Redecorating a '50s Bathroom

Our reporter gets advice from design experts for simple things to do to liven up an outdated bathroom.

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Paint the walls a color that is as funky as your tile color. "Don’t fight it because you won’t win," says Adams. "Find a color that balances but is equally strange-looking." Some suggestions: With gray and pink tile, tint the walls gray and use pink roses to pull some of that color out. If you’ve got 1970s chocolate brown tile, use latte or cappuccino colors on the walls instead of the orange so popular then.

The best color schemes are either analogous (next to each other on the color wheel), like yellow and green, or complementary (opposite each other on the color wheel, like teal and orange. McCauley suggests staying in medium to light tones on walls because dark values – and certain colors – can change skin tones and mess up the way you apply your makeup.

A few bathrooms, though, are definitely too ugly to celebrate and should be ripped out or covered up as much as possible. "The worst is really bad ‘70s remodeling," says Kohn.

Clean It Up
There are two big issues with ugly bathrooms, says Adams. "One is ugly tile color. The other is dirt." Often an ugly bathroom is mainly a dirty bathroom. With some dirt, even the most diligent scrubbing won’t bring the shine back. Filthy tile and grout, for instance, often have to be torn out. Serious mold and mildew problems also require replacement.

But if the bathroom is in basically good shape, as mine is, simply cleaning up and eliminating clutter can make a huge difference. "Some of us still have the hairspray we used at the prom," says Kohn. Her suggestion: Pack as if you’re going on a trip. Then go back to the bathroom and eliminate everything that’s not in your suitcase. Keep bottles outside the bathroom; give everyone a small travel case to keep their toiletries in and then keep those travel cases in the bedroom, not the bath. Find some beautiful bottles and fill them with your hand soap and shampoo and toss out the manufacturer’s packaging.

As for my ugly bathroom, I’m learning to love it. I’m going to add some sheer curtains to the window and a sheer shower curtain to cover up the ugly frosted-glass sliding shower door. I’m going to paint the walls a color that celebrates the yellow tile—maybe lilac, maybe a soft shade of magenta. I have some early 1950s calendars that I’m going to frame and hang on the walls, and I’m already scouring e-Bay for a vintage 1950s chenille bathrobe to hang from a hook.

As Kohn points out, "ugly is often synonymous with unloved. Sometimes a bathroom in a modest home should not be overly decorated. It should be clean and modestly appointed and it doesn’t have to make a design statement. We’re so addicted to style and design that sometimes we overdo it. Sometimes a modest room calls for simplicity, and that’s the best statement of all."

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