retro house renovation

House Project : Getting Vintage Kitchen Cabinets Clean

Posted by on Aug 1, 2013 | 0 comments

House Project : Getting Vintage Kitchen Cabinets Clean

I spent the weekend running around trying to outfit our new house with stuff.  I thought the hard work was over once we bought the house – we had sold our houses in New Zealand, sold off our lives, moved, fought to buy a house in the crazy market in Seattle – surely from now on was all the easy stuff!

Walking into a big empty house with little stuff to our names, was daunting.  It has been fun going crazy at garage sales trying to fit out a kitchen and garage with all the gadgets and utensils you’d rather not buy full price.  I got a huge box of kitchen equipment for $8!  A steal when you think the brand-new looking colander would have cost more than that full price.  We also have IKEA here, which makes a huge difference (come on IKEA come to Auckland!  There is all that land on the South Western motorway that would be perfect for you! ).  Every time I walk into the house I have to take some deep breaths as there is some work to do.

The orignal mid-century kitchen – beautiful but grimy!

One of the biggest jobs is the kitchen.  It is a fabulous mid-century kitchen, with a stainless splashback, ply cabinetry, and wood and formica countertops (in amazing condition – like they didn’t cook).  But the cabinets are old and they are dirty!  Ick.  Years of grime still there for me to work out how to get rid of.  I can see why people rip out old kitchens as this is going to be a time-consuming job.

Normally I would use sugar soap (in the US, it is called  Trisodium Phosphate (TSP)) and a microfibre cloth to get painted surfaces clean (killer on your skin, so make sure you wear gloves) – I had great success with this combination when getting my old house ready for sale.  Walls and doors I was sure needed a repaint came up sparkling.  I also used a magic eraser to get the stubborn marks off.

This is ply though, so it might need gentle treatment.  There are quite a lot of vinegar/baking soda/dishwashing liquid recipes I am going to try.  Easy ingredients you always have on hand sound like a cheap method!  Then there is Murphy’s Oil Soap – which you can get in NZ through Fishpond here (expensive!), or try importing it yourself through Amazon here.

Finally I found recommendations for Simple Green to get the leftover grime off with a toothbrush.  So I will also give that a go.  I will be donning my rubber gloves this weekend, so expect a full report back on what works and what doesn’t.


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Retro Renovation: Home-Office Study Nook

Posted by on Oct 16, 2012 | 0 comments

Retro Renovation: Home-Office Study Nook

I thought you might like to see the home office study nook the American built into one of the alcoves on the side of our fireplace in our living room.  Our house is a 1940s Art Deco/Spanish Mission style house and that means we have arches everywhere – and I love them!  So my first request was to keep the arches next to the fireplace.  In keeping with my love of all things retro, we decided to build in a study nook.  It isn’t fabulous Danish wooden joinery,  instead it is white – and it works with our house.

Retro house renovation, study nook, built-in desk, home office

The built-in desk and shelves fit nicely in next to the fireplace

The desk folds up so I can tidy my usually messy desk away if we have company.

The desk part folds up and hides my mess

The hinges holding my desk together

If you are interested in reading more about the art deco fire guard the clever American designed, I have written about it before here.  We bought the chair off Trade Me new from this seller, we use them as dining chairs mostly.  They have a curved back and a cushioned seat so are super comfortable and stable.  I see they have them in white vinyl now – I am coveting!  We looked for a long time for chairs but they were either too expensive (these have gone up a little since we bought them) or too uncomfortable.  These ended up being a great solution – until I found a vintage Danish dining suite in an op shop…but that is a story for another day.

Birch ply dining chairs $125 on Trade Me

My white ware collection has a place and is lit!

I have some little pieces of art that I hung on the strip of wall next to my desk.  The chalkware woman’s head I bought many years ago.  It has a crack, but I still love it.  The gold lacquer picture is from Vietnam from my mum and the seed pod is by ceramic artist Renee Boyd.  We get a photo calendar sent to us every year from the American’s parents, which is really sweet.  This years one is full of pictures of the kid.

study nook renovation vintage

My little pieces of art next to the nook

Some of my pretties: the acrobatic clown book end is stamped “Japan’, the dish is Sylvac, and I found the Maori warrior bust in my local op shop. My sister gave me the picture of my grandparents.

And of course right now, it is tidy!  A minor miracle in itself as it is a dump zone for papers and junk.  I set the timer for 1 hour when the Kid was being looked after and dealt to it.  Amazing what you can get done in an hour.

 Mid-Century House Book – On Sale!

Atomic Ranch: Mid-century MarvelsAtomic Ranch: Mid-century Marvels

This fab book is only $34 (that’s a $74 discount!) at the moment – perfect gift for the mid-century lover. Get ahead with your Christmas shopping.

