Mid-Century Modern(ization)

Redefining modern for a family-friendly home

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This Chair Is Juuuust Right

Said no one ever.  Sorry Goldilocks, you must have been mistaken.

No matter how hard I look, I can’t seem to find two reasonably priced side chairs to place in front of the living room feature wall.  I think if we had a couple chairs surrounding a small occasional table in front of that wall it would help to balance the room and seem much more inviting.  Something like this.


Although those chairs are a little big.  These Barcelona chairs are a better scale.


As much as I love these though, they won’t work because Barcelona chairs — even the reproductions! — cost an arm and a leg.  Each.  And I need two.  Which is pretty much the story with any new chair.

So, with a budget of, oh say $100 or less, I’m perusing good ol’ Craigslist (as I write this).  You’ll come virtual thrifting with me, won’t you?!  Click the photo to view the listing!

These are cantilevers are pretty neat, but at $200 plus reupholstering costs, they’re over budget.  I don’t think I could handle reupholstering that sweeping back on my own…

These also have huge potential.  I could probably even reupholster them myself, but I think I can find some ugly chairs for less than $150, don’t you?

These are wicked awesome.  I love them.  They are $350 (each??  The ad isn’t very clear).  Whomp whomp.

The $80 price tag on these slipper chairs is nice and the scale is right, but … they’re boring.  I want something with personality!

$30 would get me a set of these, which are really cool.  But I think the cane makes them more of a kitchen chair??


These lovelies had me at hello.  And so did the price tag: $5!!! They match our color scheme and everything!  I emailed the seller and unfortunately they have been sold.  Sad face.

These Knoll side chairs are a steal for $85 — even with the damage.



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The Great White Debate

The other night I posted this photo on Facebook and was completely unsurprised by the number of folks who voted for me to put anything but white on the walls.  Trust me, no one is more surprised at this deviation from color than I am.  I mean, I love color!  Why would I paint my walls white?

But the fact of the matter is, I respect my home and it’s unique, mid-century design.  I know that if I work with its personality rather than against it, the end product will be that much greater.  Here are a few photos of home designs that I feel are really tipping their hats to their mid-century modern roots.


As you can see, despite the lack of color on the walls, these rooms are still oozing color and personality.  I think some fun accessories can more than make up the difference of some naked walls.

I truly feel that color on these walls could be a bad, bad design choice.  Here are two very nice rooms that I think would look infinitely better with a nice coat of white paint.


Am I right? (you can say no, it’s just my opinion!)

The thing is, it doesn’t need to be a stark white.  Soft white and pale grays and taupes can work too.  Some undertones in your white paint can add a lot of warmth to a room without distracting from the simplicity of an MCM home.


Plain white walls are vital to achieving that minimalist look these homes were created for, but with that said, I’m not  against adding an accent wall for contrast.


That’s where I’ll be introducing my trademark bold colors, just you wait.


The kid’s a fan.  Are you?

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Craigslisting Chairs

There I was searching for chairs on Craigslist — chairs to put in front of the paneled wall in the living room.  And what did I find, but chairs in front of a paneled wall.

MY paneled wall.

And my old carpet! And my old curtains!


Seriously, guys!  I found my house on Craigslist!

Has anyone else out there ever seen a listing posted by a previous occupant of their house?  It is the craziest thing to see a piece of your home on the internet (well, ok.  A piece that I didn’t actually put out there).    Mind blown.

That is all.


A Little Switcheroo

I apologize in advance for what is going to be a long post, but it was a long process.  What can I say?

After researching what it would entail to swap our existing beige light switches for some snazzy new white ones that weren’t covered in 23 layers of paint, I got a bug up my butt (<–my mom’s phrase, not mine!) and got to work.  There was no way we would — or could — shell out $700+ for new light switches, so stripping and repainting them was really our only option.


I had read somewhere that boiling paint covered doorknobs and light switches was a good way to remove the paint without having to deal with a fumy paint striper.  Since it would save us $10 and we have a little one in the house I decided to go for it.  Guess what?  It totally worked!  I will say that you have to move really fast (like, 10 seconds or less — hello burnt fingers!) or the paint will cool and re-adhere, but I had a system down and I managed to boil and scrape 29 switch plates in about 2 hours.


I made a list detailing each necessary step of the process because I’m nerdy like that. In that moment, I was a bit of an overachiever.  You can see that I originally planned to prime and paint the wall behind each switch plate.  I thought this would be a good idea so that we wouldn’t have to remove them when we painted the walls and risk damaging my new white switch plates.  Obviously I didn’t do that.  After 3 days and 6-odd hours of labor I just wanted my house back together.  We can’t all be superheroes.

