About retroranchrevamp

Retro loving girl living in a modern world.


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 (http://www.amazon.com/Spruce-Step-Step-Upholstery-Design/dp/1612121373) 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!


integrated-gutters-retro-ranchIf you haven’t noticed already — and many of you have — the gutters on my 1962 Retro Ranch house are not the style typically found on most homes. From what I can tell, my gutters are called integrated gutters, integral gutters or box gutters — a style which was supposedly popular in the 1960s.

gutter-strapThe last of the leaves have fallen in my yard, and there’s a terribly chilly weather front heading my way, so I decided to go up on the roof over the past weekend and get the gutters cleaned out. They needed it pretty badly, too! I try to get up on the roof at least once in the spring and once in the fall to make sure the gutters are clear. It never ceases to freak out my neighbors when they see me walking on the roof. Tee hee. (Don’t worry Mom, Jim was on the ground keeping an eye on me with phone in hand just in case of emergency!)

1960s-integral-guttersAs you can see, my integrated gutters are made of some sort of galvanized (I think) metal, made into a large box, hooked directly to the side of the roofline, and reinforced with metal straps that are spaced at about every 18 inches or so. From what I’ve read about my style of gutters, because the shingles overlap the gutter edges, if I wanted to replace them they would have to be done at the same time as the roof. Since our roof is fairly new (I’m guessing about 6-7 years old) and I really love the look of these integrated gutters, I have no plans to switch them out for new, vinyl traditional style gutters. These gutters are quite large and carry a lot of water off our roof quickly during rainstorms, which is probably also why our downspouts are also larger than average at 3″ x 4″.

integral-guttersFrom the ground, it is hard to tell that the house even has gutters — which is part of the integral gutter appeal — sleek and streamlined!

profile-of-integral-gutters integral-gutters-ranch-housegutter-rust

Of course, there is a downside to these gutters that will have to be dealt with sooner or later. They are starting to rust. Yes, at 52 years old, these gutters are still structurally sound, but in the next year or two, I’ll have to do something about the rust that is creeping in. In all likelihood, that means I’ll have to clean them thoroughly and then paint the entire insides of all of the gutters all the way around the house, which is going to be a job. I still need to do more research into this matter — including what sort of paint or coating to apply.

For the past four years, I’ve been spending most of my summer working on regaining control over the yard, but with the gutter rust situation, a new fence to stain/seal and my screen porch posts and screens in need of a fresh coat of paint, I can see the summer of 2015 being one that is spent with a brush in hand.

Wanna see more of my gutters? Check out this post from the last time I took my camera up on the roof.



midcentury-front-porchGiving the decorative iron porch support on my front porch a spruce up has been on my list of Retro Ranch Revamp Resolutions for a few years now. It is one of those jobs that really doesn’t take a whole lot of time to complete, and somehow it never ends up being a priority during months when it is warm enough to spray paint. This week, we had a cold snap. The high temperature on Tuesday was 78. The high temperature on Wednesday was 48 — thus the reason my houseplants are no longer soaking up the summer sun on my front porch. With this sudden reminder that fall was on its way, I realized I had let yet another entire summer go by without even thinking about painting the ironwork — again. So, I dashed out to get supplies and got to work.

porch-column-midcenturyThe iron porch support had been painted black, but the black paint had weathered and peeled away over the years, showing little bits of light tan that may have been the post’s original color. Instead of painting the porch post black again, I decided that painting it the same color that I painted the storm door might help it stand out a little more as a decorative element, and help it look like a part of the house — perhaps as originally intended — instead of an afterthought. I think my plan worked, don’t you?


Above: Before painting.


Above: After painting.

decorative-midcentury-porch-columnBefore painting it a lighter color, it was hard to see the porch post at all from the street. Now, it is much easier to make out the design. Painting the porch support a lighter color also draws more attention to the front entry and makes the jog in the roofline make more ‘sense.’

painted-iron-porch-postThere’s three and a half more months left in 2014 and I’ve now accomplished four out of seven of my Retro Ranch Revamp Resolutions for the year. We’ll see how many more can be accomplished — or at least started, but one thing is for sure. I won’t be adding “paint the iron porch support” to my list of 2015 resolutions.