Just bought a midcentury house? My 9 tips before you start remodeling + 21 more from readers

darling let's get deeply into debt illustrationEvery week, we are contacted by more new readers who’ve just made an offer on or moved into a midcentury house. They are usually extremely enthusiastic about getting started with projects — and that’s a good thing — but maybe not. Based on my personal experience as an owner of four old homes, and from seven years of blogging here about renovating and decorating old houses, here are my nine tips to consider before you go jumping into remodeling when you are brand new to your old house. Plus, 21 ideas from readers excerpted from an earlier story about planning kitchen remodels. Warning: This ain’t no linkbait — it’s 4,998 Retro Renovation University words. Perspectacles above provided by Anne Taintor.

Some of my thoughts if you are NEW to your OLD house and contemplating a remodel:

  1. Environmental and safety issues come first. Vintage houses can contain vintage nastiness such as lead, asbestos, and more. BE SAFE / RENOVATE SAFE: Get informed and be aware about the environmental & safety hazards in old homes, materials and products. #1 RULE: Consult with your own properly licensed professionals. More info and links: See our Be Safe/Renovate page… EPA asbestos websiteEPA lead website … U.S.F.A. – fire safety, etc
  2. Focus first on the functional fundamentals. For this story, Kate comment-mined reader comments from an earlier story [see them below]. Reading through them I am adding this important one highlighted by several readers. Chad D. reminded, “Know what should be done all at once (plumbing, electrical, and insulation for the whole house) and what can wait.”  He also reminded that home energy audits are usually free from your local utility. Ana said, “Even if you plan to live with things a while, get qualified and licensed professionals to look over your infrastructure (plumbing, electrical, etc.) to alert you of hazards as well as things that will need to be brought up to code. Those things can affect the changes you make (and the cost) and you should know those things up front, particularly if you do need to go ahead and fix something. Worry about the cosmetics later.” Jay’s comment began with the simple imperative, “Infrastructure!”  YES: A home is first and foremost costly shelter — before you start spending on the fun stuff pretty to look at, tend to the systems — plumbing, heating, cooling, electrical, insulation, windows, roof, painting, etc… and as mentioned above, important environmental and safety issues. 
  3. If you are new to your old house — go slow. Before you proceed thinking you need to gut remodel the kitchen or bathroom(s), for instance, get to know these rooms super well before doing something that can’t be un-done. (Of course, if there are environmental or safety issues [see #1 above]… or structural issues [see #2 above] that need immediate attention, attend to them!) Live in your house — for at least a year, maybe — to get to know its flow and how it works for you and your family. This includes getting a rich, deep understanding of whether there is a real need to alter the architecture. During this time, you’ll also be able to study up on your home’s original style and features — we have heard time and time again from readers who initially “hated” something that typically, they had just never seen before; with time and research, their views changed 180-degrees — they came to LOVE that feature. By waiting and exploring (rather than quickly changing) you’ll also have time to explore your “Retro Style” — because there’s way more than one way to retro. As reader Annie B. pointed out, you will experience the seasonal shifts in climate and light. And, you can use this time to determine whether you have the stamina and true interest to take your time: Restoring and/or remodeling a home with an eye toward reflecting its original architecture is a Big Commitment. No matter what your ultimate course, it’s my experience that remodeling brings serious aggravation, time and money — take the time to think things through first rather than make quick knee-jerk decisions especially if they involve discretionary cosmetic “updates” that involve ripping out original features.
  4. vintage-retro blue and white-tile-bathroomConsider updates that are in harmony with the original architecture of your house. Sure, an original retro kitchen or bathroom is “dated.” But every kitchen and bathroom is dated. For example: Don’t kid yourself: Put a stylin’ 2014 kitchen in your 1955 house… and in a few years that 2014 kitchen will be “dated”, too — and, likely dated to a year that has nothing to do with the likely undisguisable, fundamental aesthetic of your house. But, either retrain the original kitchen and work with it… or put in a kitchen that is harmonious with the original 1955 architecture — and at least its date will match the date of the house. “Yes, but what about resale?” folks always ask. Well, my point of view is: Midcentury houses are now old enough to be considered “historic”, either officially or non-officially. “Historical restorations” or period-appropriate remodels are desirable to folks who are “into” old houses. Peeples are now a-chasin’ time capsule houses! Also, you can do a period remodel that isn’t “over the top” — one that’s kind of “flexible” and possibly even beginning to define modern-era “timeless” design (this is what I aimed for with my three bathrooms.) On the other hand, going back to our example, a 2014 kitchen in a 1955 house is unlikely to appeal to a shopper 10 years from now who is into what’s new in 2024; in fact, I hypothesize that your financial loss* (*See item #6, below) on your fabulous trendy 2014 kitchen remodel will only grow each and every year thereafter.  And finally, mind you, “trendier” has a shorter lifespan every year, again, IMHO. Disclaimer, thought: All this is IMHO, do not consider this as financial advice, this is something you need to do your own research and consult with your own professionals on, based on local market conditions and other factors.
