reupholstering-vintage-sofaMy first foray into sewing/couch upholstery is complete! After about 35+ hours of stripping off the old fabric and removing about a million tacks, measuring, cutting, sewing and attaching the new fabric, and finishing it up with a new bottom dust cover. Ta-da, finished! It isn’t perfect, but for someone who had never used a sewing machine or attempted reupholstering anything harder than a dining chair seat, I’d say it turned out well.

couch-reupholstering-messI stripped the couch in the garage but where, you may ask, did I find room to do all of that upholstering? Besides my work at the sewing machine out in the den, I completely took over the office to finish up the sofa this weekend. It looks like an explosion hit, doesn’t it?

couch-reupholsteringI’m really glad that I had a nice bit of open floor space in this room. It was hard enough as it was to shimmy around the couch to attach the fabric (carefully) with my pneumatic staple gun. I can’t imagine trying to work on a couch of this size in any less space.

couch-time-capsuleBefore I closed up the sofa again, I added a “couch capsule” that included the original tag, the cleanest scrap of the original fabric I could find, and a short note describing the reason for reupholstery. That way, anyone who opens up the couch in the future will know a good chunk of the story surrounding it. You might think me strange for making a “couch capsule” but I love discovering stuff like this, so why not pass on the hidden goodies to future retro enthusiasts?

reupholstered-vintage-sofaNow to the sofa — the process of reupholstering it was quite a learning experience for me. I feel like the second couch will be just a wee bit better thanks to a few stapling and sewing techniques I learned during the process of reupholstering this couch. While the couch turned out very nicely, and I am super happy with the results (I have been randomly giggling and then excitedly running in to sit on the sofa on and off for the last 12 or so hours since I finished it), I don’t deny that this sofa is far from perfect. 

midcentury-sofaI decided to reuse the original horsehair padding, which is in good condition, but a little uneven. Over the life of this couch, most people have chosen to sit on the 2/3 of the couch that has a backrest, causing that part of the couch to become more compressed than the open end. Therefore, the end of the couch is a little puffier than the rest and is not flat and even. Oh well, it adds character, right?

vintage-sofaI also had a little trouble with a few of the bottom corners on the seat cushion, thus the small gathers just above the tack band. 

vintage-couch-reupholsteringThe part of the sofa where the edge of the seat meets the back was hard as well. The transition is not perfect, but it works for me. Note: the original fabric was just stuffed down in there and not tacked at all! I think since the new fabric is thinner, it may have been easier to stuff in there, but harder to make wrinkle free.

couch-end couch-back 50s-sofaYou’ll notice I didn’t replace the buttons on the sofa seat. I made this decision because I have very vivid childhood memories of my Dad constantly sewing the buttons back on the seat of his easy chair every month or two — since they seemed to catch on people’s jeans and pants pockets and pop off a lot. I didn’t want to have to worry about that happening to my sofas after all of my hard work (they had a lot of buttons!) so I made the conscious decision to omit them from the seat. I do like the way the buttons look, so I made sure to replace the 5 buttons on the seat back.

upholsteringIt was difficult to make sure the welt cord remained straight while pulling and stapling the fabric onto the sofa frame, but I think I did a fairly good job.

vintage-sofa-reupholster vintage-sofa-back orange-retro-sofaThis transition was another difficult one. Trying to get all of the welting to lay correctly and keep everything straight took a lot of careful stapling and positioning.

midcentury-sofa-end kate-on-couchIn the end, this couch is SO much nicer now than it was when I inherited it. It is clean and free of odor. The fabric is smooth and not itchy, but still has a “retro feel” with bits of sheen. Plus, it is orange — which as you might have noticed — is one of my all time favorite colors.

kate-on-couch-2When I realized I had a dress in my closet that matched the couch, I decided to mark my first major upholstery achievement with a photo or two — you know — after I cleaned up a little. I think my Nana (whose sewing machine I used), my Grandma (who was a thrifty, mend and make do kind of lady and also loved orange) and my Great Grandma (who I never met, but was the original owner of these sofas) would be proud.

One down, one to go!


time-fliesIts the beginning of another new year. In June, we will have lived at the Retro Ranch for five years. Time flies when you’re having fun — or if you are Leo, taking naps. Like usual, I have my list of resolutions for the year, plus a recap of last year’s resolutions.

