5 decor concepts from ugly vintage bathrooms that I'm totally stealing

January 7 | Guest post by Dootsie Bug

Don't scoff at that "ugly" vintage bathroom. They have a lot they can teach us about decorating. Here are five things that our resident Oprah, Dootsie, is stealing from vintage bathroom design.

Have fun playing with colors. (Photo courtesy of Redfin.com)
Have fun playing with colors. (Photo courtesy of Redfin.com)

1. There's no need to be literal

Where I grew up, it's totally on-style to pick a room's theme by its purpose. Kitchens, for example, are often decked out with apples or chickens (and eggs.) But take a look at most vintage bathrooms, and you might notice that their décor is more focused on carrying out a colour palette or pattern than some sort of elaborate theme. It's great to be inspired by a theme, but there's no need to make it so obvious.

Hello patterned wallpaper! (Photo courtesy of Redfin.com)
Hello patterned wallpaper! (Photo courtesy of Redfin.com)

2. Play with patterns

The caretakers of vintage bathrooms sometimes went overboard with wild wallpapers and tile arrangements. We could learn a lot from that adventurous spirit! Bathrooms are usually among the smallest spaces in the home, making them a perfect test lab for new painting techniques or wallpaper prints. Obviously, patterns have a place in all parts of the home, but if you're feeling a bit sheepish, try it in this small space first.

Photo courtesy of Apartment Therapy.
Photo courtesy of Apartment Therapy.

3. Plant life

Vintage bathrooms have all kinds of green matter growing inside. It gives a certain lushness and liveliness that only organic material can provide. Sometimes, vintage bathrooms just feature a single potted plant while others have whole built-in plant beds. Even if they're silk, it still feels refreshing.

How many different tiles can you count in this bathroom? They're even around the windows and door frames! (Photo courtesy of Redfin.com)
How many different tiles can you count in this bathroom? They're even around the windows and door frames! (Photo courtesy of Redfin.com)

4. Take a walk on the tiled side

The wet environment of a steamy shower makes the use of tile a smart choice, but vintage bathrooms were rarely shy with using this fabulous building material! They look beautiful on the floor, up the walls and even outside of the bathroom. And obviously, the more wild the tile, the better.

Boomerang mirror, square tiles, diamond-patterned curtains, oval sink, etc. (Photo courtesy of Pinterest)
Boomerang mirror, square tiles, diamond-patterned curtains, oval sink, etc. (Photo courtesy of Pinterest)

5. Geometry lessons: Lines, squares, circles, boomerangs and more!

Vintage bathrooms feature all sorts of strange shapes. Clever use of geometry can maximize the space (ever seen a mid-century corner tub?) or change the feel of the space. Either way, clever shapes always feel unique and add visual interest.

Got any vintage bathroom-inspired decor tips that YOU'VE stolen over the years?

  1. All the photos of the coloured sinks and tubs are making me sad that we had to tear out our Ming green sink last week. Such a shame it was rusted out and chipped beyond repair! Why are all bathroom sets white these days?!

    10 agree
  2. Looking at the photos I want to add "don't be afraid of colour" and mourn a bit the possibilities of the contractor beige tile in my bathroom that is so achingly neutral I can't even pair a brightly coloured shower curtain with it.

    5 agree
    • Have you tried using accessories that include a spot of beige or brown? Chances are that it will be a bit less POW than you'd hoped for, but being such a large area, it can make colourful coordinating accessories make more sense.
      I don't know how beige your beige is, but I would love any of these in any of the over-beige bathrooms I'm familiar with. Bonus? Sequins.

      2 agree
      • One of those curtains comes in "beige" and would work perfectly in my bathroom! Except I'm sure my husband would not be thrilled to take a shower behind a sequined shower curtain…

        • Tell him, "too bad."
          LOL, sorry, I'm famously unsympathetic to peoples' love of blandness. My bae was pretty neutral (more apathetic than conservative, though) in decor before I moved in, but has adjusted to my quest to spread color, pattern, and glitter everywhere I go.

          2 agree
      • Ooooo, these are pretty!!!! I'd love to have one in my bathroom but unfortunately get spooked and need to have sightlines so I only have clear plastic shower curtains.

        1 agrees
        • Haha, I totally understand. I had to watch Psycho for a class in college, and then right afterwards as I was taking a shower one of my dorm-mates started playing the theme over the sound system we had in the bathrooms. I was jumpy for two weeks of showers afterwards, and prefer to shower when the sun's still up now.

          1 agrees
    • Oh Lawd, I love me a bathtub. I always dreamt of having a bathroom with both a tub and a standalone shower. That, my child mind declared, would be the pinnacle of luxury.

      12 agree
      • I agree completely! For me, I'd want the tub to be a clawfoot tub or other deep soaking tub and the shower to be glass enclosed. I can dream, right?

        I currently have a clawfoot tub. (Yay for the old building my rented apartment is in!) However, the shower head that is attached above it is pretty unusable without getting the whole bathroom wet, even when using two shower curtains to surround the tub. Ah well, rented apartment rarely have everything one wants.