We had four plates (either for light switches or a now-defunct speaker system) that we couldn’t get off the walls, either because the screws were stripped or because we weren’t invested enough to bother disconnecting them from the wiring.  For each of those I applied a few layers of stripper and scraped them right on the wall.   I re-painted them on the wall too.


I didn’t want a lot of overspray on the wall — a carefully placed paper towel did the trick.


This is the switch that once operated the curtains in the great room.  Not the curtains I threw in the trash (that would have been a neat feature to keep!), but the original set that was removed long before we came around.  It doesn’t do anything anymore, but I think it’s cute and so I decided to keep it.  I polished the switch up with some Barkeeper’s Friend and repainted the rusted plate.

I also wiped a dollop of stripper on each of the switches themselves — right were they sat on the wall.  I would recommend turning off the power if you do this since the wires are live — although I didn’t do this, A) because I did all this after the bambino went to sleep for the night and I needed the light to see; and B) because I have an apparent death wish.  I followed up the stripping agent with a hearty attack with a wire brush (there’s that death wish again), scrubbed everything down, and then wiped them down with TSP to remove any extra dirt and grease.



Years of grime and paint on top.  Freshly stripped on the bottom.  Wait, that didn’t sound right…


Some plates needed two dips into the boil bath.  Lucky sons o’ b*tches.



I could have purchased a new one of these for, like, $.46.  I clearly got carried away.  But look at that paint color! Our ENTIRE kitchen, laundry, and half bath were once painted that color!


Once they were stripped, I sanded them down with a sanding block and gave them a wipe with a rag soaked in TSP. This ensured a nice smooth surface and removed any grease or dirt that might keep the paint from adhering.  Then I laid them all out on my kitchen table and prepared to paint.  Again, I wouldn’t recommend this — it’s always best to use spray paint outside, but it was 8 degrees here, and did I mention it was dark? — especially if you like your floors.  You may remember that I do, in fact, not like my kitchen floors so seeing them covered in a white haze the next morning didn’t particularly bother me.


I gave each of the plates 2-3 spray coats of Rust-Oleum’s spray paint and primer in white gloss.  I followed up with 2 coats of their Clear Coat Enamel.  Both were just what I had on hand, but they worked great.  I should have sanded in between coats, but again, I didn’t.  Do as I say and not as I do.  Some of my plates have little fibers and whatnot stuck to them. Probably from the newspaper. Eh, well. I just  reinstalled those in seldom used areas of the house like the closets. Problem solved.

Back to the switches.  I made a template out of a cereal box — cutting little holes in it the size of my switches — and held it up over each switch to be painted.  This helped keep paint from getting into the cavity behind the switch and coating the interworkings of the wiring.  I didn’t get any photos of my template, sorry.  This step required about six hands, and  I only have two.

I made two passes with my paint and primer and one heavy pass with the clear coat.  Multiple light coats are better than fewer, heavier ones, but I was over it, what can I say?


By the way, in my last post about these switches I said they didn’t have a maker’s mark, but look!  That dot in the middle of each button is the GE logo.  Most are completely worn away from years of use though, and when you factor in the multiple layers of paint each one had, it’s no wonder I missed it.

I did buy new white screws because the existing screws were brass and I had no desire to paint each and every screw head (and deal with the likelihood of them chipping when I screwed them back in) when a new box of 50 screws was only $6.  I already had all the paint and stripping agents on hand so really that was my only out of pocket expense.  A couple of our plates are broken and many of them have hairline cracks so we may have to purchase a few new plates if they further deteriorate, but for now, I just put the broken plates in the closets and said a silent prayer over the cracked ones.

The plates were dry to the touch the next morning, but won’t be fully cured for a week.   I thought we’d have to be a little careful with them the first week (I warned Kirk that he’d better not ruin my efforts by turning on or off the lights with keys in his hand), but really, they seem pretty solid.

And shiny!

And white!


I may be biased, but I really don’t think they look like janky painted switches at all — they look like the real deal to me!  Of course, only time will tell.  I’ll let you know how they hold up.  (Confession: It irks me that the screws aren’t straight in this picture)

But before I go, take a look at the two other types of wallpaper we discovered in the bathrooms!



I left the Island Oasis and the Starry Night papers in place.  They are part of the house’s history.

Another fun moment was when I realized our bedroom, which I always figured was the same off-white as the rest of the house, is really a soft pink! I never would have guessed, but when I laid the switch plates from that room next to the others it was so obvious.


Also, the half bath off the laundry room was apparently the same salmon pink as the kitchen once was.  Bad photo, but you get the idea.


All told, this refresher took about 6 hours over a couple of days but it was totally worth it.  Now I’m just itching to get some proper paint on these walls!

One more before and after…here’s the before.


And the after!