First, let’s see how many 2014 Retro Ranch Revamp resolutions were completed:

1. Upholster at least one half of Great Grandma’s couch set. Incomplete. Though I did start stripping the old upholstery off of the frame just before we rang in the new year, so I’m off to a good start.

regrouted-shower2. Complete phase 1 of the green bathroom spruce up. Complete! In 2014 I managed to fix up the ceiling drywall where the new fan was installed and painstakingly remove all of the old, worn and moldy grout in the shower, replacing it with brand new, all white SpectraLock Epoxy grout. It is so much nicer and easier to clean!

modern-fence3. Work to return some privacy to our back yard. Complete! It was a long, drawn out process to get a permit and a fence along the one side of our back yard, but the struggle was totally worth it. Privacy returned!

path-done4. Make a path to the victory garden. Complete! This task had been on my list for a few years, and finally, this year I found the time (and the energy) to install a lovely circular stepping stone path between the patio and the garden, even though Leo refuses to walk on it.

porch-column-midcentury5. Repaint the iron work on the front porch. Complete! This is another task that’s been on the list for several years — and it is finally done. As the summer was winding down, I realized this small job could be knocked off on a Saturday morning, so I stopped putting it off. After a good cleaning and some primer and paint, the porch support looks better than ever.

6. Build that retro modern TV stand already! Incomplete. Once again, I spent the better part of the summer working on getting our yard under control and accomplishing other tasks, so the TV stand will have to wait.

7. Take up the carpet in the hallway to expose the original cork flooring underneath and spruce up the space with some paint and artwork. Incomplete. I’m dying to see the original cork flooring in the hall, but I’m also scared that it might not be in good condition. Eventually, we’d like to replace the carpet in our bedroom with cork, so I’ve decided to wait until we are closer to that point before I rip up the hall carpet, just incase the flooring underneath has to be replaced too.

Completing four out of seven resolutions for the year isn’t too shabby. Horray!

Now for the 2015 Retro Ranch Revamp resolutions…drumroll….

vintage-couches-in-corner1. Reupholster both of Great Grandma’s sofas. I’ve conquered my fear of the sewing machine. I’m working feverishly on reupholstering the first of the two sofas, things are coming together quite nicely — and it is only January 12th! That means I have complete confidence in my ability to finish both couches before the end of the year. Heck, maybe I’ll even make some throw pillows or a matching ottoman! (Ok, Kate now your are dreaming…)

peeling-laminateloose-floor-tile2. Complete Phase 2 of the green bathroom spruce up. Phase two of the green bathroom spruce up involves replacing the cracked and loose floor and installing a new tile floor (final tile selection still undecided). In addition, I will build a new vanity to replace the disintegrating and delaminating white vanity already in the space. I’ll also replace the worn, 80s laminate countertop, put in a the vintage white sink with hudee ring I scored for $4 at the restore a while back and install a new, low arc faucet.

cedar-fence3. Seal and/or stain my new fence. I love my new privacy fence and I want it to last for a long time, so that means I’ll need to get it sealed this summer. I haven’t yet decided if I’ll just use a clear sealer or if I’ll try to alter the color with a stain, but either way, it has to get done this summer.

tacks-on-my-porch-screens4. Repaint the peeling trim on the house/screen porch posts. The house and trim were painted about a year before we moved in, which makes it 5-6 years since the last paint job. I’m not sure what type of paint they used or how well they prepped, but the porch posts are peeling and are in need of repair (so are some of the screens), as is the trim on the front picture window. In a harsh climate like Wisconsin, one can’t let these things go too long, so I’ll be taking care of it this summer.

gutter-rust5. Try to repaint or seal the integral gutters. Our ranch house has the coolest integral gutters — and after 53 years of service, they are starting to get a little rusty in spots. I need to clean them up and try to either paint or apply a protective coating to keep them from rusting further, especially since they would be costly to replace.

weedy side yard6. Continue working on the south side yard. The one part of our previously overgrown yard that I haven’t given much effort to improving over the last four years is the south side yard. It is bumpy and weedy and in need of some ground cover, shrubs and possibly a little path to the fence gate. I’m not expecting everything to happen all in one year, but if I can pay it a little more attention than I have in the last few summers, I’d have a nicer view from my home office.

Saarinen-tulip-chairs7. Make seat covers for my newest acquisitions. Yes. Those are authentic vintage Saarinen tulip chairs. They need new seat covers. I bought them a while back. They are AWESOME. There’s a story. I’ll share it soon!

