70s Revival? Say it Ain’t So!

70s color scheme and decoration

Is this how you want your home to look? IS IT?! Photo credit: notanartist / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

The nice thing about grandchildren is that you can give them back. Play with them, enjoy them, and when they spit up, cry or turn into surly teenagers, hand them back to their parents and go hit the casino. This strategy has worked really well for me and my grandkids — until now. My grandson (my son’s oldest boy and the oldest of my grandkids) is moving in with his girlfriend and I’m having a hard time containing my disapproval.

Don’t get me wrong. The girl is sweet as blueberry pie and I’m no prude; by all means, get acquainted with his toenail clippings and weird collections of action figures before you tie the knot. But she is insisting on redecorating their apartment and has chosen to do it in 70s revival. Now, if you lived through the 70s like I did you will probably agree that 70s decorating schemes should be left in the past. Just like that fondue pot that’s tucked into the dark recesses of your closet, most of the decorating trends that came out of the 70s are best forgotten. I mean, let’s be honest: “avocado” green, harvest gold, brown — those colors all look like they came out of a diaper. That’s super gross, I know, but that’s the point. The 70s color palette was offensive in every possible way and was an example of what happens when people allow themselves to become enslaved to fashion.

And don’t forget what a pain in the a-s-s shag carpeting was. You couldn’t just vacuum it. You had to vacuum it and rake it so that it wouldn’t look flattened. And if your kid spilled Froot Loops on it, you could kiss your morning goodbye because you’d have to spend hours untangling that mess. Luckily, the grandson’s apartment has hardwood floors, so an area rug is as “shag-a-delic” as their place is going to get. They also have stainless steel appliances which will not be swapped out for avocado green ones any time soon. And the lease says absolutely no repainting.

All the girlfriend can really go is hang some curtains (she’s leaning towards something like this) and buy a boxy orange sofa. My dilemma — talk her out of it or bite my tongue — seems to have resolved itself.

In the spirit of promoting family harmony, I’ve decided to get them a lava lamp.


If You’re Gonna DIY, Do it Right!

cooking with an iron

Source: pulptastic.com.

My granddaughter sent me this link: 20 of the Most Ridiculous DIY Fixes You Will Ever See! While I do admire some of the ingenuity shown in these photos — anyone who tries to cook stew on an upside-down iron propped up by a boot deserves a hat tip — these “fixes” are catastrophes waiting to happen. Replacing car parts with Pringles tubes? Hanging busted lawn chairs from a metal frame and calling it a swing set? A video game controller to replace handlebars?

Your kid is gonna fall on her head and get a nasty bump. But that builds character, right? The kind of character that leads people to try to cook stew on irons? Well then. Mission accomplished.

How to do DIY Right

You can fix your own car. You can build your own swing set. You can make dinner when your stove is on the fritz. But while crazy DIY fixes are creative, the correct DIY fix will a) last and b) not cause your car to explode. So how do you DIY when you don’t know how?

1. Google. You can fix anything if you do you research and follow directions. My granddaughter says you can even Google to find out how to get viruses off your computer!

2. Ask. Need a wrench? Ask a friend. Not sure how that works or where that goes? Ask a friend. Know someone who is really good at fixing the thing you need fixed? ASK!

3. Take your time. If you’ve never done it before, it will be frustrating. It will take a few tries. It will take reading the instructions. It’s ok. You can do it. Just don’t expect to get it done super fast.

If you read this blog, it’s because you’re interested in doing it yourself, and I’m sure that means you want to do it right. Don’t worry — you can do this! But NO SHORTCUTS, ok?

B&B Update: Ballroom!

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I’ve been helping my friend restore an old Victorian house so that she can transform it into a bed and breakfast. For years, the house was a community center, and after that it belonged to a lawyer who only used two rooms on the ground floor. The rest of the rooms on the ground floor and the upper floors were mothballed.

While we were checking out the second floor and making plans for changes, we encountered a strange, expansive room with high ceilings and cheap linoleum tiles glued to the floor. We realized that the room had been a rec room back when the house was a community center, but we had to do a little digging to determine what the room had been when the house was first built. It turns out that it was a ballroom!

After some discussion, we decided to restore it to its original state. My friend will be able to rent it out for events and she’s very excited about it. She told me she couldn’t wait to decorate it for weddings and high school proms and other fancy events. I told her I couldn’t wait to pry up those tiles!

I got in there with my hammer and chisel and the tiles came up easily. I was thrilled when I saw the original cedar planks underneath. It took quite a bit of time and elbow grease (I think I lost ten pounds!) to sand off all the glue but when we saw the floor all smooth and sanded and ready to be refinished, we knew it was worth the effort. As I write this, the room is closed up so that the new lacquer can dry.

