Monday, March 12, 2018

Living The Vintage Life: Rethink Your Pad

If you look around the place you live, does it fit your lifestyle? Some people don’t care and that’s cool. I’m going to focus on the people who are interested in changing their living space to match their lifestyle. Heads up, the more in-depth you want to go, the more pricey it will be. That should be obvious, but people still seem surprised.

This section could be a whole series of books within itself, so I’ll give you the nutshell version, starting with Budget Finds, Home Design Plan, Kitchen, Bathroom, Walls, Flooring, and Other Stuff. One place I go to, all the time, is Retro Renovation ( If you need anything retro for your home, they are the ladies who can probably help you find it.

Terms you will come across for the 40s, 50s, and general rockabilly are:

Mid-Century Modern - The prime years for this was 1933-1965 and is highly sought after amongst the rockabilly crowd. It incorporates the International and Bauhaus styles. Key features are ample window space, open floor plans, and bringing the outside it. There is a solid design aspect to MCM with flattop roofs, butterfly roofs, decorative concrete blocks, decorative dividers from natural materials, textures, and a general minimalism for interiors. The classic ranch house came out of MCM.

Streamline Moderne
- This style emerged in the 1930s as a breakaway from art deco and a predecessor to mid-century modern styles. Key features are: horizontal lines, rounded corners/aerodynamic corners, nautical features, aeroplane features, lack of art deco excessive ornaments, and a sense of “industrialization, innovation, speed, and motion”.

Scandinavian Modern
- New MCM done by Scandinavian countries. The Danish and Swedish people have really taken over the new mid-century modern design world. This new stuff - mostly produced from 1970-present day - would easily fit into any mid-century modern home.

- Craftsman architecture mostly died out in the late-1930s, but you can find the style being built to the present day. Frank Lloyd Wright has his roots in the Prairie School of Craftsman design. The classic American Four-Square house is definitely craftsman. You will find a lot of hand-crafted wood and stone. When you think Late-Craftsman, think 1930s WPA. Parkitecture is derived from this style.

Googie - This fun style of modern architecture is basically “MCM does futuristic design”. You can find space age influences, spheres, domes, the use of neon, stars, starbursts, amoeba shapes, kidney shapes, atom shapes, diamond shapes, and anything that really seemed out of this world in the 50s and 60s.

Exotica - This is a decorative style that you might find associated with several design styles listed above. Post-war, people came home from “exotic lands”, and brought with them this new style. Design elements are: Hawaiian, Polynesian, Asian, Alaskan, and African. Exotica became a new style of jazz music (exotica jazz), the Aloha shirt became popular, and tiki bars became a thing.

You can find color charts for MCM popular colors, but let me start by stating that whatever colors you choose, you should feel good about.  You don't have to stick to any color charts, especially if you want to tweak your home design towards psychobilly or gothabilly or something like that.

Here are some color charts to check out.  Remember that you can also use patterns, not shown here.  Don't be afraid of plain, stripes, dots, leopard, etc.



Budget Finds

Everyone loves a good budget find. You can find them online, yard sales, estate sales, antique stores, ebay, etsy, and sometimes even for free. You would be surprised at what can happen when you express interest in an item. My tip in that sense, is never expect to get it, but always be grateful if it is given to you. I’ve always thought of budget finds as superficial pieces. Usually they’re very visual like a lamp or a ceramic piece or a figurine. Sometimes it’s an actual piece of furniture. I have a 1955 GE Hanging Refrigerator from the “Kitchen of The Future” collection sitting in the garage that I picked up for free. I just had to uninstall and haul the thing away. Holy crap, right?! I just need a place to put it now.

If you’re starting out, only look for budget items until you have a plan for your place. You might want to pick up some art for your walls, a lamp or two, clock, mid-century modern pieces, etc. I suggest not going crazy looking for budget finds.

Home Design Plan

Everyone needs some sort of home design plan. If you live in an apartment, you need to check into getting approval for painting or replacing flooring or whatever it is you want to do. If you are a homeowner or a potential homeowner, you have more freedom within your space. A lot of rockabilly people want to be or are homeowners. Isn’t that cool? The best I can do here is tell you how I approach things with my apartment.