Its an ambitious list for sure — and one that involves a lot of outdoor paint brush time and surprisingly enough, sewing — but some years, that is just the way home ownership goes.

In addition to my personal list, I’ve got a fun new project over on Retro Renovation: Building a 1955 Besty McCall, 1:12 scale dollhouse! It is going to be super retro cute, you won’t want to miss it, trust me.


vintage-couches-in-cornerIt has been exactly two years since my two Great Grandmother’s vintage couches made their way from my Uncle’s house to mine. It has been one year since I found some lovely, burnt orange, affordable fabric to use for recovering the sofas. Just a few days ago, I finally found the time, energy and bravery to start working on the huge job of reupholstering them.

worn-out-and-icky-couchLike I mentioned before, the original upholstery fabric on the sofas was trashed. Years of daily use and an unfortunate incident involving what was described to me as a “spilled pizza” took its toll on the upholstery.

couches-coveredSince the fabric was in such bad shape, I managed to find two inexpensive blankets from Ikea to hide the dirty sofa fabric until the time came when I had the fabric and time to begin reupholstering the sofas.

vintage-sofa-coil-springsAs you know, I live in Wisconsin and it is not very warm this time of year. However, a few days after Christmas, the temperature outside jumped to a balmy 47 degrees, giving me the perfect window of opportunity to strip the old upholstery off the first couch out in the garage — because there is NO WAY I am opening up a dirty vintage couch in the house. I decided to start with the more disgusting of the two sofas, and the one that looked least difficult — the larger sofa without the arm.

vintage-coil-springs-in-sofaAfter removing the fabric on the bottom of the couch (and five hundred tacks), my suspicions were confirmed. This is a well-built couch with metal coil springs, padded with horsehair and cotton batting. The springs and horsehair were in good shape, and the cotton batting is mostly in good shape so I decided to keep them, which is what the upholstery book I have been consulting suggests. It is cost prohibitive to replace horsehair these days and modern day foam has a much shorter life than the good old stuff like horsehair. Keeping the couch innards will save me a ton of work and money on the project.

reupholstering-vintage-sofa vintage-sofa-paddingOther than a few spots where the cotton batting had shredded and fallen off, it was clean and in good shape. All of the ick on the upholstery fabric seems to have stayed there and not passed through to the padding.

vintage-sofa-strippedI made sure to add a little extra batting along the front and a few spots on the sides where the cotton has deteriorated. That dark stuff peeking out from behind the cotton is the horsehair.

sofa-covered-in-battingI bought a large roll of polyester batting (the kind used for quilting) at a local fabric store. It is thin and mostly acts as a way to keep the cotton batting in place while I work on the sofa, plus it is a buffer between the old cotton and the new fabric.

old-upholstery-fabric-dirtyPrior to removing the old upholstery fabric, I knew it was shot, but I had no idea how dirty and worn it actually was until I discovered the difference between the parts of the fabric that had been tucked inside the couch and those parts that were exposed.

dirty-vintage-upholsteryThe fabric I had originally thought was beige was actually off-white when new! GROSS. Besides a handful of old popcorn, most likely left over from my Uncle’s bachelor days, there were no other surprises waiting for me in the bowels of the couch.



Close up of Bernhardt Spellbound Cayenne fabric from Modern Fabrics.

Once the couch frame and padding was vacuumed and brought back inside, it was time to crack open the 23 yards of fabric I bought last January. I purchased the fabric from Modern Fabrics, a company that collects perfectly good, overstock and leftover fabrics from large furniture companies, saving it from being thrown away. They resell the fabric at a fraction of the original cost — giving the general public a great deal (I got all 23 yards of fabric for about $300 delivered). A win win!

vintage-sewing-table-singerNext, I had to open up the terrifying sewing machine. Yes, I know — it is really not that scary. But for some reason, I am more intimidated by a sewing machine than a power saw. Go figure. This particular sewing machine is a Singer model 99, made in 1942 and belonged to my Nana, who was quite the seamstress. My Mom says nearly her entire wardrobe up until high school was made on this machine, by my Nana. My Grandfather, who I called Bob, built this cabinet himself. The family history continues!

vintage-singer-sewing-machineOther than a few short instructions from my Mom on how to thread the machine, wind a bobbin and my attempt to sew a five inch long scrap of fabric last summer, I have never used a sewing machine in my life. I didn’t even take anything like Home Economics in high school. My bad. I had completely forgotten how to thread the machine and wind a bobbin since my lesson in July, but luckily, the original manual was still kicking around in the cabinet, allowing me to give myself a refresher course. After a few tries, I managed to get the old iron lady up and humming.

