A long feature today, for our Sunday reading … hey – just like the New York Times Magazine … introducing one of our Retro Renovation readers, Courtney.  Courtney first caught my attention when she corrected a mistake of mine… then alerted me to pecky cypress I’d posted months ago…and then, I learned that she’d sent us the Tiki timeline.  She seemed like a very interesting chica, so I’m posting some of our online chats here.  A long post – but I promise you, Courtney writes beautifully – and she makes me laugh laugh laugh.  She studying journalism in California, and when she is quite famous we can tell everyone that we met her here first.

Hi Pam!

Loving the site, as always, and your new pink bathroom supplemental. I’ve got a 1930 pink bathroom (with sea foam green accent tile), and my mother has one, too, probably 50s.

One of my favorite things about your site is that is goes beyond the mid century basics; that you frequently showcase a variety of styles and design movements, beyond MCM 101: Wright and Eames.  On general design sites, Wright and Eames get all the MCM glory.  I’m not saying they don’t deserve the blood of my unborn, those guys were great, but I’m sick of every yuppie and their pocket dog coveting the Eames lounge chair for their otherwise sterile, vanilla California Contemporary magazine spread.  I don’t know how those things became the holy grail of the upwardly mobile, but it’s really ruining the look for me.  Viva la short run designs and lesser known designers! Anyway… so I really appreciate your more broad coverage.

Which brings me to why I am writing this note.  I loved the museum video you linked in the side bar about Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, the one that features the still shot of your kitchen (how exciting!).  However, instead of Saarinen, your link credits… EAMES!


Oopsy. I do have to admit, I get my Saarinen and Eames and Noguchi and Mies all mixed up. I have to be careful when I name drop with my barista. So the conversation continued, as I asked Courtney to tell me more….

Sure, indeed, feel free to use or excerpt my notes, so long as you copy edit my dumb typing errors (“is that IT”, not “is that IS”, yipe).  We’ve met before, actually, I am the same Courtney circa the Ritts Furniture/Tiki Timeline post.

I can’t support you enough when it comes to your credo about loosening the reigns on retro design formulas.  Following the same sentiment, I think you might appreciate this analogous mid century fashion anecdote.

Years back, when I was doing the starving artist routine (well into my thirties now, I wonder, um, when exactly this stage might end), I was a barista at an espresso shop at the Municipal Courthouse in Cleveland, Ohio, slinging coffee for cops, judges, lawyers, and criminals.  Some of these weirdos were total cartoon jaw droppers, but my favorite was this incredibly elegant middle aged lady who was always dressed in full 1940’s regalia.  We would see her once every two or three months, gingerly in queue at the post 9/11 metal detectors, always wearing nothing less than a pill box hat, two piece navy dress suit straight out of a Marshall Fields window, elbow length white satin gloves, and a respectable jeweled clutch.  Oh my God.  Is Howard Roark in the clink again?  How mesmerizing this fancy lady was — so many questions!  How quickly could I purchase a pair of satin dress gloves for every day of the week, and would constantly steaming chai ruin my cream rouge?  She was infinitely cool, but, and sorry if this reads insensitive, but the fact of the matter was, this lady was, you know, mentally ill.  Totally crack-brained, purse full of marshmallows, trailing glass marbles down Euclid Avenue.

I think about that lady every time I see retro renovations that follow one-track thematic design formulas.  As with any school of design, that kind of matchy-matchy-de-rigueur just looks crazy to me.  I so enjoy original time capsule homes- like the recently featured Des Moines home- it is chilling.  You get that great historic feel in a home that was really dressed in the 50’s or 60’s and barely touched since, with all that low angular furniture just grown right into the floor boards, and the stack stone and paneled walls standing on avocado plush like tough, smoking ghosts.  Really amazing stuff.  But I have never felt that kind of magic in a similarly retro renovated home.  You know what I mean?  You can always tell the difference.  I’ve seen so many houses retro renovated that look clinical, or like cartoons, or like mid century showrooms; they just look kind of soulless.  Even in a pristine staging, something intangible is missing.  Maybe it’s the 50 years.

