Have a 1958 Ranch Fixer Upper - Where to Start?

Jane RaffertyOctober 28, 2009

My husband and I bought this house that is in ok shape but not fixed on the inside for decades. He is no longer in the picture and now I have to figure out how to paint walls, refinish woodwork, choose flooring and I have no idea where to start. Does anyone know a resource for the newbie on her own with this stuff?

I know I will have to hire much of it done so it's going to get done a piece at a time. I also have to figure out what I can do and what a pro needs to do. I've never done more than paint walls, so I'm really sort of spinning at the moment unsure of what to even start planning.

Any tips would be appreciate.

:) Jane

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Get an older relative or trusted friend to walk through your house with you. Someone who has been around awhile and has lived in a house of that vintage. They can at least get you familiar with what things are and how it was done when the house was built.

You will want to address things by priority. Safety comes first. Maintenance necessary to prevent further damage comes second. Cosmetics come last.

Most of us on this forum with old/older homes have been at it for years, and much of our experience came with just doing it, making mistakes, asking questions, and taking it one step at a time. Yes, there are sources of DIY help at home improvement centers, adult classes at community colleges and tech schools, or finding a mentor who is willing to let you pick their brains.

Things requiring power and specialty tools will be out of your reach unless you have tools and know how to use them. Some of the work requires extra hands (like hanging drywall) I just don't have the strength to do it alone, especially if its a ceiling. Money will also be a limiting factor. If you can, try not to do a cobble-up job you'll have to undo at a later date.

Remember, if you are warm/dry from the elements/and safe you don't have to have it all done at once. Ask lots and lots of questions at good (especially independent) hardware and paint stores. Ask several different people the same questions and compare their answers. Not all 'experts' are. LOL.

You'll be able to sort out directly what you shouldn't tear into and what you might comfortably. My daughter and I tore into a house very similar to what you are describing ourselves. I bought it myself and my DH just told me not to count on him to get involved. So, we didn't. LOL. I think he kind of felt left out. The only jobs I ended up having to hire done was to replace the heating system and work on some minor plumbing we could have done, but wasn't worth the hassle. Ditto laying new carpet in the bedrooms. I think we could have done that too, but had the resources to let somebody else hassle with it.

Good luck. There isn't an easy answer to this one. It's what's called a learning experience.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2009 at 8:00PM
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The only thing that I would add to calliope's most excellent and detailed answer is to consider energy efficiency. Insulation, upgrading appliances and systems, before or along with cosmetics. Depending on where you live. For ex. many people even in the north where I live are installing a/c. Electricity isn't going to get any cheaper. We have a whole house fan (and a very well insulated house) which works great except for perhaps one or 2 nights per year. And good insulation results in very low heating bills so that we have more money to spend of other things.
Good luck. I hope you enjoy the challenge!

    Bookmark   October 29, 2009 at 8:21AM
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Hi Jane, As a general rule I try to keep in mind start high and work towards low. If working in a room start with ceilings, followed by walls and floor last. It helps keep from damaging anything you've already done. Sounds like a no-brainer, but people don't always think of it. Try to keep one room that is not in turmoil for sanity sake and try not to do more than one project at a time(I think it cuts down on feeling overwhelmed). I'm sure others will also share some of their rules to remodel by.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2009 at 12:06PM
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I'm personally a big fan of something called "books" when you have a steep learning curve ahead. Books have information organized in a sequential manner, and you can easily refer back to something that you didn't quite grasp the first time. There is now a wealth of literature aimed at old house renovation and refinishing, and a host of books specifically on every type of project you could undertake. Try your local library or used book store to find something on a budget, otherwise the shelves of your local or online bookseller - or the big box store. It is an undervalued resource for finding project books.

I agree with Calliope that you can learn a lot from local merchants, or even from their displays. We have, for example, a stellar retailer of trim, floor, stair, and moulding products in our area (Nucasa), and I have found a wealth of ideas from taking the time to do a thorough browse through their store and usually find something that will work. Although it can be more intimidating to go into a specialty store, I prefer them to the really big box stores as they also have (usually) knowledgeable staff, and the pricing is comparable while the selection is much wider. Nowadays many will also have helpful websites, but I find the store itself much better.


    Bookmark   October 29, 2009 at 12:18PM
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Well, just today I learned how to fix a leaky outdoor spigot from watching several videos on the subject on youtube. Now, we all know you can't necessarily believe all that you see/read on the internet, and free advice may be worth just what you pay for it, but I DID learn how to replace that washer and stop the dripping. You might try a search there and see what you come up with. At least it might be a starting point for some of your projects!

Could you post some photos to show the house's condition and maybe start a list of what YOU think should be attended to? How old are the Baths and kitchen? Sorry to hear you have to face this work on your own--that sound like it might feel a little overwhelming. You can do it! Houses from the 50's may have some upkeep issues but they were generally very well constructed and are usually quite livable by our "modern" standards. Good luck with the reno.!