vintage-singer-ruffler-attachmentMy next task was to identify which sewing machine foot was the zipper foot, since my upholstery book mentioned that you can use a zipper foot to make welt cord, and my sofas needed loads of it. There weren’t any pictures of the zipper foot in the manual, but there were several other, more involved “feet” shown. By process of elimination, and a quick internet search, I was able to identify the zipper foot. Hurray! (Note: I am SO GLAD I didn’t have to use the ruffler foot. That is one complicated piece of machinery. Have you ever seen a ruffler? SCARY!)

sewing-welt-cord-on-vintage-singerI estimated that I would need about 24 yards (72 feet!) of welt cord to complete both sofas. Since nearly every part of the sofa was attached to welt cord, I decided making the welt cord would be the first order of business. I used an old yard stick I found in the garage to cut the strips of fabric on the bias, then pinned all the strips together as instructed in the book and sewed them into one long strip of fabric. Then it was time to sew the welt cord into the fabric. It took a little practice, and I went very slow.

Any time I felt frustrated or worried about the sewing, I thought about my Nana, who would be so proud that I was using her machine. I thought about Great Grandma (who I never met) and my Grandma being so proud of me for fixing their old perfectly good sofa to use in my home. I felt like I had three angels sitting on my shoulders the whole time giving me praise and pointers. After about four hours…

24-yards-of-welt-cord…I had 24 yards of awesome welt cord! I danced around the house holding the massive pile of welt cord and feeling a bit like Rapunzel holding her long hair. My husband was amused with my antics. (Note: I cut the strips much wider than I needed to because I was using thick welt cord (12/32) and I had never used a sewing machine before. Mom reminded me you can always cut extra off but it is very hard to put back on, so I erred on the side of caution.)

sofa-reupholsteringUsing the old fabric as a pattern, I carefully cut out the fabric pieces, sewed them together very slowly and then tried the finished piece out on the sofa.

sofa-back-sewnIt fits!  And it doesn’t look half bad! I’m sure it will look better when it is actually attached to the couch, but for my first foray into sewing, I’m pretty darn proud.

On deck for the upcoming weekend, I’m going to try and sew the slightly-more-complicated seat cover. Fingers crossed!

couch-detailMy hope is to have this sofa finished — or mostly finished — by the end of January. Since it is only the 6th, and I don’t have a whole lot on my plate for the month, I think I can really accomplish this goal. January, February and March are the perfect time of year for me to work on this kind of project because spring, summer and fall are almost always packed to the gills with spray painting, yard work, gardening, and doing other repairs and revamps to the exterior of the house. Gotta make use of these cold winter months cooped up inside, right?

UPDATE: A few of you have asked which Upholstery book I am consulting — I found Spruce: A Step-by-Step Guide to Upholstery and Design ( to be a very helpful resource for anyone attempting to reupholster. Lots of photos, everything broken down into manageable chunks of information, and a great glossary with explanations of materials and tools needed to get the job done.

Happy Holidays from our ranch to yours…

midcentury-holidayMuch like the summer and the fall this year, the holiday season seems to be going at warp speed. Even with a packed schedule, I still managed to get some decorations up, because what would the holidays be without a shiny silver tree decked out with lights and colorful ornaments, and a whole village of midcentury houses?

vintage-christmas-tree midcentury-christmas-houses retro-ornament-wreathI was excited to get out the vintage ornament wreath that I made last year…

brasilia-decorated-for-christmasI also found time to get some garland, lights and knick knacks up on the Brasillia buffet…

midcentury-santa-sleighThe vintage sleigh and Santa were my Nana’s…

vintage-reindeerAnd this silly vintage reindeer and the plastic starburst ornaments were my Grandma’s…

midcentury-christmas midcentury-houses-on-mantelNow that I’ve designed a total of 9 midcentury Christmas houses for Retro Renovation, real estate on the mantel is at a premium…

retro-mantel-display midcentury-houses-miniature putz-house-retro holidaycardphoto2014Since Leo detests wearing the Santa hat, we offered him the option of a Hawaiian shirt and lei instead this year — a deal that he surprisingly decided to take. I guess he really doesn’t like wearing hats! He’s getting to be a pro at posing for the Christmas card photo — we got this shot in a mere three takes. Amazing!

