Not everyone will tell you what’s in their secret sauce. Have you ever gushed over the decor de jour at a friend’s house, casually inquiring how they assembled such an exquisite collection of complimentary pieces, only to be met with the reply “Oh, I just discovered them in my travels…” or some other nonsensical vagaries?
Well I like to dish out the real deal and share my sources. So whenever someone asks me how I managed to get the Retro Ranch looking so, well, RETRO, I usually have three words for them: Dusty. Old. Magazines.
Ok so maybe they don’t need to be dusty. But they do need to be old– specifically from whatever time period you’re looking to replicate. They should be brimming with happy housewife tips and full-color advertisements that cheerfully peddle a variety of flooring, drapery and wallpaper products to “liven your living spaces!” and bring you a “terrific tomorrow!”
David and I discovered long ago that wandering the endless pages of Pinterest and Houzz only gets you so far. The only way to truly get the authentic look of a period style is to study the original sources. And sometimes those sources are tough to find, but they’re out there if you keep your eyes peeled.
This is why you can find us perusing auction sites in search of a rare 1955 home design issue of Ladies Home Journal. Or crouched in the basement corner at an estate sale, thumbing through the musty box of 1963 Sunset magazines. Or slamming on the brakes to snatch up a discarded bin of 1970’s House Beautiful magazines that someone has put out by the curb after a weekend of spring cleaning at grandma’s house. Or digging through bins at the local Goodwill Outlet Warehouse on a hot summer day, desperately trying to reunite all twelve special-edition issues of the 1959 Good Housekeeping “home makeover” series before the collective BO stench hits my gag reflex.
You do what you gotta do for style.
There are so many varieties of magazines from bygones eras, its hard to narrow your search. But once you get a feel for what each publication offers, you’ll be able to pick and choose the ones that fit the style you are looking for. Because not ALL retro style is GOOD retro style (asbestos flooring and ceiling wallpaper, I’m looking in your direction…).
For us, Sunset Magazine was the holy grail of supreme style when it came to serious retro research for both interior and exterior. But over the years we’ve also picked up a few interesting one-off publications on specific decor topics like windows or flooring. Some even get into home-style design, like this one below with the ranch home that looks a bit like our Retro Ranch when we first moved in…
And then of course there is the bible: The Better Homes & Gardens Decorating Book. This is not your regular decor instructional. This is a 100+ color-page, tabbed-dividers, three-ring binder decor instructional WITH HARDCOVER. Yep. This is some serious shit right here. So brew yourself a strong pot of Maxwell House, because Better Homes & Gardens is fo’ reals retro-design research.
It was also published in multiple decades, so you can find the one that corresponds to your home’s era. We have two: one from the late 50’s (shown here) and one from the mid 70’s. The 1970’s one is more for comic relief than anything else. Because who doesn’t love shag carpeted walls and bathrooms? Dy-no-miiiite!
So get your thrift on and dig into the pages of that twenty-five cent magazine that no one has opened in decades. Because when someone asks where we got the “unique” idea to build a custom monument wall displaying our house numbers in classic midcentury font, I can confidently tell them “1959 Popular Home, page 32.”