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Mixing old & older: Kristen and Paul create an artsy, retro home on a shoestring budget

(h3>Only the third owners of this gently lived in 1899 house — which had some “modern” renovations in the 1930s and 1950s — this creative pair goes with the flow and mixes the old with the older.

vintage retro kitchenKristen-&-paul in-frameWhen Kristen and her husband Paul found their 1899 home, they knew it was something special. All of the original woodwork in the house was in pristine original condition, and there were wonderful time capsule touches still in place from 1930s and 1950s remodels. Vintage tile bathrooms, several kitchens and original wallpaper combined with 1899 Craftsman details meant Kristen and Paul had quite a decorating challenge on their hands: how to blend several different decades of style together seamlessly in one home. Luckily, it was a challenge that they were glad to take. Kristen’s artistic vision and Paul’s handyman skills, along with many finds from estate sales, salvage yards and thrift shops have all come together to form one awe inspiring home. The kicker — all of  it was done on a shoestring budget.

vintage fireplaceKristen writes:

House-exteriorHello Kate & Pam!

My husband Paul & I bought the house just a few months after we were married. Paul is a jack-of-all trades/ handyman/ renaissance man and I’m pretty artsy so we make a good design team.

We know a lot of history about the house. We know that it was built in 1899 and is considered to be a modest American FourSquare home with Craftsman details. We have original blueprints from one of the major remodels in the 30s.

vintage fireplaceMy husband and I purchased the house in 2001 from a sweet elderly lady that had lived there since 1947. Before she lived there, only one other family had lived there before her, so we know that we are only the 3rd owners of this big beautiful 2,500 square foot house!

retro living roomAnother interesting detail was that each previous family had only had one child each and the little old lady we purchased from had lived there by herself since 1961 when her husband passed away. All the woodwork & trim was perfect and well preserved over the years!!!

vintage-doorsThe home was originally one residence, then a doctor’s office in the 1930s, then converted into three apartments in the 50s (although they were only rented out for a few short years while her husband was still alive).  The last major remodel must have been during the late 1940s or 1950s.

vintage-bookshelfWhen we looked at the home for the first time with a realtor it looked as though many of the rooms had been closed off for decades… newspapers in the windows, electricity shut off, no running water to parts of the house. The realtor kept apologizing and saying everything could be modernized… but I thought NO WAY! It was only the 4th house that we looked at, but we knew it was meant to be ours!!

retro vintage laundry room retro vintage laundry roomSo we had a VERY nice time capsule house to start with!  Not only did I walk into a home that had a furnished 50s kitchen with original stove & cabinets…

retro vintage laundry room retro vintage laundry roomI now had THREE 50s kitchens from the former apartments!!! Over the last 11 years we have slowly converted it back to a one residence home.

retro modern living room retro modern living roomHere is a list of just some of the major projects we have undertaken over the years:

  • Converted 2nd downstairs kitchen into a spacious vintage laundry room
  • Removed lots of asbestos flooring [Precautionary Pam reminds: Find and consult with properly licensed professionals, dear readers!]
  • Resanded some of the beautiful wood floors
  • Restored all electricity & plumbing
  • Paint — lots of paint!
  • Added more white metal cabinets here & there (mostly found in heavy trash)
  • Put the grand pocket doors back in (they had been walled over when they converted to the 3 apartments)

retro modern living roomCool story — when we knocked a hole in the wall hoping to find the pocket doors hidden inside — they weren’t there!!!  Shortly after, we coincidently went to a garage sale at a neighbors house and they had these pocket doors shown in my photos for sale for $100!!!  When we brought them home, the bolts in the doors threaded perfectly into the holes in our track… we think they might have been ours.  Maybe neighbors traded them years ago… who knows!!

collage wallAnd of course there have been tons more decorating and redecorating over the years.

vintage-photo-collage-wallvintage-photo-collage-wallvintage-photo-collage-wallAt times, I have dreamed about saving up for a “real” 50s ranch in a better neighborhood.  However we have put so much of our heart & souls into remodeling this house… we have really grown attached to it. In some ways, I feel like I have the best of both worlds… original 50s fixtures, built-ins & wallpaper AND turn of the century woodwork, clawfoot tubs and high ceilings. And I honestly don’t know that I would ever find another time capsule home as great as this one… especially for the price — Since it is in a depressed neighborhood, we purchased it for less than $50K! I still dream of fixing up a long & lean rambling 1950s ranch one day, but I have learned to love the house I’m in!!  It is so large with plenty of elbow room.

vintage retro kitchen vintage retro kitchenYes, I did use Pam’s kitchen curtain fabric to spruce up my kitchen recently!

vintage retro kitchenTappan Stove is a 1961 model. (Same year the previous owner’s husband passed away, so the owner said she never used it much *sad*.) Very clean works perfect!

pegboard-pot-rackWe love the original pegboard wall in our small kitchen — I don’t know why pegboard hasn’t made a big comeback yet!

vintage-wallpaper vintage-wallpaperThe original mermaid wall paper in my upstairs bathroom is my favorite wall paper ever.

retro-60s-dining-roomOne other interesting note is that we have done most of the projects on a shoestring budget!  We are full time ebayers, so we don’t have huge amounts of money to buy the best every time. (Despite people thinking that we are making millions on Ebay.) We have had to be really creative and work slowly over years at a time. It does help that we are constantly at thrift shops, estate sales & garage sales constantly for our work… it does make it easier to find things inexpensively… but not always on demand when you need it. I’m still waiting for the right pink 50s clothing hamper to come along to me at a sale for a dollar or two! I can’t bear to spend $80 for one on Ebay! My dining room is home to all of our Ebay storage… that’s what’s hidden behind all those colorful bins!

