In Defense of Pink Bathrooms: Why You Should Think Before You Renovate
Pink bathrooms are back and better than ever. 'Save the Pink Bathrooms' founder Pam Kueber tells us why.
If you’ve ever stepped into an American home built in the 1940s or ‘50s, we're pretty sure we know what you saw: pink bathrooms. And we’re not just talking about a simple coat of rose quartz. We’re talking pink tile walls and flooring, pink tubs and even pink toilets.
And if the thought of these cotton-candy spaces sends you running for the nearest home improvement store, we’d like to ask you to reconsider. As it turns out, these bathrooms were once quintessential in midcentury homes, and now there’s a growing movement to save them. And whether it’s feelings of nostalgia or the desire to save money, more and more homebuyers are saying no to expensive renovations and instead choosing to see the pink as a plus.
Still not convinced? We spoke with Pam Kueber, the creator of the Save the Pink Bathrooms movement, and we think you might be surprised at what she has to say.
I Heart HGTV: Have you always loved the retro pink bathroom, or was there a distinct moment when you found your passion?
Pam Kueber: I have always been a lover of vintage homes and decor, but vintage pink bathrooms were not much in my consciousness…until they were. I’ve been blogging at RetroRenovation.com for more than eight years. Once I started communicating daily with other people living in post-war houses, I started to notice just how common pink bathrooms were. That led me to start researching the subject. Pretty quickly, I learned from a knowledgeable reader that the particular shade of pink so common in 1950s bathrooms had been given the colloquial names “Mamie Pink” and “First Lady Pink.” First Lady Mamie Eisenhower had loved the color so much that she used it throughout the White House — so much so that the press corps called it “The Pink Palace.” Pink bathrooms have a colorful — yes, I’d even say important — history within American interior design!
What events led to your decision to create the “Save the Pink Bathrooms” initiative?
PK: I believe that pink was the most popular color for bathroom tile in the 1950s. I estimate that pink bathrooms went into some five million American homes, maybe even 10 million. Before 2008, though, when I launched SaveThePinkBathrooms.com, pink bathrooms didn’t get much respect. Mind you, this was even before the Mad Men phenomenon, which also helped bring a real spotlight to the beauty in midcentury interior design. Recognizing the lack of scholarship about pink bathrooms, I thought it would be productive — and fun! — to call out the topic on its own little website. SaveThePinkBathrooms.com serves as a rallying point to call attention to how wonderful pink bathrooms really are, educating people about their history, and in the process, maybe helping to convince them to think twice before ripping them out.
What has the response been so far, and has it met your expectations?
PK: The response has been fabulous. My pink bathroom campaign has been featured in all kinds of media, including The New York Times and scores of online sites. It’s just a topic that makes people smile. Most importantly, I have many emails and story follow-ups from folks who tell me my plan worked. That is, they kind of hated their pink bathroom, went online to look for alternatives to redecorate or rip it out, but then they discovered the colorful history of pink bathrooms and came around full circle to loving their pink bathroom. Now they would never dream of ripping it out. I also hear from lots of people who are looking to buy midcentury houses, and an original pink bathroom is on their wish list. It’s all about education!
It seems you’ve found a passionate community around this movement. What are the next steps?
PK: Working with Wilsonart, we just launched seven new colorways of boomerang laminate. One of our colors is Retro Renovation® First Lady Pink — more resources to help save some more pink bathrooms!
What other trends have followed a similar rise and fall in popularity as the pink bathroom?
PK: Most interior design trends come in and out of favor in similar ways. Sometimes, it’s technological advances that drive design trends. More often, though, it’s marketers who want to attract us to new looks. People are very visual. We like to look at new things! Some of the other products from midcentury America that interest me include steel kitchen cabinets, the history of color trends and knotty pine. Don’t bad-mouth avocado, harvest gold, poppy or orange kitchen appliances to me! I like the underdogs. If someone suggests something is ugly, that incites me to research why someone — a whole design world even! — once thought it was beautiful. Our grandparents were not wrong about their design and color choices. They were just different, influenced by different marketing and the different fashions of different eras.
What thoughts go through your mind when you see a pink bathroom being replaced with a more current design?
PK: It’s all about forethought and perspective. If the bathroom was made from good-quality materials, is still totally safe, functional and serviceable, has been well-maintained, and you are not made of money, I really think you might want to go slow before ripping it out before you totally understand it. Mind you: Many of these vintage bathrooms were made with very high quality wall and floor tiles that would be very expensive to replicate today and in some cases cannot even be found any more. Tiles were often mud-set, which is also an expensive proposition to replicate today, if you can even find someone to do it. On the other hand, if the bathroom is worn, there are plumbing, safety or environmental issues, or if the functionality just isn’t there, do what you gotta do. Even then, I encourage my readers to, well, be nice about it. Recognize the love that likely went into designing and building that bathroom and the noble service it provided for so many years.
If you were upgrading a house right now for homeowners who wanted a more current style, what tips do you have for preserving the pink bathroom, while still making it fit with the rest of the home?
PK: The word "dated" gets thrown around a lot, but that word is being used imprecisely. Pretty much every design element of a house is "dated" — dated to the date it was popular.In 2026 or 2036, the flip-it TV shows of that day will likely disparagingly call your 2016 bathroom "dated," while sledgehammers are readied. It’s all a vicious fashion cycle. But, if I were upgrading (though who says today’s stuff is an upgrade to what they made in postwar America? You can’t beat mud-set tile!) a house for a homeowner who wanted a more 21st-century style, I might recommend preserving the expensive "fixed" parts of the bathroom: the wall and floor tile and probably the tub. Then, bring more contemporary design in with elements that don’t involve anything that can’t be reversed: a new vanity, mirror, lighting, paint or wallpaper, window treatments and towels.
Do you have any tried and true decorating tips for a classic pink bathroom?
PK: How about 99 design ideas? Yes, last year [Retro Renovation managing editor] Kate and I got epic and came up with 99 designs for a pink bathrooms — lots of ideas depending on what color trim tile you have. We followed up with an infographic that would be useful for any color bathroom: A foolproof guide to choosing bathroom colors - five steps to success. Coordinating design in a small space like a bathroom is all about starting with your predominant color, identifying an accent, tying them together in a pattern, and then editing.
If you could talk to a homeowner who was considering renovating their pink bathroom right now, what would you say?
PK: I would say: Go slow. Before grabbing for that sledgehammer, take a bit of time to get to know your pink bathroom, its history and its possibilities. Once you learn all about Mamie Eisenhower and the Pink Palace and how so many people today are searching to find a time capsule house, so they can have their own personal pink potty, you just might come full circle and embrace the pink! Retro is in! We think you are lucky!