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. Beth says:

    The white and black square wall board . . . what is it made of and do you know if it can be painted? I have exactly the same type and color in my kitchen and I would like to spruce it up a bit with a different color. Great photos by the way!

  2. Kriste says:

    Hi Beth, I don’t know exactly what the material is… but I’m sure it can be painted if you have the patience! Ours feels like hardened papered/wall board… sort of like paneling. We were told once that it was a painted on design, but I really don’t know… even after studying it up close. Good luck!

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

      2. 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.

  3. Maya Anderson says:

    Your decorating work is so beautiful and balanced and gives me such a calm feeling looking at the rooms. Most of all, I want to thank you, thank you, thank you for NOT painting the mantel and the wood work. I can’t understand why people want to cover the beautiful grain patterns and oxidation of old tiger oak, cherry, and even mahogany with chalk paint.

  4. Jacks says:

    your home is beautiful and one day you will have that ranch (perfect retirement plan for when you don’t want to walk up stairs!). 🙂

    but you made my day by showing the bathroom wallpaper which is the same as we had in our house growing up in brooklyn in 1960’s. don’t know when my mom (the decorator) put it up as they lived there from the mid 50’s. my sisters will be overjoyed to see it as i don’t think we ever took a pic for memory’s sake.

    thank you! and well done on your gorgeous reno and winning best in category! (i voted for you btw)


  5. Carolyn Singleton says:

    i love your new old kitchen! Can you tell me what color and brand of yellow tile you used? Also, which grout color? Which color and brand of green paint?
    Thank you for the inspiration!

    1. kristen says:

      Hi Carolyn, Actually it is the original kitchen and the tiles are just paneled, faux painted tile wall board from the 1950s. They were probably originally white, but have yellowed some with age. Which green were you wondering about… the fireplace room?

  6. Carolyn says:


    What color is the yellow wall in your kitchen? There’s also a yellow cabinet color. Are the cabinets the “Old Locket” by Behr color you refer to earlier? Then, I see another kitchen picture where there appears to be a yellow tile with black border and a green wall. I’m confused but I love what you’ve done.

  7. Kristen says:

    I believe the wall color in the kitchen is Old Locket by Behr. The lighting may be making it appear green in the photos, but all the walls are yellow. The cabinets & wall tile are just a little yellow with age.

  8. Carolyn says:

    It’s amazing to note what one paint color can do to transform all the whites in a room.

    Thank you for your response. Your house is lovely.

  9. Audra says:

    Love your photos! I stumbled upon this page while searching for retro wallpaper. The one with the mermaid in the shower and all the other illustrations was in my Aunt’s bathroom 50 years ago! Shared with my family and had a great, nostalgic laugh! Do you happen to know anything about that paper? If it’s available for purchase anywhere? Thank you! Again, lovely photos.

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