  5. edges-for-vintage-laminate-countersHumble materials — This point kind of goes with the one above. Many — probably “most” — midcentury and older houses were decorated with materials that *today* would be considered kind of… low brow. Things like: Simple, slab-door wood kitchen cabinets… laminate countertops… vinyl flooring… knotty pine. This is pretty much opposite of what today’s”mainstream market” wants to sell you today — (more expensive) granite, marble and solid surface countertops… stone flooring, blinged out cabinetry. I personally found it a relief not to have to spec out my kitchen to “Keep up with the [trendy, possibly debt-laden] Joneses.” My kitchen — with its vintage steel cabinets, laminate countertops, and streaky VCT floor — “fits” with the rest of my (humble materials) house. And by skipping the luxe  — buying humble, shopping Re-Store and vintage — I saved a lot of money. Not that the remodels didn’t cost a lot — they still did — labor and building materials add up quick.
  6. money pitData indicate that most remodels are likely a bad financial “investment”. Looking at the Remodeling 2014 Cost vs. Value Report ( www.costvsvalue.com), there is not even ONE remodeling project, upscale or midrange, that was deemed likely to recoup a homeowner’s expenditure upon resale. Read my story looking at the annual research then go look at the research yourself, including regional breakdowns. Yes, you gotta live somewhere. Surely, you want to make your house your own. And even more surely, you will need to spend money on regularl home maintenance. BUT, don’t swallow marketeers’ hype suggesting there is an awesome payoff in all of this. Renovator Empteor: The way I read it, this study consistently finds that chances are, home remodeling projects are likely to turn out to be consumption that drains your bank account, net — not “investments” that increase it, net. Data © 2014 Hanley Wood, LLC. Complete data from the Remodeling 2014 Cost vs. Value Report can be downloaded free at www.costvsvalue.com.
  7. Consider saving your time, energy and money for the final fix. Unless there is a safety, environmental or infrastructure issue involved, I am not one for putting a drop of time or money into remodeling a space as a “stop gap measure” while I agonize (and then torture DH) over the big picture plan. Okay, I might paint the wall (off white), so that I can “see” the space better so I can figure out what I want. My husband is really good about reminding me: An old house — nay, any house — is a time and money pit poised at any moment to present costly surprises. Be careful about squandering on half measures. When it comes time to start emptying your bank account, empty it on well-thought-out plans that will endure for years… and then spend the time, energy and money — once and only once.
  8. Get a subscription to Consumer Reports. When you are in spending mode like this, your head will spin. As far as I know, Consumer Reports is the only unbiased resource out there to do testing to try and really triangulate to “value” delivered by available products. They are a not-for-profit entity, and they don’t take products from manufacturers – they buy their test products in the store, like you and me. Separately, when considering the wisdom (or lack thereof) of possible energy conservation projects, I am likely to turn first to Martin Holladay.
  9. “Test” contractors on small projects first. It took me a few smallish projects — staged over several years, as my plans gelled and as I could save money to fund them — to find a contractor I felt I could work with very effectively on my most costly project, my kitchen remodel. Similarly, reader JD Log said, “I left my kitchen renovation to the very last as I knew it would be a bear of a job. The kitchen and bathroom seems to be the show piece of every 50′s house no matter how humble it is. So did the rest of the interior first.” Yes. Hey, if you have the itch to get going with some ‘nice to have’ not ‘need to have’ decorating, do low-risk cosmetic stuff first — paint! — (but hey, don’t rip out original vintage wallpaper until you research it, the stuff is valuable); get all the ducks in a row for the big, expensive, showpiece spaces.  
  10. Disclaimer and clarification to all of the above: I am not a contractor, an architect, a designer, a real estate expert or variant of some such profession. I am writing this from my perspective as an owner of four old houses over my lifetime, and as a blogger who has been writing on and listening to reader feedback about this topic for about seven years. Do your own research… identify and engage your own properly licensed professionals… make thoughtful decisions that are right for you. 

