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Retro revival bathrooms

We are hoping to officially kick off work on a full home renovation in the next month of two and and we’ve got an interesting design challenge on our hands.

We are going to bring this house to a completely blank slate out of necessity, but I really don’t want it to feel like it was completely remodeled. I know this is a lofty goal because in reality there will be very few original details left in the end, but I still want this house to feel like it has old bones and original soul. 

Like many people, I grew up with a monochromatic tiled bathroom and I have a sentimental soft spot for the retro style. This make the bathroom the easiest place for me to start thinking about classic mid century design. I’m not going for the chic mid century modern designs that are so popular these days, but the familiar monochromatic pastels that are a timestamp from the 1950s in America. 

Montgomery Ward Fall & Winter Catalog 1958

In my quest to convince myself to go with my impulse and put “dated” bathrooms in a freshly renovated house, I decided to read up about the history of the 1950’s bathroom.

I learned that the colorful bathrooms of the 1950’s were a direct expression of the optimism Americans felt for their future after the end of World War II, which is a sentiment I love and can 100% get behind in my own home. Design and decor are closely intertwined with world events, inventions, and developments—so it is no surprise that things were so bright and colorful when the times were good. 

Bathrooms have always expressed our national mood. Is it any wonder that bathroom colors moved to browns, taupes and more muted colors beginning in the turbulent 1960’s and depressing economic times of the 1970’s. Then in the prosperous 1980’s everything was bright brass and gold to symbolize the influx of money and opportunity again.

Scott Sidler, The Craftsman Blog
Photo by Jacqueline Marque via apartmenttherapy.com

The colorful bathrooms (with pink being the most popular!) were at peak popularity between 1946 and 1961.

Our house was built in 1959 and actually did have a pink bathroom that was “updated” with white paint 🙈, which is all I really need to know to go forth with all of my colorful bathroom dreams.

1961 KOHLER OF KOHLER vintage magazine advertisement.

I’m moving forward with my dreams of retro revival bathrooms, and I’m starting with mood boards! I’m leaning towards the direction of 50’s inspired with pops of color, but not full blown retro. I want these rooms to feel like there were elements that were always in the house, but tastefully updated over time. Seems easy enough, right? 

The Blue Bathroom

There are three bathrooms in the new house and I’m starting with the smallest—The Blue Bathroom. I want this room to be floor to ceiling tile, probably blue on the bottom and white on the top, but potentially full blue walls. The floor will be a bit more vintage-y with mosaic hex tiles in black and white marble. This bathroom will primarily be used for guests, and I always think a small room is a fun place to go wild, so this is going to be the boldest room in the house.

The White Bathroom

The White Bathroom is going to be a little more classic than the blue bathroom with white subway tile and thin black accents. That leaves plenty of room for funky pattern play on the floors. I’m sure I’ll be sourcing colorful hex tiles and playing with pattern options for many months before I land on one. 

The Main Bathroom

The Main Bathroom is part of the owner’s suite. I want to stay consistent with subway tile usage, but add a little bit of luxury by using marble wall tiles. I’m not confident with any of the other finishes I have selected at this point, but at the very least it flows well with the other two bathrooms! 

I’m excited to see how my retro bathroom ideas evolve and I’m especially excited to see them come to life. What do you think? Would you put a retro bathroom in? Or would you be ripping it out? 

5 Comments

  1. So fun… I love the boards! I seem to already feel invested in this 🤣

    • I’m so excited to start to bring it these to life!

  2. I have white with gold flecked spots on my tile and a grey bathtub and toilet. What would you do with that? The gold flecked tiles are in excellent condition , but not very retro. I love the design for the blue bathroom. Where did you find the medicine cabinet.? It looks like what I have. I enjoy your blog so much and can’t wait to see what you do with your new house.

    • Ooo I’m not sure what I’d do with gold flecked tiles! Do you want to highlight them or tone them down? The medicine cabinet is from west elm! They have some delightfully retro options!


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