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Doing things “The Hard Way”: Do you have what it takes? 2017

pink-bathroom-fixtures.jpgWelcoming 2017, 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???

  1. David in Marietta says:

    We have a 1961 rancher that we bought about 3 years ago. The house was essentially a time capsule with an unfinished basement except for a finished bedroom. The ceiling I will focus on. Joists, wires, plumbing HVAC duct work the typical that you see in an unfinished basement. I wanted a drop ceiling but contractors said it would lower ceiling too much to incorporate the ducting. My plumber said spray paint it black. Too gloomy for me. Or white- too industrial. So over time I let the fix marinate in my mind and decided to just attach 2 x 2 ceiling tiles directly to the joists with screws. Basement ceiling now looks awesome but I will have to tell you along the way it was quite the struggle and of course issues came up. Many tiles went up easily but others had to be modified and cut to fit around all the above mentioned things. This last part took soooooo long. Was it worth it? Yes.

  2. Bob Connor says:

    I may have a hard way project: I remodeled mom’s kitchen to be an early 70s kitchen, I still have yet to have the floor installed. Should I send the story over to you? Actually, it may not be hard enough, but all the materials are available today.

  3. Carolyn says:

    In 1998, I bought a 1959 Liberty travel trailer (think “The Long, Long Trailer”) as alternative housing. DH works for a big box store and walked past things we “needed” on a daily basis. Since I was unaware of this blog and wasn’t yet computerized, we struggled on decisions and were dissatisfied with many of the results. We pulled the plug in Dec. 2016.
    Two opposing visions, lack of money on my part to bring it back close to what it was, and little/no support of MCm equals hard lessons learned.
    My load was lightened at every significant landmark on the trip from home until “my little house” came into view – the sun shown down and celestial choirs sang.
    Was it worth it? I wish I’d known then what I know now, namely backdating and retro-modeling. It was an adventure, a learning experience, an eye-opener.
    Would I do it again? With control of the funds and a partner with know-how who “gets” it – heck yeah!

  4. Jay says:

    She’s back!
    Happy New Year!
    No hard way story other then agonizing for several years over buying a fixture from Practical Props. Would it be too modern in a formal dining room. I ordered, it arrived the weekend before Christmas and immediately hung it. I was thrilled! Kept turning it on and off. When family came for Christmas it was instantly noticed and exclaimed over. Thanks Pam because without your blog I would never have known about the company and they were nice to deal with.

  5. pam kueber says:

    Yes, she’s back. All rested and re-energized about another year of Retro Renovation!

    Oooooooh, Santa brought you a sputnik and everyone ooohed and aaaahed! Congrats!

  6. Liz says:

    I found out the hard way when I started an unexpected bathroom remodel on my cute 1940’s home thanks to a minor water leak and my step-dad ‘ s repair job. Ended up gutting the whole thing to the studs. The only thing still original to the house is the tile floor which was in great condition due to being laid down in concrete and the tub. I wanted to bring it back to retro fabulous, but found out along the way that the best NOS and retro items are nowhere near Louisiana and shipping can be completely outrageous. Ended up doing something a bit more eclectic while staying true to the style of the house. Funny thing – I was totally stressed trying to come up with a color for the walls that wouldn’t clash with my multicolored floor. Finally decided on a mint green. The funny part is when we ripped out the cabinet that had been installed somewhere down the line over the shower/tub, we found out that the original bath color had been mint green also! Which is in line with the story I was told that the orginal owner’s favorite color was green. I’m now in the planning stages for a kitchen remodel now and have also found a darker green paint under the current trim color. Unfortunately it’s all oil based and started to crack all over the house once I replaced the furnace. So now I have a kitchen remodel to plan along with stripping and repainting all the trim in the house! Yeah!

  7. JaniceW says:

    My hard way renovation is ongoing. I bought my 1956 ranch 17 years ago, with the intention of renting it out and then moving in when I retired and moved back to my hometown in Nebraska. That day finally came in October.