funny illustration about homes depreciating in valueYes: A house is a depreciating asset. Saucy source: Anne Taintor

Readers provide tips to consider before you start remodeling an older home

A while back, in a story about planning for a kitchen remodel, we asked readers to share their experiences and thoughts. They came up with many more, terrific tips on things to consider when you’re considering a remodel. <– We strongly recommend taking the time to read them all. Meanwhile, here are some highlights:

Tend to functional systems before cosmetics: “Pragmatism is universal”

Catherine said:

I agree with the “wait a while” advice–not just to see if what you have grows on you, but because old houses may have expensive-to-fix problems that weren’t immediately apparent and that may be a bigger priority. I mentioned in a comment yesterday that we hadn’t changed much with our “new old” kitchen, but actually, we did have the electrical brought up to code and the kitchen and utility plumbing completely replaced. The sink drained fine when we had the house inspected, but before we had even moved in, it stopped. We knew when buying that statistically, the plumbing was about at the end of its life, but we were glad that the immediate need to spend that money showed up before we had committed it to anything else. Many people don’t seem to like to put the money into what doesn’t show, but it does make a difference in your standard of living and your resale value if your house’s structure and systems are good. (As a house shopper, it was frustrating to see new countertops in houses with rickety furnaces or windows. Give me a sturdy, functional house with rundown decor any day–chances are, I won’t like someone else’s new decor any better anyway.)

Chad D says:

Yes, my house is a patchwork of different eras; I had woodwork and doors 1890′s, 1930′s, 1970′s, and 2000′s, and I uncovered (and saved) a few fragments of plaster with 1950′s wallpaper on them. That gives us a slightly different set of challenges but pragmatism is universal. One of my biggest challenges is that I do have safety concerns to address, and making other improvements at the same time makes so much sense I kinda have to do it all at once. The important thing to do no matter the scope is to have a vision and know what should be done all at once (plumbing, electrical, and insulation for the whole house) and what can wait (buying cabinets and countertops, deciding if I want a tall pantry or a little extra work space) but what I do to the place works toward what I want in the end, and gives me flexibility to let the house tell me what to do later. This does not pertain specifically to kitchens, but I got a home performance audit right away. This means that a professional came in to evaluate insulation, carbon monoxide, proper venting in the kitchen, bath, and laundry room, etc. I would definitely recommend one of these to ANY new homeowner.

Ana says:

Even if you plan to live with things a while, get qualified and licensed professionals to look over your infrastructure (plumbing, electrical, etc.) to alert you of hazards as well as things that will need to be brought up to code. Those things can affect the changes you make (and the cost) and you should know those things up front, particularly if you do need to go ahead and fix something. Worry about the cosmetics later.

For ideas, tour both old and new homes. I had a friend who lived in a 1 bedroom 1920s bungalow that had so much smart storage (original to the house) it was unbelievable. You can get ideas for built-ins that will help you work with small spaces. And new homes can sometimes be very creative as well, particularly those built on small lots in urban areas because they may also have to maximize space while appealing to a modern aesthetic. Set a budget and challenge yourself to try to come in lower. It will encourage you to be more creative with what you have, and you can decide what really matters to you and put the money on what’s important.

Get to know your house and don’t let people who dictate the latest trends push you around

Dan says:

Don’t get caught up in the hype of the home improvement stores and the TV shows they sponsor. It’s your house, and as long as it works for you, that’s what’s important. The only thing I would add is to pay attention to the underlying problems: If your sink is slow to fill or slow to drain, it’s not the sink’s fault – it could be elderly galvanized steel pipes, a clogged drain, or even just an aerator that needs a clean out.

Get to know your house and put all that energy into gardening and decorating before embarking on any major renovations.

Chris says:

DO NOT let the shows on HGTV sway you. If you have an old house and you bought it because you love old houses — then embrace it. There are so many shows on TV that do show lovely, new, sleek, open-concept (Oh, my, what an over-used term) kitchen and living areas. But have you noticed that after a while, they all look exactly the same??? Don’t allow these shows to brainwash you! (Allow US on the RR site to have that honor! Hee hee!) Get to know your house and don’t jump into anything without lots of research. This sounds really woo-woo “out there” but I think a house will tell you what it wants. (I mean this figuratively, of course. Your house should not actually be talking to you.)

