we moved in, and I relied heavily on Alexander’s principles in making decisions. I also relied heavily on Retro-Renovation’s wisdom. The result is that our kitchen, which was a gut renovation, fits harmoniously with the rest of the house, is very functional, and is a great space to wander into.
While we didn’t “live with” the space, I have lived with the Pattern Language design principles for about 25 years, observing the truth of them in many other spaces, before applying them to this space.

ChrisH says:

A bit of heresy – I know how much people here admire “time capsules”, but – real kitchen remodels tend to be evolutionary. Most of us do not have the resources for a “gut and re-do” job. The older the house, the less likely it’s been preserved as a time capsule, and the more likely it has elements that span decades. Example: my WWI era house would have had no built-in cabinets and no electric refrigeration. There is no vintage ‘fridge that will be period correct for 1917. Built-ins circa 1930s will look OK, even though not correct for the date of the house. In very old kitchens it’s ok if everything isn’t period correct.

Christa says:

The biggest difference I made in my original kitchen was to add skylights. Getting the lighting right made a HUGE difference. These days people prefer a lot more light in the house, so see what you can do to get as much light as possible (without resorting to installing ceiling cans every 2′).

Same thing for my bathroom. The original fluorescent light fixture was yellowed and made the whole room look so dingy. I replaced it with a modern minimalist light fixture with Xenon bulbs. Holy canoli, the room suddenly felt so luxe and nice, I no longer felt the need to change anything but the paint color.

Of course when picking out new lights, you need to reflect the architecture of your home.

Find contractors that understand and keep tabs on them

Diane in CO says:

And here’s my TIP if one chooses the contractor route, besides choosing one who understands “house appropriate:” BE THERE if you can for every step! Now I don’t advocate driving the workers crazy (hehe) but don’t take things for granted and “assume” you know what sub-contractors will do. You know what happens when you “assume” – you make an a$$ of u and me…. Good communication with everyone involved is essential. And, buy ‘em lunch once in a while.

Kim adds:

One of the best ways to update your retro look is to hire workmen who are baby boomers or older themselves, and who “get it”. I hired a 70 year old semi-retired plasterer who originally did all the swirl ceilings in my development when he was 25. Ok, it helps if you are a native to your town and know some of the people–ask around.. Also when it came to my real wood kitchen cabinets that I loved they looked a little worn and tired. I called a cabinet woodworking shop and had them come in and restain them. They took the doors to the shop, and hand sanded the frames in my home. It was only minimally dusty and now they look like new. Don’t over think the details like new handles-if you work full time like me you will just make yourself crazy. As Pam says keep with your time period and style of your house and it will be easier. Have fun, and don’t think you have to do it all overnight.

Think before you toss

Eliza says:

I would really like to get rid of the {edited} mini-blinds in my kitchen – but i’ve been forced to recognize that the original owners knew what they were doing when they put them in. The sun pours through those windows all morning and is blinding when the blinds are open, so the {edited} mini-blinds stay. Some stuff in your old kitchen may not be what you want, but it may be what your kitchen needs.

Roberta Lee says:

Just want to add to my above comments that I am addicted to Zillow.com, and to looking at photos of cool old houses. Yesterday I clicked on a wonderful 1945 Tudor Revival a few blocks from my house, and even before I looked at the photos the words, “Totally updated!’ jumped out at me. The words proved truthful, to my horror: If there is anything left from 1945 inside that poor old house, I can’t see it. I would never, ever consider buying the thing. So never assume that the ‘update’ you pay for will increase your home’s value or saleability. I drove a Realtor crazy insisting on an authentic old house, and finally found the right combination of original and improved. But I had to be persistent and patient because so many grand old houses have been “updated” into utter irrelevance.

Tips on where to find vintage goodies for your home remodel

Tikitacky says:

My advice before making unfortunate choices for your kitchen (or wherever) because you aren’t finding what you want on Craigslist or at the ReStore, search outside those standard parameters. I have found four 50s light fixtures, a full Homecrest patio set, a steel bathroom vanity and the three fixtures that surround it, a pink and black chrome dinette with the laminate in a pattern I have NEVER seen before along with the four chairs in the same pattern, all from (are you ready?) haunting the real estate listings. Yep. Religiously search for homes for sale that are of the same time period as yours and you will find houses that haven’t been flipped. But sadly, the chances are that they will be.

