Doing things “The Hard Way”: Have you got what it takes?

pink-bathroom-fixtures.jpgWelcoming 2013, here’s the story that now has become our Retro Renovation new year’s tradition… kind of summing up the bumpy journey so many of us share, or can expect to, when we decide to undertake a period-inspired renovation including preserving what we have and/or using hard-to-find and salvage material. Yup: Taking this less-traveled route means you are in for an adventure. You may find yourself walking the very fine line between genius and insanity. You will need tenacity, patience, a good spirit, and faith that you are on a righteous path. The Retro Decorating Gods will be with you, throwing flower petals — and burying barbed wire, just to test your mettle, they love to make mischief, too. 

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 resources available to renovate, remodel and decorate a mid century home — 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 renovation.

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 was 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, Jan. 1, 2011, and Jan. 1, 2012.

Have you found gratification in doing your renovating and remodeling projects The Hard Way???
But tell the truth, sometimes don’t you just want to throw in the towel, take the “what’s easy to install today” route, and move on???

  1. Marta says:

    By the way, one thing I do to make the hard way more pleasant is listen to vintage radio shows while working. There are hundreds of them available for download or streaming. What could be more fun to listen to when working on your 50’s ranch than a 50’s radio show, many of which have the original commercials with them? I especially love the old mysteries and dectective shows. There are plenty of fascinating historic broadcasts as well. Here are a couple of my favorite sites:



    1. nina462 says:

      oh lordie – so I’m not the only one who listens to them! hooray! I knew there were others like me! I’m lucky in that I can listen to my radio at work – so I listen all the time to old time radio programs. People think I’m odd that I’m not listening to current radio or podcasts…nope! give me some The Whistler, or Inner Sanctum, dragnet, etc.

      On Tune in Radio – there is “The UK 1940’s Radio” which is a current stream of music & news from the 40’s.

  2. Marta says:

    It’s getting harder to do things the hard way, but one of the New Year’s resolutions I’m working on is to focus on enjoying it more. The results have always been enjoyable, but I’m aiming at enjoying the process more.

    I’m a person who always sees the big picture, and the big picture can be daunting. So, I’m going to jigsaw that picture. There are about 50 must-do projects around here, and I’ve been unable to accomplish much of anything the last few years because I’ve just felt overwhelmed. This year, I’m just going to cut single projects out of the pack and enjoy doing them, even if they, well, suck. And, I’m going to mix in the fun projects I typically never get to because I feel guilty that I’m not doing the ‘important’ stuff.

    So, I’m challenging myself to retile the tub surround by the end of February. All we were able to keep in the main bath was the tub and tile surround, but it’s leaking and the wall is soft. I taught myself to tile floors in this house and now I’m going to learn wall tiling. Because that’s the prize in doing things the hard way; you learn so much more. Happy New Year!

    1. pam kueber says:

      What a lovely comment, Marta! I think you have it perfectly: It’s all a journey… and the joy is in all the little parts of the journey, up and down! You know what: I woke up in a mood… and your words were JUST WHAT I NEEDED TO HEAR! Thank you!

      1. Marta says:

        You’re very welcome! I can’t tell you how many mornings I woke up ‘in a mood’ and got lifted out by a cup of coffee and a visit here. My first step on this resolution is making a wreath of vintage looking ornaments I picked up on after Christmas clearance ala Georgia Peaches. It’s gonna be a fun year! 🙂

  3. Jay says:

    Not being a purist and at the risk of being drummed out of the RR Corps, I will admit to buying the here and now item to accomplish something, “because it will do”, until/ when/ or if something better turns up. I want to spend all my time in the garden, weather permitting. Glad to see the site back in active mode, I missed seing new posts each day.

  4. Paula says:

    Our theme for 2012 was “doing it the hard way”. It took us 8 months in 2011 to buy the house (the deal fell through and then came back). We spent 4 months in 2012 remodeling, and my husband broke his collar bone a week later. We are still recovering from the whole experience. We got more than a few grey hairs and had many sleepless nights. Are there things we would have done differently? Yes. Was it worth it? Definitely. Through it all Retro Renovation was our blueprint and bible.

  5. Jamie D says:

    I’m currently trying to do our bathroom the hard way. We got rid of a leaky 70s weird low gray toilet and I’m trying to find the perfect shade of light blue to match the existing tub (which we’re keeping).

    The tub has no visible markings so I don’t know the manufacturer or color code. I did just find someone getting rid of all of their American Standard fixtures dirt cheap on Craigslist and the photos look like they might be a match – however, the seller hasn’t responded! No listed phone number, and when I use Craigslist’s link, the email has either bounced back to me as undeliverable, or I just don’t get a response. SO FRUSTRATING. I might just throw in the towel and get a boring white toilet.

    I was about to spend $15 per tile to match the existing vintage shower surround, to finish the edges where the poorly-installed leaking sliding glass door had once been. But I think a wide bullnose is the more sensible solution. I need to end the insanity somewhere for the sake of finally getting a bathroom suitable for guests.

  6. nina462 says:

    Yes I have what it takes to do the ‘dirty work’. I ‘channelled’ my dear departed Dad this weekend as I rewove my lawn chairs. Always remembered him sitting the basement recroom listening to the Hi Fi and fixing the chairs. So that’s what I did too 🙂 Happy thoughts.

    I heard tho that men like to do the manly things (recent survey) – since I have no man to do the manly things, I must do myself or pay. What a dilemma –

    1. nina462 says:

      oh let me add- I’d be glad to have the man do the manly stuff, while I fixed the cocktails. 🙂

      1. Jana (Berniecat) says:

        I’m with you! Even though there is so much satisfaction in learning how to do the “manly” arts and complete projects by yourself, I can also envision the bliss in asking ” Dear, is the bathroom tile finished yet?” as you hand over a martini (shaken, not stirred)… 🙂

  7. Tracie@MiddleClassModern says:

    Wow, Pam, I actually read this in real time! It’s been so long! You helped me fix up my old home (just in time for it to flood!) and have helped me with our current ranchalow.

    I remember when you got your first sponsor, the bunny slippers lady. They were so cute.

  8. kyle says:

    Throw in the towel….Hah ! 2013 promises more exciting adventures and I am not parting with my God fleck gold formica…hudee rings…twisted wrought iron railings…pinch pleats or anything else so contractors take notice………We have Retro Renovation leading the way …giving us strength and guidance. Lighting the way to making what was “old” new again once again!

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