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Retro Renovation: Grasscloth Wallpaper

Posted by on Oct 10, 2012 | 0 comments

Retro Renovation: Grasscloth Wallpaper

The 1950s house I featured yesterday had grasscloth wallpaper in its living spaces and it made me wonder if it is still around.  And it is!  It is so perfect for a retro renovation, and actually fashionable again as it is a natural wallpaper.  It’s not the cheapest wallpaper around as each drop is a unique handmade panel – which is why it is so great.  I have a room I would love to wallpaper in this, but I’ll have to think carefully about it as it isn’t completely low maintenance – it might not go well with a toddler!

For some inspiration, you only need to go as far as the sets of the show Mad Men:

The Draper living room has both wood panelling and grasscloth wallpaper.

Grasscloth wallpaper as seen in Bert Cooper’s office

Resenes stocks a grasscloth wallpaper, which I have sent away for a price – so will update this post when it comes in.

Resenes stocks this grasscloth wallpaper

If you do like this look, here are some key points though about grasscloth wallpaper to think about:

  • This textured wallpaper is not as hard wearing as other wallpapers – it is not suitable for particularly heavy traffic areas like hallways
  • Grasscloth wallpaper is absorbent, so not good for high humidity areas like bathrooms, or places that need wiping down like kids rooms
  • The best way to clean this type of wallpaper is usually vacuuming as it shouldn’t come in contact with water due to its natural  dyes and finishes
  • One of the great things about grasscloth wallpaper is that you can get it undyed , and that means there are natural differences in colour
  • Grasscloth wallpaper doesn’t come prepasted
  • This wallpaper is like a fabric, so it can retain odours from things like smoking – and it isn’t like curtains that you can have cleaned.
  • Might not be the best choice for someone with a grass alergy!

It doesn’t look like the easiest thing to hang, perhaps a job best left to the professionals.  Although if you are interested in doing it yourself take a look at the article here (PDF) for tips on hanging grasscloth wallpaper.

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Donner House – Mid Century Modernist House Tour

Posted by on Sep 9, 2012 | 0 comments

Donner House – Mid Century Modernist House Tour

I mentioned Auckland’s Heritage Festival last week, and I recommend if you live here or are visiting, to take the Donner House tour on the 29th or 30th of September.  From the Heritage Festival blurb:

Considered by many to be one of the finest examples of post war modernism in the country, formerly the home of Auckland Cities first ever appointed City Architect, Tibor Karl Donner. This home sits high on its lofty perch overlooking much of Auckland and the Islands of the Gulf. Donner was a particularly gifted draughtsman and number of his early pre war etchings of Downtown Auckland will also be on display, along with some of his watercolors and renderings whilst abroad.

Visitors are welcome to view the home and studio, and there will be a brief introductory spiel by the current owner. Recipient of grants from the former Waitakere City Council, Auckland Council, and the Auckland Regional Council. All proceeds are to be used for the continued restoration of the property.

Well the ‘brief spiel’ was so much better than that with owner, and restorer, Paul Jenkin is full of information about the history of the house and spins a great tale about the challenges of restoring it.   You also get a tour of the two studios, as well as the inspiring garden.

The architect of the house Tibor Karl Donner designed some very well known buildings around the city, including the Parnell Baths and the Savage Memorial, as well as working on projects like the housing development in Freemans Bay.

The Donner House in Titirangi

The Perfect Book for Modernist Lovers

 Long Live the Modern: New Zealand's New Architecture, 1904-1984Long Live the Modern: New Zealand’s New Architecture, 1904-1984

Long Live the Modern celebrates 180 iconic buildings, sites, and neighbourhoods, designed by many of New Zealand’s most celebrated architects.

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Trade Me Watch: Pink and Chrome Hand Basin

Posted by on Aug 25, 2012 | 0 comments

Trade Me Watch: Pink and Chrome Hand Basin

Long live pink bathrooms!  Look at this amazing Art Deco pink bathroom sink, that is on a chrome stand and has a chrome downpipe!  I love this!  There are new copies being made in England that are ex-pen-sive – and instead you might be able to bag this one for $80.  If I was redoing a bathroom, I’d definitely be buying this baby.


Pink and chrome handbasin, bids start at $80

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Retro Laundry Inspiration

Posted by on Aug 11, 2012 | 0 comments

Retro Laundry Inspiration

I seem to spend so much time doing laundry these days, I need to make our laundry area (it’s shared with a bathroom)a bit more user friendly and interesting.  I am a bit tired of looking at the same old blank walls.  So today’s post is a bit of laundry inspiration.

Great for bigger areas, vintage laundry and sewing room – love the sorting baskets!

Organised and room to fold – love the art work!

That’s what I need, a chandelier in the laundry! The drying rack is cool.

Junk-style laundry

I’d love to have colourful appliances!


Teeny tiny laundry area like mine – in aqua again. There’s a trend for laundries to be in aqua.

A bight laundry using baskets

A laundry using bright accessories

Another cute laundry

Eclectic laundry – pistachio green and red


Just in case I complain too much about doing washing…here’s a reminder about what it could be like!



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