Those great things that we want? They will more often than not go in the trash, so contact the listing agent and ask that they pass your contact info on to their client (the seller) as well as to the buyer’s agent when the house sells, offering to purchase the items you want. Only twice has this not worked for me. And both times my offer wasn’t declined, I just didn’t hear anything; I suspect my contact info wasn’t passed on to the buyers in those instances. I don’t know if that is really on topic, but I have had phenomenal luck with this system and can only recommend that if you’re trying to restore your Mid Century treasure, it’s worth investigating this avenue. On a side note, we are tearing our kitchen out because although it is original(ish), like the issue a previous poster had, the heavily painted wood cabinets (or which there is ONE full upper in the whole kitchen) have shelves that barely allow for a 24 oz can. No cooking oil, not even a box of Bisquick fits. We found a full St Charles steel kitchen that someone tore out for a ‘remodel’. So although we are gutting, when it’s all said and done, no one but us will ever know!

TraySide says:

I don’t think I’ve seen it posted yet – but shop for vintage! My cabin had a cheap 80′s redo in the kitchen, so I found a 1950′s kitchen on Craigslist (including the original GE stove). I had to do some sensitive retrofitting, and now I’ve got a vintage space that just feels right. Etsy, eBay, and local sites are also great resources. Now if I could just find some more red boomerang Formica……

Don’t let emotion dictate your renovations

AnnWesleyHardin says:

Step Away From The Emotion! I was dead set on a breakfast bar, but after months of trotting in circles trying to make it work in the space, we had to throw it out of the design. It was difficult, but in the end it would’ve ruined the whole majesty of the space. So my advice is: be prepared to “throw out your darlings”. Some ideas or dreams simply won’t work and if you force them, you might be sorry!

And Roberta Lee reminds:

… Try using the word “authentic” rather than “old.” See, doesn’t that already feel better?

Yes, Roberta, it does indeed! (Relatedly, those aren’t wrinkles on my face — that’s patina!) Thanks to all our fantastic readers for your thoughtful and generous comments.)

Readers, do you have more tips and experiences to share?
And how about: Have you made changes too quickly after moving into a new/old to a house that you later regretted? I bet we all have! Pray tell!



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  1. Karin Jeffrey says

    Amazing tips from everyone, thank you! It took us a while to put together a mid century look in our 800 foot 1970s condo. I agree that it can be stressful on a relationship, which is why we paid someone to tile our tiny bathroom. It was worth every penny. I’m glad I waited before the major changes. Now I have a clearer idea of what works in the space. Some things just evolved naturally, like inheriting Danish modern furniture from a family member. I now know what to keep and what is needed. Next is our kitchen. And RR is the go-to site for ALL the changes!

  2. Scott says

    All great advice but #5 Humble Materials can’t be emphasized enough. I can personally attest that I was able more or less revitalize my entire house (one room left to go and the living room was already done) over the past year for less than most folks drop on a kitchen remodeling.

  3. tom says

    A great blog…I am 70, and still restoring houses…just a passion.

    You are so correct…make certain the structure is solid. The roof solid and in good condiction; water and leaks can destroy a house. The other is electrical , followed by plumbing.

    Then there is the issue of the building inspector and code; know the area you move into. Do a little investigation, a code officer can cause you ruin. A contractor who you refuse can report your violations. Then you are issued a notice of violations.$$$$$

    Buy and read all the how to books you can on DYI; a house is simple really…and most of the stuff you can do legally as the owner. You do not need a building permit! Try and try again…use simple materials….tongue and grove knotty pine. the new Allure vinyl flooring, plastic pipes for plumbing…and for roofing I like Ondura…eash to handle..no need to tear off roof, lifetime warranty…great look.

    Live in the house for awhile…DO NOT BE INFLUENCED BY HVTV….your style, your life, your creativity….food pantries in kitchen work better than all those upper cabinets.

