The Style Guide You NEED to Keep Your Remodel On Track

15 min read Use a personal style guide to make choices about your remodel up: you’ll have less stress and a more beautiful result!

I’ve talked about the value of style guides for design planning SO MUCH you might be sick of it. 

If so, sorry, not sorry. 

Your remodel is your home. It’s important! 

Creating a master plan for your home update will help you prioritize what you and your home need most … then make it happen! But you also need to keep an eye on the details. Creating the Style Guide you need for your project works to keep those “little” things on track the same way.

First, a word of caution.  I’m not saying that when you’ve done this work, you’ll be done.   This not a matter of  Making a choice once and never have to make it again.  That is an oversimplification.  But you CAN make a choice once and then only have to tweak it for each new scenario that comes up. 

Trust me, this helps!

Want some help with this? Give the episode a listen while you download your this easy Style Guide workbook to walk you through some of the decisions you’re about to make. It’s as easy as filling in the blanks (with the right answers) and a lot of fun too!


Note: this episode was originally posted October 2020. It has been re-published with a fresh take to get you excited all over again!

In Today’s Episode You’ll Hear:

  • How the Style Guide you need is really just a masterplan for all the little details of your home remodel project (and just as useful) [2:05]
  • Why brushed nickel handles are a Mid Mod no-no and how to avoid using them and instantly dating your home update! [4:15]
  • The difference between a fully bespoke custom designed remodel led by an architect and one managed by Joe Contractor … but how you can get the best of both worlds (hint it involves a Style Guide) [5:05]
  • How to get started [9:05]
  • Metals for your Mid-Century home [9:55]
  • How to make sure all the wood in your floors, cabinets, walls, trim and furniture plays nicely together [12:10]
  • How to have fun with color in an MCM update [15:25]

Listen now on

Apple | Google |  Spotify | Stitcher

Resources and more on creating the Style Guide you need Mentioned in this Episode

Read the Full Episode Transcript

This week I’ve been talking about style guides inside the ready to remodel program. On our architect office hours call Monday. I talked this cohort of homeowners through the value of distilling your personal style. 

We start with the fuzzy big picture concept like time capsule, cute versus mid mod, contemporary, and then we gather ideas through the process of collecting design inspiration from Pinterest, Instagram, magazines, and the real world. We sort them and focus them through mood boards, Pinterest boards that start large and get very specific and eventually making a material style guide. That style guide will one day turn into a list of the actual products, finishes and fixtures you’ll source and have installed inside your updated home. 

Talking to the ready to remodel community about this made me remember that I needed to tell you about it too. The rest of today’s episode is a throwback to season four of mid bond remodel.

I recorded this nearly exactly two years ago and it is just as true today as it was then. So sit back or carry on running errands, walking the dog, doing the dishes or what you are, and get inspired to start creating a style guide for your remodel. Today’s episode is going to explain why having one is one of the best gifts you can give yourself during a remodel process. 

Hey there. Welcome back to Mid Mod Remodel. This is the show about updating MCM Homes, helping you match a mid-century home to your modern life. I’m your host, Deli Hansmann architect, and mid-century ranch enthusiast. You’re listening to season four, episode seven.

Some people are natural pre-planners while others get a rush from making decisions on the fly in real-time. 

Either way, though, a remodel has so many decisions in it that making them at the last minute each time is a migraine in the making. While it’s impossible even for professionals to foresee every choice that will arise when you’re digging into the walls of your existing house, you can make your life so much easier with a little thoughtful planning ahead. I’ve talked about this kind of advanced planning before on the podcast so much that you might be sick of it. If so, sorry, not sorry. This is for all the marbles folks. This is your home. If you have a plan for your remodel, you are so much more prepared for all the pitfall surprises and last-minute decisions that are inevitable in construction of an existing house.

If you don’t have a plan, every single aspect is a pitfall, surprise or last minute decision, and that’s no fun really, I promise it isn’t. But in the past, I’ve focused more on the question of how you figure out your overall scope, making a master plan for all the areas of the house you want to target and improve on both now and over time. Honing in on good layout changes and neat design features, then prioritizing them and setting them in context. That process is so important and it’s a big part of my client based design business. Helping people put their homes and their family’s needs together to create just such overview master plans. But there’s another level of the project that can benefit from a big picture view, which I haven’t talked about as much. That is how the details of the house come together.