Of course, the work didn’t stop with the floor. We had to remove the ugly florescent lights and pull down the drop ceiling. What was above the drop ceiling, you ask? An amazing night-sky mural, that’s what. I hate it when people buy old houses and show them no respect when they repurpose them.

Anyway, we found an old picture of the house and are planning a trip to the salvage stores to find chandeliers (that’s right, this room has two!) that are similar to the ones that were in the original room. We’re also going to restore the old coat room, which means we need to replace some of the old coat hooks that went missing. We also need new wallpaper but we’ve already decided on the Centennial roomset from Bradbury & Bradbury. The last thing we’ll get will be drapes.

Soon, it will be as if the ballroom’s transformation into a linoleum-tiled room full of Foosball tables never happened!



Restore, Don’t Remuddle

Remuddle. It’s a cute way of saying “ruin a house.” But there is nothing — NOTHING! — cute about remuddling a house. The results of remuddling are often ugly at best and heartbreaking at worst. I can honestly say I’ve lost friends who remuddled vintage homes because I couldn’t keep my trap shut. But you know what? Friends don’t let friends add clunky, stucco additions to stone cottages or turn lovely, open-air porches into boxy home gyms or whatever. If I say to you, “don’t do that ugly thing to your house,” you can be damn sure I’m doing you a favor. 

Not convinced? Avoiding coming home to a house that looks like Jabba the Hutt should be reason enough not to remuddle, but in case that’s not enough, here are a few reasons.

1. Nobody wants to buy a remuddle. You might sell your house one day, right? Well, consider that people will drive right past a house with an ugly exterior. No one wants to undo all of the “work” you’ve done on your house. In the end, the value of your house will come down and you won’t get as much money as you think you should. Restoring, however, will bring the value up.

2. Remuddles are laughingstocks. Do you want your house ending up on somebody’s blog? The answer is no. Trust me, this is the architectural equivalent of appearing on Glamour‘s “Don’t” page with a black bar over your eyes. People will refer to your house as “the really ugly one”. Is that what you want? To be the people who own “the really ugly one?” Didn’t think so.

3. Your neighbors will hate you. Refer to the image. See how the remuddle towers over the cute, well-maintained prewar house? I can guarantee you that the people in the prewar house are no longer on speaking terms with the owners of that remuddle.

4. It’s mean. If a house is too small, buy a bigger one. If the house is a mid-century rambler and you’d prefer something more modern, move on. Don’t saddle a small house with awkward additions or shoehorn an older house into a new design. You will fall short of your vision. Far, far short. If you can’t appreciate a house for what it is, for chrissakes just don’t buy it! Let the little house or the 50s house got to people who will love them for what they are. Don’t be cruel to a house that’s true! (My granddaughter is reading over my shoulder and rolled her eyes. She doesn’t appreciate Elvis, but to me he’s still king!)

Clearly I have strong feelings on this issue. However, it’s easy to avoid remuddling if you follow the three Rs: Respect, restore, refine. Emphasis on the “respect.”


Vintage Appliances

So you want to achieve that vintage look. You can hang “atomic” curtains and replace your kitchen table with chrome and Formica, but if you’ve got a stainless steel stove and fridge, you’re only going to achieve half of the look you are going for. That’s fine, I guess, unless you’re a stickler for authenticity and you want your kitchen to wrap you in a warm blanket of nostalgia every time you step into it.

You might wonder whether a vintage stove would actually work. Well, according to this Slate article, vintage stoves can be better  than contemporary ones. From the article:

Vintage stoves are different. Mine runs solely on gas and is solidly built, with plenty of cast iron and with serious insulation so that it retains heat and cooks splendiferously. It has a built-in clock and timer as well as a shelf that folds out when I need more space while using all four burners. And it is so functional. Unlike vintage refrigerators, which are energy sucks with only enough space to keep milk from spoiling and to freeze a tray of ice, these stoves are totally suited to the way we cook today. When I’m having a dinner party, I can be roasting duck legs in one oven while lemon-curd-and-almond cake bakes at a different temperature in the other. Admittedly, the stove lacks a grill, but I do have a grill pan that heats fast and stays hot on my venerable burners.

Things were often built better back in the day. The Magic Chef stove that my mother had was sky blue and matched the fridge, the cabinets and the kitchen table. She was so proud of that kitchen. My parents bought their house in 1953 and my mom had the kitchen redone to match the kitchens she saw in magazines like Lady’s Home Journal. It was just a little woodframe house from the outside, but on the inside it was as modern as Teflon. And it still looked fabulous, even after it had gone out of style.

Now, these stoves are “in” again, not just for their functionality but for their classically attractive appearance. If you’re thinking about getting one, I say go for it. You may be worked that a stove that old won’t work, but it may work better than what you’ve got now.