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Warping Woes

Here we were, so proud of our gleaming hardwood floors (though mainly just thrilled they proved worth every astronomical penny we paid for them) when I noticed this:


Yep, warping.

That word can make me sweat and shiver at the same time.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t sleep a wink that night stressing over whether the issue was due to our radiant heat floors which had been turned on only a couple weeks prior, the baseboards we reinstalled ourselves the weekend before, or some unknown moisture issue.  And perhaps my greatest worry of all:  is this covered under our warranty?!

A few frantic internet searches reassured me that both the mastic and the hardwood were spec’d for radiant floor heating (as I made sure of prior to install, but you know I had to double check!) and that we had a 30 year product warranty and a 2 year labor warranty. Sigh. Of. Relief.  Because 12 Gs is a lot of money folks, and installing all new floors AGAIN is simply not an option.


A phone call, a couple emails, and a few photos later I got a call saying the installer wanted to send their regional manager out to personally take a look at our issue.

“Oh, wow” were his exact words. “This is not good”.

It seems to be the consensus that this board was warped out of the box and that the installer knowingly laid it anyway.  It has since caused minor damage to a couple of the boards around it.  I’m not sure how I missed it when I first cleaned the floors and removed all that blue tape, but ever since this area has been covered by the couch. It wasn’t until Thanksgiving that we moved the couch to the great room for our guests and discovered this issue beneath.

And yes, I crawled around the entire house on my hands and knees, lifting carpets and peering under beds.  This seems to be the only spot we’re having problems.  Phew!

Here’s of a photo of the offender (just because I can).  The boards in question are right under that sheet of plastic.

Boo! Bad, lazy installer!  Boooooo!

The good news is that we have some material left over and the installation company seems to be more than willing to make these repairs quickly and effectively at no cost to us.  Hopefully by next week, we’ll be sitting right as rain again.


Sticker Shock

Over the past month or so we’ve had three estimates performed for painting the interior of the house.  It’s important that you understand exactly how much of our house is in dire need of painting (just about everything.  Nay.  EVERYTHING) and how poor the conditions of those surfaces are (far, far from great.  So far, I almost can’t see them anymore.  Except that I can. Everywhere I look).  Which is why our quotes include prepping and painting all walls, brick, doors, frames, window surrounds, baseboards, ceilings, and closets.  And the prices?  We’ll let’s just say we’re not going to be having our sallow, beigey hued house professionally painted a crisp, clean white any time soon.


Before you think me boring and inspiration-less, yes, we are going to have some color on the walls.  We’ve been talking about adding some bright and/or bold colors on one wall in a room, or creating a few “feature walls” as they say — but first, I am really craving a blank slate.  Right now I’m just having a hard time envisioning our space beyond this awful, awful color.  Gimme the white!

The first quote came from a neighbor* who, while he owns a house painting business, specializes in artistic faux finishes.    He spent a considerable amount of time shamelessly opening closets and drawers and generally making himself at home**. I knew right away that his bid would be high and it was.  To the tune of $8k.  But given that he’s currently painting a feature wall at the Baltimore Museum of Art, I kind of expected that.  Still made me throw up a little.

You didn’t think the ceilings would be spared the Sad and Dingy treatment, did you?

The second quote was from a commercial company I found on good ‘ol Google.  The man that came out spent a considerable time measuring and calculating — it took him almost triple the time than our neighbor and that’s saying something — and broke the price down for us in multiple ways.  It would be X number of dollars if we did this ourselves, and Z number of dollars if we did that ourselves.  For the sake of comparing apples to apples, his final number for doing the whole shebang was around $6k.


Oh yeah.  Even the insides of the closets are painted the same dreary color as everything else.  I honestly think someone bought 8746 gallons of this paint, taped off the floors and windows, and worked that paint sprayer like nobody’s business.  Work it, guuurl!

Lastly, we had another neighbor come over.  This guy actually lives several streets away, but has painted the home of our friends across the court and came highly recommended.  He spent about 5 minutes in the house, didn’t pull out a tape measure once, and quoted us just under $5k.

Saving three grand is great, but we’re still talking about a whole lot of money we don’t have. For paint.

Of course we could do it ourselves for a few hundred dollars, but given the condition of our paintable surfaces (a lot of cracking, a ton of peeling, and just general grossness) I can’t think of anything I want to do less.  For reals.

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Except maybe stare at all these yellowed walls for another 6 months or more.  And note, that that’s a big maybe.  Please, please someone kick me in the pants and hand me a damn paintbrush, will ya?  Thanks.

*I actually met his wife the day we got the keys when she scared the bejesus out of me peering in our living room windows from the backyard.  I met him the day his wife caught our then 18 month-old peering in another neighbor’s windows.  We bonded over our shared lack of resect for privacy.  Or something.