AWade says:

As someone in the process of refreshing a family home (it originally was built by my grandparents), the best advice I can give from what I have learned thus far is not to let anyone (friends, family, even websites, LOL) “guilt” you into keeping anything you really don’t like. Of course, the article is right – you should not rush into anything, but keeping something for the sake of it that doesn’t really please you is a mistake. I have those knotty pine cabinets which are mentioned in the article, which you find an almost religious reverence given to in a lot of the Mid-Century modern community. I am typing this right now with paint under my fingernails from the enamel I am currently redoing them with. My kitchen is dark to begin with, and after repainting everything else in the kitchen they continued to keep it feeling like it was dark and never going to have a clean look. Personally my style moves more toward the black/white Art Deco classic vein.

I also have been staring at them for all of my 35 years and have never really cared for them, and I certainly have lived around them long enough to know that. No matter what else I did to enhance or restore the look of the kitchen, they just kept nagging me. So I’ve redone them in white enamel and simple black handles. I am on the last section now (I work a ton so I have been doing it in batches over a few weeks now). I am so happy with the sections that are done it almost brings a tear to my eye when I see them, because I am so in love with how they look now. I cannot wait to be done so I can fully enjoy them and finally feel like my kitchen was complete. I know that wouldn’t work for everyone, but it did work for me. And I hope no one holds it against me, LOL, as I know how loved those cabinets are to some in the community.

Samantha says:

I just want to chime in, with something about insurance companies. Never let them force you to throw out your kitchen cabinets if you don’t want to! My home had custom maple cabinets built on spot, which a lot of homes did, solid wood. Instead of having them refinished, they made me get new ones, which were top of the line. They are not solid wood, and after a few years really start showing it. =(
I regret not keeping my cabinets and standing my ground!!

Lynne says:

As I was once told by an elderly neighbor, when we moved into our first home: “Ain’t nuthin wrong with old, as long as it’s clean”

Make sure to plan, plan and plan some more before renovating

Lena_P says:

I’ve never owned a home, but I’ve “helped” with quite a few renovations. One VERY important thing is plan the layout first, especially with a kitchen or bath. I don’t care if your kitchen is made from solid gold, it’s no good if the food prep area is ten feet away from the stove and the dishwasher opens in front of a door! Think about HOW you use a room before how you want it to look. Use graphing paper to sketch out your layout exactly and imagine moving through it. If you have a hard time visualizing the 2D drawing as 3D space, cut an oval about the same size as you (I’m about 20 inches by 15 inches as a broad-shouldered and busty woman) and any other people likely to use the space (24 inches by 15 inches for a man, maybe 15 by 12 for a kid). Now move the ovals through the space as though they were cooking pasta or making brownies or eating over the sink. Does the layout make sense for how you’re actually going to use the space? Is the counter where you need it? Would tall, shallow cabinets work better? How deep do your drawers really have to be? When my mom did her kitchen, the cabinet maker tried to convince her she needed drawers at least 12 inches deep for her pots. She wanted them nine inches deep, and measured one of her deepest pots in front of him to convince him it really was only six inches deep. He admitted she was right, and she got three drawers under her stove instead of two, increasing her storage by 50%.

Lisa says:

A shout-out for ventilation. Most likely you won’t need the restaurant-strength vent hoods that are all the rage, but many older houses don’t have a vented hood at all. Or they used to have one, but it was closed off when someone installed an over-the-counter microwave (which usually can be vented, but often are not). Think about the stove you have, the one you hope to have in the future, and plan the ventilation accordingly. I never knew how important this was until moving into this house, which did have a wall-mount vent fan in the kitchen, but an underpowered one in a spot that did little good nowhere near the stove.

Jennifer says:

Going in a different direction: A book that has been a great influence on me is Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language (affiliate link). (He’s a major influence on Sarah Susanka, who wrote The Not So Big House (affiliate link), and beyond architecture has been an inspiration to programmers and engineers.) What Alexander did was to study architectural spaces that worked and those that don’t, and from this study, he developed a short list of design principles that make a room or a house feel right. When we bought our MCM/adobe house, we did renovate some things before we moved in, and I relied heavily on Alexander’s principles in making decisions. I also relied heavily on Retro-Renovation’s wisdom. The result is that our kitchen, which was a gut renovation, fits harmoniously with the rest of the house, is very functional, and is a great space to wander into.
While we didn’t “live with” the space, I have lived with the Pattern Language design principles for about 25 years, observing the truth of them in many other spaces, before applying them to this space.

