Thomas creates a genius retro modern eclectic office / guest house

retro modern kitchenthomas250Retro, modern, eclectic, colorful and unexpected, Thomas Welles — owner of TG Architecture — has blended old and new together in surprising ways in his 1930s garage turned office + guest suite.  We’ve never seen a space quite like this before — if you pull all the palettes apart, it “shouldn’t” work. But Thomas is a pro: His choices are so artful, that the space turned out off-the-beaten-track perfect. We love it!

vintage chrome kitchen fanWe first discovered Thomas’ unique space when he emailed us about using a vintage fan grille from the stash of NOS Emerson Pryne vent fan grilles from House of Fans in his kitchen. However, when we saw a few glimpses his cottage, we wanted to see the whole thing.

Thomas initially wrote:


Thanks for the compliment.  First I have to say that I love your blog!  I have read it for several years now, and it truly has morphed into a repository of knowledge of early/mid century craftsmanship.

This is a brand new efficiency sized kitchen that I designed for this space, which is a 1930’s garage that I converted to be a flex space (my office/ rec. room/ garden pavilion/ guest house).  We just call it “The Cottage”.

vintage chrome kitchen fan

I had purchased the Emerson Pryne fan cover when your story first ran about them being available through House of Fans. Back then, I was dying to contribute a picture to the original post. but construction was just starting on converting an old garage to a guest house, and now it is just finishing up.

vintage fan grille[Editor’s note: There still are some Emerson Pryne fan covers — in two sizes — left. See this story. And note: A reader subsequently pointed out that these fans may not be specified for installation above a cooktop; so check specifications of the various models of fans for guidance on where exactly they can be installed. Also check your local building etc. codes.]

I had also purchased a Nutone chromed knob but lost it during construction, so the standard Plastic Broan knob is on there temporarily. The larger Broan knob is starting to grow on me, and I am thinking of getting it chromed.

If you look closely, there are a number of other products that you have featured in your blog installed in this little kitchen.

retro modern kitchenretro modern

retro modern
Pam says she loves Loves LOVES the way the laminate goes up to the ceiling. GENIUS! The entire space is genius! She put the word ‘genius’ in the headline. She declares: This is what the future of contemporary mass-market interior design could/should look like!

retro modern

We pounce with questions for Thomas:

… The cabinet maker said he had fun making these
because all he does now is the same
TV show inspired greige/white,
full overlay, granite topped cabinets.

Did you make the cabinets?
I had a cabinet maker build the cabinets. The smaller the kitchen, the more it makes sense to custom build the cabinets to take advantage of every inch of space. I normally would be okay with pre-manufactured cabinets (provided they could do the same design/layout) because of the cost.
retro modernThe cabinets were designed to feel like they have been there for decades. However, they have more modern elements like wide drawers in the base cabinets instead of doors/shelves, and soft close drawer guides.
retro modern
Actually the cabinet maker said he had fun making these because all he does now is the same TV show inspired greige/white, full overlay, granite topped cabinets. The base cabinets were sanded smooth, have a couple coats of paint (spray applied) and a topcoat of high gloss clear. The wall cabinets and shelves are walnut with a satin clear coat. The star shaped vent design in the sink base was based on some vintage atomic starburst laminate I have on my kitchen wall in the main house.
retro modernretro modern
I presume the floor is painted concrete?
That is a heated concrete floor, and the color comes from an acid stain with a sealer. Triple S Chemical Products – Weathered Copper.
retro modernretro modernretro modernAre you a designer?
I am currently starting my own business after working almost 20 years for larger firms. I will be focusing on single family and small multi-family homes, and small commercial in the San Francisco Bay Area. My office will be in this space, which is on the side of my house here in San Bruno.
retro modernretro modernretro modernretro modern
A quick background: I started working on single family houses when I very young, having come from a family that has a small real estate business. After getting my education in Boston, I worked for architecture firms, initially focusing on historic rehab. That focus changed over the years to low-income multi-family housing, although I have also worked on everything from airports to high rises. After my daughter was born, all my priorities changed and l wanted to work for myself on smaller projects. Going back to my roots, as they say.
retro modern

