New renovation options presented by a 1950's Rambler

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Home Improvement Tips, Old House Musings, Technology

In late 2010, I purchased a 1950’s rambler-style house in coastal Georgia. In keeping with my usual method of madness, I deliberately chose a fixer-upper home that I could pour my time and energy into. The big difference this time was the direction that energy would take.

My previous home, a 1901 Victorian, was by far the “youngest” house I had ever owned. Every older home I had worked with was a study in restoration. I preferred to keep the home as original as possible, and so spent countless hours wandering salvage shops, working with restoration contractors and doing so much research that I dreamed about the late 1800’s with an almost unsettling regularity.

Moving into a home built in the 1950’s offered a sudden new lease on renovation. Though the home could still be considered “old” it was certainly not an ancient darling, and that meant more options for my fixer-upper. Many changes could be made without sacrificing the integrity or the history of the home. That meant that I could start anywhere with this buffet of choices, so I gravitated toward products I had never had a chance to use before.

And was that ever an eye-opener.

A whole new approach to renovation

One of the first projects I tackled was the kitchen floor. I needed a quick and temporary fix for the scratched, dented and gouged vinyl flooring that was already in the kitchen and dining area. I simply wanted to avoid tripping over those trouble spots, and that called for a smooth, safe floor. Since I do a great deal of cooking and entertaining, it also had to be a very quick project.

My kitchen floor in progress.

I started with the easiest route–a walk down the aisles of my local home improvement store. I browsed the offerings and found everything from hardwood to thin vinyl, as well as a selection of custom options, such as bamboo, cork and concrete. The prices were just as varied as the materials.

During the restoration of an older home, the options for materials narrows down quickly. But for a home built in the 1950’s, the choice of materials covers almost everything out there and makes the choice much more difficult.

I finally chose simple, cheap vinyl flooring tiles. The tiles were less than ten dollars for a box of twenty-five. At that price I figured they would last only long enough to keep the floor nice while I searched for a more permanent solution, and that suited my needs just fine. The installation was do-it-yourself and very easy. A full Saturday of work was all it took to complete the entire project.

What was meant to be temporary has really surprised me. After a solid year of walking on these tiles, the durability is still impressive, and I like the look. Not only do I now plan to keep the vinyl tiles in place, I am going to use them for the bathrooms, too.

The completed floor.

Restoration versus renovation

I admit that I went into these projects with a serious bias toward materials that had stood the test of time. Reclaimed wood? Much better than any other flooring out there. Traditional ceramic tile in the bathrooms? Best choice available.

But as I slowly became familiar with options that I never would have considered for my older homes, I was reminded that just as there are some old materials that will always be superior, there are modern options definitely worth considering.

However, I am not giving up on the tried-and-true products just yet. In my search for hardwood floors for the master suite, I keep wandering back to reclaimed woods. My tastes in fiber cement siding are leaning toward a very traditional look. Plans are brewing for installation of original clerestory windows over the dining area. Maybe it’s proof that old houses get in your heart and stay there, even when you’re living in a relatively modern rambler.