before and afterDIY

Before & After: A 1950s House Gets A Faithful but Modern Update

by Maxwell Tielman

Before & After, 1950s House, via Design*Sponge

Before & After, 1950s House, via Design*Sponge

The midcentury suburban home, at least until recently, has not been given the reverence it mightily deserves. Oftentimes seen as too “new,” too common, or too kitsch for historic consideration, these houses are especially vulnerable to the pitfalls of careless, quick home renovations. When Sarah Brown began her house hunt, she found that—much to her dismay—many of the homes had suffered such fates. “We looked at many houses that had already been ‘flipped’ poorly,” she says, “all the original details removed, hard wood ripped up and replaced with laminate, basically, all the charm gone.” Luckily, after a few wrong turns, Sarah stumbled upon a true gem—a midcentury home that was still relatively intact. “When we toured this house it instantly reminded me of my grandparents’ house (which I had wanted to buy but was unable to at the time it was for sale). It was not so much the layout, because our house has what I think is a rather unique 1950s layout, but more the way it was meticulously organized, cared for and decorated (my grandma also loved pink).  My grandmother had left me money for a down payment and after meeting the original owner it just felt right.” Although Sarah had big plans for the home (updating the sorely outdated kitchen was a must!), she wanted her renovation to be respectful to the home’s original ethos. With some choice furnishings, a few minor additions, and some fresh coats of paint, she pulled it off. The end result is at once strikingly contemporary, but still in harmony with the home’s formal elements and architecture. Check out all the photos, plus Sarah’s design notes and sources after the jump! —Max

Before & After, 1950s House, via Design*Sponge

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Before & After, 1950s House, via Design*Sponge

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“My inspiration was really bringing a lot of the house back to its original state while modernizing certain aspects, like the kitchen,” Sarah writes. “This house was built by a builder for himself after building a number of other houses in the neighborhood. He seemed to have put a lot of special details into crafting his own home. Removing carpet, wallpaper and paint really showcased this—especially the amazing vaulted ceiling. Other than that, my inspiration was making do with our budget constraints and working towards having a home that could finally showcase all my vintage treasures. While I knew by boyfriend was handy (we had done a smaller renovation on our first condo) I had no idea he was capable of the work he did. I know he wanted to strangle me many times. I’m really proud of him and us for not killing each other.”


Before & After, 1950s House, via Design*Sponge

Before & After, 1950s House, via Design*Sponge Before & After, 1950s House, via Design*Sponge Before & After, 1950s House, via Design*Sponge Before & After, 1950s House, via Design*Sponge Before & After, 1950s House, via Design*Sponge Before & After, 1950s House, via Design*Sponge


-The couch was found on eBay
-The rugs, (12) liquor cabinet, and curtains are from IKEA.
-The side table is from EQ3
-In terms of furniture and artwork, most of it is either from my family, estate sales or flea markets. The coffee table was from an estate sale, the luggage cart being used as table was left by the former owner, the dresser being used as a buffet was my grandmother’s, the record player and speaker were my father’s and the dining table was my sister’s vintage find.
-The working bingo sign and the light fixture in the kitchen I bought at the Brimfield Antique Show and made my boyfriend haul back with us. 
-The large, abstract painting was something we made using leftover house paint.
-My pride and joy – the light fixture in the living room was purchased at Design Republic
-The dining room light fixture is from Morba
-The entire kitchen is IKEA with the exception of the open shelves from Home Depot
-The counter tops are quartz
-Paint: the black feature wall is Sico “Grand Piano” and the rest is Behr “Nova White”

Before & After, 1950s House, via Design*Sponge

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  • I just love this use of black and white with some punches of bold color. I so want to live there!

  • I love that coffee table! Do you happen to have any better pictures of it you can send me? let0062@gmail.com I would love to try and recreate something similar. Fab remodel!