Analyzing this space

Why does this space work so well — considering there are a variety of color palettes, patterns, styles, and finishes going on simultaneously?
Thomas used repetition to give the whole space, both inside and out, a cohesive feeling. How did he do it. By creating repetition and relationships. Some examples we can spot:
  • He’s repeated shapes like the circles in the windows, spun acrylic light fixtures, and NOS Emerson Pryne fan grille cover.
  • He’s repeated colors, such as the vivid bright yellow on the exterior door, kitchen cabinets, tile, patio furniture, and bathroom sink.
  • He’s even been able to skillfully blend five different wall surfaces in this small space: plain painted wall, reclaimed wood wall (which was original to the space, not added), wallpapered wall, tiled wall and laminate wall — by using color. Though all of the wall treatments differ greatly, they all have grey and white in them, which helps mixing them together feel intentional. The grey of the weathered wall blends into the grey and white of the dandelion wallpaper, which blends into the white and grey laminate wall, which blends into the white painted walls and tile with grey grout.
  • Even the patterns that Thomas uses relate to each other — both are dandelions. And did we mention how much we love that Thomas used laminate on a wall all the way up to the ceiling? Amazing!


retro modernretro modernretro modernretro modern

Thomas’ cottage is also a study in textures and temperatures. Note:

  • The rough texture of the reclaimed wood wall next to the smooth texture of the wood ceiling.
  • The visual texture created by the wallpaper and laminate designs next to the texture of the clear spun acrylic lights.
  • The warm wood window frames, cabinets and table near the industrial metal bathroom door and stainless steel refrigerator.
  • The cool aqua floors against the warm yellow cabinets.

Everywhere you look, there are new ‘visual collaborations’ to see.

retro modern retro modern retro modern retro modern

In one last email, Thomas added:

Thank you for making a story about the cottage, I had a lot of fun designing it; and while it is done to the point where we can use the space, there are still things to do (Isn’t that always the case?). I’m trying to find an appropriate exterior light fixture, and will be building some low, built-in bookcases under the two large windows. I am also torn on whether to paint the interior wood wall or leave it like it is… A wall like this is something you see all the time on those home improvement shows, and I normally hate it when I see designers add these indiscriminately. But in my case it was here originally. I figured I could leave it as-is for now, and make a decision later; but I have to admit that I kinda like it and would be just painting it just to buck the trend. I also have to tackle the landscaping. Please disregard the brown lawn; we are in the middle of a drought.

Thomas’ list of resources:

ThomasThomas, your space is a funky, creative retro modern eclectic work of art! Well done. What a great space to work and a fabulous getaway for guests. Thanks so much for sharing it with us!

Interested in working with Thomas? 

Thomas is in the process of building his company website — we will add it to the story when it is up and running — and until then, you can email him at his work address twelles@tgarc.com.

    1. pam kueber says:

      I think so! An eclectic mix of the old and the new — greater visual complexity, as (I hope) we all become more adept at visual design — very artfully designed into a small space. Yes!

  1. Steve says:

    I love it. I’m curious about the concrete floor. Is stain durable? As durable as epoxy? I was thinking a similar color epoxy for a beach house lower (concrete) floor but like the way that the stain turned out.

    1. Thomas Welles says:

      Steve, the stain and epoxy paint are two different animals. The epoxy concrete paint will give you a uniform color that is durable. The concrete stain (both acid base or water base) reacts with the concrete to provide the color, so the color is mottled and has more character. The stain penetrates the concrete, but a clear sealant will be needed to provide protection. Clear sealant is not as durable as epoxy, but will give you years of service before you have to seal it again.

  2. Sheila says:

    Genius, indeed – and so much fun! I’ve been going over and over these photos admiring all the details. I love the primary colors of the exterior space and wish I’d thought of using 4 different colored chairs. Way to make a design statement with an inexpensive product!