ChrisH says:

A bit of heresy – I know how much people here admire “time capsules”, but – real kitchen remodels tend to be evolutionary. Most of us do not have the resources for a “gut and re-do” job. The older the house, the less likely it’s been preserved as a time capsule, and the more likely it has elements that span decades. Example: my WWI era house would have had no built-in cabinets and no electric refrigeration. There is no vintage ‘fridge that will be period correct for 1917. Built-ins circa 1930s will look OK, even though not correct for the date of the house. In very old kitchens it’s ok if everything isn’t period correct.

Christa says:

The biggest difference I made in my original kitchen was to add skylights. Getting the lighting right made a HUGE difference. These days people prefer a lot more light in the house, so see what you can do to get as much light as possible (without resorting to installing ceiling cans every 2′).

Same thing for my bathroom. The original fluorescent light fixture was yellowed and made the whole room look so dingy. I replaced it with a modern minimalist light fixture with Xenon bulbs. Holy canoli, the room suddenly felt so luxe and nice, I no longer felt the need to change anything but the paint color.

Of course when picking out new lights, you need to reflect the architecture of your home.

Find contractors that understand and keep tabs on them

Diane in CO says:

And here’s my TIP if one chooses the contractor route, besides choosing one who understands “house appropriate:” BE THERE if you can for every step! Now I don’t advocate driving the workers crazy (hehe) but don’t take things for granted and “assume” you know what sub-contractors will do. You know what happens when you “assume” – you make an a$$ of u and me…. Good communication with everyone involved is essential. And, buy ‘em lunch once in a while.

Kim adds:

One of the best ways to update your retro look is to hire workmen who are baby boomers or older themselves, and who “get it”. I hired a 70 year old semi-retired plasterer who originally did all the swirl ceilings in my development when he was 25. Ok, it helps if you are a native to your town and know some of the people–ask around.. Also when it came to my real wood kitchen cabinets that I loved they looked a little worn and tired. I called a cabinet woodworking shop and had them come in and restain them. They took the doors to the shop, and hand sanded the frames in my home. It was only minimally dusty and now they look like new. Don’t over think the details like new handles-if you work full time like me you will just make yourself crazy. As Pam says keep with your time period and style of your house and it will be easier. Have fun, and don’t think you have to do it all overnight.

Think before you toss

Eliza says:

I would really like to get rid of the {edited} mini-blinds in my kitchen – but i’ve been forced to recognize that the original owners knew what they were doing when they put them in. The sun pours through those windows all morning and is blinding when the blinds are open, so the {edited} mini-blinds stay. Some stuff in your old kitchen may not be what you want, but it may be what your kitchen needs.

Roberta Lee says:

Just want to add to my above comments that I am addicted to Zillow.com, and to looking at photos of cool old houses. Yesterday I clicked on a wonderful 1945 Tudor Revival a few blocks from my house, and even before I looked at the photos the words, “Totally updated!’ jumped out at me. The words proved truthful, to my horror: If there is anything left from 1945 inside that poor old house, I can’t see it. I would never, ever consider buying the thing. So never assume that the ‘update’ you pay for will increase your home’s value or saleability. I drove a Realtor crazy insisting on an authentic old house, and finally found the right combination of original and improved. But I had to be persistent and patient because so many grand old houses have been “updated” into utter irrelevance.

Tips on where to find vintage goodies for your home remodel

Tikitacky says:

My advice before making unfortunate choices for your kitchen (or wherever) because you aren’t finding what you want on Craigslist or at the ReStore, search outside those standard parameters. I have found four 50s light fixtures, a full Homecrest patio set, a steel bathroom vanity and the three fixtures that surround it, a pink and black chrome dinette with the laminate in a pattern I have NEVER seen before along with the four chairs in the same pattern, all from (are you ready?) haunting the real estate listings. Yep. Religiously search for homes for sale that are of the same time period as yours and you will find houses that haven’t been flipped. But sadly, the chances are that they will be.

