Open thread: Did you “Listen to your house” before making any changes?

evaxebraHere’s a fun one for a Friday: As an owner of an old house… did you take the tried and true advice to “listen to what your house says it wants” before making updates or remodels?

  • If so: What did your house tell you — and how did that affect your plans?
  • Flip side: Did you not take the time to listen to your house… and make a rash decision you later regretted?

It’s pretty clear what the fabulous evaxebra’s old apartment was telling her: Don’t you dare mess with the pink bathroom!


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  1. says

    SOS! I was unaware that world of tireless going out of business! I heard about them through your blog. They found the celery colored bathroom tile we need but they closed before we placed the order. Can I buy from you? Do you know the owners? I still have the item numbers from an email.

  2. Melanie says

    We lived in our 1962 mid-mod raised ranch for 3 years before embarking on a renovation to our balcony. Before, it extended out only 4 feet along the lake-side of our home. We loved the vibe from the balcony, but found that we really couldn’t use it because it was so small. After living with the situation, we were able to re-imagine the balcony with lovely outdoor space facing the lake without damaging our views from the inside. To show or love, we had the original balcony railing re-made to create a building code compliant version of the original. It turned out fabulous – with room to showcase our vintage preway fireplace. Can send photos if you’d like to see our project. Now just waiting for our homecrest wire patio loungers to come back from their powder coating spa treatment to add to the party!

  3. Jamie says

    Last spring I finally caved and let my husband have vinyl windows installed in my 1950 rancher. Not my favorite thing — I’m not crazy about the wide white borders on them. But it made my husband happy, and he let me paint the house a pretty 1950s teal. He wanted to gut the kitchen (the cabinets were customs installed in 1975), but we have decided to scrub up and clean up and make do. Hoping to get a cute retro formica countertop for the kitchen in a year or two. Well-meaning folk warned me “you’ll never sell that house with formica.” Maybe, but at least while I live there it will be a space that I love.

    • Mary Elizabeth says

      Ten years ago, we heard, “You’ll never sell that condo without granite countertops and oak cabinets.” (We had just replaced the original 1978 laminate with new laminate and painted the cabinets after a kitchen fire.) Then five years later, the house was on the market, and nobody who came through said anything about wanting granite or oak. Our agent said, “Don’t bother to put marble or granite in the kitchen now; you’ll never get your money back. And stone counters are on the way out.” We ended up selling the house at very close to the original asking price. The person who bought it liked the old-fashioned look of the laminate and the painted cabinets.

      As many people on this site have said, pay no attention to what is fashionable at the moment if you aren’t planning to sell you house in the near future. Do what you can afford, what pleases you and what you think you will enjoy in the long term. Do what seems to fit in your house.

    • lee says

      This whole notion of houses becoming “unsellable” because of your choice of carpeting/countertops/appliances/etc is just so ridiculous. As if anyone will nix buying a $320,000 house because it doesn’t have $2,000 worth of granite countertops.

      FWIW, the realtor I work with, who is not at all an MCM fan, tells me an increasing number of clients tell her they *like* the look of laminate countertops.

      • Mary Elizabeth says

        And I’ve said this before, but I think it is worth repeating. The woman whose late carpenter father (Mike) built our knotty pine kitchen in 1959 could not bear to tear it out, in spite of what the realtor was telling her. When we first walked into the kitchen with our own realtor, we said, “Oh, look at the sun shining on those knotty pine cabinets!” And we fell in love with the house, even though it didn’t have our top 10 “must haves.” We are now sure that the woman’s parents were talking to her and continue to talk to us through the house.

  4. Chris says

    Our 1934 home has a strong personality — or maybe it’s me? Our house tells me what it wants and I do my best to make it happen, within our budget. Unfortunately, that means many projects remain undone, but what we’ve done, we’ve tried to do “right!”
    We recently did a retrofit on our coal burning fireplace that was previously non-functional. We ran a gasline and have a gorgeous fireplace with an authentic period appropriate coal basket.
    When we did an addition, we paid a little extra to have all the new woodwork match that of the original house. She keeps talking to us about new projects, but we have to be patient! 🙂

  5. melinda says

    I live in a 1931 historic house with wood sash windows. A few yrs ago we had a man come and take apart the 15 windows, replace the glass, reglaze, add insulation between the windows and retie the cords w/the original knotting using the same weights and new cording. He told us that he could hear the original craftsman who did the windows guiding him to make sure that he did it right. He did and they are great!