Drawer Handles for Every Possible Design Scheme

dresser in need of refinishing

This poor old dresser needs some work – starting with a new finish and handles. But what kind of handles??

Most people don’t give much thought to drawer handles. In the broad scheme of things, it’s easy to go about your day without ever giving your drawer handles a second thought. But, whether you are putting in new kitchen cabinets or refinishing a dresser, the handles you choose can make a real impact — and help you achieve the overall look that you are going for. In this post, I will help you identify which drawer handles to choose based on the style you have chosen for your remodeling project.

Retro: Chrome

Nothing says “retro Mid-century look” as well as chrome. Shiny chrome curves were everywhere in the 50s, appearing on everything from cars to dining room tables. Add chrome handles to your cabinets and you’ll instantly achieve a “nifty fifties” feel in your kitchen. Of course, you’ll also want to hang some curtains with a cute 50s print. But one thing at a time.

Art Deco: Bakelite

The Bakelite Corporation opened a factory in New Jersey in 1929, coinciding with the height of the Art Deco period. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Bakelite — a form of plastic that has since fallen out of favor — was incorporated into many Art Deco designs. When combined with brass, translucent Bakelite embellishments can resemble amber. It’s a very grand (to use a word from that period) look, and an old dresser can really come alive when you replace the old drawer pulls with these babies. However, Bakelite is brittle — that’s why no one uses it any more. I would caution against using it if the dresser you’re refinishing belongs to, say, a kid. But if it’s for the Art Deco design freak in your family, go for it!

Victorian: Ornate Brass

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I’m helping my friend turn an old Victorian house into a bed and breakfast. When she bought it, the house wasn’t run down or in disrepair, as is (sadly) the case with so many other houses from this era. However, the house had changed ownership many times since it was built, and was even converted into a community center for a few years. As a result, none of the original fixtures remain. My friend and I spent hours searching for handles to put on the doors, drawers and cabinets. To get as close as possible to the original, we chose brass handles with lion heads and fleur de lis embellishments.

Contemporary: Die Cast Magnesium

There is something about drawer handles made from die cast magnesium that just screams “modern.” It’s a simple, sleek look that will make any kitchen look like Will Smith’s pad in “Hitch.” (The grandkids were over this weekend and they insisted I watch that movie. I know it’s a decade old but his apartment had a very modern look.) You might have to order them from China, but if modern is what you’re going for, magnesium alloy handles will be well worth the wait.

Funky/Eclectic: Ceramic

Ceramic drawer handles can add color, character and whimsy to any drawer, cabinet or dresser. From hand-painted Mexican Talavera to knobs shaped like pumpkins, ceramics are charming in all kinds of ways. My niece took a trip to Mexico a few months ago and returned with a spate of Talavera drawer handles. She redid her entire bathroom with them and it is adorable. (I’m very proud of her.)

A Final Note

Shopping for new drawer handles is fun. Actually installing them can be tedious. You don’t want to do the job twice. Make sure you choose correctly the first time.

Photo credit: hdes.copeland / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)



Does My B&B Need a Water Softener?

Victorian house with turret

It’s no easy task restoring a house* like this. Good thing I like a project! *This isn’t the house we’re restoring, but it’s very similar.

A friend of mine recently had the good fortune of purchasing a beautiful Victorian-era mansion that she plans to convert into a bed and breakfast, and she’s taking me along for the ride. The exterior of the building maintains distinctive Victorian characteristics, but somebody sure did a number on the interior. The original woodwork is covered in layers upon layers of paint. Many ‘improvements’ were made in the ’60s and ’70s, including drop ceilings. (We removed the grubby tiles from a drop ceiling in the ‘parlor’ and found the original hand-painted crown moldings. Why someone would want to hide such beauty with a drop ceiling is beyond me.) The cheap faux wood paneling and tired Berber carpets will all have to go too. It’s a good thing I like doing this kind of thing, because we have a lot of work a head of us.

My friend was able to obtain photographs of what the house looked like when it was originally built (in 1908) and we’ve been scouring antique stores and salvage stores to find rugs, sconces, doorknobs and curtain rods that belong to the same era as the house. We even found parts for the old dumbwaiter, and we’re excited to get it working again! We’ve also found a company that prints stunning Victorian-style wallpaper, which I simply cannot wait to hang — those horrid brown-and-orange floral patterns that have hung on these walls since the Carter administration have simply got to go!

Industrial Water Softener for a Victorian Laundry Room

As cool as it would be to do this restoration in wall-t0-wall Victoriana, there are some things that simply must be modern. The kitchen needs a professional-grade range and walk-in refrigerator, and the laundry room needs industrial-sized washers and dryers. My friend wondered if she should install a commercial water softener  so that her guests could always expect pristine, soft linens.