**It was actually quite amusing watching him all-but kick his feet up on our couch and tune into MASN.  He is very knowledgeable on Gordon Sugar homes having ownership of one himself.  He talked to us about the radiant heat ceiling coils we didn’t know existed and the original doorbell which he spotted (now disconnected) and offered to rewire while he was painting.  He then ushered us over to his house for a tour, where he picked up some fancy plaster samples and invited himself back to our place to show us some crazy expensive ideas to modernize our interior brick.  He may actually be the most eccentric soul  I’ve ever met.

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Shock Trauma

Let’s talk electric. I’m a little shocked (figuratively, not literally) and a lot traumatized by the cost and complexity of the GE low voltage switch plates that we would need to even begin updating our current light switch situation.  $211 (with tax + shipping because heaven forbid The Home of Depots carry such things) for light switch covers?  Boo.


At least the price includes gift wrapping!

Here’s what we’ve got going on now.  All of them are covered in dirt and grime and varying layers of peeling paint.  I once tried to clean them with a little Lysol, but I think I may have only gotten as far as this one for a terribly sad before and after photo.  Then I got discouraged.  Or maybe just bored.


Actually we have 10 of these bad boys, plus 7 with two switches and 5 more with three switches.  Here’s a peek at a “3 gang-style” switch plate for you.  This is what the above switch would look like all cleaned up (this one is actually from a different manufacturer — ours are so rare I couldn’t find a photo — but it looks just like ours except ours don’t say Bryant).  It’s pretty, right? …joking.


It would be simple enough (in theory) to unscrew all these plates and soak them in a stripping agent (or boil them because apparently that works, too?), but underneath they’re beige and still ugly which doesn’t really solve any of my problems. Except maybe the dirt, but a little dirt never hurt.

Replacement switch plates run from $8-10 depending on how many switches they have.  And that’s not even counting the money it would cost to replace the actual switch — that ridged, brown rocking button in the middle.  Not only would replacing those be an additional PITA, but it would also be expensive.  Why?  Because they don’t make them anymore, that’s why.  Of course.


The new switches, which run about $12 a pop, don’t look all that much better IMO because while the buttons are a bright and shiny white they are encased in a black plastic surround. Functional?  Sure.  Aesthetically pleasing?  I’d say “not in a million years” but clearly whomever designed and installed my original switches (merely a half a century ago) thought they were pretty bad-ass at the time so I will refrain from further commentary.


If you’re keeping count we’re talking another $468 for some ugly switches that do the exact same thing as the ugly switches that we already have.  That thing being turning the lights on and off.

BUT WAIT.  Because there is more good news to be had here.  The new switches won’t work with the new (old style) switch plate covers because they are a completely different size!   They now manufacture new (new style) covers to pair with the new switches.  At least they’re the same price as the old ones — finally, a silver lining.

Untitled2 replacement_ge_low_voltage_switches_older_homes_1950s_1960s

If you didn’t follow that, it’s ok because it took me a solid hour of clicking around the internet with a furrowed brow and cartoon question marks floating over my head before I reached my “Aha!” moment.  Which was quickly followed by my “Eff you, GE!  Why must you make my life so hard and inflict such torture on my bank account?!” moment. 

Luckily, and as I’m sure you’ve already noticed, the folks at Kyle Switch Plates realize that I’m new here and have no qualms speaking to me in short sentences and an abundance of reiteration.  This flow chart helped it all make sense.  A little.  Not really at all.


Simply put, if we were to replace the switch plates with the vintage style covers now, and then decide to update the switches themselves at a later date, we would then have to purchase all new covers AGAIN because the new switches are a hairbreadth difference in size from the vintage switches.

In summary we can either spend:

$19 — for a pot of boiling water and some spray primer, spray paint, and spray varathane to re-paint/seal everything white.

$230 — for 22 new (old style) switch plates + the 3 cans of spray paint to repaint/seal the existing switches.

$705 — for 22 new (new style) switch plates + 39 new switches + someone craftier than I to install them*.

*The going hourly rate for electricians in my area is about $65 an hour.  How many hours would it take to swap out 39 low voltage light switches?  The world may never know.

At this point I’m still patting my own back for even figuring out that our switches were manufactured by GE seeing as they have no maker’s mark like those Bryants photographed above.  It’s amazing how far Googling “ugly-ass light switches” will get ya.

Need help identifying your vintage lighting system?  The folks at Kyle Switch Plates have your back.

Note, that the people at Kyle Switch Plates don’t know me from Adam.  I’m not trying to sound like a salesman here (although that is my day job) I’m just thankful for them for taking pity on the electrically-clueless like myself.  All photos are courtesy of these fine folks.