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Doing things “The Hard Way”: Do you have what it takes? 2016

pink-bathroom-fixtures.jpgWelcoming 2016, here’s the story that now has become our Retro Renovation new year’s tradition… kind of summing up the bumpy journey so many of us share, or can expect to, when we decide to undertake a period-inspired renovation including preserving what we have and/or using hard-to-find and salvage material. Yup: Taking this less-traveled route means you are in for an adventure. You may find yourself walking the very fine line between genius and insanity. You will need tenacity, patience, a good spirit, and faith that you are on a righteous path. The Retro Decorating Gods will be with you, throwing flower petals — and burying barbed wire, just to test your mettle — they love to make mischief, too.

My The Hard Way essay, originally published in Dec. 2007, less than two months after I started the blog:

We know about taking the road less traveled. To me, doing things the hard way has the same allure. The hunt for the perfect estate sale light fixture, the set of vintage cabinets that are just right, the document wallpaper that pulls things all together.

Honestly, the reason this blog even exists is that after completing big projects, I had so much info in my mental hard drive about the hard-to-find resources available to renovate, remodel and decorate a mid century home — all obsessively and endlessly researched — that it seemed a shame to simply be done with it when my projects were completed.

But the dangers of the hard way came into focus this week, when I pulled Palm Springs Stephan into the vortex.

A week ago Friday night I spotted the brand new, mint-in-box, never installed set of circa 1958 bathroom fixtures in this exact photo, on a forum. They’d just been posted. Hot! I happened to be emailing a bit with Stephan, and knew he was working on a bathroom renovation.

Long story short, he was very excited about the prospect of pink fixtures and spent hours back-and-forth with the seller in Cheyenne, Wyoming, trying to certify the exact color, before he sent a certified check. Hours with a tile store to coordinate tile. Planned to switch the plumbing. Worked out shipping. At one point, he thought it was a done deal.

Ultimately, though, the color didn’t pan out for him, and it was back to plan A.

The moral of the story is — I guess — to know thyself. If you really truly want very special retro finds to complete your renovation vision, it’s gonna be a roller coaster. Requiring patience, tenacity, and a belief that once you put your vibes out there, the Retro Decorating Gods will send you what you need. If you think that sounds fun — so then, will be doing it The Hard Way.

P.S. Anyone within driving distance of Cheyenne, Wyoming, interested in a set of brand new, mint in box, never been installed Crane bathroom fixtures? Tub, toilet with really cool seat, sink with chrome legs/towel bar, lav faucet, tub faucet. $1000. Email Gary, who seems very nice and appreciative of them, at: [item sold]. He can give you the whole story, which begins in North Dakota.

Oh yeah. They’re not really pink. They’re beige. Or taupe. Or a sandy pinky beigey taupe. Something like that. Buckle up.

This post was originally published Dec. 9, 2007, then repeated on Jan. 4, 2008, and every year since 2010 as our first story of every year.

Have you found gratification in doing your renovating and remodeling projects The Hard Way???
But tell the truth, sometimes don’t you just want to throw in the towel, take the “what’s easy to install today” route, and move on???

CategoriesBathroom Help
  1. Kathy says:

    I find it hard to visualize the redo I would like to do in my 1959 rambler. This website is so helpful with that. I like the photos of other readers projects, retro homes for sale, vintage ads, and best of all the mock ups from Pam of readers asking for help. I’m kind of in that stage now with my kitchen (see Pam’s story on my yellow GE oven repair and Betty Crocker dishwasher cover). I’m ready to pull out the vinyl flooring installed in the 80’s and retro-redo. But I’m lost about what period/style to do. Go with my heart 40’s, follow the period ’59, go with 60’s, what? I don’t see many yellow appliances and round space ship type knobs on oak cupboards. Should I go 60’s Early American? Retro 50’s? I like yellow but not pink and blue pastels in kitchen? Love 40’s kitchens but mine isn’t? How do you decide what is right for you Pam? Did you do a story on that in your archive? thanks

  2. pam kueber says:

    This is a somewhat difficult, multi-layered question, Kathy.

    I would first say: If you are concerned about the risk of creating longterm cognitive design dissonance, make sure that any expensive [and/or big hassle] change is in harmony with the original architecture of your home. Look elsewhere in your house, or at other similar examples, to see what products and finishes were used originally. Then replicate or mimic those.

    Less expensive changes? Do whatever you please — because these are easier to change out at whim.

    But now the question is: Where are your “expensive”/”big hassle” lines drawn? For me: Expensive big hassle items tend to be affixed to walls and require professional help installing: Cabinets, flooring, countertops, appliances. Easy to change including via DIY: Wallpaper, paint color, window treatments (but not pinch pleats, which are expensive), cabinet hardware.