I live in an apartment that I partially own. What it boils down to is that I’m a shareholder in my dad’s company and I live in one of the apartments above the office. As long as I get an “okay” from my dad, I can make alterations. With that said, let me tell you about my place.

The building (including apartments) was built in 1971. The apartments were set up with a very mid-century modern floor plan because my grandpa really liked that sort of thing. I have original walnut-stained custom cabinets, original real wood paneling, a Kohler peachblow bathroom (it’s an off-pink), the living room and kitchen are set up in an open floor plan, I have large windows, and a shared second-floor deck space with my neighbors (my parents).

When I first moved in, there was awful dove grey carpet with stains, the kitchen was wallpapered in a beige-neutral with floral border, and it just felt really stuffy/cramped. My plan of attack was to change the space I spent most of my time - the kitchen and living room. I figured that paint was cheaper than flooring, so I decided to change the kitchen first. I wanted to wait until the summer months to attack the flooring.

With warm wood paneling and dark walnut cabinets, I wanted something that would be bold and that would go with a tiki theme - my kitchen theme. It took awhile, but I finally settled on Pantone Macaw Green for the kitchen. It’s bright, it’s bold, and in the winter my kitchen is definitely not a dreary place. Below, under Walls, I’ll go over how to remove wallpaper. I knew, before painting, that while I was definitely using a bright, bold color that most would shy away from, the surrounding wood was going to tone the green down. I was even planning on adding MORE wood by putting a few tiki masks above the cabinets (between the gap between the cabinets and the ceiling). I got my kitchen painted over three days, finishing a week before Christmas.

As the summer months grew closer, I began scouring Home Depot and Lowes for deals on flooring. I ended up spending around $320 roughly on flooring for the hallway and living room. I got approval to remove carpet one evening, gave it 5 minutes (in case my dad changed his mind), and begun ripping the carpet out. I was able to get the carpet out in an evening. I picked up the flooring and made sure the space was clean. I tended to the subflooring, trying to get any squeaks out of the floor, which took and evening. I then started to lay down the new faux wooden flooring, which took 4 days with some help from my mom. While I was getting the flooring taken care of, I was also on a search for a showy piece...a mid-century modern couch. I found one through Joybird, got it ordered, talked to them about logistics since they don’t ship to Alaska, and waited for 12 weeks or whatever the wait was for my first couch (that wasn’t used).

The point here, is that I had something in mind before I even started. The couch doesn’t match the kitchen, but it fits into the color scheme of the kitchen - staying within a tropical color setting. My sofa is a tropical aqua blue color. Always have a plan when you deal with the home.

If you are planning on remodeling, even the slightest, you should consider the following:
  1. What color scheme am I going for?
  2. Will the living space flow or will it be choppy from room to room?
  3. Do I have samples of color, flooring, fabric swatches, etc?
  4. Do I have future ideas for the space after the initial remodel?
  5. Will the design I’m planning look good all year round and during holidays?
I suggest having a few options laid out. Take photos of your samples in different lighting - morning, afternoon, evening, etc. This goes for paint, fabric, flooring, countertops, etc. Narrow it down to your top 3 choices and definitely sleep on it before making a final decision. Something to try is using Pinterest to create a design board. When I was working on my apartment, I pinned digital paint chips, the couch from joybird, the cowhide rug, flooring, and some tiki masks. This helped me narrow down my selection of couch colors and kitchen paint.


Let’s start off with the affirming “YES”. Yes, there are reproduction large and small kitchen appliances. Yes, the big stuff is expensive. Yes, you can pick up some of the small stuff at a reasonable price.

If you’re like me, you just can’t justify spending $3200+ for a refrigerator or a fancy stove, despite it coming in those wonderful mid-century colors. You’re just going to have to keep your bland black, white, or metal large appliances for right now. You might be asking yourself: what can I do to change my kitchen? I was really hoping that Big Chill wasn’t going to be an arm and a leg.

  • Cheaper things to revamp your kitchen:
  • Paint
  • Wallpaper
  • Curtains (if you have a kitchen window)
  • Countertop
  • New small appliances

New decor

In “Walls” below, I have instructions on how to remove wallpaper and the basics on painting. It’s pretty easy, but it will take a few days. When I did my kitchen, it took me 3 days to remove the wallpaper and get everything painted. If you’re planning on using wallpaper, I recommend checking out: Double E Company, Bradbury & Bradbury, and Rosie's Vintage Wallpaper.

