A staff writer for the well-loved lifestyle blog A Beautiful Mess, Laura Gummerman boomeranged back to Pittsburgh with her 5-year-old daughter, Lola, and her husband, musician and Twenty One Pilots guitarist Todd Gummerman, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Laura shares her projects on her popular instagram account, @Gummergal, and her own blog, gummergal.com.
You can take the girl out of Pittsburgh, but you can’t take the Pittsburgh out of the girl, am I right? Where in the region did you grow up — and what made you decide to move back?
I grew up in five different houses, but they were all in the North Hills area of town, so I consider myself a North Hills gal through and through. I actually never planned on moving back (mostly due to the winter weather, honestly — my husband and I hate being cold), but we had our daughter five years ago while we were living in Nashville, Tennessee, and missed being near my family with a little one around. We also moved during the fall of 2020, with COVID in full swing, so life just felt very isolated and uncertain being far from family.
Were you searching for a Mid-Century Modern house in particular, or did you just happen to fall in love with this home? What were your first thoughts upon seeing it? And what did it look like at the time?
We actually saw the house pop up a few times on our searches and loved the obvious mid-century vibe of the front, but we always passed over it without really looking at it since the square footage didn’t show there was also a basement. Once we realized it had a semi-finished basement, and that it was 4 minutes from my parent’s house, we decided to view it over FaceTime; it seemed a lot more interesting than it looked in the photos. We love mid-century homes, and the huge windows, slanted flat roof and inside/outside fireplace really gave us some mini-Frank Lloyd Wright vibes. As the inspector of the home said, it had a lot of issues due to age, neglect and DIY projects done poorly, so we really had our work cut out for us — but the original vibe of the home, and the property it’s set on, made us decide it was worth a rehab.
Your house looks so fun now! How would you describe your vision for it?
My last home had a mostly ’60s vibe, but I wanted to add some more ’70s into the mix for this home. I focused on a mostly warm color palette, with pops of camel brown and mustard, daisy prints, and rounded arched accents, and then mixed in more trendy items like all-gold hardware, fluted décor and lots of millennial pink.
What were some of the renovations you undertook? How did you determine which project you wanted to (or needed to) do first?
We replaced a poorly installed tile flooring that covered the majority of the main floor with wide-board white oak in a light wash to brighten the space. The tile wasn’t that old but was popping up all over the place and breaking apart so that we had to wear shoes in the house to avoid cutting our feet, and all the lines of grout were loose and would get sucked out every time I tried to vacuum. Let’s just say getting the white oak in was quite an ordeal, but a total game changer for the house.
We had to wait to fully do the kitchen makeover until we did all the floors, but replacing everything in the dated kitchen (and then, eventually, the main bathroom) also really elevated the house. We did leave some cool original elements like the Weldtex combed plywood ceiling panels that are in the living room, hallway and main bedroom. We didn’t know what they were at first, but we needed to replace several of them due to old water damage. My mom found the name by looking online so we could hunt down a company that still replicates them. It was quite a job to get all the panels looking good again, but the checkerboard pattern that’s made from the combed stripes facing different directions is unique and fun.
Do you have a favorite room?
I do love the living room with its giant windows and — even though I’m not a “winter person” — it’s a great place to sit during the holidays when it snows near the gas fireplace we installed. It really feels like you are in a snow globe. My mom also helped me handpaint daisy wallpaper in my daughter’s room. That was the first room of the house to be done, so it was a really happy haven from all the renovation chaos happening all around us. I still love spending time in that room.
What do you have planned next?
We finally got the upstairs in great shape so we just started moving onto some outdoor spaces (my mom has been our landscaper — she’s amazing), and we are updating the basement so it can be used fully and match the vibe of the upstairs.
As a writer for A Beautiful Mess, you often share DIY tips and projects with readers. What DIY projects did you undertake for your new home?
I did several fun DIY wallpaper projects with either paint or custom-cut removable wall decals to create a wallpaper look that’s easy to remove or paint over. I also did a board- and-batten project in our stairwell that really makes just a simple staircase feel special. Adding a custom arched trim design to the interior doors also really elevated a simple slab door, and I built-in a double wardrobe into my office that also has a complementary design for a bit of a Parisian flair. Adding a channel-tufted pink velvet banquette (with storage underneath) to our kitchen also gave an empty corner a purpose and adds some whimsy to the space.
How do you like being back in the ’Burgh? What’s the reaction from your husband since he didn’t grow up here?
Well, we haven’t magically started loving winter, that’s for sure, but it is great to be around family and some of our best friends again and get to do holidays and birthdays together. We are hoping to be able to venture to more places and explore the city again as life returns to normal.
Pandemics and full-home renovations mean you don’t go many places besides the hardware store, but now that we’ve reached a good spot with our home we want to get out more and reacquaint ourselves with the city … and I’ll need some Pamela’s pancakes pretty soon, so I’m sure we’ll at least be in Shadyside. Todd grew up in Illinois, so he’s used to having all the seasons like we do here and he was actually the one who started to think about moving here in the first place. He’s a Pittsburgh fan in general.
OK, one last question: How did you become a blogger? And what about the moniker Gummergal — that’s a play on your last name, right?
Yes, it is! I just kind of thought of something short and unique for an online handle about 10 years ago and it just seemed like kind of a funny play on the name, and now it’s sort of become my nickname among friends as well. I started blogging 11 years ago, back when every person I knew had their own blog, and I was simultaneously (and single-handedly, I might add) fixing up the first home Todd and I bought together in Springfield, Missouri. Todd was on a four-month tour at the time, so I moved us in and renovated the house while he was gone; he basically came back to a totally different home at the end of the tour. He says it was like his own live HGTV show! He loved it.
One of my friends, Elsie Larson, had a really successful blog with her sister, Emma Chapman, and Elsie was so impressed with what I did with the house that she asked me to be one of their first full-time employees — and I’ve been blogging for A Beautiful Mess for 10 years now. I feel like that’s not helpful career advice to say “already be friends with someone who can offer you a great job,” but I didn’t know there was any possibility of a job with them, and Elsie didn’t know I had those skills until she saw me doing my best on something I loved just to simply please myself. So, do what you love and do it well, because you never know who’s watching!