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.

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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!

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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!


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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.

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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. Marie-Claire Kurt says:

    I’ve only just come across this beautiful little place and am loving everything about it. It reminds me of the sort of house a child would draw, including all their favourite elements, unbothered by fads or design norms. Thomas, I hope you’re still enjoying this lovely place and that your business is doing well. Thanks for sharing

  2. Christiane says:

    Thomas, how are you still liking your Summit refrigerator? I want one for space reasons but read a few negative reviews about condensation and pooling water… Any issues for you?

  3. Just another Pam says:

    I love this house but particularly the bathroom door as my son made one almost identical though doubled so it could slide to cover the large opening to the stairs. This time I’ll go with ‘great minds’.

    1. Thomas Welles says:

      Just another Pam,

      Thank you. The bathroom door was constructed that way for a reason. The bathroom is very small and there was not enough space to have a shower and enclose it with a shower door or curtain. So this is a ‘wet’ bathroom where any splashing from the shower could get on the sink, toilet and yes, the door. (The water drains through a oiled Ipe wood floor grating to a floor drain below) Since the door and door frame would regularly get wet, I didn’t want to use wood, so I used a commercial galvanized steel door frame and sheathed a solid core wood door in galvanized sheet metal to protect it from the water. It’s kinda industrial for this space, but it serves a function, and I’m all for mixing up styles.

  4. bree says:

    There is just so much fab visual stimulation and drool worthy homes featured on RR, but this one made me audibly gasp with its perfection. It is remarkably warm, thoughtful and, of course, funky. The round windows, rain bells and custom kitchen table are beautiful. The tile work appears to be lifted intact from a secret happy Euro metro station in the thirties. I love it. Congratulations and cheers to great collaborations, projects and friends/family fun in this space.

    1. Thomas says:

      Bree, thank you for the kind words. This place was very much a design study and, while there is a lot going on, I was happy that all those different things gelled together as planned.

      There was one change though. The counter laminate that I originally selected was a brighter green, and it just didn’t work. We did a last minute change to what you see in the pictures.

  5. Cara says:

    Wow! I was wondering if the yellow sink was epoxy-coated or re-porcelained? Whichever, how is it holding up?


    1. Thomas says:

      Carla, the sink was epoxy coated. It’s been 5 months and no problems. I was told by the epoxy installer that the overflow drain holes are the weak spot because when the porcelain was originally applied, the porcelain does not coat inside there. This is the location where rust would form and slowly flake the porcelain off. The epoxy will not cure that issue and will simply cover it up. I had rust there, but not bad. The epoxy installer neutralized what little rust that was accessible before spraying.

    1. Thomas says:

      Steal away! That’s why we are all here; to learn. And when you’re done, I’d love to see your take on those ideas.

  6. Julie says:

    What a gem for those of us doing retro remodels! I just love all the colors. I had built-in cabinets custom made for my hallway and bath, and am currently deliberating on cabinet door materials with my carpenter. The boxes and frames are of pre-finished high quality birch plywood, but we can’t decide on materials for the doors – I’d love mine to have the same simple round edge routing as yours, which also matches original and found cabinets in the kitchen. He has concerns about the plywood warping, and I’d like to stay away from particle board, but choices may not allow that. What material did your carpenter use for your new kitchen cabinet doors and drawer fronts?

    1. pam kueber says:

      My bathroom vanities – made by Cabico – have doors made of MDF. Not sure which specification. Slab doors with radius edge (that’s what it’s called.) The big difference between my vanities and old-skool kitchen cabinets is that my MDF doors are notably thicker than I think those midcentury wood doors were.

    2. Thomas Welles says:

      Julie, sounds like you are on the right track with the cabinet construction. What you are planning for a the door design and finish will dictate the material. My doors are MDF for a few reasons: plywood does not take a radiused edge very well, they stay flatter with humidity changes and MDF has a smoother finish, so I could use a high gloss clear coat with less visible imperfections. There is a lot of difference between MDF brands as far as quality; your woodworker will most likely have some knowledge of the differences. To be general, stay away from big box store MDF and you get what you pay for. If you are really worried about moisture, there are moisture resistant varieties that cost more, but really not necessary.

  7. ali says:

    I love it. All of the colors look so beautiful together! I thought the floor was a vinyl tile. I love the color of it though and I may have to use that in my home somewhere. I too have a tiny spot of art deco in my otherwise mod 60s house. Thank goodness we don’t have to chose between them, right?

    1. Thomas Welles says:

      Ali, thank you. As you can see, I am all for allowing homes to reflect different eras and look like they’ve been modified over the decades, like most are. However if I ran across a “time capsule” house, I would be hesitant to introduce a different style.

  8. margaret donohue says:

    wow. this is one of the houses that when you go to visit, your head is all over the place trying to absorb all the details, colors, and personal artistic touches . I especially like the reclaimed wood wall as I live in the country and I am surrounded by old barns. Thanks for sharing!

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