From our ranch to yours, Happy Holidays — and a Tiki-Tastic New Year!



kateleofallThey say the older you get, the faster time flies — and I’m pretty sure they are right. In fact, I meant to share this photo several weeks ago, you know, when there were still colorful leaves on the trees outside? Where did the summer go? Where did the fall go? Where did this year go?

I’ve been a little lax about posting on this blog regularly, and as I’ve mentioned before blogging full time on Retro Renovation for my job makes posting on this blog feel a little more like work than it used to when I was a full time graphic designer. Now, on evenings and weekends, you’ll find me working on the house or other projects, and doing graphic design on the side. Oh how the tables have turned!

I still do miss sharing what’s going on around here with everyone, so now that the cooler weather and sun setting at 5pm has forced me back inside for the foreseeable future, I’ll see what I can do to post on here more than once every 6 weeks.

Besides sharing about the fence debacle, my garden path, painting the iron porch post and the 4th annual Christmas in July festivities, here’s four more things that I accomplished around the ranch this summer:

1. Cleaned up, painted and enjoyed my vintage Homecrest patio set

Homecrest-Casino-ChairRemember those vintage Homecrest patio chairs and folding table I scored back in February?

homecrest-casino-chairs painted-vintage-patio-furnitureI spent the better part of a Saturday in June wire brushing, cleaning and spray painting the set within an inch of its life. The chairs look brand new and the table cleaned up pretty well too.

homecrest-patio-chairsThe round table fits much better on our screened tiki lounge porch than our square table did, and we enjoyed eating many a summer meal and just relaxing on this comfortable patio set all summer long!

2. Found and purchased a vintage Homecrest siesta lounger

homecrest-lounge-chair-vintage-adIn fact, I became a little obsessed with finding a vintage Homecrest lounge chair to match this set. Luckily, just as the weather was beginning to turn, I found one locally on Craigslist…

homecrest-lounge-chair-vintage… and snagged it for myself! This guy also needs a good cleaning and new coat of paint too, just like the patio set, so be prepared for pictures of me spray painting it next spring.

homecrest-lounge-chairIt’s comfy without a cushion, but it would be really comfy with one. I think replacement cushions for this model can still be ordered through Homecrest — so investigating that option is on my list of winter to-dos.

3. Found, painted and used these wall-mounted bullet planters

wall-planters-mid-centuryI also scored these wall hanging bullet style planters on Ebay back in May and now that they have a fresh coat of colorful paint, I absolutely love them.

planters-beforeHere’s what they looked like when I bought them. I know, I know — a few people will wonder why the heck I painted over these butterflies…

splat-bugTruthfully, I did it because every time I looked closely at the butterflies, all I could think of was the word SPLAT! Plus, I like my planters to be bold and colorful. The aged, off-white planters with brown, terrified looking butterflies just wasn’t doing it for me.

vintage-plantersAfter a quick coat of spray paint, they were looking much more cheerful and ready to hang on the front of the house.

midcentury-wall-planters midcentury-plantersI planted some lime green sweet potato vines in them, and by the end of the summer, with just occasional watering they were still doing really well. I like how the vines draped down the side of the house and add even more color to the front entry.


4. Painted the Bilco doorbilco-door-beofre One other less exciting but a necessary task I accomplished was painting the Bilco door.

bilco-door-needs-paintMy original Bilco basement door had been covered with dirt for years…that was up until I cleaned up this area and added the rocks. With years of ground-to-metal contact, the paint job on the door was losing the battle to rust.

bilco-doorI removed the chipping paint, cleaned up the door and applied a coat of Rustoleum Rust Reformer, then primed the door with an oil based primer (recommended for this sort of application) and top coated it with some leftover trim paint I found in the basement.

vintage-bilco-doorOf course I realized that I didn’t take any after photos once the job was complete. Drat. So I ran outside to take some before the sun set but the doors were splattered with wet leaves from cleaning the gutters. Ugg. So a quick wipe down was in order before the doors were ready for their close up.

bilco-door-repaintedYes, the water was still drying when I took these pictures, but I was losing light fast, oh well. As you can see, it is a much needed improvement over how the door looked before. Hopefully I won’t have to repaint the Bilco door again for at least 5+ years. It was actually quite the job and took a full two days to complete — I had to do the inside of the door too!

So there’s a good start to catch you up on what’s been happening over here all summer. Of course, there’s more to talk about — stay tuned!