Each faucet shelf, drawer handle, door hinge and window shade that will be included in your upcoming home improvement project represents a choice in some case, several choices. Stack them all together and the options are nearly infinite. You can apply the same master plan approach to this kind of material selection process that you do to deciding what order to tackle the bigger projects. All this season we’ve been taking a big picture approach to remodeling, talking about sustainability, ADA compatibility, landscaping, and more. Today we’re taking a big picture approach through the little component pieces of your home update. I’m gonna talk to you through why you need a style guide to keep your home remodel running smoothly, and how to go about setting one up for yourself. Take today’s episode even further by downloading my free style guide workbook. It will have a little of the information I’m about to outline today and a fill in the blank section for you to apply to your own home and preferences.

Grab it at mid mod-midwest.com/styleguide or find it in the show notes. Grab them at midmod-midwest.com/407. As always, you’ll find the show notes with the links I reference and a handwritten summary of everything I’m going to say right there. So let’s get into it. First though, a word of caution. I’m not promising that when you’ve done this work, you’ll be done. This is not a matter of making a choice once and never having to make it again. That’s an oversimplification, but you can make a choice once and then only have to tweak it for each new scenario that comes up. Here’s why that’s important. Consider this. You’ve just attached your kitchen to your garage with a new connecting mudroom or breezeway. Hooray for you and while you took so much care with your kitchen remodel, picking out charming mid mod tile for the back splash and some really charming brass door and drawer poles to compliment the warm wood slab front cabinet doors.

You let the contractor deal with installing that new door to the garage and when it arrives, the default hinges turn out to be brush nickel. Then he picks a brush nickel door handle to match them. The subtle but persistent conflict between the door handle to your garage and the drawer pulls right next to it drives you nuts for years to come and always makes that door feel like a bit of a mistake. Here’s a good rule of thumb, by the way. There is no place for brush nickel in a mid-century modern house. It is a completely contemporary material. Avoid it. It screams fresh, modern, and probably early two thousands remodel like almost no other material can. Some metal colors and finishes are just very strongly associated with certain style eras and can clash with your mid-century home or the modern update you’re attempting right now.

Here’s another example. Copper and shiny brass work fabulously with colonial style houses and Victorian charm, but these aren’t for us Mid mod fans either pick again by making sure that nearby details in your house like door handles and drawer poles in the same room or baseboard trim between one room and another coordinate with each other makes a difference between a well-planned remodel that shines and one ends up looking like a hodgepodge. So how can you achieve the former and avoid the latter? I’d like to pull back for a moment and talk about the way I have practiced architecture and have done over the course of my career in some previous phases of my life. I have designed remodels and new construction using a traditional full services architectural model, which assumes that the designer is in full control of every aspect of the house from the initial vision to the choice of each handle and faucet.

This is a great way to ensure that your house turns out exactly as you wish it to. When you work with an architect at this level, you and they collaborate to envision your house in every detail, then you hire a contractor well versed in the art of manifesting that kind of vision into the world and you sign a contract which states that the drawings and specifications you prepared with your architect are exactly what will be built. Then your architect puts on a new hat for project supervisor and stops by the ongoing construction process on a regular basis to ensure that everything is built exactly as designed. It’s a great system if you have nearly limitless resources because it means you control the process from start to finish. This process stands in contrast to the way a typical middle class homeowner has a renovation done in that system.

You call around and find a couple of general contractors, meet one who seems friendly, hire him or her and let them go to town on your house based on fairly simple verbal or drafted descriptions of what you’d like changed and you choosing certain parts of the project that matter most to you, like the exact tile for your backsplash or paint colors. You might work with a kitchen design company that sells cabinets to specify exactly where your cabinets will have glass fronts and those with wood. You might walk around the project while it’s under construction with the electrician and say, Hey, I wanna switch over here. That also switches the kitchen over there. This process isn’t necessarily a bad one, but it does mean that there are a lot more question marks at many points in the process and that you hand over a lot of control for how things are ultimately done to the contractor whom you have to trust.

In an ideal version of this scenario, your contractor is a pretty good communicator who emails or calls in with you regularly before they make decisions. They’ll ask you what kind of faucet, toilet or door they’re installing in your house. They might send you to a showroom they regularly coordinate with and ask you to pick from the selection of plumbing fixtures the week before the plumber is scheduled to install. Even in this ideal version though a contractor’s job is not to pre-plan every element of your remodel and the homeowner working this way often finds that they’re asked to make important decisions on pretty short notice. Those decisions often end up not being necessarily coordinated with each other because there wasn’t enough time or foresight to do that. Advanced thinking sometimes that ideal communication between the contractor and homeowner doesn’t even happen. The contractor will make decisions based on his or her best judgment and previous projects that have worked well and just go ahead with a standard or default detail to get something done on deadline.