If you have a kitchen window, you can make your own curtains or find some with an appropriate retro print. After one loooong summer of nothing in my kitchen window, I made my own valence (one piece that is hung across the top of the window). I used cotton fabric with a tropical tiki design (found at Spoonflower), blackout fabric for inside, and 3” long aqua fringe. I don’t get direct sunlight through the window, but in the summer afternoons from about 3pm-5pm it shines right into the eyes of anyone sitting at the kitchen counter. The valence prevents that.

 Changing your countertop, if you have a laminate, can be a great option. Before you run to Home Depot or Lowes or elsewhere, I want to let you know that there are two major brands: Wilsonart and Formica. Wilsonart has an online digital library of countertop designs ( that you can browse though and so does Formica ( You can even order samples. If you go to a place that carries wilsonart, they should be able to order the laminate you want. Do not install it yourself. Have a professional install a new countertop. Another countertop option is to check out Heffron’s ( who only carry retro themes for laminates, stools, etc.

 Small appliances might seem odd, but maybe a new mixer or a retro microwave is what you need to help set your kitchen apart from the rest. Here are a few links to check out: Typhoon, Bella, Husky, Smeg, Nostalgia Electrics, and Suzie Q Retro. New decor can also be found at the links above, as well as: Retro Planet. This is a great place to start a search for mugs, canisters, clocks, dining ware, etc. Don’t forget that you can always go to your local antique shops and thrift stores for interesting finds.


 Gerber used to carry colored sinks and toilets, but now they seem to only have white, bone, and black. When it comes to bathrooms, the question always comes down to colored bathroom groups. I always try to stay on top of the colored stuff because...heck...I work in the industry. I work for a mechanical contracting company - we’re plumbers and pipefitters. Let me go back to Gerber. Gerber is not considered high-end, as Kohler or American Standard are. Since Gerber recently discontinued it’s line of colored bathroom groups (colors: Bahama pink, aqua, blush, wedgewood blue, sahara gold, dawn blue, spanish gold, powder blue, peach, petal pink, and citron yellow). You can check to see some past production colors here: I also recommend checking out New Retro Bath (

If you are on a quest for a colored bathroom group, look on ebay, craigslist, your local antique stores, etc. Have you made friends with any realtors in your area? Have a realtor friend! Let them know that if there is a home being sold with a colored bathroom group, and the buyers want to renovate the bathroom, that you would gladly take the bathroom group as long as it’s in good condition (that means no cracks and has proper function). Does that sound like a headache? No sweat! You can add some color by using tiles, paint, wallpaper, flooring, etc. Take a trip to pinterest and start searching for “1940s 1950s Bathroom”. Start collecting ideas for retro bathrooms. You can also just add little decorum like hand soap from Dolce Mia which offers pin-up and hawaiian themes ( or soaps and lotions from Debaucherous Bath (


