In “Frozen in Time,” a new show on discovery+, Maureen McCormick, who played eldest sister Marcia on “The Brady Bunch,” joins designer Dan Vickery to help homeowners who are stuck in a time warp. Homes from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s are updated while still respecting the nostalgia of their era.
McCormick made design waves in 2019 when she and her fellow “Brady Bunch” cast members joined design stars for the HGTV’s “A Very Brady Renovation.” The group overhauled the iconic split level house in Los Angeles, built in 1959, that was used for exterior shots on “The Brady Bunch,” which ran from 1969 to 1974.
Vickery, appeared on HGTV’s reality competition show “Design Star” in 2009. He’s also been on W Network’s “Love It Or List It: Vacation Homes” and Bravo’s “Best Room Wins.”
McCormick and Vickery joined The Washington Post for an online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.
Q: How do you decorate in a way that doesn’t make a house feel like a museum? I love vintage, lived-in things, but I don’t want the house to feel too old. I live in a pretty-new, modern apartment building with a lot of glass. I previously had a lot of modern-looking furniture in there, but it looked too much like an Ikea showroom. I like the vintage look, but I don’t want it to look like a garage sale. How can I blend these two styles?
McCormick: A great way to blend the two styles is to add modern fabric to a vintage sofa or chair. Make sure to streamline accessories so that it’s not too cluttered. Try to keep it light and airy. And bravo to you for mixing in vintage in your modern home.
Q: How do you decide to keep a cute vintage bathroom even if it’s not up to today’s more luxurious standards?
Vickery: Like most of design, it has to function first. It depends on how you use the bathroom. Older bathrooms often have very little storage, but there are often built-ins in the hall nearby. If you can use storage somewhere else that is still accessible then you should keep what you love. But if the frustration of a nonfunctional bathroom is getting to you, it might be time to say goodbye to cute and hello to something new. And who says an updated bathroom cannot be cute?
Q: What are the biggest mistakes people make when updating old homes?
McCormick: I feel the biggest mistakes often are taking away the history. I love when a house that is old keeps its character and personality.
Q: I live in a 1939 Cape Cod farmhouse outside of Richmond, Virginia, that was in rough condition when we purchased it. We’ve done a lot of repairs and restoration, and it’s a beautiful home now. But most of the interior walls are plaster and have developed cracks in the corners (mostly the seam between the wall and ceiling). We’ve had them repaired and painted professionally, but some of the cracks have come back. Any recommendations?
Vickery: This is the love/hate relationship of older homes. They are gorgeous, charming and full of life. They also often have weak foundations, beams and posts that are not strapped together, and a million other quirks that you have to embrace, pay to fix or move away from. I would guess your foundation is still settling because it was not reinforced to today’s standards. You can have a contractor see if they can provide additional support, or it may be something you have to resolve to fix repeatedly. It’s annoying, like flossing your teeth, but it’s necessary for a pretty smile.
Q: Do you ever use vintage linens? I have some old family quilts, but they’ve been packed away in the attic for so long that they probably need a good wash. I sometimes see beautiful linens at consignment stores but I’m a little too scared of bed bugs and other stuff to buy them.
McCormick: I love vintage linens. They really make a house a home and can soften up surfaces. I have a collection myself and cleaning them is super important. Bleach can be great, but I often dilute it way down and try to work on getting out stains a little at a time. I also recommend hand-washing, and please, don’t put them in the dryer.
Q: Midcentury-modern is cool right now. But many 1970s ranch houses are really ugly. Is that look really worth saving?
Vickery: It depends on what you think is ugly about it. Some of the colors, wood paneling, popcorn ceilings — that all has to go. But the clean lines and open windows are still beautiful.
Q: There’s a dull-pink carpet in my master bathroom and its adjoining two closets. This is supposed to blend with deep-pink bathroom accent tiles and tub, but none of the pink was my idea. What color carpet or tile can I use to replace the carpet? The walls are also light pink.
McCormick: I would tear out the carpet and replace it with a colored tile that looks pretty with the deep pink. I would possibly use a fresh white or off-white or cream tile, or maybe even green.
