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8 Ways to Update Your Vintage Tile Bathroom

Bathrooms built in the mid-century were bold and homeowners were definitely not afraid of color. While many of these retro bathrooms have been replaced over the years, many homeowners are beginning to appreciate the bold bathroom styles from 50+ years ago. Homeowners who are determined to preserve their vintage tile bathrooms without giving up modern amenities in bathrooms built today.

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In 2018, we purchased a flip house and I was determined to restore the 1950s vintage blue tile bathroom to its original glory. The tiles were in pretty good shape, but they were covered in tar and smoke from the previous owner smoking indoors for years. Here is what she looked like when we became the proud new homeowners.

Preserving vintage tile bathrooms with these easy updates | Building Bluebird

And that same original blue tile bathroom after a little bit of elbow grease and love.

Preserving vintage tile bathrooms with these easy updates | Building Bluebird

Choosing to keep many of the original features in your vintage tile bathroom helps to preserve the history of your home. It also preserves the money in your wallet! We updated the blue bathroom for less than $600. A full gut and renovation would have cost us at least $5,000.

The history of a home is what makes it unique and I applaud homeowners who choose to preserve these beautiful mid-century bathrooms!

Here are 9 easy ways to update your vintage tile bathroom for a fresh and modern look!

9 Easy Updates for Your Vintage Tile Bathroom

1 | Clean the Grout & Tiles

One of the easiest ways to give vintage bathrooms a nice refresh is by cleaning the tiles and grout. I like to use a homemade grout cleaner and toothbrush to brighten the grout, especially if it’s white! If you enjoy satisfying cleaning projects, you will love scrubbing these old tiles!

Preserving vintage tile bathrooms with these easy updates | Building Bluebird

Oftentimes the vintage tiles will have paint splatters or tough grime that can’t be removed with a toothbrush/scrub brush. I recommend utilizing a razor blade scraper to remove any gunk that is stuck to the tile.

Preserving vintage tile bathrooms with these easy updates | Building Bluebird

2 | Paint the Bathroom Walls

The quickest way to update a space is with paint! For our vintage bathroom at the flip house, I chose a calming white that really let the blue tiles pop. Depending on the style you are looking to achieve, any paint color could work!

My brother and his wife restored an old, colonial home in Ohio and brought the vintage tile bathroom back to life! I love how the dark paint on the walls brings out the black ribbon around the top of the tile.

Preserving vintage tile bathrooms with these easy updates | Building Bluebird

3 | Hang Fun Wallpaper

Hanging wallpaper in a bathroom with original fixtures or original colored tiles is a great way to modernize the space! The big fear with wallpaper in a bathroom is the shower steam! These days there are durable wallpaper products to withstand steam and exhaust fans remove moisture quickly from bathrooms.

Here is an adorable little bathroom with the original mint toilet and sink.

Design by Whitney McGregor | Source Southern Living

And another beautiful bathroom with that same Sandberg wallpaper (different color) above the vintage blue tile. The blue-on-blue design really gives this bathroom personality.

Design by Shawn Smith | Source Southern Living

4 | Add Modern Functions to the Vintage Bathroom

By “modern functions”, I really mean, include all of the standard elements that you would include in a new bathroom. The vintage bathroom at our flip house did not have an exhaust fan or outlets to code. The exhaust fan now lets the steam out of the bathroom preventing mold and other moisture issues.

Adding proper electrical outlets not only improves safety, but it allows a retro bathroom to function properly. Replacing plumbing fixtures, like the showerhead can improve the function of the bathroom and update the look and feel of your shower.

5 | Hang Modern Art

Hanging modern artwork is a great way to balance the “vintage-y” vibe that comes with colorfully tiled bathrooms. Bathrooms are the perfect spot to hang unique artwork that brings a little humor to your home, too!

Design b Katie Hodges Design | Source My Domaine

6 | Use White Towels

Fresh white towels create a spa-like vibe in retro bathrooms and let the colorful tile shine. I love how the crisp towels look against the light blue tile.

7 | Replace the Vanity

Replacing the vanity in a vintage bathroom can transform the way the space looks and functions. In our vintage blue bathroom, I really wanted to save the original sink, but it was in terrible shape. The knobs were completely rusted and the plumbers recommended replacing the sink altogether.

I chose an era-appropriate pedestal sink that looked like it could have been the original when the mid-century bathroom was built.

Of course, if the original vanity functions properly and fits with the original design, definitely keep it!

8 | Apply New Caulk

If a vintage bathroom needs a refresh, there is a very good chance it needs a fresh application of caulk too. Use a caulk removal tool to take out the old caulk and apply the new caulk where necessary.

9 | Lighting Update

If the bathroom includes a cool, original light fixture, take it down and give it a good cleaning. Replace light bulbs with the proper requirements to sufficiently lighten the bathroom.

If the light fixture isn’t anything special, replace it with a new fixture. You can lean into the retro style and pick something that fits the era of the bathroom, or create a juxtaposition with a modern fixture.

Source | Yellow Brick Home
Source | Patticake Wagner

Additional Ideas to Modernize Your Vintage Bathroom

  • Add accessories like a glass soap dispenser or a basket for towels
  • Candles
  • Fresh flowers in a vase or a small potted plant
  • Swap out the old toilet for a modern, low-flow option
  • Update the toilet handle for a modern look
  • Add a fun bath mat
  • Update the curtain and curtain rod
  • Replace the mirror
Design by Kate Pierce Vintage

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