MCM Remodeling – How To Remodel Your Middy

This is our original 1963 kitchen.  It came with its original Gaffers & Sattler stove top and double wall ovens, which all worked, just leaked gas.  My husband is an Executive Chef, so as a surprise, I decided to do a very sensitive remodel.

Mid-Century Modern design and MCM homes are so in demand right now and I can tell you why that is.  There is some old solid craftsmanship that you don’t often find in today’s modeling, coupled with the lovely lines that get blurred between the outside and interior of the home.  The vibe is like being on vacation as I describe it to people.  Sliding doors opening up to atriums or little patio hang out spots with large open entertaining areas that just beg for some Dean Martin and a cocktail.  Who doesn’t love a vaulted ceiling or a wall of windows?
Some new owners buy with plans to keep it the original jewel box that it may be while others get into an MCM with a few remodeling plans.  And tragically,  others get something abysmally contorted that must be undone. I can absolutely assure you that here in the Dallas market, I have seen some ugly re-work.  Just because your neighbor has decided that vessel sinks are cool is NOT a reason to go and install one yourself.  Decades from now, all of these vessel sinks will be known as the 2010-2020 time-frame and look dated.  Your middy is dated and should be.  The reasons you fell in love with it is precisely because of the 50’s -70’s vibe.  Take too much of that away and there goes your resale.

In one of my shelter magazines, I believe it was This Old House, they used the term ‘remuddle’ when someone went in, most likely with the very best of intentions, and just buggered the whole thing up for the next person of taste.

For some odd reason, one of the tell tales of a flip house here in the DFW market is painting the brick and typically gray.  When I see painted brick I immediately look for the cracks from the foundation needing work because back in the day, that is exactly why someone painted their brick.  The foundation had settled, there were cracks and the person did not have the money to fix it correctly and disguised it by painting the stone and brickwork.  It costs the new person 10-20k to attempt removing all of that paint.  Please refrain from painting your brick or stone.  These are natural elements that wear and age well that never need much in the way of ongoing maintenance like paint does because paint eventually wears and needs repainting on a regular basis. Why would you want to add more maintenance?

The next two photos are after the remodel of our kitchen.

Ovens/cooktop

Contractors generally do not have a clue what they are doing in an MCM home.  Unless you are working with one who has basically made it his business to do MCM work, they do not possess the right mindset.  They think ‘gut job’ means tear everything out and replace with new Home Depot stuff.  My realtor (Ed Murchison, really the best) wisely advised his clients to live in their home a year before they did anything.  Let the house speak to you because it will tell you what it needs after a period of living with things as they are.  We did not totally follow that advise because I had the vibe down and knew exactly what I wanted in the new kitchen.

Right here I will tell you that there are purists who insist on using only materials that were of the era and those, like me, who feel if they use materials the architect would have considered had they been around in that era, that they are keeping the vibe while bringing the home forward in a sensitive way.  This is why I used quartz on the countertops and in the exact colour of the original formica.  I also added quartz on the island top above the sliding cabinets too because that was just wood originally and I like plants.  The windowsill was also wood and for the same reason, I went with quartz there too.  We used all the original plan, shape, etc except that I went with a knife edge on the quartz which to my eye looked fetching and futuristic.  People, there isn’t anything wrong with granite except that, unless it is a solid colour, you don’t want it in an MCM home.  Granite looks terrific in an upscale traditional home or historic bungalow.  For MCM remodels think formica to be truly period appropriate and they come in great vintage patterns and look just smashing!  We planned on using the kitchen a lot and were used to stone counters.  I do love quartz so we went that route.  All original hardware was cleaned up and re-used. We added a shelf and 4 drawers next to the stove top and sink because amazingly there weren’t any prior.  The island had 4 drawers which we changed to soft-close.  The cabinet faces were constructed of new wood and stained to match the rest of the kitchen which has all its original sliding wood panel doors for the pantry area which covers a major amount of the room.  The original double ovens were tiny and remained on 24×7.  We installed a much larger double wall oven so we had to have a new cabinet made in the design of the old one.  The 3 original Nelson bubble lamps were retained as were the original kitchen window blinds and all moldings and trim.