    Bookmark   November 4, 2009 at 12:13AM
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We bought our house about a year ago. My one-year's experience is: research everything to death. Don't assume you know how to do it because it looks easy or even 'not too hard'. Because of that assumption certain other members of my household have created some pretty ugly 'projects' which will have to be redone eventually =P Use books, internet, stores, tradespeople. Compare the knowledge you get. Then gather your materials and give it a go! Or ... if you determine it's not within your abilities, you will know at least some of what you are talking about when you hire someone.

I think someone already mentioned the order - safety/maintenance/cosmetic. We've done the roof, rotted front stair, and water heater already. Praying the furnace lasts another year, and are putting in insulation this month. In the meantime, the 'new to us' cabinets we got sit in the basement waiting for us to have the funds to do the kitchen (which will have to be at least a partial gut). But we'll be warm and dry.

Expect (and try to prepare for if you can) surprises, and not always good ones. See above re: roof and water heater. We knew we had to replace, the surprise was replacing in the first year. When they happen, give yourself a bit of time to react as if the world is ending. I can be a bit melodramatic - oh my gosh we have to eat rice n beans for a month straight cuz there is a crack in the furnace something-or-other!!! True story from this weekend ;) And then take a step back and figure out what it really means.

Last - this is a very, very supportive place to come to whine, get a kick in the butt, get some ideas, help with decisions, and a bunch of other things as well. Oh yeah - and someone here once told me to keep a list in my head or written down if necessary of what I love (or like) to combat the (sometimes frequent) 'I hate my house' days. Along with that list I try to keep a vision of what it will be. One day. If I don't die first ;)

    Bookmark   November 9, 2009 at 4:18PM
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I am living in a 50s Ranch too. Thankfully the previous owners had replaced the kitchen cabinets and pulled out all the carpet with original oak floors refinished. I love this little house and find joy in ongoing new ideas.

The first that I think is needed is insulation checked, calking anything where leaks may occur and a new furnace if required. I do have the orignal windows, but great storm windows on the outside and the house stays quite cozy. Heating bills not a problem.

Thankfully I have a handy son who redid the plumbing, drains.

The other projects can be as required or your heart draws you.

The link below is one I found recently on bungalos and ranches. More than enough pics to spend a day. They include original photos, ads and remodels. Perhaps some ideas for you too.

Here is a link that might be useful: Ranches

    Bookmark   November 29, 2009 at 10:33AM
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You've gotten some really excellent answers above- I would definitely echo the safety/maintenance/cosmetic order. In my this old house magazine recently, there was a couple who DIY their whole house. Everything they didn't know how to do, they'd find someone reliable to come in and teach them how to do it for a couple of hours. That way they learned from a professional but could later do the work themselves. That's a great way to empower yourself and to find out what you can and really can't do.

Our last house was a 1950's split level ranch. One of the hardest things for me was finding my own style in it. One of the great sides of ranches is that they seem, more so than most styles of houses, like a blank canvas style-wise. For someone like me, who loves so many different styles, it was hard to nail down one specific style to carry through the house. If you are through the safety and the maintenance, and onto cosmetics, spend some time with different style books and online, looking at what you really like. If you love arts and crafts, look into those design elements and color to carry through the home. Ditto if you love that funky post-modern era that the house was built in. Figuring out a "design voice" will answer many questions that you might find hard right now.

Good luck- and post pictures! We love to see works in progress!

    Bookmark   November 30, 2009 at 9:23AM
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I grew up in a ranch house, and swore I'd never live in one again. :)
If you are only doing the cosmetics and the structure is sound, keep in mind that it's a '50's house...so try to keep to that more subdued style--no fancy moldings or ornate finishes. In that time, sleek, modern and functional were the keywords.
We had pine floors throughout our house--we were the first owners after the builder--and the casings were simple pine about 3" wide both around doors, windows and baseboards. The windows were aluminum-framed and slid to the side to open, and had marble sills. The fireplace was central to a whole wall of brick, with a small ledge which ran the full length of the wall; the front of the house was the same tan brick while the sides and back were white clapboards.
The only functional drawback to the house was that the furnace was at one end, and the bedrooms at the other--in winter ice would build up from condensation and coat the aluminum frames of the glass on the room side! Still remember putting towels on the sills to help mitigate the chill and soak up the water as the ice melted!
The link below has pics from all periods of houses, but there are great sections for '50's rooms and kitchens!
Good luck with your house!

Here is a link that might be useful: Various House Style Pics

    Bookmark   December 22, 2009 at 5:34PM
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Ranches for Sale Today is launching and will provide ranch aficionados with the best ranch listings in North and South America. Besides ranch real estate articles, we will also provide information and resources on a regular basis.

Here is a link that might be useful: ranches for sale

    Bookmark   March 14, 2011 at 1:43AM
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good luck! whenever i feel overwhelmed, i think about the basics: is the roof keeping out water and is the foundation holding up the house? that always makes me feel better.

i have had very good luck at the city library and its branches for good DIY and home improvement books.

good luck!

    Bookmark   March 14, 2011 at 8:04AM
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