    And yes reuse…shop for bargains, closeouts…and store to incorporate them into the design. I retired 10 years ago and have built three loft spaces…all by myself ….reusing what I found in the space…

    I am just doing a 3400 sq ft custom ranch from 1962..time capsule! Working with a local handy person, he knows the locals, and you try them for a day to see how they work…try to pay by the hour.

    Just found out a great resource… Stanley Steamer does wood floors and ceremic tile bathrooms (two pink ones in this house); they did everything in a day…results exceptional…and the price everything up front…20% of the cost of refiishing.

    Do not give up your creativity…solutions to your lifestyle…and the way you live. Best, Tom

    • pam kueber says

      Stanley Steamer to clean the tiles — great idea!!!

      Readers: Yes, check your local building department to find out what you need a permit for, and what you don’t need a permit for.

    • Joe Felice says

      So true about the building inspector(s). Do whatever you need to do to stay on their good side, as they will cause you grief otherwise. Much of what we do does not require a permit or inspections, but if it does, do it to the letter, and comply with what the inspector tells you. Expect him or her to be very picky, trying to find fault with everything. Making you do something feeds his or her ego, and they feel really good about that. They will require you to do things that they would not require a developer to do. (I learned this in my property-management career!) In other words, YOU ARE AT THEIR MERCY. It may be sad, but it is true, at least in my experience. And I have even had inspectors make up stuff as they go along, and tell you to do something a certain way, then later tell you to do it a different way. Dealing with government inspectors, who think they have been granted some power over people, can be very frustrating, to say the least. Of course, you can always go over their heads, but that entails some type of appeals process, which will only delay your project, and you really don’t want to go through all this. Of course, there are exceptions, and I’m sure we’ll hear about people who had good experiences with building inspectors.

      • pam kueber says

        Joe, the inspectors in my town are sweethearts. But then, I live in a small town. People are very civil to each other. The inspectors are really watching out for us, that’s my sense. They are not unreasonable, nor do they make things up. They just don’t want us to do stuff that’s unsafe. I always try to respect them when I deal with them. I tend to think they get yelled at a lot when all they are trying to do is their job…

        • Joe Felice says

          A couple of good points, Pam. The smaller the town, the more likely the building inspectors are to be kind and understanding. And they ALWAYS treat women better than men. They take a lot more time explaining things to women, and listen more attentively to them. I cannot think of a single exception to this in my career. But I am a guy in a fairly-large city which has way-too-much development, and the building inspectors are indeed overworked, so I just expect them to be surly. This is no excuse for them to act as if they are doing you a favor by coming out in 2 weeks. And I have experienced their making up rules as they go along, or getting different responses from different inspectors. Yet and still, I stand by my advice to try to respect them and remain civil. Keep them “on your side.” If you can get them interested or excited about your project, they are more apt to go easy on you.

  4. Bon says

    As a retired engineer, I worry about safety, and you should too. A few thoughts to share- Vintage electrical fixtures and appliances are often found with unsafe wiring and missing wire shielding. Codes changed over the years to save lives when homes burned and people died from faulty wiring and grounding from vintage lights, vintage appliances, faulty fuse boxes and lack of proper grounding. It’s well worth the investment to have a licensed electrician update and properly ground electrical boxes and inspect any vintage products for safety and compliance to code. Electrical codes are written to save lives. It’s a great place to spend your remodeling budget.

    • Joe Felice says

      Thank you for the wise words of advice. Now that you mention it, when I was a child, I do recall hearing about fires that were started by “faulty wiring” and other electrical causes. Today, that seems rare. Space heaters and arson, I think, are the leading causes of fires today. I would definitely replace the fuses with circuit breakers, and probably add a few circuits, if that has not already been done. This reminds me of a semi-funny story about my first home, a 1952 ranch, which I bought in 1976. Originally, there was no toaster oven, microwave, dishwasher or disposer in the kitchen, so there was only-one fuse for the entire room, which included the dining room! So whenever I turned on more-than-two appliances, the fuse would blow. When the electrician came out, he discovered that there were only-four fuses FOR THE ENTIRE HOUSE! And whenever I ran the dishwasher, I’d get a shock if I touched the hoodee ring around the sink.. To this day, I don’t like hoodee rings.