This all to often results in big tragedies or minor disappointments where the homeowners come to look at the project, either part way under construction too late to change or when it’s done and say, Oh, I didn’t expect it to look like that, huh? Often this mismatch between expectation and reality ends up not being a big deal, but sometimes it’s over the problem that niggles at you for years to come and can erode your satisfaction with the overall remodel. That’s such a shame. I believe that there’s a middle ground between hiring an architect for a bespoke model that plans every detail in advance and just letting your friendly neighborhood contractor be the judge of what you want in your kitchen or bedroom update. With a little investment of your time and attention, you can achieve a similar result to what I do for my full service architectural design clients by envisioning what fixtures and finishes will be in the house and making decisions in advance to plan for what they should be. This will pay dividends for you both in terms of taking away stress of all those last minute decisions, standing in a plumbing supply showroom just before closing, trying to pick all the fixtures that the plumbing subcontractor will install tomorrow and also result in a finished remodel that feels more intentional and cohesive. 

I hope I’ve convinced you why creating a personal style guide for your remodel is a good idea. Now let’s talk about how to make it happen.

As always, when working with a remodel, start from where you are. This is something that came up last week when I talked to Sarah Meyer about her approach to landscaping the yard around a mid-century house. Her first step on any project is to take stock of what the homeowner has, the views from the house slope of the landscaping and existing planted and landscaped elements. I advise the exact same approach to your house. If you’re looking for some help in getting an overview of your existing house’s features, you might wanna use another of my handy free booklets, The home assessment workbook. I’ll link to it in the show notes, but in essence, that process boils down to walking around your house, noting down what you have, what you want to preserve and what you wanna work with. Have you got a stone fireplace, original door handles you like or wood paneling that you must keep super.

Make sure that everything else you pick for the remodel gets along with those elements. Once you know what you have, you can think about other areas of the house where finishes and fixtures have to be chosen for your remodel to it. Back to our example from the top of metal objects, which might be matched, coordinated, or the bad one clashing. Here’s a quick list of places you might run into a surprise. Hey, what metal finish did you want for this item? Question, house numbers, window hardware, door handles and hinges. Cabinet door and drawer poles, flooring, transition strips, screens and grills, fireplace surrounds and absolutely light fixtures both inside and out. Faucets and other plumbing fixtures and appliances. While you don’t have to pick out, or as an architect would say, to specify each of these items in advance, if you know what metal families you want to work with, you can narrow your choices considerably.

You don’t have to pick just one. Not every metal object in your home needs to be shiny, chrome, burnished brass, or matte black. But it does help to limit your options to make life easier. I like a pick two approach to the metal fixtures and finishes in your home. You should be able to pull that off even if you’re dealing with some tricky suppliers that only offer a limited range of options for their particular line of plumbing products or light fixtures. While we’re on the subject of those tricky suppliers, remember that no brand means the same thing when they say brushed or aged or rubbed. If you want your various metal hardware to match, either buy it all from one single brand or get samples, samples, samples and compare them to check that they actually work well together. Oh, and when in doubt, choose matte over shiny finishes for all your metal.

You’ll notice that most of the existing metal in your house is probably of a non-kin variety. Uh, the exception being a lot of polished chrome faucets and handles in mid-century kitchens. If you have vintage brass or bronze tone door handles and hinges in your home, keep them, but don’t expect to be able to match them with a modern equivalent. So if you’re planning to keep some vintage brass and add in new other things, I recommend either black in a matte or an oil rubbed bronze as a modern finish that can go. Here are some other color pairings that work brass and aged bronze. Bronze and black or white and gold. All of these are popular combinations that you can easily find in multiple product lines. The next most universally necessary choice for your home update is wood. There are a lot of places where wood comes up in a mid-century house and should be in your update.

Here are just a few, the floor, the doors and trim, the paneling on the walls and ceiling if you’re lucky, the fronts of cabinets or other built-ins. And don’t forget your furniture. Again, you don’t have to pick only one species or stain color and stick to it, but you do want them all to play together nicely. And again. There are also certain style eras signals sent by certain types of wood. For example, dark wood generally has an old timey feeling that calls up farmhouse craftsman or Victorian style homes. It also shows up in a lot of eighties era remodels when Victorian was the retro cool style of the day. In general, it does not play well with mid-century styles. On the other hand, blonde wood is more contemporary. This calls up Scandinavian minimalism, modernism, and some industrial chic. So if you’re thinking about raw plywood and exposed two by four structures, it can be fun and playful, but it’s not what you want for a mid-century home in general.

In general, honey colored, warm toned woods are best for mid-century homes. 