Those great things that we want? They will more often than not go in the trash, so contact the listing agent and ask that they pass your contact info on to their client (the seller) as well as to the buyer’s agent when the house sells, offering to purchase the items you want. Only twice has this not worked for me. And both times my offer wasn’t declined, I just didn’t hear anything; I suspect my contact info wasn’t passed on to the buyers in those instances. I don’t know if that is really on topic, but I have had phenomenal luck with this system and can only recommend that if you’re trying to restore your Mid Century treasure, it’s worth investigating this avenue. On a side note, we are tearing our kitchen out because although it is original(ish), like the issue a previous poster had, the heavily painted wood cabinets (or which there is ONE full upper in the whole kitchen) have shelves that barely allow for a 24 oz can. No cooking oil, not even a box of Bisquick fits. We found a full St Charles steel kitchen that someone tore out for a ‘remodel’. So although we are gutting, when it’s all said and done, no one but us will ever know!

TraySide says:

I don’t think I’ve seen it posted yet – but shop for vintage! My cabin had a cheap 80′s redo in the kitchen, so I found a 1950′s kitchen on Craigslist (including the original GE stove). I had to do some sensitive retrofitting, and now I’ve got a vintage space that just feels right. Etsy, eBay, and local sites are also great resources. Now if I could just find some more red boomerang Formica……

Don’t let emotion dictate your renovations

AnnWesleyHardin says:

Step Away From The Emotion! I was dead set on a breakfast bar, but after months of trotting in circles trying to make it work in the space, we had to throw it out of the design. It was difficult, but in the end it would’ve ruined the whole majesty of the space. So my advice is: be prepared to “throw out your darlings”. Some ideas or dreams simply won’t work and if you force them, you might be sorry!

And Roberta Lee reminds:

… Try using the word “authentic” rather than “old.” See, doesn’t that already feel better?

Yes, Roberta, it does indeed! (Relatedly, those aren’t wrinkles on my face — that’s patina!) Thanks to all our fantastic readers for your thoughtful and generous comments.)

Readers, do you have more tips and experiences to share?
And how about: Have you made changes too quickly after moving into a new/old to a house that you later regretted? I bet we all have! Pray tell!

  1. Christine says:

    I love this site and this is a great post. I found this post because I have been in my 1956 “contemporary” (that’s the term they used in the advertising for our house at the time–it’s not really a standout MCM but it has MCM features like big windows) for a year and a half, my first house, and I’m at a kind of crossroads with 2 bathrooms that require repair to the tile. Neither is original, both have an amalgamation of upgrades made over the years, probably in the 90s mostly, when the owners added an addition, or early 2000s), but I’m trying to decide whether to repair or renovate.

    I was chock full of cosmetic ideas when I first bought and was imagining our life in our new mid-century house. the inspection and subsequent repairs needed changed that, but I’m glad it did. We are finally getting around to fixing all of those things plus the other problems that emerged as we lived here, so I can finally think about things beyond just staying above water! Thing is, a lot of renovations from earlier (but not original) decades are also part of the house and its history. The kitchen is not original (apparently the original kitchens had no drawers, according to a local history book?) and part of me hated its 90s tile counters and backsplash and thought that I’d never have gotten the cabinets they had. Well, of course I wouldn’t because I am a product of NOW. Anyway, now that I’ve lived here, I actually kind of like all of it. At some point, I probably will redo it–the backsplash at a minimum–but the point about living with it, and also not half-A-s-s-ing it is great. I don’t want the home to be either a 2020s granite and white extravaganza or something where I make it 1950s in the way 2020s view 1950s so that it has a sort of theme park feeling (I’m especially conscious about that last part…)

    Another thought is that many builders built houses in the mid-century with the thought they’d be remodeled. I know our houses were sold with the idea that the residents could adjust it as they saw fit. The lower level (entry level) was unfinished–and they have contained workshops/laundry rooms, bedrooms, family rooms, garages…they were also built so that adding on was easy as families expanded. Our houses in this area are all almost identical in construction but it does not look that way because of the changes people have made over the years–some are better than others, but all lend a lived in history to the neighborhood. The previous longtime owners added on a family room and dining room in the 1990s in a way that only improved the house.

    I guess this is really just a love letter to my house and to this site, but encouraging loving the house you’re in, for all the ways it has aged!

    1. Pam Kueber says:

      Welcome, Christine, and thank you for your very thoughtful love letter 🙂 It sounds like your house has found a good owner.

      I will build by saying: Hey, some of the rooms in my house are approaching “theme park” status! I prefer to call them: Statement rooms. Issues of decor are so highly personal — it’s all good if it’s done with love (and safely, of course!)