Q: What are your paint and color suggestions for painting 1970s paneling?
Vickery: White is always going to be classic. If you have watched our show, you know neither Maureen or I are afraid of color. I would suggest staying with a light tone or a dark tone. Light tones reflect a lot of light. Dark tones absorb it. Both of these things make a room feel like it has more richness because of the way the light is manipulated. Medium tones do nothing to the light and make the room feel flat. I also suggest selecting colors from the gray range of the paint palette. You will be amazed how a blue/gray suddenly feels like it is just blue when covering a full wall.
Q: Any tips when shopping for antiques? I never know how to tell if a piece of furniture is of good quality or worth the price.
McCormick: My biggest tip is to buy something you love that you can’t live without. Measure so that it will fit in the space where you want it to go. I always love to see if a piece has dovetailing on the sides of the drawers. Quality vs. quantity is huge.
Q: My laundry room is on the second floor of my 1990s house. I love the convenience, but the vibration causes nail pops galore. I’ve had them repaired, but new ones keep happening. I’m getting ready to paint a bedroom that has tons on the ceiling. Do you have any suggestions for the ceiling — breadboard, fake decorative ceiling tile?
Vickery: I love ceiling treatments. The ceiling is often an ignored opportunity. The key is that the room cannot feel too chaotic with patterns on every surface. In a dining room, I am not afraid to go bold. It is a space where the activity is about sitting, which gives you distance from the ceiling to appreciate it. We did a metal bird sculpture in one episode inspired by the metal seagull wall sculptures from the 1950s and 1960s. I would go with something simpler in a bedroom. Wood cladding, stained or painted, is a classic option. A simple wallpaper, like a grass cloth, is also a great option.
Q: What ideas do you have to bring some of today into our Colonial 5-over-4 home from 1780?
McCormick: Can I move in? It sounds fabulous, and I love Colonial homes. You can freshen it up with paint and mixing in some modern furniture pieces and accessories. And add some fun modern art you love.
Q: I have a north-facing bedroom with a small window that looks out onto an alley with a tree in it. It gets some filtered light in the morning and early afternoon, but then it’s kind of dark. The walls look way too yellow. I know white brightens, but I’m reading that white in this case can make the room look colder. I want it to look warm and inviting and sunny. I have decor in there that is blue, pink, purple, yellow and orange mostly — it’s very bohemian. Do I have to do white? I don’t want anything bright because I want flexibility.
Vickery: It sounds like you are not afraid of color. The next question is, how much time do you spend in your room? During the day, light colors are great. But in the evening a deeper, moodier shade can be very sexy. My room is painted with a dark blue-gray, and at night the color absorbs light and makes the walls feel farther away. It gives the room depth and richness. If you are working from home in your room during the day, which a lot of us are lately, you may want to stick with a lighter or brighter color. A pale peach or pink could be perfect for your existing pieces.
Q: We have an addition that used to be a sunroom but has been enclosed. It’s a long rectangle with two west-facing windows on the long wall and one on either end. We want to make it into a home office and I’m trying to decide which color to paint it. The room has dark oak floors and white trim, with wood breadboard on the ceiling and a natural stain. We’re not afraid to do something a little bold but we want to keep it similar to other colors in the house: Silver Sage from Restoration Hardware and Manchester Tan, Nelson Blue and Revere Pewter from Benjamin Moore. I’m considering Benjamin Moore’s Palladium Blue, but it might be too similar. I’d like to avoid gray since it’s so common right now and we already have it in a few of our other rooms. Any thoughts?
Vickery: Any room that has a lot of light is a great opportunity to use a bold or darker color. The high contrast to the white trim will make the windows stand out as an architectural feature and give the room depth. Navy is always a classic and would be great with your existing colors.
Q: I want to do some painting and light renovation. I live in a rowhouse in Washington, D.C., that’s been around forever. When I signed my lease, I remember signing some document about lead paint, which I don’t think we have but I can’t remember. Should I see if there is lead paint and remove it before I start painting? I’m a little nervous to do anything more than paint because I’m not familiar with what other potentially dangerous materials could be there. We definitely don’t have asbestos, though. How do you deal with that when renovating old homes?