 Walls are funny. There is just so much you can do with them and they always have different functions. You’ll have to really decide what you want done with your space. In an effort to not make this a novel of a section, I’m going to suggest looking for visual ideas by browsing the web and pinterest. Crack open a few books on 1940s and 1950s decor. As promised, I wanted to give you basic instructions on how to remove wallpaper. You will need: a big garbage can or at least some big garbage bags, a 3”-4” wall scraper, a razorblade, a washcloth and access to water, and a steamer. You will also need a step stool or a small ladder, some way to reach the top of the wallpaper that usually stops at the ceiling. Wear clothes you can get dirty.
  1. The first thing you want to do is clear your space. If you are redoing your kitchen, make sure the coffee pot is out of the way. You might just want to use this time as a good excuse to really clean the area.
  2. Once your area is clean and free of your junk, you will want to peel off the top layer of wallpaper. The top layer comes off pretty easily. You can use the razorblade to help you out. Just don’t gouge the wall. You’re going to be left with a white papery wall when you are finished.
  3. If you come across any screws or nails in the wall, you should remove these for now. It’s much easier to get things done without the nail sticking out from where you hung that portrait of grandma. It’s also safer. You could split your hand open or something.
  4. After removing that top layer of wallpaper, you now need to remove the paper that is glued to the wall with adhesive. The best way to do this is to run the steamer over a section and then scrape it with the wall scraper. You can also use a washcloth soaked in hot water (only hot enough for you to handle) and run that over the wall before scraping. Do not gouge the wall! This will take you awhile. I highly recommend turning on the radio or listening to an old radio show!
    1. TIP: Clean as you go. Get a 3’ or 4’ section done and get the soggy paper into the garbage. You don’t want it drying on your counter or floor. That just becomes a pain later on.
    2. TIP: If redoing your kitchen, pull out the fridge and the oven. Get behind these two beasts. I suggest getting the wallpaper removed from behind them last and painting behind them first - so you can get them put back in place while you finish the rest of your kitchen.
Continue for more wall refurbishing. You will need painter’s tape, a 1” wide brush, a paint cup, plastic sheeting to cover the floor and anything else, a 3” brush, a hand roller and tray, and the proper amount of paint for your space.
  1. Tape your edges to prevent paint from getting on the ceiling, walls you don’t want painted, cabinets/shelves, counters, etc. If you have moulding in the way, gently pry this off. You can put it back on when you’re done with a small hammer.
  2. Make sure you have plastic sheeting laid down for the area you plan on working. Work in small areas at a time. Example: In the kitchen, consider the space behind the fridge it’s own area, while the space above the cabinets along one wall is a different space. If working high, make sure you have anything that can be dripped on covered completely.
  3. Prime your walls or use paint that has primer mixed in. I always suggest two good coats of paint. If you are putting up different wallpaper, don’t paint, just install your new wallpaper.
    1. Do the edges first with the 1” brush. I use a paint cup while I do this part since it’s easier to handle. I always paint a 2”-3” edge of paint before using a bigger brush or a hand roller. Take your time and try not to splatter or drip paint.
    2. Paint and step away! Let your first coat dry and inspect it. Sometimes you get that magic paint that only requires one coat. That’s not usually the case. You will probably have to use a second coat.
  4. Paint all your walls before laying down any final coats.
  5. Paint the walls a final time. Your walls should be evenly coated with the final coat of paint. If they aren’t evenly coated, creating a splotchy look, you will need to put on another coat of paint.
  6. After everything is dry or mostly dry, you can remove the painter’s tape, plastic sheeting, and any mess. During this time, don’t touch the walls, but definitely get your clean up taken care of. You can also move any large appliances or furniture back into place.
  7. Is everything dry? You can take a little paint in your paint cup and use your 1” brush to touch up any small spots. Let this dry and then you’ll be all set to put stuff back in place, hang pictures, etc.

When it comes to flooring, your basics boil down to carpet, wood/fake wood, tile/stone, and vinyl/laminate. It’s all based on personal choice. For instance, I really dislike most carpet and tolerate low pile commercial carpet more than high pile residential carpet. I took out the majority of the carpet in my apartment, trading it for fake wood. I feel as though I have a cleaner environment, instead of dirt hiding under a laid carpet. I also don’t continuously wear shoes on my fake wood, whereas with carpet I will always wear some sort of footwear. It’s all personal preference.
  • Things to ask yourself about flooring:
  • What do I like the feeling of?
  • When I want to be ultra comfortable, will this flooring provide that?
  • When I want to be fancy and have people over, will this flooring provide for that?
  • What color is appropriate?
  • Do you have pets? If so, consider your flooring and pets - hair, foot traffic, etc.
  • Is your flooring within your price range?

Other Stuff

When revamping your humble abode, you might want to think about the mid-century philosophy of minimalism. In a nutshell, Minimalism is reducing your belongings to provide more space for you to be yourself or to clean up your belongings so they become part of the space. A famous phrase from minimalists is “clutter causes anxiety”. Try to create space for what you own. If you have stuff boxed up out in the garage or tucked away in a closet, do you really need it? Why is it there? Holiday decor, okay. Seasonal clothing, okay. Clothing you haven’t worn in 5 years, it must go!

 Not everyone practices minimalism. It’s just a very common trend in mid-century modern homes.  I highly recommend the magazine ‘Atomic Ranch’.

I’m going to leave you with some fun online shops to check out.  You'll find some great links for altering your home to fit your new lifestyle.

Up Next: Living The Vintage Life: Entertainment


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