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

pink-bathroom-fixtures.jpgWelcoming 2020, 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 — 13 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???

CategoriesBathroom Help
  1. Kay says:

    I’m attempting to renovate our 1947 Chicago bungalow bathroom. The previous owner epoxy coating put on ALL of the tile that surrounds the tub and room that goes up all of the walls. (Heavy sigh). I’ve begun to remove a small portion and to my delight, I found pink tiles with a black crown and recessed soap dish. The previous owner had everything covered in boring white. We also have a lovely mosaic floor pattern that she covered in tan ?This is my first ever attempt and want to keep the integrity of the tiles. Please, please help me save my pink bathroom. Any tips are much appreciated!

    1. Pam Kueber says:

      Hi Kay, on issues like this, I recommend you consult with professionals. Be aware, there can be hazards in old products, materials and their layers — a pro can help you assess what you have so that you can make informed decisions how to handle. For more info see my Renovate Safe page >> https://retrorenovation.com/renovate-safe/

  2. Maggie Belle says:

    Hah ! That is exactly our master bath Crane suite ! 1952 custom built ranch in Bismarck North Dakota 🙂 Not pink but sort of tan flesh color and the whole apron of the big sink is built into and covered around by tile of the 9′ long vanity. The sink is wide enuf for both of us to brush our teeth at same time ! The builder bumped out a tile width ledge across front so there is room for a person’s knees under the sink. DEA Bath supplied the new stems and washers for faucets.

  3. Nina462 says:

    I kind of did the hard way on my back patio last year. Does that count? I had a 10 year old deck that we removed to find a lovely herringbone brick patio underneath. I kind of knew something was underneath, but not exactly what. After clearing off the raccoon/rodent skat from the brick it was lovely!
    Pam – I think I sent you picture of it last year. If not, and you want me to come spring time, I’ll be glad to. Right now, it’s covered in snow.

  4. carolyn says:

    I admire those who can put the time and effort required to back-date homes that have been re-muddled. If I were younger, with a house I adored, I’d give serious thought to going the “hard way’, all things considered (if the bathroom was functional until I could gather all the pieces together, etc.) I’m not sure I coudl even tackle a small vintage glamper.
    Now, when I find my farmhouse, I’ll be happy if I can get slab door kitchen cupboards to paint white, install laminate countertops, and be thankful to evoke a feeling of age. I’ve already noticed the lessening of craigslistings and higher prices for things that are in pretty bad shape to begin with.
    Kudos to all you that can get things the way things ought to be.
    And send pictures!

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