The bins are just large cardboard boxes covered with fabric — I’m cheap, but I think they turned out looking really custom!

retro-60s-dining-room retro-60s-dining-room retro-60s-dining-roomIt’s the most 70s room… not my favorite era, but I needed a challenge… now it’s one of my favorite rooms!

vintage-bathroomIn the next couple of months I am getting ready to re-do the downstairs bath.  It’s the one with the aqua blue wall board with faux tiles. The wall tiles are not holding up to splashes and it can’t really be cleaned. We are going to splurge and have a tiler do it basically in the same style, but with real tiles and adding a black border with pencil stick trim. I have the Daltile Aqua Glow tiles stacked in my garage just waiting till we save money for the flooring. I’m decorating with chalkware fish & have most of the decor!  Thanks to you and your support of saving pink bathrooms… I gathered lots of inspiration from those articles!

vintage-wallpaper vintage-wallpaperA couple of years ago when we realized we were probably staying here for the long haul, we decided to buy the two houses on each side in order to make the neighborhood better and feed our hobby of fixing up old houses! 😉 They were not time capsules, but still had some cool features & old fireplaces. We fixed those up as well and they are now rented out to close friends of ours for very reasonable cost. We fenced in all three back yards to make one large backyard and we feel happy knowing we are improving the quality of this block. We have a lovely community patio in back  — it really does feel like an oasis right in the middle of the city. It’s been cool!

collage wallKristen and Paul — thanks so much for letting us take a peek into your character-filled home. You’ve done a terrific job with your remodeling and decorating — we think your mix of 1899-1930s-and-1950s is totally charming, totally homey, totally you! Kudos to you both for showing how we can create beautiful interiors on a shoestring, loving the house you’re in. From the looks of it, I’d say the house loves you back.

Link love:


Kristen and Paul’s ebay store, The Robot Parade. (*affiliate link)

love the house youre in

  1. Julie says:

    I have been feeling very nostalgic for old fashioned décor lately. I am certain my parents had the exact same yellow formica and chrome table and chair set you have, and our old house had transoms over most of the bedroom doors. I am yearning for a leggy wooden bedroom set that I can decorate with doilies and a white fringed chenille bedspread. I love your house, and admire that you took the time to fix and repair rather than replace. I think pocket doors are super cool and should make a comeback!

  2. Susan says:

    Hi there,
    Not sure if anyone else has commented (I did not read all the comments) but that “faux tile” is called melamine. I have it my 1915 home. The previous owners (only 2 owners on record, I am the 3rd) covered the melamine with blue paneling. I am in the process of trying to freshen my kitchen. My inspiration is the Mad Men Seasons 1-3 kitchen of the Draper Residence. I believe that look is called, “Crafstman”. Anyway… the melamine in my kitchen was damaged due to the installation of the paneling. Given the fact that my kitchen is vintage (I’ve got several periods going on: 40s, 50s and 60s) one would think I should keep the blue paneling. Unfortunately, that is not the look I am going for.

  3. pam kueber says:

    Actually, a number of companies made wall products like this. I think it could be any number of materials. Best to test this stuff for vintage nastiness such as lead and asbestos; a precaution we give regularly for all manner of vintage materials in our vintage houses.

  4. Heidi E. says:

    Are you sure that’s melamine and not Masonite? Melamine is used in making Formica and “unbreakable” mid-century dinnerware, and has been used by unscrupulous pet food companies to create false positives in nutrition tests( leading to an outbreak of poisoning a few years back). But “hardened paperboard” sounds more like Masonite that is getting old and damaged, to me.

  5. Ok farmer says:

    Love your home. We have an old house that we rent out that has that wall linoleum on it in the kitchen and bathroom. Under the baseboard it is printed “armstrong quaker wall covering. Ours is going to have to be painted or covered with something. Regret it but that is what renters can do.

  6. Regina says:

    The red kitchen table is like the one in my childhood kitchen! We had tiles like the yellow tile in bathroom and kitchen, but ours were green. Every room in the house was painted celery green except my room! Love your house. I want to do my kitchen in 19 50’s decor. My house was built in 1952. Gonna have as much MCM in there as I can. I grew up in a 1950s ranch.

  7. Andrea says:

    Oh my gosh! Your story is so much like our own. We are the third owner of an old Eastlake style house built in the 1890s. It looks like the last time was remodeled in the late 40s and there are still a lot of the original fixtures, cabinets, and even curtains. I have been having a bit of a time trying to decorate this mixed era house. Your story has given me some inspiration! Keep up the good work.

  8. Liesl says:

    Hello!
    We have been looking for the bathroom wallpaper with the mermaid for quite some time it seems very hard to find and are wondering where they found this or if they have any there are extras or anything…
    Thanks so much!

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