  • I really love everything! But especially the way you didn’t go bonkers in the kitchen. Just basically updating the surfaces. It shows you don’t have to break the bank and create one of these McMansion mega kitchens. Very smart! One can only imagine the millions of suburban interiors that are just waiting to get this treatment.

  • Very similar in structure to my own house! It’s great to see it all come together :)

    To my eyes, it doesn’t look like there’s a stovetop under the kitchen hood. I’m curious, what other reason would there be to install the hood with no stove under it? It looks nice, just genuinely wondering.

  • Sarah – Chad just told me the house was featured….so beautiful! Congrats :)
    xo Riley

  • This makeover is an inspiring look into the process, before and after, which is something we rarely get to see in most posts on home projects. Thanks for letting us take a peek.

  • I think it’s a travesty that they plastered over that lovely classically midcentury stone wall. Certainly there must have been a way to modernize certain aspects of the living room without covering up the original structure and still have the elements work together in a harmonious way. The shape and texture of the wall provided a wonderful opportunity for the remodelers – now it looks like any old “design blog” house.

  • I grew up in a Mid-Century Modern Home and my parents had Danish Teak furniture. I was always proud of our home because it was unique. A few weeks ago I went to a family wedding in Palm Springs and got a map to see the mid-century modern homes there. I took that stuff for granted when I was younger but now appreciated the remodels that take them back to their beginning.

  • The after sure looks great and is a great improvement.

    But, am I alone in thinking that the before pictures were awesome as well?
    I especially liked the living room, it looked really cozy.

  • It just makes me so happy to see the beautiful, unique renovations posted in DS. This is truly one of the most wonderful–surprising, bright, pitch perfect in every way–the art, the flow of the rooms, that gorgeous black paint and white paint–every detail just works so well. Congratulations on this great makeover. PS: I would love to see what you do with your garden. Bet it will be just as unique and beautiful, with clever touches everywhere.

  • If I hadn’t seen the before, I would’ve loved without reservation the after. But I tend to agree with Alexander–the before (living room, at least) had great style and light. Maybe I would’ve replaced the brick wall with a more modern (cream travertine or marble horizontal) tile, and installed white Swedish wood floors. The white wood meeting the white kitchen tile would be more seamless. But, overall, an amazing transformation, with warmth, style, and heart.

  • I really appreciate the number of photos you shared of the progress as you went along. i just kept flipping back and forth between the befores and afters. this is a very smart renovation. i love it.

  • Wish if folks want a Home Depot look, they’d leave the original midcentury houses for those who want that look, and go someplace else. Cookie cutter makeovers would be great in the 80’s forward, since they have no style to begin with.

  • I love the work you did, and much admiration for doing it yourselves!
    Those before pics were also hugely sentimental and nostalgic, reminding me of my grandparents. :)

  • Amazing project!! and good pictures of the before and after, very helpful to understand what they did!!

    We are now renovating our studio too but with baby steps, and are sharing our diy to help people to do the same in their houses!! :)

  • Wow! I can’t stop saying wow! What a great transformation! The living room furniture and the way you placed it looks a million times better. But what I think is my favorite thing is how you took the wall down between the kitchen and dining room. Those rooms look cohesive now. What a wonderful job you guys did!

  • You covered up all the good stuff! The brick and wood paneling! Everything that makes is nostalgic and mid century! As a fellow mid-century home owner I do not applaud you :(

  • Wonderful job – true to the MCM aesthetic without being a Mad Men stage set. The before pictures made me cringe – why move into an MCM house if you’re going to go for the twee cottage look – flouncy curtains and doily overload? And the boyfriend is definitely a keeper!

  • It’s a gorgeous renovation, love everything but I do wish the kitchen could have been left/kept more period appropriate. The stone in the living room that was removed was wallpaper as you can see in the before pictures. Good call.

  • I love it all. Especially the living room!!!!

    Kristina Fung….when you mention the midcentury stone wall, are you referring to the wall that is now black? because looking at the demo pics it appears to be faux stone wallpaper to me. : ) No travesty there.

