The apartment’s location is just perfect. The layout is charming. Even the price is reasonable. This place is almost too good to be true, you think.
And then, you see the bathroom.
Tiles the color of pink baby aspirin. Or fixtures in a shade of green that just screams “mint chocolate chip.” Or perhaps a white one that has turned dingy and yellow with age? Call it “vintage.” Call it “retro.” Or, just be honest and call it OLD.
Old Bathrooms, New Advice
Your first instinct may be to rip out the outdated bath, right down to the studs, but that isn’t always practical. For one thing, many rental buildings won’t allow it; for another, do you really want to spend $30,000 re-doing a bathroom you intend to use for just two years?
Even if you own the home, that bathroom renovation may have to wait a while. There’s the leaky roof that has to be fixed IMMEDIATELY, and the kitchen that has to be redone before you can scramble an egg or brew a pot of tea. Looks like you may be living with that Pepto-Bismol-pink powder room for a while.
But no matter how outdated your bathroom, there is always a way to make it look fresh and fun. With the right color paint on the walls, the right accessories and — most important of all — the proper attitude, you can take your bathroom from outdated to outstanding.
Here’s how some of our favorite designers would update some of yesteryear’s challenging color combos.
Pink Fixtures with Black-and-White Tiles
“What’s not to love here?” asks New York-based designer Roderick N. Shade (www.roderickshade.com). “Pink, black and white could be a very HOT color scheme. I would take inspiration from Dior’s ‘new look’ in fashion from the mid-to-late 1950s, which featured these exact colors. I would think of a very shiny, wet-look wall covering or paint all the walls black; perhaps a silver ceiling would be good too. I would probably make a big shower curtain that started at the ceiling in a strong black, white and pink pattern,” adds Roderick, author of Harlem Style (Stewart, Taboori & Chang, 2002). “Then, with lots of pink and silver accessories this bath could be great!”
Mint Green Fixtures with Yellow Tile
“All this bath needs is purple!” says Roderick. “Paint all the walls purple, get a green and purple striped shower curtain that goes all the way up to the ceiling, and put in purple area rugs and towels.”
For another take on this 1960s classic, designer Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz (www.bnodesign.com) suggests a monochromatic approach: “Paint the entire room yellow including the ceiling,” says Noriega-Ortiz, author of Emotional Rooms (Atria, 2007). “Hang a crystal chandelier in the center. Every accessory in the room should be yellow — everything! I believe that abundance of one color always looks right,” he says.
Brown Tile with Beige Fixtures
Though your beige-speckled tiles may shout “’70s,” an earth-toned bathroom offers plenty of modern possibilities. “I’d paint the walls a khaki strie pattern,” says designer Barclay Fryery (www.askbarclay.com), “and buy khaki towels with chocolate monograms. Get a brown shower curtain with khaki stripes, and hang a chocolate waffle-weave bathrobe.” For a dose of whimsy, Barclay would add blown-up photos of Hershey chocolate bar wrappers in 12 sizes. “Think Warhols,” says Barclay. “Your very own couture art.”
Want to add some color? Use the beige as a blank canvas and go with whatever bright, bold hue your heart desires. “Depending on your taste,” says Roderick, “you could add red, turquoise, magenta — any of those would work well here. Just make sure the lighting is good to keep the bath from looking drab.”
White Subway Wall Tiles with White Hexagonal Tile Floors
With a clean, white backdrop, the sky’s the limit, says Roderick; there is almost nothing you can’t do in a vintage white-tiled bath.
For a clean, modern look, Noriega-Ortiz suggests painting all surfaces with white epoxy paint to make everything one color. “That way,” he says, “you can make the room’s story be about textures. Do the accessories all in white as well,” he says, relying on different textures and finishes to provide visual interest.
If you’d like to add some color, Barclay recommends a dove-gray ceiling. Or, Roderick suggests, “Try a light icy blue color. But with such simple existing elements,” Roderick adds, “really, any color would look good. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a classic ‘New York-style’ bath: just plain black and white with subway tiles — simple and clean.”
Outdated to Outstanding
Whether you’re facing one of the aforementioned “classic” bathroom color schemes or another vintage favorite (cantaloupe-colored floor tiles, a powder-blue bathtub) here are some quick tricks for making everything old look new again.
“If you have white floor tiles,” says Fryery, “have them sandblasted and freshly grouted with black grout on the floor, to keep the space from looking dirty. Have brightly bound books on one wall as a library since we all like to sit and read in this room.”
Whether you’re reading or putting on your makeup, good lighting is key; it’s also an opportunity to add some style. Be sure to choose lighting that makes a statement, rather than just illuminating the space, says designer Amie Weitzman (www.amieweitzman.com). Go for something retro, she suggests, like Nelson bubble lighting from Modernica.
“Whatever tile colors and fixtures you’re stuck with,” says Amie, “you can always contrast those outdated colors with cool black-and-white wallpaper or some black and white artwork.”
Or, says Roderick, you can accept the colors, enjoy them and just have some fun. “Baths lend themselves to going way over the top,” he says. “We don’t spend a lot of time in bathrooms, so a strong jolt of color here can be invigorating — go for it! The key is enjoying what you have and not trying too hard to change it into something it’s not.”
And, for goodness’ sake, says Roderick, don’t take your bathroom decor (or yourself) too seriously. “This is decorating,” he says. “It’s not negotiations for world peace. Remember: It is supposed to be fun.”