      Again — welcome — and dig in!

      1. Christine says:

        Thank you! And totally agree! Nothing wrong with making the space you live in one you love! We moved into a 1950s ranch when I was a preteen and I wanted to be in a 80s tract house like my friends. But I’m glad I wasn’t. I still love that house…big cut stone fireplace; pink and blue tile bathroom with a built in rotating soap/toothbrush holder; peach and Green bathroom downstairs that my parents reconfigured (but the green sink and vanity are still there with the flecked Formica top); and Formica, metal edged, counter in the kitchen with fun built ins like a cutting board, dish towel holder, bread box, and onion/potato drawers. They bought it from the original owners who kept it immaculate. The original red wool carpet was in there until our dog ruined it. The woman loved all things pink and red so even the cinder block and steel beam in the basement were painted pink! I’ve forbidden them to get rid of any fixtures before asking me!

  2. Sharon Poitra says:

    Hi, I have the perfect solution for needing bathroom fixtures: buy the apartment complex we lived at for several years. Colors are yellow, pink (real), green, blue, and that kind of interesting soft red w/yellow undertones. The place has an original waterheater or 3; it’s 40 or so units, built of cinderblocks, full of mold and mildew. Should have been pulled down years ago. Not sure what other period pieces might be salvageable…….

  3. Leslie says:

    “(Relatedly, those aren’t wrinkles on my face — that’s patina!)”

    As I watch Antiques Roadshow, American Pickers, etc., it occurs to me that somewhere there must surely be a couple of antiques enthusiasts who named their daughter Patina.

  4. Chris A. says:

    One year ago, I purchase a c.1953 ranch house. Kind of wish I had seen this article back then, but we did some renovations right away and although I may have done some small things differently had I read this first, overall I’m happy with what we’ve done so far. The kitchen was original, 8′ x 8 1/2 feet, with open archways everywhere. Definitely wasn’t working, and we always wanted an open space, so we opened the living room, dining room and gutted the kitchen. I didn’t stick to period style in the kitchen, going with a painted shaker style cabinet and granite countertops, but we did salvage the awesome oak floors and extended into the kitchen. Light fixtures, furniture, clock, all mid-century modern to join the new with the old.

    The one thing I’m happy we waited to do is the bathroom. Turquoise and black tile walls, combined with a late 60’s/early 70’s renovation and a 2010’s acrylic tub surround just weren’t working but we were not ready to gut it. Uncover the tub, and the tile was in fairly good shape, certainly repairable. Tub is PINK, leading me to believe the toilet and sink were also pink, but long gone. Almost done restoring, kept the arch over the tub, found a 1950s Temple Stuart cabinet to retrofit as a vanity.

    We did have some safety repairs to do, but that was known in the home inspection. Electrical updated, new pressure tank for the well, and an new oil tank were among the list. I feel like we are lovingly bringing the house back to life and making it “happy”.

  5. Lylee says:

    Thanks, Paul.

    I read through the whole website and a couple more before I posted.

    The house is 1905. I’m assuming the bathrooms and kitchens were all done at the same time. My guess is 1940/1950s but I’m not sure if that. From the photos I’ve looked at, it could be 1920/30. The pastels suggest earlier?

    So I don’t love the mosaics and they seem hard to find. Though, I live a few towns over from the Daletile factory so the semi gloss shouldnt be a problem. The currents one brownish. Is there a simple, brighter, flooring option I keeping with the era? I had seen some remodels with the hex.

    What about a two rectangle to a square in alternate directions. Would that work?


      1. Lylee says:

        Hi Pam (Sorry about the wrong name),

        I think you’ve hit the issue square one. Not sure what era I’m going for or have. It’s all moot. My contractor such told me that to do any of the stuff we want to do (soak tub, shower, etc) we’d have to tear out the 1905 plaster ceiling in the living room. Sigh. That and the rest would double the budget.

        Maybe in 5 years. And maybe by then I’ll have a better sense of the style and era.

        Thanks so much for the help, this is a great resource, so well done.

  6. Lylee says:

    We just bought a 1905 historic home with 1940/50s bathrooms and kitchen. The house has been wonderfully restored with new wiring, plumbing, and HVAC. The kitchen has been updated but also preserved and there is a real sense of wholeness to the house.

