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

pink-bathroom-fixtures.jpgWelcoming 2019, 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 — 12 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.

More reality checks

Want some more reality checks re: remodeling and its challenges? Try these stories:

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. It is an honor to have been a part of the RetroRenovation community since the beginning! And difficult to believe that it has been so long since that piece was first posted! But speaking of “RetroRenovation the Hard Way,” wait until you see my latest project, rebuilding a 1967 mobile home to become a 1955 Mid Century Modern masterpiece! Stay tuned for the big reveal. I will send photos to Pam as soon as I get at least one room of the house completed … probably the pink kitchen.

  2. Wendellyn Plummer says:

    So glad to have you back, after a well deserved break. Even though you posted this in 2007, all of us looking for certain items have to be a patient group. After two years of looking, I finally found a light lavender sink for our remuddled bathroom. For me being patient has never been a strong point, but as I quickly learned, either be patient, or drive yourself and others around you bonkers. I also try to have everything I need before I start a project. Another issue that drives my husband crazy. LOL
    Any way, so glad to have you back. Happy New Year!!

    1. Jenny says:

      Ooh, lavender sink? Must send Pam pictures so she can post them! What color is the rest of the bathroom? I wanna see!

  3. KStacey says:

    I have been working on my kitchen for over two years now, and while “the hard way” is definitely not for everybody, I find it extremely satisfying. Will I ever be “done”? Maybe. (my husband says no, haha!) On my boring white refrigerator door I have an advertisement for the vintage 1960 turquoise GE refrigerator to match the rest of my appliances. Just a reminder to the vintage gods to send one my way, someday. (and of course, I diligently hunt as well!)

    1. I have that 1962 turquoise GE fridge, plus a matching NOS turquoise sink and my beloved Flair Custom Imperial range, also in turquoise.

      Unfortunately, all of these lovelies are in storage waiting to be installed since my slow motion gut renovation of this 1940 cottage continues at its glacial pace. Soon, though! All the walls in the kitchen are finally done, so it will be time for the salvaged birch cabinets to go in sometime next week. I hope.

      I bet I’ve said “Soon, I hope” a few hundred times over this last year and a half. Retro renovations are not a quick process when everything must be paid for out of a slim cash flow.

      But hey! Today I found a yellow toilet at the Earthwise salvage store to replace my cracked wall-mounted one. Not a perfect match, (Crane Citrus Yellow rather than AS Manchu Yellow) but better than a white one. I’m happy.

  4. Carolyn says:

    I was unaware of this blog til 2013 when it was featured in a woman’s magazine. DH works in the orange big box store where temptation called to him 40+ hrs/week. This was compounded when anything I wanted had to be “special ordered” which I finally found out was no different than a catalog or on-line shopping instead of the big deal he made it out to be.
    Some readers are familiar with my 1958 travel trailer fixer and 1974 mobile home. Pam’s advice to live with your home for a year before changing things came too late. While I got a fantastic deal on a floor model vanity ($50) with marble counter-top & built in sink, a little research and waiting might have bagged me a drop-in sink in the same shade of Mustard(?) as the toilet & tub.
    Going on incorrect information, we pulled up the ultra-shag carpet in my room and threw. it. away. Kick myself over and over when we discovered the real reason for the odors.
    Last year I got some samples for the K counter-top cuz previous owners scratched up the bull-nose. Realized if I replaced the counter, everything else would look awful instead of just shabby.
    My plan (dream) is this is the last year we’ll be at this address and I’ll give the new owners this website. Nothing looks goofier than 2010’s decor in a vintage (I’m talking pre-1990) mobile homes. When the K counters & appliances are worth more than the entire house, ya gotta wonder.
    Best pieces of advice I got here: does the roof leak, does the basement flood, does it heat in winter and cool in summer? Is it broken – fix it, or just old – live with it til it breaks?
    And take certain cable channels with a grain (50# bag!) of salt before any sledgehammering occurs!
    Can’t wait to see other comments!

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