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

pink-bathroom-fixtures.jpgWelcoming 2021, 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 seeding some random rain clouds, just to test your mettle — they love to make mischief, too.

My The Hard Way essay, originally published in Dec. 2007 — 14 years ago now! —  less than two months after I started the blog — golly, can you believe how long we have been at this?:

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. linoleummy says:

    How about the never complete completion? Little details that need a solution or the perfect find. Even though it looks magazine ready, is there something still bugging you to be done in your kitchen?
    In mine, which was started in 2014, I still need to do something about the outlet and switch plates. The backslash holes are off just enough that the regular timeless version doesn’t cover. The pink bath started in 2017 needs a few things including the stainless edging for the mirror surround, that I don’t have quite enough left to finish. Ugh!!!

  2. Vintigchik says:

    So true. In 2018 I had just purchased my dream home, a gorgeous 50s near time capsule cottage with so much cuteness! Then I met my current husband who had just purchased a piece of amazing property in one of my favorite towns. I knew when he asked me to marry him that I would have to sell my house. But he promised me that he would build me a replica 50s house. Oh my, little did the poor guy know what that was going to entail. Luckily, he’s an amazing man and has put up with me and my retro dreams! But yeah, it’s so much more work and you have to love research! Plus you have to expect you’re going to have to travel for the big stuff. Not to mention the premium you’ll pay for the vintage look. That’s all part of the journey, and I love it!

  3. Stephanie in MD says:

    Thank you for this and all you do, Pam. I’ve been reading the blog since around 2012, I think? This article is so true.
    We bought our 1969 home in April 2019, and it has a lot of original features, and its been a work in progress prioritizing the ‘need to repair’ and safety issues, over the decorating (the walls are all still greige from the sale, ugh, and the walnut paneling was all painted for sale, too, so that will be another fun project). We did the roof this summer, and other kitchen appliances are replaced as they wear out (they weren’t the original Westinghouse Avocado set 🙁
    Planning bathroom and kitchen remodeling for down the road, but they are totally fine for now. Just re-grouting, freshening up, replacing the towel bars with original Hall-Macks, etc.
    But I’ve been lucky to find original pink and blue toilets and sinks (these were replaced a long time ago for white low flow) at the local Habitat Restore or from a kind neighbor who had hers in the garage, and we are slowly getting there.
    Thank you again for all you do, and you have been a great resource.

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