Team Retro Eclectic.  Keep fighting the good fight.

I promise to send photos of my pink bathroom, just as soon as it’s photogenic!


Yes, folks’, two of our little mantras are to MIX IT UP and DON’T TAKE OURSELVES TOO SERIOUSLY. And moving on…

I’m relocating a little further south of Los Angeles to accommodate a commute to Orange County.  I’ve lived alone for a very long time, but given that I’ve gone back to school, the exorbitant cost of living in Southern California, and my profound desire to rent a single family home and not another apartment, I’m on the Craigslist grind for a retro-roommate.  I think I would rather live with a creepy reclusive troglodyte than someone who will bring in a bunch of brushed silver or hang one of those ‘Tournee du Chat Noir’ prints on my wall (dark plague of retail shoppers).  Anyway, I have a huge file full of inspiration photos and when I pulled four of my favorites to put in the ad, lo and behold they were all from your site.  Not a surprise.

Feel like moving to Long Beach?

Oh yeah, Courtney. Winter is already in the air here in New England. Long Beach is smellin’ good. Alas, the husband, the child, the job, the house packed to the gills, you understand.

Hello again!

I hope you have something you can work with here.  Please edit photos and text to your discretion.  Wasn’t sure what to shoot, I don’t really have a show-stopper here.  This place is a very vintage-LA starter home (apartment), a 1930 residence hotel converted to large studios.  This area (LA’s Koreatown) is crawling with these fancy old buildings.  I’m about 5 blocks from the location of the legendary Brown Derby and the Ambassador Hotel (RIP, both), and fully surrounded with all sorts of bones of old LA (the incredibly romantic and preferred incarnation of this town).

Photos:  I skipped the cute stuff and went for original architectural details.  Tin ceilings and elevator in the mirrored lobby.  Inside the apartment I have great rope-like molding throughout, colossal doors with crystal doorknobs, and yes, a pink and seafoam bathroom (not in superb shape, sadly).  I lived here for two years before I realized that I still had the 1930 icebox/refrigerator camouflaged among my kitchen cabinets.  I saw a segment on a design show about new cabinet hardware modeled to look like old refrigerator pulls and plates and thought, ‘wait a f***ing cotton picking minute’.  I flew in to check out my cabinets and indeed I had the entire original refrigerator unit covered in 80 years of paint coats and stripped of its electrical.  I went fully apeshit bonkers.  I was very excited.  It was not a rational moment.

Going into the rental-relocation, I cannot wait to get my grubby hands on a house.  I am going to decorate the holy beejesus out of it.  Any Retro Renovators thinking of moving on a lark to the lovely port town of Long Beach, CA (heavily Arts-n-Crafts and Deco, thank you earthquake of 1933)?

Thanks again, Pam.

I LOVE all the photographs, Courtney. Especially the sultry negligee-hanging-on-the-back-of-the-bathroom-door shot. I need more sex on the blog, I hear it is good for your Google search rankings, brings in lots of new readers.

And Courtney’s most recent update:

News for me:  I am the proud new renter of a 3 bd/3 bath ranch in a pretty midcentury burg in Long Beach, just a few short miles from the ocean.  I still don’t know the exact year of the house, but the neighborhood is described with the local realtors as:
“Nestled in a beautiful area across from the college is the family oriented, residential, park-like community of Park Estates. The homes, built in the 40s, 50s and 60s, are larger than most Long Beach homes and are shaded by mature trees. ”
Oh mercy, it is very ‘little boxes’ back there.  Row after row of low, sunny ranches.  From the looks of the finishes, I believe the original core of the house is 50’s, and the later addition (a new kitchen and an upstairs wing for Grandpa) looks like late 60’s construction.  There is so much work to be done on the place, but the homeowner is hands-off and has given us carte blanche to run with it (this might be the polite way to say this).  It will be some time before I get into the really good stuff, temporarily bogged down by the mundane drudgery of a relocation, but I don’t think I need to tell you how tickled I am about this.  Per my housemate’s request, first project up: a new working doorbell.  Hm, mid-c doorbells?  Where to begin?!