  6. lynda murray says

    I’m going to admit that I did’nt listen to my house! Sorry. Four years ago we bought a 1952 ranch . It’s on an acre of property. There is an additional 2 car garage with a “Fonzie” apartment above it , and a mid 1930’s Cinder block building on the property. I tore out the origional Crosley Kitchen (But I saved it. Stored it in the cinder block bldg). The pink bathroom was a mess The tile was not properly installed from the start. (I saved that too! even the yellow cracked Ice toilet seat, also in the cinder block bldg.). I replaced everything Kitchen ,and bath, with natural slate tile . Also added custom built natural cherry cabinets . The Backsplash is a stacked stone that coordinates with the 50’s heatalator fire place with origional stacked stone mantle and wall. I’m happy with the results, and don’t concider it a remuddle. I did push to keep the Crosley Kitchen But my family just did’nt agree. I have now claimed half of the cinderblock building as my Studio. I am reusing the Crosley Kitchen in there as a fake kitchen . I have a whole retro theme going on in there. Right now it is a work in progress, But soon I hope to be sending you pictures of my completed sewing studio/re-purpose shop.

  7. Lori says

    We LISTEN to our 1922 house, our older neighbors (they called it “the Wankel house”) and this web site! After searching the city records/US Census and finding all the previous owners, it explained a lot. The wood trim was notched because there were additional walls to divide the house for 6 people/3 generations (yet 3 of us have trouble fitting now…). The divorce probably painted the wood trim Chinese Red… The metal cabinets were painted for fashion, not scratches (teal, harvest gold, cream, etc.). The Hoosier in the pantry was probably from the “original kitchen”. It has been an archeological dig… We are now in the process of gutting the kitchen and taking it back to the white metal cabinets-thanks to this site!!!

  8. says

    I definitely “listen” to my house when deciding what to do next. I’m fortunate that our place was built by my grandparents and I have tons of history (including lots of old photos) to go back to when I question how something looked in the past.

    Right now I follow a “mid century compatible” design theme – we’re not afraid to introduce modern into the house, but only when it remains compatible with the original mid century look and feel. The ideal for me is when people come in and tell me they can’t actually tell what’s new and what’s old. Then I know I did it right.

    • Mary Elizabeth says

      We’ve been following your house, Doug, for a long time. I was going to say you are lucky to have your grandparents’ house (wish I had been able to hang on to my grandparents’ home), but I’ve changed my mind. I think the home is lucky to have you, Mary Grace and Stephen as caretakers!

  9. June Cahill says

    My mother’s “words of wisdom” – “Live with it for at LEAST one year”….did I do this? No. I can’t tell you what I ripped out, and then later, reinstalled….or maybe I can! 1)Original wood cornice boxes 2)Divider screen separating den from living room 3)dining room chandelier 4)hard-wired clock in kitchen soffit (I’m not taking the ‘fall’ for that one – it was my contractor’s fault – took me years to find another on Ebay…) 5)Chrome plated pool ladder, original to 1963 pool …and more (I’m sure…)

    Bad news is much $$$ spent that didn’t have to be spent – GOOD news is I learned my lesson!

    • Mary Elizabeth says

      June, it is wonderful that you were able to restore/reinstall some of the tear-outs. But it’s even better that–like many of us–you learned your lesson from the experience, even if you didn’t listen too your mother. Experience is a great teacher in this endeavor, as in every other that I know of. But some people are not good students, you know. 🙂

      I for one can’t take credit for sitting quietly for a year and waiting for my house to whisper its desires. Ten days after moving into my 1959 ranch, I had breast cancer surgery. We needed to settle quickly into the house as it was, as I had no energy to do physical labor or mental planning. So my husband agreed to wait until I was done with treatments before ripping the house apart–all but the fuchsia carpet in the living room, which was making us both lose sleep. (You’d be surprised how some colors can glow even in the moonlight!) And I took light duty only, such as repairing scratches in the knotty pine cabinets and cleaning and regluing the loose plastic tiles around the bath tub. We danced gently with our house because we had to, and a year later we knew how it worked for us, what we loved and what we wanted to change.

  10. says

    I had a lot of work to do to my place all at once, but I’ve been so slow doing it that I got to listen to the house plenty. And luck of the salvage yard/Craigslist draw made some choices that I think the house was pulling for anyway.

    But I’m trying to listen to the house about some of the other choices I made, but it’s hard because it was already a mashup of styles from previous renovations, some better done than others. I needed a new kitchen right away so I did IKEA without doors. That bought me more time to listen. Also I ran out of money and was grateful to defer that cost.

    • says

      I should add, the trim my house came with was mostly wrecked or crudely replaced, and I listened to the house and kept the mismatched styles even though I replaced it all. Upstairs is Victorian and downstairs is a blend of Colonial, Craftsman and Art Deco that must have been very trendy when it was first put in. I was going to replicate the mid mod flush doors in the Victorian upstairs as well, but I found a matched set of Victorian doors and the house wanted them so badly I was forced to buy them without even checking that the sizes were right. Luckily they were! Oh, and I was missing 2 Art Deco doorknob back plates downstairs, and I found an exact match! The second I stole out of the basement stairwell.

