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Our reporter gets advice from design experts for simple things to do to liven up an outdated bathroom.

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Distract From It
"Take attention away from an ugly object by calling attention to other things," says McCauley. Make a shower curtain from sheer material with a little glitter in it so your eye goes to that gleam and not to the tile.

HGTV design expert Joan Kohn, author of Joan Kohn's It’s Your Bed and Bath: Hundreds of Beautiful Design Ideas, saw one "very ordinary and plain bathroom" in which the owner had used broken tiles to create a mosaic on the floor of a fish spouting water. "It steals the focus," Kohn says.

Similarly, murals on the walls or painted faux finishes can draw attention away from the tile or floor or fixtures. "You want to do anything you can to draw attention away from an ugly floor," says McCauley, because people tend to look at the floor first. "Our eyes look down first without our even noticing it. That’s why women have nine million shoes, they know this."

Another idea is to develop a motif for the bathroom, says McCauley, who recently finished working on a kids’ bathroom that he turned into a jungle, complete with tiles with painted bugs and grasscloth wallpaper.

Go With It
The designers’ favorite recommendation, by far, was to simply embrace your bathroom’s ugliness, no matter how dated, and run with it. "Be authentic to the truth of the design," says Kohn. "If you have art-deco black and mint green tile in your bathroom, that might really freak you out until you add more black deco accessories and an Erte print to go with it. Celebrate what you’ve got!"

"If you go with it you can make it look like it’s really kind of funky," says Adams. If you remove the pink sink in your 1950s burgundy and pink bathroom and add a white sink, for instance, it’s only going to make everything else look pinker. "Even if you really dislike it, you have to go with it," Adams says.

For example, add design elements that say, "I’m into this." Look for accessories such as posters from the same era as your bathroom, vintage magazine covers or a 1950s chenille bathrobe to hang from a hook on the wall or door.

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