Thank you, Courtney. Of course there are mid century doorbells, you silly girl. When I was about your age, I lived light. I had the thought that, if worse came to worse, I could pile everything into my car and drive to Florida and become a waitress. St. Petersburg, to be exact, although I’d never been there. Worse didn’t come to worse, in fact lots of really wonderful things came along. Not to mention…today, it would take a few rail cars, rather than a ’74 Dodge Colt, to move the show. Have a blast decorating, Courtney – but hmmmm, traveling light is a good thing, too.

  1. anita says:

    So nice to read this and find out I’m not alone. It took me so many years of return visits to the same places (a particular booth in an antique mall, a section of a certain store, etc) to figure out that it wasn’t one particular styleI was so drawn to, but it was almost anything 40s, 50s or 60s! So then I spent years trying to do exactly what was spelled out for a particular look, but it’s just too frustrating…. so now, finally, I’ve come to peace with the understanding that I can have all 3 decades, and all the various styles of the decades in my one house, all at the same time if I want to! I’m currently going through a tiki and vintage oriental stage, bamboo, surfboards, grasscloth; and at the same time I’m experiencing boomerangs and atomic star-type patterns. So I made some pinch pleat drapes out of retro atomic barkcloth for my kitchen window with the goal of them making me smile every time I come down the stairs, and they work. Look 25′ to the left and it is the tiki surfboard area. I love it. Mix it up everyone, don’t play by all the rules and enjoy the stuff that makes you smile. My new 1962 stereo console lives directly underneath the very kitchy wall pic of diamondhead. I’ll never be happy with just one style of MCM, and I don’t even try anymore.

  2. Kitschy Kimberly says:

    Oh Courtney, I am green with envy. I long to be near L.A. in all it’s retro lovelyness. I have pledged to myself that I’ll move there one of these days, sooner rather than later hopefully. My two great loves are mid c and classic Hollywood so there truly is no place more divine imo.

  3. Courtney says:

    Thankee, F1! Renters have a different kind of retro radar, and I promise you that doorbells have never/ever been on mine. The roommate doesn’t care one way or the other, he wants a little button that goes ding dong, but I’ll let y’all know if I find something spectacular.

    Pam, you’re so sweet to do this post! I think what we learned here today is that I am a tremendous windbag. Love your wanderlusting waitress fantasy. Reminded me of “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”, a favorite Kris Kristofferson movie (speaking of sex on the blog) (and vintage).

  4. Femme1 says:

    Courtney, you are a treasure! You’re postings are great and you’ve got a nice turn of phrase, I must say. And I agree with your attitude about the whole precious design sense of many MCM enthusiasts. I like keepin’ it real.

    I might be able to help you with the doorbell. For the past year or so, I’ve been searching for a replacement cover for our 1959 Nutone longbell door chimes, and so far, no go. But there are usually a few good choices on evilBay. As a matter of fact, I’ve bought several, and haven’t decided on which to install; I’ll have to take out the old coverless box with the two long chimes, but apparently you can sell these for parts for a good chunk of change. And I still keep looking—I’ve become addicted to the doorbell search! To find them I search on “vintage door chime,” “vintage door bell,” or “vintage Nutone” (that’ll bring in a lot of other stuff, but it’s fun to look at anyway). If you search on just “doorbell” or “door bell” you’ll get a ton of icky new stuff. Try “longbell” once in a while and occasionally you’ll find something.

    A great place to see what is the good stuff is on the fantastic website http://www.knockdoorbells.com/ . It’s rather pricey for me, but there is a ton of good info there.

    You’ll have fun in your new place, I’m sure.

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