        1 agrees
      • I dream of having a huge soaking tub, perhaps with jets. My very favorite pastime is reading in the bath, while soaking with salts and/or oils.

        3 agree
    • Only some vintage tubs are huge — I have a 1940s suburban bathroom with a TINY tub & separate shower. If we tore everything out (which we'd love to do, given time & money), there would be space for a decent size tub or a luxury shower. But it was a thing then to separate the two, so both are DINKY. And if we just wanted to replace the bath (like w/one of those easy-to-install bath/shower surround sets), we can't, bec. the space is too small; it's smaller than today's smallest size.

      We've run into this a lot with our "cute vintage" house. The kitchen is too small for today's appliances, the bathroom is too small, the smallest HVAC system is too big for our square footage. But hey, it's a cute vintage house & it's ours 🙂

      1 agrees
    • Here's a little secret: All these photos came from my Pinterest board where I collect photos and listings of time capsule homes: http://www.pinterest.com/meganfinley/vintage-home/

      I'm IN LOVE with vintage bathrooms, especially, since I had one that looked exactly like #4, except it was pink and black. I actually don't think ANY of these are ugly. They're totally my jam. 😉

      7 agree
      • We bought our mid-century modest home because it still has the original everything, pink bathroom included!

  3. The bath in the first one has me dreaming. *sigh* White everything is just so…bleh. Although I don't regret the black or brown fixtures most of the time.

    1 agrees
    • I bought dark blue towels to give some contrast to our all white bathroom- now I have an all white bathroom covered in blue fuzz…

      3 agree
      • It helps if you wash the towels several times. A total pain, and something of a waste of water, but it does help cut down on the fuzz left around the bathroom and on your damp skin.

        • They gave me an existential crisis over wasting water or wasting (extra) time cleaning. Le sigh.

  4. Absolutely love this!!

    I've been struggling with home decor for a while now…
    I was the one who screamed PAINT IT WHITE about every room in our house. Of course the intention was to use this as a base but that never happened…
    I've been trying to become more visually creative and this post has given me some great ideas!!!

    1 agrees
  5. I grew up in house with an AMAZING 1950's bathroom. It was all black & white tile, with decopage red roses, and black & white polkadot curtains. The laundry chute offered hours of playtime fun as a kid.
    One of the loveliest things about the bathroom was the plant hooks above the bathtub. When I was a kid my parents hung their macrame planter holders off those hooks. Greenery in the bathroom is really awesome.

    • My grandparents bathroom is STILL delightfully and charmingly retro. Pink and maroon tile, pink tub and potty, pink and maroon wallpaper, maroon carpet (okay, maybe carpet in the bathroom isn't a great thing…), ruffly curtains, and pink and maroon artwork and silk flowers. Some may gasp and call it "tacky", but I adore it! Bathrooms are the smallest rooms in the house, so why not have fun with color? 🙂

      • The "modern" third bathroom (1st and 2nd baths are 1940's retro and 1950's retro, respectively) in my parents' house is wall-to-wall blue carpet. Definitely needs a good bleaching with a steamer every year.

  6. I *wish* the "ugly vintage bathroom" in our last house had looked like those. We were blessed with poo-brown tile throughout and a sickly orange-peach, 80's-foundation color toilet, tub, and sink. Good times. (Our new bathroom is an unfortunate conglomeration of cheap vinyl and plastic and particle board, but at least its easy to rip apart when we finally save up for the reno!)

    1 agrees
    • I had poo brown painted walls and harvest yellow tub and toilet along with a wine/maroon colored carpet. It was hideous! I kept thinking of poo everytime I went into the bathroom care of the walls. Those walls were painted so fast it wasn't even funny. Now if I only would have had one of the non-olive vintage greens me and the bathroom would have gotten along better.

  7. I have blue fixtures (tub, sink, toilet) in my bathroom. I was turned off at first when we toured the home but we love them now that we own the place. We have a kid insert in the toilet seat now so it's white, but eventully we'll put the blue one back on and it'll look awesome!

    • I know this feeling! For some reason, when we were house shopping we kept finding ourselves most interested in houses that just happened to have 1980's blue bathrooms (not in a good 1950's retro way….just a tacky 80's way). Since I knew we were going to be on a budget, I spent HOURS looking up blue themed bathrooms to try to figure out how to work with the existing fixtures….and ended up liking blue bathrooms. Of course…we ended up finally buying a house with white and beige in the bathroom, but I'm still going blue with it!

  8. I am always wondering people who have such a good ideas and very good design taste. Because these pictures here are amazing. Keep going!

  9. I miss the original bathroom from my parent's house. The tub and toilet were olive green, and the wallpaper was a fern print!

  10. I love the wallpaper prints idea! Especially since I've recently been obsessing over every single thing they sell at http://www.growhousegrow.com

    And papering such a small room might actually make that awesomeness work with my budget!

  11. Ugly my butt. I am househunting right now and I the first thing I do is check to see if the midcentury bathroom has been ripped out and replaced by ho-hum Home Depot poop. When I found that is has I scream "WHHHHYYYYYY". One day I will be lucky, walk into a home with an intact pink, blue or mint bathroom and I will dance my happy dance.

    2 agree

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