    So I would suggest: Keep the affixed features to period; go to town and do whatever you like decoratively. One more decorating tip: Even in a kitchen you can use some of this theory re selecting a color palette: https://retrorenovation.com/2015/10/05/five-steps-choose-bathroom-colors-infographic-guide/

    Final note, lots of 1959 houses still had a homey 40s-50s look rather than an atomic 60s look. It just depends on your house and who built it.

    Does that help? Not sure how soon Kate and I will get around to Design Dilemmas again. They are super duper time consuming.

  3. Paul - CT says:

    To Ali, just a reminder, you can paint a bathroom sink any color your heart desires if you buy a Corstone sink and find an agreeable body shop!

  4. Joe Felice says:

    Joe’s diner is almost finished. Here are some things I’ve learned:
    1. Everything will take about twice as long as planned. If you’re not a patient person, you will be forced to become one.
    2. There will be lots of things that will pop up and for which you did not plan. You just have to deal with them as they come along.
    3. Because of the above, expect cost overruns. And everything is more expensive than you think it should be.
    4. It will be hard to find providers and workers who share your vision. It’s a HUGE bonus if you can, but try to engage the others in your dream.
    5. Don’t order large items online, if you can avoid it. If they’re not right, you’ll have to pay to return them, if the company even lets you do so.
    6. Expect to do a LOT of leg work and web surfing.
    7. Order enough supplies (tile, wallpaper, etc.). In the middle of your job, they will be discontinued, and you’ll be stuck if you don’t have enough.
    8. Pay heed to Pam’s words about safety hazards. The older your home, the more important this is. Fortunately, my condo is only-20 years old, and still meets my city’s building codes, without any lead or asbestos.

    My horror story:
    I originally ordered my booth online from a company out of Chicago. I specified “ocean” color for the vinyl. We all know what color ocean is (turquoise), and it is a specific color known in the vinyl industry. A reputable dealer who dabbles in ’50’s recreations knows exactly what color it is. Another company had no problem making my bar stools. This color is manufactured by 3 companies, but it is exactly the same across all-three product lines. Well, my dealer apparently did not know what color this is, so, instead of asking, it just made the benches in navy, which, of course, would never work. When I informed it of the error, I was told that the benches were custom made and could not be returned! I certainly didn’t expect this response from a “reputable” company, which this one obviously isn’t. After trying to reason with the customer-disservice department, I disputed the charge on my credit card, and returned the benches at my expense. I sued the company in small-claims court for the amount of the shipping. I also posted a review on Yelp! and filed a complaint with the Better-Business Bureau. The company did not respond to the lawsuit, the review or the complaint to the BBB, but you can bet it is trying to get it’s money from my credit union. I can tell you, that simply isn’t going to happen! In the meantime, I found a local upholsterer here in Denver to make the booth for me. Of course, it will cost about 50% more, but I learned that lesson the hard way. I am awaiting the booth as I write. The lessons here are never assume someone knows what you’re saying, and vet all companies thoroughly before spending money with them. If I had read the Yelp! Reviews prior to buying my booth online, I would have most certainly gone elsewhere.

    I can safely say I will never undertake another project of this nature in my lifetime. I can’t even imagine putting in a pink bathroom or “authentic” kitchen (like Pam did). Such a project would probably put me in a mental hospital. Good luck and god-speed to all of you who do undertake major retro projects. We all enjoy seeing and hearing about them.

  5. Lynn says:

    Elizabeth, I am going to go through what you are now in a few months when we start looking. It seems people think they have to granite and stainless everything for their house to sell, so they remove the wonderful original stuff to do that. We are hoping to catch a house before that happens but it’s difficult. I’m in the Indianapolis area. Just curious where you were looking. I think it’s the same most places. My poor neighbor once recently described Griege (her whole house) as “tasteful”. Good luck!

  6. John Hayes says:

    I changed my white bathroom fixtures to a “Coral” pink. It’s different than a regular “Pink” and there is a definite difference!

    I have heard Lana Turner once said; “That’s not pink, it’s California Coral!”

  7. Donna says:

    My son recently purchased my 94 year old Aunt’s house, complete to what we believe is a 1954(when house was built) Kohler peachblow bathroom. He wants to take a sledgehammer to it. I convinced him to wait as there are a lot of people wanting them, they are just not his taste. So the big question is- how do you go about giving/selling these little treasures? The only thing he doesn’t have is the original toilet seat which I have seen on E-Bay. Any words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated 🙂

  8. Donna says:

    Tell me about it. He almost put a Heywood Wakefield bookcase and chair on the curb. I about had a heart attack- oh that 20 something generation 😉

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