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8 Ways to Update Your Vintage Tile Bathroom

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Last Updated on May 1, 2024 by lindseymahoney

Bathrooms built in the mid-century were bold and homeowners were definitely not afraid of color. From yellow tile to blue tile, and all the colors in between, retro bathrooms were full of personality!

Preserving vintage tile bathrooms with these easy updates | Building Bluebird

Whether it’s hexagon tile, square tiles, tile borders, or the timeless subway tile, midcentury bathrooms have a classic style that can be updated without a full bathroom renovation. The classic vintage patterns of the old tile give these bathrooms the character that makes them fun and unique today.

While many of these retro bathrooms have been replaced over the years with a plain white bathroom, many homeowners are beginning to appreciate the bold bathroom styles from 50+ years ago.

Retro Bathroom Makeover

In 2018, we purchased a flip house and I was determined to restore the 1950s vintage blue tile bathroom to its original glory. The bathroom included blue wall tile as well as square, blue floor tile.

Preserving vintage tile bathrooms with these easy updates | Building Bluebird

We updated this blue bathroom for less than $600. A full gut and renovation, like replacing the bathroom floor, would have cost us at least $5,000.

Choosing to keep the original tile in your vintage bathroom helps to preserve the history of your home. It also preserves the money in your wallet!

Homeowners who are determined to preserve their vintage tile bathrooms can make these easy updates without giving up modern amenities in bathrooms built today.

9+ Easy Updates for Your Vintage Tile Bathroom

Updating an old bathroom with original tiles can be a fun project that blends the charm of the past with modern aesthetics.

Here are some cosmetic updates you can consider:

1 | Grout Renewal

Preserving vintage tile bathrooms with these easy updates | Building Bluebird

One of the easiest ways to give vintage bathrooms a nice refresh is by cleaning the tile and grout.

I like to use a homemade grout cleaner and a toothbrush to brighten the grout, especially if it’s white! Scrubbing the bathroom tiles will really make them shine. If you enjoy satisfying cleaning projects, you will love scrubbing these old tiles!

Oftentimes, the vintage tiles will have paint splatters or tough grime that can’t be removed with a toothbrush/scrub brush.

Preserving vintage tile bathrooms with these easy updates | Building Bluebird

I recommend utilizing a razor blade scraper to remove any gunk that is stuck to the tile.

2 | Paint the Bathroom Walls

Preserving vintage tile bathrooms with these easy updates | Building Bluebird

The quickest way to update a space is with paint!

My brother and his wife restored an old, colonial home in Ohio and brought the vintage tile bathroom back to life! The black and white floor tile in a basketweave pattern is such a classic look at homeowners love!

I love how the dark, moody paint on the walls brings out the black border above the white, subway tiles.

3 | Hang Fun Wallpaper

Source | Southern Living Design by Whitney McGregor Photography by Laurey Glenn

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.

4 | Add Modern Functions to the Vintage Bathroom

Design by Kate Pierce Vintage

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

Design by Katie Hodges Design | Source My Domaine

Hanging modern artwork is a great way to balance the vintage 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!

6 | Hang 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

Preserving vintage tile bathrooms with these easy updates | Building Bluebird

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 vintage sink, but it was in terrible shape.

The knobs were completely rusted and the plumbers recommended replacing the sink altogether.

I chose a vintage style pedestal sink that was appropriate to the era of the original bathroom.

Preserving vintage tile bathrooms with these easy updates | Building Bluebird

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

*Check out the awesome 1960s bathroom vanity makeover from our kids’ bathroom renovation!

8 | Apply New Caulk

How to update your vintage tile bathroom

If a vintage bathroom needs a refresh, there is a very good chance it needs a fresh application of caulk too. A clean bead of caulk around the seam of the original tub and wall tile instantly updates the shower area.

Use a caulk removal tool to take out the old caulk and apply the new caulk where necessary.

9 | Enhance Lighting

Source | Yellow Brick Home

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 light the bathroom.

Source | Patticake Wagner

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

10 | Add Greenery

Bring in some plants to add a touch of freshness and natural beauty to the space. Plants can soften the look of the bathroom and add a pop of color.

11 | Update Flooring

If the flooring in the bathroom is not original and doesn’t match the vintage tiles, consider updating it with a new floor that complements the tiles while providing a cohesive look to the space.

By incorporating these cosmetic updates, you can breathe new life into your vintage tile bathroom while preserving its original charm and character.

Additional Ideas and Bathroom Decor to Modernize Your Vintage Bathroom

  • Add accessories like a glass soap dispenser or a basket for towels
  • Candles
  • Swap out the old toilet for a modern, low-flow option
  • Update the toilet handle for a modern look
  • Add a fun bath mat
  • Replace shower curtains and curtain rod
  • Replace the mirror

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