  5. Ellen says

    Find the person in your neighborhood who has been there the longest. When we first moved into a 1958 Eichler in California we needed original door knobs that are no longer made. One of our neighbors had a storage shed where he threw old house parts. The door knobs were there and he sold them to us for a reasonable price. I think there is a keeper of spare parts in most older enclaves, but they usually over 70 and don’t get out much.

    Also, when others update their homes don’t be shy about investigating their dumper or just ask if they have the originals. A lot of original fixtures end up in the land fill. Kind of breaks your heart. Finally, at a neighborhood garage sale I purchased a box of 8 original interior door handles for 5.00.

  6. Gannie says

    I moved from a big house built in 1954 to a small one built in 1956.
    That involved a lot of “letting go” of so much I loved…the big rooms, the rustic fireplace, the wood paneled library, my pink tile bathroom. I was very attached to the home I had lived in for 25 years and had kept it much the way it was originally designed. But it needed a lot of maintenance and was much too big for a retired grandma.
    Fortune smiled on me when I found the house I now love, built in 1956, and right next door to my daughter and her family. (That is working out nicely for all of us, as we can help each other as needed while respecting the privacy of both homes).
    My “new” old house has everything I had before, on a smaller scale…The wood paneled library, lots of closets and storage space, a kitchen with a 1950’s General Electric stove that is in beautiful condition, AND a pink tile bathroom! Yay!!
    I don’t have a wood burning fireplace, but that is ok. They require a lot of work and the smell of burnt wood invades the house. So I now have a fire pit in the backyard, and a screened-in back porch with an electric “fake” fireplace. I couldn’t afford to close in the screen windows, so my son-in-law put up wood blinds that can be opened for light & air, or closed for warmth & privacy. Nice!
    I am not changing anything in this house, other than the required up-date of some electrical outlets. Everything else is perfect!

    • pam kueber says

      Awe… what a wonderful story! When I am a grandmother, I want to move right next door — into a smaller, more manageable, sweet time capsule house, too! Thanks for sharing — and welcome!

  7. Jan Butler says

    We recently moved back into the 1960 ranch house I grew up in to care for my 90 year old parents. I love the house, but it needs some renovation. The formica counter tops and back splashes are falling apart in the kitchen and bathroom. The kitchen really does need updating but I love the birch cabinets and am fighting my builder-husband who hates all old things to keep them. The house is full of real birch paneling and built-in cabinets that also match the doors. It’s going to be a bit of a battle I’m afraid, but I’m grateful I found this site. I believe it will give me the courage and ammunition I need to stick to my “keep it as original as I can” guns…so to speak! Thank you!

    • Julia Brown says

      Show him some samples of all the new “retro” laminates from Formica and WilsonArt. Also the solid surface Formica. Really good old wood cabinets are worth saving if you like them. I could go on and on, but almost everything you need is on this website. Lots of new retro kitchen pics on Houzz as well. This website plus an old master carpenter has helped keep me true to my vision for my old house.

  8. Mary Barr says

    I would like to add in “Plan for the future” in terms of accessibility. Many older homes have narrow doorways, steep stairways, tiny bathrooms, etc., which may impact your ability to age comfortably in the house.

  9. Holly Hartwig says

    Hi. what a wonderful website with many good ideas and helps. Does anyone have any good ideas (not too expensive) for bathroom wall paneling or coverings that are not tiling or would look too much like in a trailer or restaurant bathroom? I have been searching and saw nice multipanel collection (but in Europe). thanks for helping. and I do need help. this is for a bathroom in a house from early 70’s in Albuquerque. (not too much moisture and quick drying) thanks again, Holly

  10. Michelle Lynch says

    We just purchased a home built in 1953 with some mid-1970s updates. It is my newest home. I’ve also had an 1890s “Victorian” and a 1790s farmhouse. Don’t let contractors, decorators, trend-setters, friends or anyone else talk you into scrapping the “outdated” (their term) retro features that made you fall in love with your home in the first place. They don’t “get it.”

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