Home renovation “The Hard Way” — Do you really have what it takes?

pink-bathroom-fixtures.jpgWelcoming 2018, here’s the story that is my Retro Renovation new year’s tradition: Sage (haha) advice … err, warning… 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 — ten years ago now! —  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. linoleummy says:

    Hah! Lately I’ve been cautioning renters I know about the homeowner’s remodeling whirlpool and how good they have it. Even with no intention of doing anything the hard way you can get sucked in.
    Two & a half years into the kitchen remodel it’s finally a couple details away from being finished and the master bath is 2/3s done so I’m probably over the hump of the hard stuff. Just wish some of this stuff would do itself so I could screw off here on RR without the guilt of not working on it.

  2. I love the hard way for the satisfaction factor (I intended that to relate to this blog, but wow, it does sort of seem to encompass all of life!). I love when I can help others paint/dig/renovate (apartment living does not allow me to indulge my make-it-work side). Great story then and now–it does capture the entire feeling of this blog. Thanks for sharing it!

  3. Toni says:

    funny about the crane bathroom I have talked to many plumbers who have no idea how to fix me purple crane wall unit toilet! In have decided to maybe just buy a regular wall unit toilet.

  4. Joe says:

    I guess I’m not understanding. The fixtures and the tile need not be the exact, same shade of pink. In fact, I wouldn’t even want them to be. Different shades f pink is what I would seek. And what did he do with the fixtures once he got them?

    1. Pam Kueber says:

      As it says at the end of the story: “They’re not really pink. They’re beige. Or taupe. Or a sandy pinky beigey taupe.”

      A related idea/issue: Hard to make decisions from long distances, when you cannot see the actual product.

  5. Nina462 says:

    my hard way project for 2018 is to remove my deck & see what’s underneath (I’m hoping for a patio). The deck was added in 2006 just before I bought the house – it’s been good, but now it’s time to go. I’d prefer a patio to a deck …(the skunks like to live under the deck). I do not know what’s underneath the deck, it may just be dirt, but that’s ok. Here’s to 2018!

  6. susan says:

    We are in the planning stages of renovating a 3/4 bath in our 1957 house. Most of the bathroom is original but with some damage that needs repairing. However, we need to create a universal access bath so will have to rip out the whole thing and enlarge it to allow wheelchair access. I would love to keep it true to the age of the house, but it will have to have things that weren’t normally done in 1957…grab bars, faucet handles handicap friendly and items being in reach from a wheelchair. The bath currently has mint green field tile and a green random mosaic 2″ & 1″ squares/rectangles floor. I am going to use light blue for the renovated bath and have been scouring this site for information on all sorts of things we will need. I appreciate all the work that Pam has done and am glad this resource is available.

  7. Allison says:

    Oddly enough, I have found plenty of people- workmen included- who were at least sympathetic to doing it my hard and vintage way.

    Of course, these are the same people who can see the charm in my ramshackle 1940 beach cottage, because there are also those like my neighbor who were perplexed I didn’t “tear it all down and bring in a doublewide!”

    Like any act of love, retro-renovations will probably take more time, more money and have more hidden surprises (and by no means are all those surprises good) than you ever imagined. But while you’re in the midst of it you can dream about the perfection to come, and when you’re done- like with childbirth- the pain is more or less forgotten in the contentment.

  8. Mary Elizabeth says:

    Just would like to take the opportunity to thank you, Pam for the blog and for the “Save the Pink Bathroom” and knotty pine sites that led me to it. This winter we are about to undertake our fourth major retro project, which is to change out the worn knotty pine kitchen cabinet doors and 50-year-old hinges without ruining the mid-century bones and look of our kitchen.

    1. susan says:

      Hi Mary Elizabeth. I was interested in your project on changing out your knotty pine kitchen cabinets. We also have knotty pine kitchen cabinets that are in desperate need of refinishing due to water damage and much wear. I would love to hear how your project comes along.

    2. Nikki says:

      Just a thought but you may want to see if you can get someone to refinish the knotty pine doors and frames. I had 30 year old oak cabinets in the kitchen (stained dark brown) that I had refinished and they look fabulous. Less expensive then buying new.

  9. Carolyn says:

    “Hard way” can be interpreted depending on a lot of factors. Mine was the 1958 Liberty travel trailer that I wanted to bring back to at least Ozzie & Harriet-ishness but DH works for THD and his upbringing views of retro/vintage meant “throw that (barnyard term) away and buy totally inappropriate but doesn’t it look cool?” stuff that caught his eye when passing through the store. This blog had not yet come into existence so there was no research (type in just about anything in the last few years and we’re brought straight to RetroRenovation). Trying to find paneling in stores instead of “special ordering” was sort of easy, the dented stainless K sink on discount and apt stove & fridge were no-brainers.
    It’s difficult to do renovations just in general but when the principal players have totally opposite visions, it’s darn near impossible. I like living vicariously through your readers – all the pleasure and none of the pain!

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