Retro Renovation Best of 2010: 10 stories on history, culture and time capsule houses

jennifer greenburg's book the rockabilliesWhat better way to get psyched for 2011 than to look back on the best of 2010? All this week, I’ll reflect on my favorite stories of the past year. First up: My favorites from the “Browse Stories: All About the Era” category — a kind of catch all for stories that provide historical context and perspective. Stories from this category are among my favorites, because they give me the opportunity to do “real journalism” — that is, to uncover and explore history, details and people that might otherwise go forgotten. I don’t want to be “just” a “curator.” I want to be an archeologist and anthropologist and treasure hunter. Here are 10 favorites from 2010:


  1. The Rockabillies — Jennifer Greenburg is a talented and emphathetic-to-the-era photographer in the Chicago area. I loved her 2010 book, The Rockabillies. I wrote about The Rockabillies in a first story here…. and then Jennifer participated in an online Q&A. Her idea that those of us so interested in the design and decor of the era have very finely honed visual sensibilities really stuck with me. The two images above are both from Jennifer’s beautiful book.1930s outhouse
  2. An outhouse names Sally — It was only 50 to 60 years ago — after WWII ended — that we fully moved beyond the era of the outhouse. I love Sara’s story about her family outhouse named Sally. Sally was built by the WPA during the Depression, and is still fully functional. And she is reminder of how very lucky we have it.
    1940s design style
  3. 1940s design style — After my presentations at the home show in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the spring, I got all ambitious and catalogued some of my ideas and research about  1940s design style. Need to keep working on these summaries!
  4. Dovecotes – Importantly, all readers now know that this is not a birdhouse, but a dovecote. Dovecotes are among the romantic features that distinguish storybook ranch homes.
    lane brutalist furniture
  5. Brutalist design — I also had fun researching brutalist design and the translation of this architectural style into furniture and lighting.royal barry wills 1920 house
  6. Royal Barry Wills’ 1920 house — Royal Barry Wills, “the father of the mid-century Cape Cod” — is my main man. This is the house that he built in Melrose, Mass., in 1920 for his family before he got all hugely famous. I think I am about the only person, besides the folks still at his eponymous firm in Boston, who fully appreciate his incredible legacy.1950s kitchen
  7. The perfect 1950s kitchen — Even though we have craiglists category, and a steel kitchen category, and even a 1950s category, I put this image — of a 1950s kitchen for sale on craigslist — in the historic preservation category because it is: Quintessential mid-century modest. I KNOW this is what the kitchen in my 1951 house looked like originally — even down to the green vinyl asbestos tile floor — before it was expanded around 1975.  This kitchen: 10 million of them across American, with minor variation, do ya think?
  8. Historic mid century houses open to the public — Intern Matt Kinkead launched our special series on historic mid century homes open to the public. The Louis Armstrong house in Queens, New York, was a big favorite — gotta love this kitchen, too!
    nora and her pink kitchen
  9. Nora’s house — Last, but certainly not least, you gotta love Nora and her 1950s vintage pink-and-blue bathroom and pink-countertopped kitchen. Beautiful homes are wonderful — but meeting the people inside them — is even better.

Check out all my stories about Historic Preservation, Culture and Time Capsules from 2010 by clicking here.  Did I miss any of your favorites?

  1. Guy H. says:

    Wow, what wonderful features. I am really glad you posted that 1974 time capsule again, I had missed that.

    It has a metal spiral staircase and a sunken living room, too things I love!

    The comment section of that post features a link to this post:

    That post slams the same house that us retrorenovation readers were praising.

    As a time capsule homeowner myself, I am surprised that everyone doesn’t “get it”

  2. Amy Hill says:

    I think the Nora story was my favorite. I loved the fact that she had spent so many years there, and how well maintained it is.
    No, wait, my favorite story was the young couple who had the 50’s wedding followed by their “vintage” honeymoon.
    I also enjoyed your series on plaid. Very cool.
    Actually, it’s hard to pick one favorite. Each day you bring us a new treasure.
    Thanks for a really interesting year!

    1. Jeff says:

      The Nora story was the most heartfelt, certainly, but I have to say, the lead photo of the Rockabilly living-dining combo is basically me, and my house all the way!

      Now if I can only get my robin’s egg blue 57 Imperial LeBaron back……

      Great year, looking forward to more in 2011.

  3. Lynn-O-Matic says:

    I loved every one of these stories. It’s so fun to see them again. But somehow I missed the Rockabillies story. How?? I’ve just forwarded it to my mom. She misses her two standard poodles. She’d take those rooms, and the dog–especially if the gentleman is thrown in for good measure. But shhhh–don’t tell my dad.

  4. Trouble aka Shane says:

    Man, there were so many favorite this year….I like the Storybook ranch designs too. The guy at the top – back when I was 28 I went to a house with a girl I was seeing, where her sister lived with her BF. That house was like that too, first time I had ever seen it in person. I mean everything, down to the silverware in the drawers was 1950s. I could never make my house THAT authentic….I guess I’m missing a gene, or my I.Q. isn’t quite there!

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