I didn’t know a whole lot about commercial or industrial water softeners. My “thing” is aesthetics. Utilitarian things like industrial water softeners aren’t exactly in my wheelhouse. But, I knew my friend was relying on my expertise, and so I did as much research as I could so that I could offer her an informed opinion. What I found was a company called Robert B. Hill Co., which is based in Minnesota. Robert B. Hill Co. manufactures custom water softeners that are made to fit the exact specifications of their clients’ spaces.

industrial water softener

A commercial water softener is a good option for a laundry room.

That seemed pretty nifty to me; Robert B. Hill Co. can make a water softener that will fit in the space we have available in the laundry room (which admittedly isn’t much) and can still meet the demands of daily washing. I showed my friend the website, and she agreed that it would be a good idea to reach out to this company and see what they can do for us and for the Astoria Community Inn.

I know…a terrible name. The house was, at one point in its varied history, a community center and for some reason my friend is hell-bent on paying homage to that. I keep telling her that the name will make people think that they’ll be sleeping on cots under Ping Pong tables, but so far she hasn’t budged. However, I discovered that the original owner had a daughter named Violet Rose. I think I can sell my friend on calling the place Violet Rose Manor. Much more appealing, don’t you agree?

Photo credit: Scott Hess / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Wallpaper Steamer

I like to do things the old fashioned way. Stripping wallpaper? All you need is vinegar and hot water. There’s no need to use nasty chemicals or fancy doo-hickies just to take down wallpaper. But, my friend is restoring an old house and she insisted I use the steamer she bought at Home Depot. She said it would be gentler on the house’s “fragile” old walls. I told her that water and vinegar would have been good enough for the first people who lived in the house — after all, there was no Home Depot in 1908. But some salesman pulled her leg and she just wouldn’t budge. And, as I’m still trying to convince her to change the name of the place (Astoria Community Inn is NOT a good name for a B&B!) I have to pick my battles.

So I used the SteamMachine Steamer for Steam Cleaning and Wallpaper Removal.

And I liked it.

I really hate to admit how much I liked using this thing! I mean, I really do try to stick with simple solutions when I can, and avoid expensive ones when they are unnecessary. But the SteamMachine made removing wallpaper fast and easy, with minimal mess. Additionally, it’s a steam cleaner, so when I was done taking down wall paper at the Community Inn I took the SteamMachine home and got all the mustard stains out of my husband’s recliner. (Honestly. My husband is like the dad on Frasier. I work so hard to put the house together, and he constantly mucks up my visions with his big ugly chair.)

Anyway, I still prefer hot water and vinegar for wallpaper removal. However, if you prefer to use a machine, I think the SteamMachine Steamer for Steam Cleaning and Wallpaper Removal is the way to go.



Reviving Moorish Revival

Proof that True Beauty is Timeless

The Victorians liked to dream about faraway lands. And though their “appropriations” (as my granddaughter insists on saying) of Middle Eastern designs weren’t exactly politically correct by today’s standards, the result — Victorian Moorish Revival architecture — is something worth celebrating.

Though some Victorians designed entire houses in the Moorish Revival style — complete with onion domes — it was not uncommon for Victorians to decorate one room with Moorish furnishings. Recently, I got on a Moorish kick while helping a friend of mine redecorate a Victorian bed and breakfast that she purchased. We had not considered using any Moorish-style furnishings, but that changed when I fell in love with the Persian Roomset by Bradbury & Bradbury while I was searching for wallpaper. I love the deep reds and the brilliant oranges and the gold accents. I love how it seems at once exotic and cozy. When I saw the wallpaper, I immediately called my friend and told her that her B&B needed a Moorish room.

She agreed, and I’ve since spent days scouring antique shops all over Astoria to find Moorish furnishings like ornate Turkish lanterns and hand-carved tables. I’ve come across some really fantastic finds — including a gorgeous Moorish-style birdcage — that I am very excited about. I just know that honeymoon couples are going to want to book the Moorish room, or, as we’ve decided to call it, the “Scheherazade Suite!”

Moorish Domes in Peril

Moorish Revival architecture Bardwell Ferrant

The Bardwell-Ferrant house is the quintessential example of Moorish Revival architecture.

You cannot Google “Victorian Moorish Revival” without seeing an image of the Bardwell-Ferrant house in Minneapolis. You can view this video for more info on the house, but long story short, it’s a beautiful house in a struggling neighborhood, and is in need of a lot of TLC. The family who owns it now is working hard to restore it, but they don’t have the money or know-how to keep the beautiful Moorish dome from toppling over.

Because I’m a fan of Victorian architecture in general, and Moorish Revival in particular, and because I’m a strong advocate for saving historic homes, I want to see this house survive. I sincerely hope people will lend a hand to this plucky, ambitious family and their equally plucky home!