    1. Thomas says:

      Shelia, thank you. The exterior is based on a Mexican color palate, with the yellow door being the element that links the exterior to the interior colors. Have fun with the color and experiment! It’s only paint, and that can be easily be changed.

  3. Thomas says:

    I just noticed that my email that Pam posted is not working. I apologize to anyone who may have been trying to get ahold of me directly. I will have it sorted out very shortly.

    Ahhh… the struggles of the digital age.

  4. Christiane says:

    Oh my gosh, what a fantastically funky space. Thank you for the inpiration; I have a 1950 rambler with a kitchen that direly needs updating, but I’ve never wanted to go the stock cabinets and granite route. One question; the dandelion puff laminate – the website says it has a deeply textured surface and so not good for cooking areas. Do you find that a problem

    1. Thomas says:


      Well, given that I have yet to do any cooking besides heating up the teapot, so I don’t know. I saw that disclaimer as well and figured that this kitchen will receive 1/20th the use as my main one, so I could keep up with the cleaning. I was more concerned about the heat. I installed a induction cooktop, which puts the heat in the pot, rather than coils, so it radiates less heat into the kitchen.

      The laminate is ribbed vertically, so I see their point.

      I would suggest that if you are sold on the laminate design, use it everywhere but just behind the range, and use a different laminate, metal or tile in that one location. I put sealant behind the aluminum cove strip at the counter intersection so I’m not worried about grease accumulating there.

      Keep in mind that this is considered a premium product and the material price reflects that. While it is beautiful, it is several times the cost of a standard laminate sheet, so use it sparingly as a focal point; that’s what I did.

  5. Carol says:

    Thomas, This space is utterly fantastic! I almost fell off the chair when I saw the bathroom tile work. Art Deco makes me warm and fuzzy even though I love midcentury design. Love the way the plaster curves to the door frames and the atomic starburst cutout in the cabinet. I could go on and on, but I would just be boring everyone. And Pam, everyday when I log on I have the same anticipation of opening a favorite glossy new magazine. You never fail! Thanks to both of you for my mini Architectural Digest “fix” for the day. I will have to review this article several more times. Too much eye candy to absorb in one sitting.

    1. Thomas says:


      Thank you very much for the compliments. Yes, the tile in the bathroom is based on the iconic Art Deco chevrons. I had boxes of tile that I was determined to use. They were left over from a bathroom remodel that I did for my main house, so I had to work with the colors I had.

      Like I said before, there was a lot of work for the tile installer. For example, to cut and fit one of those circular cut tiles around the window takes about six times the amount of work compared to a general field tile; so yes, my tile installer probably hates me.

  6. Kat says:

    I love the entire cottage, but am absolutely smitten by the table. Hoping Thomas can share the carpenter/creator name. Just stunning!

    1. Thomas says:

      Kat, the counter is a 2″ thick, end grain, mahogany butcher block, made from the scraps of wood left over from building the windows. Waste not, want not. It was built by Mantegani Woodworking in San Bruno and is finished with mineral oil so I can use it as a cutting board. I designed the shape of the top and leg, had it printed out full size so they could use it as a template. They were another shop that had a lot of fun building that.

    1. Thomas says:

      Elizabeth, my tile installer, while proud of his work, probably hates me for subjecting that design on him. 😉

    1. Thomas says:

      Adrienne, the windows were built by a local company – Wooden Windows out of Oakland. Not many companies build vertical/horizontal pivot windows so I was happy to find and support a local business. I came up with the muntin design, which is modeled after the Craftsman style. The windows are painted with a marine grade UV spar varnish, which looks incredible. Not the best choice as far as maintenance goes, as you need to upkeep the finish ever year or two; but if I get that lazy, I can always paint the exterior of them with a solid color paint.

      1. Adrienne says:

        Thomas- I do live in the Bay Area, in the progressive city of Richmond, and I would like to talk to you about a possible cottage in my yard. I have a sufficiently large lot to conform to open space requirements to build a 640 sq. foot freestanding cottage.

Comments are closed.