I am the first person to accept that not all tile is created equal, and not all tile can be saved either. But when you’ve got it—flaunt it. Whenever I’m taking on a Midcentury Modern remodel I try to focus on everything that can be preserved, but also what needs to be changed. Every day, 1950’s colorful bathroom tile ends up in the dump. As tragic as this is, our needs are very different today than they were in the 50’s and 60’s which means that in many bathroom renovations, functionality wins over preservation.
But thankfully this is not always true. When I was scrolling through real estate photos online a few years ago, a home in Palm Springs caught my eye because of all its brightly colored vintage tile. Peach tile in the kitchen, yellow tile in the guest bath, and blue in the master bathroom! When I walked into the house for the first time, I knew that whoever designed it loved color (and I imagine they were a lot of fun too). Nonetheless, I also recognized that the home was in need of a respectful cosmetic renovation and I was the guy to do it.
Saving A Vintage Tile Countertop
I also recognized that this project was one that didn’t require changes to the overall layout, so the tile could easily be preserved. During a preservation-focused renovation, saving a vintage tile shower is one thing, but a tile counter is a whole different matter. Why? Because it means saving the cabinet, too.
However, the counter in this bathroom was non-negotiable, therefore we set to work sanding down the cabinet and giving it a fresh coat of grey paint to offset the blue tile. The cabinet hardware was awesome but didn’t cater to the Palm Springs poolside vibe of the house so they were removed and saved for another project. In their place, we added modern chrome pulls to complement the chrome finishes in the rest of the space.
The amazing apron sink stayed as-is but got fresh grout, and we simply updated the faucet to give it more luxurious appearance. The boring wall mirror was removed and replaced with a fun, geometric-framed mirror centered over the sink. To the left, we suspended a wired globe light reminiscent of Midcentury Modern lighting but with a more modern vibe.
Showcasing A Vintage Tile Shower
For the shower, we opted to install a glass panel instead of a curtain—creating clean lines and showcasing the vintage tile. One of the biggest changes came from upgrading the showerhead. These EZ-Connect shower panels tie into an existing plumbing connection but can be mounted higher or lower as desired. Not only that, but rather than a basic shower spray, it creates a mini-water park in your shower with four different spray options.
Unique fixtures like this offer you the best of both worlds because they help you to preserve a space, while still upgrading it at the same time. Most people would have seen this space as a gut job (clearly nobody reading this Atomic Ranch article because we all know better), but I’m grateful to say it was saved from the dump and should have many more decades of appreciation ahead. Understanding the style of the home, appreciating the history and recognizing what can be done to renovate without reconstructing will often help you achieve a better design in the end.
The Takeaway Tips
- Source fixtures that you can use with existing plumbing so that you don’t need to open up the wall and destroy the tile.
- A glass shower splash, or divider is a great way to make a bathroom feel bigger and showcase vintage tile.
- Keep cabinets and add paint. They might not have all the bells and whistles of cabinets today, but the sink and vanity will steal the show!
James Judge is a designer, realtor, flipper, and all-around house-a-holic. He strives to take ugly houses and make them into beautiful homes. He loves a collection of all styles but especially enjoys midcentury modern. James appreciates good design and thoughtful solutions to help get the look for less… And has made it his mission to help others do the same. To see more photos from this project and other transformations, check out www.mrjamesjudge.com or follow him on Instagram @flippingdiaries. House shopping in Arizona? James can help – www.realestatejudge.com