It is very important to write down and point out what is being kept in a remodel of this kind.  I worked with Francesco Costa who, after showing him several pictures and describing what MCM is, totally got it and did his best to honor the mood in everything he did. I have not been this lucky with the last contractor who ripped out my original trim in the master bathroom and now I am searching for similar trim so the bathroom doesn’t scream ‘Home Depot trim available in 2018.’  You really have got to Birddog folks, perhaps in a polite way, but it’s your resale, your money, your home and your way that goes.

I had a neighbor exclaim that he wished he had done a similar remodel for his home but was unclear at the time how to go about that.  I recall offering my help when he first moved into the neighborhood but he didn’t really know me or my skills and basically gutted and did his place in his own style.  It does look good but it is no longer MCM at all.  All of that went to bulk trash, including the bathroom console I tried to salvage to use in my master remodel but sadly the console got torn up too badly when they gutted his master.  And here’s the thing, it takes a new mindset of not totally trashing stuff when gutting a room.  It takes a bit of attention to detail and extra time.  That console was, of course, salvageable if only someone cared enough to have preserved it.  The contractor clearly didn’t and completely ruined something no longer available on the market.

The things to be mindful of are colours, trim work, materials, style and vibe.  For example, we have a (currently not working) wall mounted tube radio/intercom system.  I really want that working again but hell would sure freeze over before I yanked that out.  It sets a tone for the home right as you walk in.  A neighbor pointed out that he would have removed it and then later regretted doing so and was so glad to see it in my home.  One thing that was tossed before I took ownership were all of the original blinds in the home.  The kitchen window was the only one left.  I chose not to replace them and just leave all the window walls open to the atrium and backyard.  Trim work is an easily missed detail.  The trim work around doorways has a look to it that Home Depot does not duplicate.  If you widen a doorway or gut a room, be mindful to retain the original baseboards, trim work and fixtures if they are in good working condition as well as original door pulls.    All of this will help blur the lines on when and what got remodeled rather than scream out ‘new.’

For this style of home, less is truly more.  Think open and uncluttered.  Think open living areas, sunken living rooms were very popular as well, see-through breezeways, wood trim, ceiling beams, ceiling vaults, large fireplaces that really heat up a room and a flooring surface of hardwoods or terrazzo is most common.  I like to see the same flooring encompass the entire home or at least most of it.  This adds continuity and allows the eye to visualize a larger open space.  Too many flooring changes look choppy and shrink the room size.  It can also be a tell that something was recently remodeled.  For our master bathroom, the original flooring was harvest gold and old shag over cement.  This was removed and replaced with poured in place terrazzo to match the rest of the house.  Nobody will ever know, unless they read this, that the floor is not original to the home.

Marmoleum is also a very nice and sound period-appropriate look as well and while folks tend to think of marmoleum as a kitchen or bathroom floor, it can be throughout the house and look amazing.  Marmoleum is a natural product that combines ingredients such as linseed that are naturally antimicrobial adding a layer of protection for family members.

Retro Renovation (https://retrorenovation.com/) is a great website to peruse for ideas as well as sources for cool vintage-inspired tile, appliances, flooring, furniture.  Don’t be in a hurry to make changes if you are at all unsure what you want.  For our dark choppy unattractive master bathroom, I lived with it 3 full years as I saved and planned out what it needed to become open, light and bright.

When we bought our house, the atrium was taking on water.  We had the quarry tiles which were not original, removed, the foundation ground even and new tile installed.  It took me weeks to locate the right time.  Bluestone would have looked lovely as would slate or terrazzo.  Now I know a guy but I was afraid of getting terrazzo that did not quite match and as the house wraps around the atrium, this was a big deal to consider.  The stone I wanted wasn’t available in the format I wanted.  Then while out shopping with Francesco, he took me to this fabulous place where I found the tile that reminds me of a suit James Bond would wear.  It was Italian porcelain and all the existing time in the home was Italian.  It was a dark slate in colour with a bit of texture to it, great for not slipping after your second martini.  I love the seamless look of the new atrium floor!

Lastly, don’t be afraid to take control and get exactly what you want or to hire someone such as myself if you are unclear and need guidance.

I hope that these tips have helped you and would love to hear about your remodeling and home stories as well as any comments you may kindly post below.♥

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