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Our reporter gets advice from design experts for simple things to do to liven up an outdated bathroom.

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On the plus side, the upstairs bathroom in our new house is a good size (10 feet long and almost 5 feet wide) and has a big window that lets in lots of sun. On the minus side, where to begin?

Let's start with the plaid wallpaper. It's not just plaid, it's garish plaid, in intense shades of black, brown, yellow and teal green. It's a large plaid. A loud plaid. The kind of plaid that actually makes you dizzy if you stare at it too long.

Then there's the tile. I assume it's the original 1950s tile. It's a shade of pale greenish yellow that, as my daughter says, is exactly the color of what you do in the bathroom. The tub, sink and toilet are all the same lovely color.

Let's not forget the sink! The sink stands on two wobbly metal legs, and has a faucet so tiny you literally can't fit a Dixie cup under it to get a drink of water. To top it all off, someone who was clearly just discovering the joys of a caulk gun has smeared thick, unsightly ropes of white caulk on every possible surface around the tub and toilet.

Our current budget doesn't include a major bathroom remodel. I'd like to make over our ugly bathroom without ripping up the tile or replacing all the fixtures, but wonder if that’s really possible. Here’s what several designers and design experts had to say:

Hide It
"If there’s something about a room that’s obtrusive, one of the best ways to deal with it is to hide the darn thing somehow," says Mark McCauley, a designer and author of Color Therapy at Home, Real Life Solutions for Adding Color to Your Life. But how do you hide yards of yellow-green tile?

It is possible to paint over tile, as long as it’s not next to the shower or tub or in any area where it gets wet. "It really comes out quite well," says designer Sue Adams, of Sue Adams Interiors in Andover, Mass., who suggests hiring a pro to do the job. Products such as Tile Doc are made specifically to cover ceramic tile, and ideas for painting tiles are available on many websites, including HGTV.com.

As far as hiding the fixtures, a less than picturesque sink can easily be transformed with the addition of a fabric skirt, or even PVC pipe, which can be painted or upholstered and then used to cover wobbly metal legs, says McCauley. Problematic bathroom floors are one of the easiest elements to change; they can be covered with carpet or laminate flooring, or even linoleum, which is making a comeback.

Still, hiding your bathroom’s ugliness should probably be your last choice. "No matter what you do to cover one thing, another ugly thing is going to pop up," says Adams. "You can put shirred fabric around the sink but then you’ve got the ugly tub and toilet. You’ve either got to cover everything completely, or don’t do it at all."

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