  • For those who are critical of the design choices: the “stone wall”
    is cheap wallpaper and the ” wood paneling” is that awful
    knotty pine with heavy lacquer that makes one feel they are
    living in a run down cabin . The house remodel is somewhat
    cliche but well thought out and a huge improvement!

  • Very nice and dramatic. Curious what the panel of numbers is on the black wall under your wonderful painting. (have you considered a career as an artist?)

  • I especially loved that you removed the brick wallpaper! And the cabin wood paneling that didn’t relate to anything else in the house. The kitchen is so much more functional. Lovely floors. I think that this is a wonderful renovation.

  • Great job! Love everything. Don’t worry about naysayers. Nothing great about keeping cheap & nasty elements of a MCM home (as in bad wallpaper and cheap wood panelling.) If they were quality and timeless elements, yes, I could see keeping and working with them.

  • For those lamenting the destruction of the stone wall in the living room…. Ya’ll realize that’s just wallpaper, right? Look at the “during” photos a little more closely and you can see the wallpaper in the process of being peeled off. Definitely not something “precious” that was worth keeping IMO.!

  • Relax people! That “amazing brick wall” is very scary wallpaper, as the photos clearly show. Great job. I, for one, would love to see the upstairs as well.

  • I think this is a lovely renovation. The new styles you chose gives a nod to mid century design without being a stage set. Well Done!
    While I am a huge fan of mid century design I do not feel that every original feature of every mid century home needs to be retained. Our homes are an extension of ourselves, they live and evolve as we do. An eclectic, collected home shows who you are! If you have a mid century museum that’s who you are but it’s not for everyone.

  • What an amazing job! Thanks for sharing. This was truly inspiring. You must be so proud of yourselves. I envy people who can “do” things!

  • 1. If you and your boyfriend made it throughs a remodel like this together – that is very telling. May you have a whole lifetime together!
    2. I’m glad the brick/stone wasn’t – the black was daring and turned out great.
    3. Pine paneling can be so cool painted. Not telling you that you shouldn’t have done what you did, but did you think about keeping the textural interest at all? I LOVE my white painted knotty pine basement! But I realize a basement is not a dining room.

  • Really enjoyed reading this. My husband and I bought a 1950s house in Edinburgh, Scotland last summer and have just started rennovating with our savings. My work have sent me to India for 2 months whilst my husband starts the kitchen – the biggest project along with the bathroom of course! Although the homes in Scotland are probably a little smaller I can see similiarities and I love vintage too! Maybe we should share our story too? Inspiring p.s. love the monochrome scheme….

  • We just purchased a 1952 home. With almost all the original setting. Hard wood floors, arched ceilings and small kitchen. Oh and the original furnace, it looks like a space ship but still works lol
    We have our work cut out, but you have inspired me. With all your comments and lovely reno’s.
    I would love to send you some pic’s as we have not started the reno’s yet. We move in on xmas eve, I know, I know lol


  • We have just bought a 1955 “ugly duckling” on a tight budget, very square and bland brick (we actually love the brick) with a flat roofed garage at the side and
    Square porch front door. Any ideas on how to give it more kerb appeal without spending a lot would be apreciated. Thanks

  • Very nice! I love the clean lines and mid century design. Are those cans of emergency drinking water (too much fallout 4 for me) I see in your liquor cabinet?

  • What did you do with the outside where the door used to be next to the kitchen? Was the door formerly a front entrance? We just bought a 1950’s house that has had some remodeling done but it is not modern at the moment. I am having trouble trying to find where to put my dinner table as there is no formal eating space and the eat in kitchen is too small for my table. I need ideas!

  • You’ve done a beautiful job and proven that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a fabulous result.

  • I’m also wondering what happened to the back door that originally opened into the kitchen. Did you simply remove it and frame over it? Or did you relocate the door. I’m working on an upgrade for a ranch house kitchen with a comparable layout. The back door opens into the kitchen, and I’m contemplating relocating the door or removing it all together.