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To remodel or not to remodel: Curbed readers on “remuddling,” waste, and when to renovate

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There is nothing wrong with your house

renovation site Photo by Devon Banks

Last week, we published a piece by McMansion Hell’s Kate Wagner about home renovations—and how they can be completely unnecessary.

“Whether presented as a self-improvement project (update your house lest you be judged for owning a dated one) or a form of self-care (renovate because it will make you feel better), the home remodel is presented as both remedy and requirement,” says Wagner. “Instead of falling prey to this thinking, take a moment to consider this simple idea: There is nothing wrong with your house.”

Wagner’s opinion sparked a response from Curbed readers, both in the comments of her piece and in our Facebook group for Midcentury Modern obsessives. Readers shared their own thoughts on when it’s best to remodel—and when homeowners should embrace the quirks of their home. We rounded up some highlights below.

Want in on the action? Leave a comment—or join our Midcentury Modern Facebook group to jump into the conversation there!

From “Are home renovations necessary?

By commenter keysgoclick:

2 years ago my wife and I bought a midcentury gem of a cedar ranch house in Anchorage, Alaska. The house was built in 1963 and is mostly original and in great shape. The house had only one owner and the interior features real wood paneling, vaulted tongue and groove wood ceilings, a really nice lava rock fireplace and some sweet swag lamps. So many friends and family that have come to visit have also asked me “when are you going to gut this place?”. Pointing at my fireplace one person said “you know that lava rock comes off real easy” as if that is what we’re supposed to be doing.

Not only do we not want to do it but I am off put by their remarks as if we are somehow in the wrong or weird for not “gutting it”.

The kitchen was remodeled sometime in the 70’s and is a bit worn out so we’ll likely redo that in a modern style that pays tribute to MCM.

Remember, today’s stainless is tomorrow’s avocado!

By commenter Sparklett:

In 2004, I bought a 1908 bungalow that had been remuddled in the 70s. Acting under the influence of an HGTV show called “Generation Renovation”, my husband and I tried to undo the 1970s remodel….and ended up making it worse. In reality, all the house needed was paint, carpet, and maybe new insulation. Thousands and thousands of dollars later, we ended up having to walk away from the house because we did not have the money to continue with our lofty plans. On top of that, we committed the ultimate sin by trying to give a bungalow an open floor plan. I still wince when I think about what we did to that house.

Fast-forward to today, and we have landed in a 1976 ranch on 1/3 acre in the suburbs. Our friends and family keep asking us when we’re going to “fix” it by giving it a new kitchen, new fixtures, etc. Every time we consider changes, I think about the advice you give to your readers, and the house is left as-is. Sure, we’re working on a few projects like removing the 1990s-era, cigarette-stained wallpaper in the bathrooms, but we’re not going to knock down walls, rip out the kitchen, or take down the paneling. Maybe someday we’ll do something about the closet-sized master bathroom, but probably not. This house already feels like home, and as you’ve so astutely pointed out, why change it? Our house is warm, comfortable, and decorated to reflect who we are.

By commenter Queen Victorian:

But if the kitchen is perfectly functional even if it’s “dated” according to HGTV, why waste your money? Case in point: We have an old family summer place. My great grandfather built a new kitchen for it in 1950, replacing a stuffy little servant kitchen. The kitchen is highly functional, with a good layout, high quality solid wood cabinets, and extremely durable 50’s countertops. Appliances have come and gone, but everything else is exactly how it was built. HGTV would ravage it because of all the “dated” paneling and not-granite countertops and stuff, but all of us who’ve been using this kitchen for last 70 years wouldn’t change a thing. And we don’t need to.

By commenter Jentrify:

We bought a 1906 house a few years ago-mostly original woodwork and floor plan, but also leaking roof, bad plumbing, some weird 70s drywall in a few rooms. So we did a large systems (hvac, water, electric) renovation. But I respect the house and what it has survived. So I bought a 1950s stove from a lady in Baltimore, added a 1940s washboard sink, found a Hoosier cabinet and hung white painted cabinets for my kitchen, with cherry boxes below. I put up some vintage chintz wallpaper I found at the Goodwill and tiled my back splash with white subway tile. It is so funny how many people (who don’t know me well) ask when I’m going to get to remodeling the kitchen! I take it as a compliment. I’m so good, you can’t even see my work! I also think about this when I sneak past guests in the dining room along my main hallway and remember everyone telling me to open that hallway up. “It’s so dark-open hallways are the thing now.” It is dark and has doors that shut-the better to run out for extra wine with no one noticing!

By commenter Delawarewolf:

When my sister visited our 1963 Midcentury-ish ranch, she remarked that our vintage, salmon-colored hallway bathroom was “disgusting” (which left me dumbstruck). Before her arrival, I had carefully regrouted the entire thing, top to bottom. There’s not a single broken or loose tile in the entire room. I had completely recaulked, too. The toilet had been replaced with a new, white, low-flow unit, and the countertop replaced with white quartz. New lavatories/sinks. New fixtures for the tub, shower, and sinks, too. The bathroom is spotless and updated (save for the salmon tiles and tub).

And she called it “disgusting” presumably because it didn’t look like a 2017 Lowe’s Labor Day Sale rehab.

> Some episodes feature structural remodels whose costs must reach into at least the tens of thousands of dollars, which could have been more reasonably spent on a house that suited the needs of the family from the start.

This was the only part of the article I disagreed with. Home prices in our area have climbed so much so that we cannot afford to move/upgrade our house and stay in a comparable neighborhood, even with the equity we’ve accrued. The only way to upgrade our home and stay in a comparable neighborhood is to add an expensive addition to our house. It’s become common in our area for families to spend $200K adding to their homes and renovating because $200K + accrued equity is no longer money to afford to move.

By commenter kbeer:

What really interests me in all the (purely cosmetic, total overhaul, magazine-pandering) renovation is the waste it creates. I own a 1940 transitional ranch and I can’t count the number of times a repairperson has recommended just buying a new whats-it at Home Depot and throwing the “old” one out. One time was for a beautiful hard-wired hall light with filigreed brass. That unhelpful suggestion forced me to learn to rewire (yay!).

Right now we’re remodeling the kitchen a bit. Yes, we want formica with a stainless edge, not granite. Yes, white appliances, please. Yes, we want to strip the cabinets and repaint. Thank you, but we do realize that it’s cheaper to re-face. Why throw solid-wood, perfectly operational cabinet fronts in the trash? Why make this kitchen look like it doesn’t fit the rest of the house?

After nearly 10 years and recommendations within my neighborhood, we finally have an array of incredible professionals and craftsmen who understand and appreciate older homes and I LOVE them all. (I would also point owners of older homes to the Retro Renovation site if they’re looking for like-minded souls and lots of info.)

From Midcentury Modern Homes and Interiors:

By commenter (and Curbed reporter!) Megan Barber:

We moved into our 1955 MCM after it was flipped, and while I might have kept more of the original elements, I am grateful that the galley kitchen has been updated, new windows put in (in the same location as the originals) and the bedrooms don’t have both wood paneling and wood floors (that was just *too much* darkness). The updates have allowed the home’s best architectural elements to shine: natural light beams in from all areas, the flow of the house just makes sense, and small rooms don’t seem cramped. My favorite thing about the MCM style is it’s livability and modern updates can enhance that!