“The Hard Way” – Retro Renovation reality check 2012

pink-bathroom-fixtures.jpgWelcoming 2012, here’s the story that now has become my Retro Renovation new year’s tradition… kind of summing up the bumpy journey so many of us share, or can expect to: If you decide to undertake a period-inspired renovation including preserving what you have and/or using hard-to-find and salvage material, you are in for an adventure. You may find yourself walking the fine line between genius and insanity. You will need tenacity, patience, a good spirit, and faith that you are on a righteous path. 

My The Hard Way essay, originally published in Dec. 2007, less than two months after I started the blog:

We know about taking the road less traveled. To me, doing things the hard way has the same allure. The hunt for the perfect estate sale light fixture, the set of vintage cabinets that are just right, the document wallpaper that pulls things all together.

Honestly, the reason this blog even exists is that after completing big projects, I had so much info in my mental hard drive about the retro renovation alternatives available — all obsessively and endlessly researched — that it seemed a shame to simply be done with it when my projects were completed.

But the dangers of the hard way came into focus this week, when I pulled Palm Springs Stephan into the vortex.

A week ago Friday night I spotted the brand new, mint in box, never installed set of circa 1958 bathroom fixtures in this exact photo, on a forum. They’d just been posted. Hot! I happened to be emailing a bit with Stephan, and knew he was working on a bathroom reno.

Long story short, he was very excited about the prospect of pink fixtures and spent hours back-and-forth with the seller in Cheyenne, Wyoming, trying to certify the exact color, before he sent a certified check. Hours with a tile store to coordinate tile. Planned to switch the plumbing. Worked out shipping. At one point thought it was a done deal.

Ultimately, though, the color didn’t pan out for him, and it’s back to plan A.

The moral of the story is — I guess — to know thyself. If you really truly want very special retro finds to complete your renovation vision, it’s gonna be a roller coaster. Requiring patience, tenacity, and a belief that once you put your vibes out there, the retro decorating gods will send you what you need. If you think that sounds fun — so then, will be doing it the hard way.

P.S. Anyone within driving distance of Cheyenne, Wyoming, interested in a set of brand new, mint in box, never been installed Crane bathroom fixtures? Tub, toilet with really cool seat, sink with chrome legs/towel bar, lav faucet, tub faucet. $1000. Email Gary, who seems very nice and appreciative of them, at: [item sold]. He can give you the whole story, which begins in North Dakota.

Oh yeah. They’re not really pink. They’re beige. Or taupe. Or a sandy pinky beigey taupe. Something like that. Buckle up.

This post was originally published Dec. 9, 2007, then repeated on Jan. 4, 2008, Jan. 1, 2010, and Jan. 1, 2011.

  1. Ann-Marie Meyers says:

    And, then, there is this scenario: I am carefully planning on my 1962 kitchen update, tracking down laminate that will work in my color scheme, trying to decide how to brighten my cabinets without replacing them, figuring the best use of floor space for my budget ($0.00), and setting aside time in summer 2012 to work on it all, when, WHAM! The garbage disposal gives up the ghost, and we are suddenly pushed into making it all happen now, because there is no way I am replace the disposal without putting in a new sink, and yadda, yadda.
    AND, I was just about to leave to head to the other house in Texas to get the foundation repairs done there, so I could start to decide which house I am keeping!

    I think I will be sending some pictures soon, and asking for kitchen help from all my RR experts.

  2. Elaine says:

    This is timely, for sure. I am still working on my 1973 time capsule house here on the Space Coast, and we are closing in on the home stretch. Many decisions have been made, many wonderful original touches have been preserved, but some will have to go, to be replaced with … what?

    To be replaced: Worn and patched laminate in kitchen. It’s a very pale blue and gray dotted star pattern.

    New: Tiled shower in master bath.

  3. Paula Webb says:


    It is so timely that you posted this. On Friday we signed paperwork on a 1957 split level ranch that we have been pursuing since April. I have been reading your site since then, trying to get ideas and I have succeed in scaring myself spitless that I will do the “wrong” thing. I guess I need to remember that it is my house and if I like it its ok.

  4. JKaye says:

    Happy New Year, from someone who read this post way back in Dec. 2007, six months after we purchased our only-one-previous-owner ’59 ranch in Lexington KY. One thing we’ve learned: Pam is spot-on with the motto “love the house you’re in.” When we embrace all the things we like about this place (the great soil for gardening, the pleasant street it’s located on, the golden brown color of the hardwood floors, the conveniently located laundry area) and just accept what we don’t like and try to come up with inexpensive solutions (the right paint color and lighting for a couple of rooms that don’t get much sunlight, furniture placement in a couple of awkwardly shaped rooms) then we are pretty happy and can get on with the joys of living, like curling up with a pile of gardening catalogs.

  5. Jody B. says:

    Boy, you are so right about a retro vision being a roller coaster ride, Pam. I’m going through that right now! Months ago I found a place in Northwest Indiana that claimed they had enough aqua boomerang laminate to do my kitchen counters. I was so excited and quickly put down half the money for the laminate. Well, four days ago when my custom-built cabinets were in and it was time for the guy to come measure to form the laminate, I discovered that it’s not aqua, but skylark. Imagine my disappointment!
    I blame myself for taking a salesperson at their word. I should had asked for the color number. Oh well!
    My sweet sister-in-law, (who has decorating tastes that marvel Martha Stewart’s), suggested that I use light blue, light aqua, and light chartreuse glass tiles for the backsplash. That way I can use my aqua accessories.
    I understand how your friend Stephan felt. I hope he found the perfect bathroom set of his retro dreams.
    Thank you for your website! This site is what inspired me to go ahead and get that 50s inspired kitchen I’ve always wanted. Keep up the good work! Happy New Year! 🙂

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