    That said, we need a small change in the master bathroom. The tile is lovely white and yellow (Daltile cornsilk? moonbeam?) We don’t want to change the style, just the functionality. We currently have a tub/shower combo. Tub is super low, kid bathing only. I would like to take out the tub and turn that enclosure into a walk in shower–move the drain six inches and put in a rain shower. Retile where needed. I also want to put in a “soakable” tub. Doesn’t have to be the deepest, biggest, thing (and no jets) but it can’t be 11″ to the overflow.

    1. The tub– too modern and it will stick out. Go 1905 with a claw foot or aproned roman??? I think price and budget will determine, but I would love some opinions. Can’t seem to find any white retro tubs available. Not sure they even made some that weren’t shallow as all get. Drop in with a tiled base?? Can’t find any examples in period adds.

    2. All this will necessitate the removal of the floor tile mosaic–a brownish/yellow ish thing. Seems like it is a sheet? Not sure if it is original. I don’t love it, wouldn’t spend money to emulate it. Can I put simple white hexagonal? Will that go with the period?

    1. Pam Kueber says:

      Hi Lylee, you say you “don’t want to change the style.” To me that means: Stick with 1940s/50s design. In that case, an aproned tub (not a claw foot) would be appropriate. If you really want a deep soaker, off the top of my head I’d say a drop-in tub tiled on the outside. Flooring: a mosaic floor tile – but not hexagons, those are not 50s. Start digging into our Bathroom Help category for ideas – and be sure to Renovate Safe!

      1. lylee says:

        Okay. I’ll look for an apron tub. I’m guessing from the pastel colors that mine might be early forties, maybe even 30s. Since the age of the house is older, it’s hard to know for sure. Is a stand alone okay? I’ve seen those in some of the 1930s, early 1940s pics.

        Tile: I’m not willing to put a brown mosaic back in the bathroom. I’ve seen one picture of white pinwheel mosaic with a yellow center. I’d do that in a heartbeat, but can’t find it anywhere. The floor tile is the make or break it point for the budget. It’s not that much space, but I’m can’t spend thousands. How about a all white two rectangle to a square in alternating directions?

        Daltile has an octagonal dot?

        I’ll keep looking. Thanks so much for the help!

        1. Ellie says:

          If you can find small squares in the right yellow, you can always buy a plain white pinwheel mosaic and swap out the dots. I just put in a new hex mosaic floor in my bathroom, and had the tile guy replace the black dots with blue. It looks great!

  7. Joyce S Aragon says:

    Just bought a 1954 ranch that is very close to original except for the appliances, which I plan to replace. I just found this site and I’m so excited to see about keeping my pink bathroom and also my green one! Can’t wait to move in.

  8. CarolK says:

    The HGTV people just bought the house that was used as the exterior of the Brady Bunch house and they asked a bunch of interior designers what they’d do to renovate it. (IIRC, none of the designers were the usual HGTV suspects. IOW, no Property Brothers.) Of course, their design ideas were based on the interior of the house which were sound stage sets. Some of them wanted to get rid of that “ugly green paneling” but did want to replace it with other 60s/70s paneling and one wanted to get rid of the fake stone, but replace it with real stone. There were several people who liked all or most of it as it was on the show (don’t change a thing!), one mentioned the cool staircase, and another said keep the avocado appliances! Not everyone was in love with the house, but it seems the RetroRenovation approach might be making some inroads into the broader design community.

  9. Penny in CO says:

    Hello Joan,
    I’m reading all these old comments on Pam’
    s incredibly useful article about remodeling/updating/readjusting the time period, and alas, I can no longer read your article referenced with this link. I suppose it’s long gone into the ether, darn it.

  10. PAMELA says:

    I inherited my parents 1959 ranch. Previous owners had done some remodeling in the 1990s, such as replacing all the white doors and baseboards with honey oak (they are white again ) I think they may have done this to reduce lead paint risk to their kids.
    I have done quite a bit of work, but always kept “1959” in mind. I relaminated my Formica countertops with more Formica, but got the modern sink i wanted. I removed the 90s vinyl floor and had to remove the original turquoise linoleum below it but replaced with hardwood. I painted the beat up original cupboards and put in “Half Moon” lazy susans rather than replacing them. The walls are now a mid century aqua.
    The main bath retains its beautiful black vitrolite.
    For me, a combination of honoring the mid-century feel but having a few 21st century amenities has worked wonderfully.

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