  11. TerriLynn says

    We have spent a couple years listening to our 1952 modest brick home. It speaks a different language than I do so it is taking me a while to figure out. I think we really got the kitchen right with a little kiss to the vintage. The original is way to far gone after 70s renovations that were poorly done to recover any of it. Lots of add on’s have created many many doors all over the house. We have already closed up three of them and opened wide another. The thing I am having trouble with it the added on bathroom. It was originally a 2 bd 1 bath house with a den. In the 70s they added a bathroom onto the den on top of a concrete patio. This is going to be a gut job cause once again, it was done so poorly. But I have yet to figure out what the house wants to do with it since it was not original, but I cant even think about losing a bathroom and making it a one bath house.

  12. says

    I definitely listen to my 1930s cottage!

    I kept the original 1930s cabinets and layout, much to my mother’s dismay. She kept telling me to gut it and open up a wall to the bedroom that’s off of it. The horror! lol Instead I sanded down every single part of them and figured out what color everything was and went with what was closest to the original. I have no idea what the original flooring was, so I went with the checkerboard look based on an old kitchen add from 1929. The countertops were replaced with laminate during the 70s or 80s, so I put in tile and a 1930s cast iron sink. I went with white tile, because there was evidence that was what was there and kept the colorful backsplash tile.

    Now, I’m trying to figure out what colors were original in the rest of the house and painting them back again, because the last owners painted everything brown…. walls, cabinets, the outside, everything. If I can’t figure it out, I’ll use what I think the house wants.

    Even for a house with only 4 different owners, there was quite a bit of remuddling, that I’m trying to fix. The bathrooms are still waiting on me to bring them back. I actually found the base to the original washstand in the back that was being used as a plant stand. I hope one day I can find a matching top to it, but I doubt there’s a lot of brownish 1930s sinks floating around without a bottom…. sigh.

    Sadly all the windows on the main floor have been replaced in the 80s and they all are failing. Of course the three original windows downstairs are working just fine. One day I hope to fix that mistake.

    So much to do…. but I wouldn’t have it any other way 🙂

  13. says

    Nope. First thing we did, before moving in: take up the old, worn wall-to-wall, cheap laminate and banal white kitchen tile in our main floor and replace it all with cork, and I’ve never regretted that decision. We also pulled out riverbottom-brown wallpaper in my daughters’ room and pulled down four floor-to-ceiling bronzed mirrors in the dining room, revealing a hand-painted 1955 mural, and replaced the gold chandelier with a Lightolier glass tubing fixture from the bedroom. Within a year we knocked out a previously-covered pass-through in the front hall (the original design had louvered slats there). In other words, we returned three features to their original glory.

    We also took down a room’s worth of brown Naugahyde wallpaper in a bedroom. It had been put up in the early 1970s (judging from the peace signs painted on the wall behind it). It was a novelty, but also felt like being inside a saddle. I wish I’d left that up, and also the plain-blue wallpaper in our garage entry alcove, simply because we have yet to replace it. (I do plan to get knotty pine paneling to match the rest of the alcove, so that’s a plus.)

    Before we moved in, though, someone had already installed granite countertops–but left the steel Geneva, which was a selling point for me. And former owners also tragically converted what I know was a classic tiled bathroom to a Home Depot beige special. I’ll let you know when we work on that project!

    • says

      I should qualify my “Nope”–we DID listen, but we didn’t wait the recommended year on the big stuff. Sometimes your house is screaming so loudly , you just have to answer immediately.

  14. Retroski says

    What a fun post to revisit! Do I listen? I try! We-re in the process of installing some new wood floors and tile in the entryway of our mid-70s era condo which started life as an apartment, and later was converted into furnished apartments for corporate housing, then regular condos. The old floor was dingy, stained, off white carpet, so I feel it breathing a sigh of relief as it says, “Thank you for turning me into a home!” It felt neglected after being occupied for years by uncommitted people. It wants us to remove all the off-white bleh-ness but do the changes in the retro spirit. It also wants us to keep the original closet doors and fingerblock parquet in the kitchen. I also think it’s happy with the orange/white/amber slag glass lamp above our kitchen table…something that was going to be temporary till we found a better lamp, but it felt so much at home we kept it!

    • Retroski says

      Some houses must have stronger voices than others. Some really want to stay original while others are okay with being changed as long as you take care of them and do the changes well. When my mom got the chance to remodel our orange kitchen to a different style (after living with it for years) the house said “You have taken good care of me, so I will let you change my kitchen since I know you do a good job. The new kitchen, while modern, is well-designed, tasteful and functional, so the house doesn’t mind! My parents have done a lot to upkeep the house, and they love it, so it’s happy with its caretakers.

      • Heart says

        How Fun! A retro 70’s update. Yes, sometimes breathing new life/love into an old house is exactly what’s called for. The hunt is on, enjoy the journey.

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