While you don’t need to make sure that each piece of wood in your house came from the same tree, you do wanna make it feel like it’s all part of one big friendly family, and the best way to do to that is stick to warm mid value wood color. Look for subtle fine grained wood to match your original mid-century style. If we’re gonna talk species back in the day, high end, mid-century buildings feature a lot of old growth. T and American black walnut sticklers for specifics will warn you that plantation grown or Asian walnut will have a grayer hue that doesn’t work as well with vintage woods, but you don’t have to get fancy. Most builder grade mid-century homes were finished with oak floors and pine trim and cabinets. They used copious amounts of plywood.

Don’t be afraid to keep going with the same low end materials as long as you choose a nice warm stain color to keep the mid-century glow alive. Ultimately, the best way to know of two different wood products like a flooring and a cabinet or a new cabinet next to an existing panel wall will work well together is to hold up two medium sized samples next to each other in the actual room with the actual lighting conditions you’ll eventually use. Once you start to nail down a few of your key product choices, keep samples of them on your desk or in your car. Bring a bit of wood trim or one unit of your favorite door handle with you while you make other design decisions. You can make your style guide as simple or as detailed as you’d like. You could simply write down that you’re gonna be choosing white metal or oil rubbed bronze for all of the fixtures and finishes in your house and go from there.

Or you could pre-select each light faucet and door handle in advance of the whole project. This is kind of up to you, but you will save yourself so much time and trouble if you just take the first step of contemplating your options and narrowing them down to a few. The same approach can be applied to all sorts of other things. If you’re not lucky enough to have original wood floors in good shape in part of the house, you may have to choose new flooring alternatives during a remodel. So you might be choosing between stone, terrazzo, concrete, cork hardwood that’s new, or tile or possibly even carpet. This is another place where you don’t have to choose one thing, but you don’t wanna have a different type of flooring in every room of the house. So make some consistent choices at the start of the project and then apply them throughout the whole house.

One last area that you might wanna think about in advance, although it can be changed after the fact, is color schemes. What paint are you gonna apply? And remember that color can also come up in things like furnishings, pillows, curtains, and carpet. There are two great color schemes that I personally love in just about any mid-century house. The first is sort of a deep neutral with white cream, tan brown. You can find this in the Pinterest and Instagram accounts of Green Dream Home. They do this wonderfully. Another thing I love a lot is to do gray, white and a pop color orange, yellow, green. Pick your favorite. You can tie back to the sixties and justify just about any bold color choice for yourself here. For examples of this check out Suburban Pops Instagram account. 

You can also play around with wallpaper. Keep what you have within reason. Find a retro chic option. Play with modern stick on options. This is a place where you can be bold, but again, boldness works best when it’s well coordinated with the rest of the house, when it works with the woodwork, with the flooring, with the paint colors. So planning this out in advance will save you time, trouble, and stress.

Find the links mentioned in this episode at its original home midmod-midwest.com/407, or the new redirect midmod-midwest.com/1002. There’s an outline, links and that free style guide, guide or booklet, which you can get also at midmod-midwest.com/styleguide. This is a great place to get started with thinking about the consistent material choices that are gonna make your home classy and beautiful and your life easier while you remodel.

If by the way, hearing what’s new with a ready to remodel cohort up at the top of the episode is making you wish you were in with that cool kids crowd, I have great news for you. First, we’ll be launching a new group of ready to remodel mid-century homeowners in January. So start planning now to join that cohort and harness the power of group energy to motivate you to get through your remodeling choices in short order. But also spoiler alert, we are planning to make a chance for you to jump into ready to remodel even earlier than that in our new go at your own pace remodeling program with ongoing support architect office hours calls, forever access to the ready to remodel community and self-paced DIY master plan process tutorials. This isn’t open for enrollment yet, but stay tuned for that news. I know you’ve been waiting for it.

If what you want is just someone to make some of these style guide choices for you – to tell you which flooring material might work best for a kitchen, to spec out your new front door, from handle to hardware, to glass, to stain color, or to pull back and help you set the stage for your remodel, figuring out which part should happen now, which can happen next year and which can wait a few years. Then you might wanna just hop over to our Work with Us page and schedule a 60 minute design consultation. Chat with me and get your mid-century remodeling design questions answered, once and for all. 

We love working both with our ready to remodel students on style guides and preparing them for our master plan clients. So whether you’re going to create one yourself, get our help to create one inside of ready to remodel, or just hire us to make one for you, consider the value of a style guide for keeping your mid-century remodel on track. This is great for anyone planning any style of remodel, but for us mid mod remodelers, it’s essential. That’s all for now, Mid Mod Remodelers. Catch you next week.