McCormick: Lead and asbestos are scary in theory. But like everything, knowledge is power. Both of these things are relatively harmless if undisturbed. It’s when you start renovating that there is a chance of inhalation or, if you have kids or pets, possible ingestion. You can paint over old lead paint, but if you want to do any scraping or sanding, use proper protective equipment (more masks), or leave it to the professionals.
Q: My house was built in the 1950s and, while most of it has been updated, we still have a pink bathroom. The shower tiles are pink and the floor tile is a mix of pink, mauve and peach. The walls are gray-blue, which doesn’t do much. How can I update it without doing a total renovation? I like the idea of preserving some of its heritage.
Vickery: I have a pink bathroom too. Because this is such a statement in the room, you have to decide you how much you love the color. Do you want the pink to really stand out, or let be subtle? Painting the bathroom white will allow the tile to stand out on its own and will be classic and simple while keeping the history. You can take the peach, pick a lighter tone and make the entire room the same palette. But blue is only going to contrast against the pink and make everything seem too bright.
Q: Our outdoor space is a blank slate. It’s just grass with no trees or bushes, but it faces the street so it needs to look nice and welcoming. What low-cost things could I do to increase its curb appeal? We’d hire painters and get larger windows if we had the money, but that’s out of the question for now.
McCormick: Adding trees and bushes will do a lot for curb appeal. I like adding a bench and some pretty hardscape, depending on the style of your house. Trees, flowers and bushes add so much curb appeal, and there is nothing like a fresh coat of paint. Save money and do it yourself.
Q: We have a weekend home with knotty pine walls on the main floor. What do you think of keeping them vs. painting them white?
Vickery: If you have real wood planking of any kind on a wall, I would highly recommend keeping it. If you do not like the wood, paint is an easy way to keep the texture but lose the contrast of knots and grain. Start with a wash if you’re undecided. It’s the best of both worlds; you can make the space calmer with the wash, but with a little texture and grain remaining.
Q: I like linoleum, but is it as durable as most of the tile available today?
McCormick: I really like linoleum. It’s been around for more than 100 years, is extremely durable and comes in a variety of colors.
Q: We have a great Frank Lloyd Wright-style house that was built in the 1950s. It’s a two-bedroom, two-bathroom house. We’re thinking about converting the loft to a bedroom. Is it worth it if we can’t put in a bathroom too?
Vickery: Three bedrooms to two bathrooms is a great ratio. I grew up in a three-bedroom, 1.5-bathroom house and our family is closer for it. There is nothing wrong with sharing and increased interaction with the people you live with. But I am a free-spirited designer. A real-estate agent would probably tell you that more is more with their strictly logical approach. I think it depends on whether you are remodeling for yourself and your needs, or if you’re remodeling to flip or sell. You should talk to a real estate agent if you’re looking for profit.
Q: While our home isn’t old, I have the almond/bone bathroom (toilet, tub, vanity top) that seems completely out of style. I’m not having anything redone soon because of the pandemic and I’m not thrilled with the waste of ripping out functional things. I have stone tile around the shower in a color similar to Farrow & Ball’s Red Earth. The walls are a warm yellow. I’m thinking of Red Earth walls for a monochrome look. Would it be too much? Should I do a lighter shade? I’m also considering painting the vanity, which is a red wood, with either Behr’s Abysse or Ocean Abyss paint.
Vickery: This is a tough one. I completely agree, I would not want workers in my home right now, and I would not want to waste perfectly good fixtures because they are not “the right color.” Almond and bone have gone out of style because they do not feel clean. We all want our home, especially kitchens and baths, to feel clean. Usually I would say to bring in gray tones to contrast the almond and make it feel whiter and brighter, but I am not sure that is going to work with your red tile. I would explore some warm gray tones and light grays that almost appear beige. The struggle is, if it is too brown then is does not feel crisp. If it is too gray it will contrast harshly against the red tile and make the red brighter and the walls will feel cold and industrial. Sample paints are your best friend in this case.