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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

In Praise of 1950's Bathrooms

Women's Wear Austrailia 1951

In the Oakland area, we have no shortage of funky, cool mid-century bathrooms. It's a source of joy to see the colorful, sometimes wild combinations of tile and fixture colors. These bathrooms will wake you up in the morning before the coffee even hits your system! My own mid-century home retains the original features in only one of the three bathrooms and they are disappointingly muted and restrained. Although these colorful bathrooms sometimes inspire groans and “what were they thinking?” comments from their current owners, I have been itching to get in and work some color magic on one of these gems.

The opportunity came in the request from one of my friends to help her sort out new colors for most of her ranch home built in 1955. In the mix was her fabulous aqua/salmon mid-century bathroom!

Laura and the Post family are lucky enough to live in a little slice of rural heaven in the Oakland Hills. They are heavily into 4H and have goats, pigs, roosters, chickens, rabbits and, before Thanksgiving, turkeys on their property! Until they install their new master bath addition next year, this is their only bathroom. It has to work for not only Laura, but husband Ron, daughter Kendall and son Garrett. My marching orders were to “class it up”. Laura was tired of the wall colors and felt there needed to be something done to calm things down a bit. First off, I pointed her to blog site, Save the Pink Bathrooms.com, to reinforce a sense of pride in owning an original piece of history. She loved the site and came to a new appreciation of the aqua/salmon vision in her home! You can even take their pledge:

"I hereby pledge to prevent the pulverization of period perfect pink potties and to persevere over pressure to part with my practical pedestal where my pint size prince and princess piddle…I Promise!"

The bathroom currently had white cabinets under the vanity and pinkish walls. The direction we decided to go in was using a neutral gray on the walls to calm things down a bit, gray of course was huge in the 1950's as well. We looked at samples of cool gray that threw up too much purple or blue and ruled those out one by one. Then we eliminated ones that went towards warmer grays and gave off green undertones.

We finally settled on one of my favorites, Vapor Trials by Benjamin Moore. In looking at the vanity, we felt that uniting the unit with color would give it a more put together look. The two tone aqua with tiny crackle in the tile made using a custom blended color the best option as none of the aquas we looked at we just perfect. Remember, if you ever custom blend a color, get enough for touch ups as you will never be able to exactly duplicate it or have it duplicated (no matter what the paint stores tell you about matching.) Finally we just went two down the color strip from Vapor Trails and landed on Fieldstone for the window trim.

So how did these fabulous bathrooms come to be? Until World War II, most homes were happy to just have indoor plumbing and one bathroom. By 1950 only 64% of homes had complete plumbing in their bathrooms (hot/cold water, flush toilet, etc.)! However, with the post war sprawl into suburbs and the baby boom, the idea of the master bath and multiple bathrooms quickly became popular.

Some popular companies were American Standard, Kohler, Mott and Co, Eljer and Briggs. Wild combinations of yellows, orange, rusts, pastel blues and greens and especially pink were thrown together in unique ways.

Maybe the girl is saying "Gee, Jack, there sure are a lotta colors goin' on here!"

I fondly remember my grandparents mid-century bathroom with lots of bright yellow, chrome, gray specked Formica counters and an ice block glass window. Keep in mind that this was in rural Oregon so that tells you the latitude that these colors and styles reached across the country.

I think I found a cousin for Laura's bathroom!

Back in the day, when you gave children baths while wearing a dress........

By the mid-1950's, stylish advertising really took off and bathroom design advertising brought fresh, new ideas to homeowners.

Black/pink became a run away hit by the late 1950's, however, the black walls were quite daring here!

So what is the wildest mid-century bathroom combo you've ever seen?


Unknown said...

What a fun post Marie! I also did not know about the save pink bathrooms blog. How fun! I love what you did with the bathroom. So often a bathroom, or any space for that matter, just needs a little tweak to make it work!

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing all these vintage bathrooms with us. Pink was quite the color in the 50s! Apparently my grandma used to have an all pink kitchen! I can't even imagine.
Your color selection works nicely. Good job!

DesignTies said...

I love the pink bathroo pledge!! :-)

When I was growing up, the upstairs bathroom had laveder fixtures -- toilet, sink, and tub. I can't remember anything else about the room. It was probably painted white. Although thinking about it now, turquoise walls would have been awesome with the lavender fixtures :-)


Marie Brady said...

Oh lavender?! I would have loved to have seen that!

Donna said...

Oh yes the dreaded aqua blue bathrooms. I saw a ton of those beauties when I lived in Pittsburgh and NY. Luckily, my 1926 bathroom had the black and white basket weave motif. I painted the room and accessorized in banana cream. It came out beautiful!

Michelle Cubano Guzman said...

I love these!! People always want to tear them down and I try to convince them to keep at least the tiling...I have sky blue tile with black top and bottom border with blue, white and black mosaic grid floor in my powder room. I would've loved one of those huge pink sinks!!

Alison Meyer said...

I have a 1954 brick ranch. The bathroom has all lavendar fixtures. Sink, toilet, bath tub, lavender subway tile 3/4 the way up the wall and lavender, gold and white speckled octagonal subway tile on the floor. I painted the walls white and used dark brown for accents. I would have loved to have pink also.

Marie Brady said...

Oh lavender! One of the lesser seen colors of that era but a favorite of mine. Sounds like you made it work!

Anonymous said...

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