    But starting two months before the move, I (and my sister and her husband) painted all the walls and ceilings and ripped up glued down carpet. Then I hired contractors to gut the bathroom (and install a gray version of Kate’s pink bathroom), build a first floor laundry room, refinish the wood floors which were hiding under the glue residue, install VCT in the kitchen, put up a fence with horizontal boards (which they’d never done before), build a shed, install blinds and drapes, and basically make it livable. (All this was done while I was readying my house in Maryland to be put on the market.)

    It was worth it. I’ve been able to use all the furniture and accessories I’ve collected at estate sales over the past several years. Now the kitchen renovation is underway, a minor remodel that includes installing a dishwasher, moving the refrigerator, installing a cooktop and wall oven, building new cabinets to match the old, and a new countertop. My contractor knows now to just do what I want even if it’s not what they think ought to be done.

    It’s a job, and it’s not most people’s cup of tea, but I love it.

  8. Debbi Carlson says:

    I recently bought a 1952 custom ranch home. I immediately fell in love but could tell it needed work. It has only had two previous owners and minimal updating, most being done prior to being put on the market. So far, everything has been the hardest way. First, there were root problems with the sewer. The Wedgewood stove had gas issues and the biggie, a branch (three feet in diameter and 15 feet long) broke off the giant maple tree in the front yard crashing down on my roof. I am single and doing most of the work myself, but I love it! Now if I can only find the right linoleum for the kitchen……

  9. Kristin says:

    Can I share my story even if it isn’t quiiiiite done? (As in, my countertops, the lynchpin, are sitting at lowe’s right now and my contractor should be finishing Friday?)

    Once it’s done I will be sending pictures asap.

  10. Rick G says:

    Well, now that our main bathroom reno is 99.9% done; I’m thrilled! – I did all the demo, did the drywall, waterproofing & was half way done with the tile …. until ……. I enlisted the help of “a handyman” ( a friend of a friend ) …….. big mistake !!! it took me three times longer to undo his mess & mistakes. I think the fact that he had a ton of tools, tricked me into thinking he was a pro. Anyway, after alot of tearing up tiles on both the walls & floor,the end result is fantastic. …. and in the end was really worth it. When the toilet was connected by the plumber, I was worried about the poor water pressure for the toilet; it turned out to be an easy fix; he used a wire for all the little holes along the rim, to clean up the calcium deposits from the hard water & it worked like a charm; at first he thought because it was old; it may be the design?! I guess a 23 year old plumber gets a bit confused looking at a 1958 toilet !!!

  11. Mary says:

    Debbie, how about marmoleum for your flooring? Check out Green Building Supply site they carry Forbo flooring- great color selection.

  12. mystere says:

    I noticed the tub in the photo has a different color shade than the toilet and sink. It looks like it’s a peach bisque colored tub. My Universal Rundle tub and toilet are peach bisque. I grew up in the house that I now own. I posted that fact on a post about a Universal Rundle bathroom sink faucet. What I enjoy about the posts is the enthusiasm everyone shows about preserving the characteristics of an older home. My home has not been modified much since it was built in 1955. My father had a plumber move the laundry room sink from the house to the detached garage in 1964, and set up a hidden corner for a second toilet, which he bought from Montgomery Ward in late 1966 to early 1967. With 5 of us (parents 7 & 3 kids) in a 1 bathroom small house, it was a necessity to add a second toilet without sacrificing space inside the house, and breaking the bank. I’m used to seeing colors over a sterile white fixture in a home.

  13. mystere says:

    I’m guessing the maple tree is the main culprit of the root problem in the sewer line. Many homeowners make the mistake of letting trees in their front yard grow too tall. The taller the tree is, the deeper the roots need to grow to support the tree. Even when a tree is maintained and kept short, it can still get into the sewer line when it senses water leaks from a rotted or cracked sewer lines. I also have a root problem due to the age of the sewer pipes. 2 of my trees found a leak in my sewer line from either a rotted line or a leak where the metal line joins the clay sewer line.

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