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How To Refresh a Vintage Bathroom + Keep the Charm: I of II

black and yellow vintage bathroom | Lowe's bathroom refresh | via Yellow Brick Home

This post is sponsored by Lowe’s.

Something that always hurts my heart is when I see an adorable vintage bathroom – you know, the kind with the pink, mint or yellow tiles – being demolished in favor of more modern sensibilities. I realize this is completely personal preference, but I never knew just how strong my opinion was on the matter until our friends, who had recently purchased their first home, asked what we would do to their ‘ugly pink bathroom.’ Ugh, the pink bathroom!, they said. I took one look at the space, and my knee-jerk reaction was to keep it! Of course, this isn’t what they wanted to hear, but ever since that day, I’ve dared to dream that we might be so lucky to have a vintage-tiled bathroom of our own. (For what it’s worth, this conversation was almost 15 years ago, their bathroom is still pink, and I still love it so.)

Late last year, I was talking to another friend about their black and yellow bathroom, although his feeling was more aligned with mine – with ours, because Scott is in complete agreement with me, with us. Our friend and his wife, Pete and Rachael, purchased the most adorable Tudor style home a handful of years ago, and although they’ve already made several upgrades, they’d always been stumped on their vintage bathroom. Not because they didn’t like it, but because they were unsure of how to save it. Here’s how she looks today, the same as they day they moved in:

black and yellow vintage bathroom | Lowe's bathroom refresh | via Yellow Brick Homeblack and yellow vintage bathroom | Lowe's bathroom refresh | via Yellow Brick Homeblack and yellow vintage bathroom | Lowe's bathroom refresh | via Yellow Brick Home

She’s cute, right?

But somewhere along the way, the previous homeowner had leaned a little too into the design, and rather than allow the vintage charm to speak for itself, the room took on an over-the-top feel. I can see why; it’s easy to want to play up the details that are there, but the real magic comes in knowing where to scale back. Pete pointed out the yellow crown molding (which had never been caulked, and you know how we feel about that!), the overly ornate ceiling medallion, window treatment and the polarizing combination of black paint with yellow trim.

black and yellow vintage bathroom | Lowe's bathroom refresh | via Yellow Brick Home

We couldn’t be happier to be working with Lowe’s again this year, and we knew that they could help! Pete and Rachael’s vintage bathroom wasn’t in need of a major overhaul, rather, it was in need of a weekend refresh. Currently, their bath is a hodge-podge of original fixtures, modern upgrades from Kohler, and a healthy dose of head-scratching choices from… well, from a your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine. We love that Lowe’s has a curated collection of Kohler products, and we knew that we could find everything we needed under one blue roof to nurture the old back to health, replace anything that’s beyond repair and clean up the rest with a dash of Bar Keepers Friend and a gallon of fresh paint.

black and yellow vintage bathroom | Lowe's bathroom refresh | via Yellow Brick Homeblack and yellow vintage bathroom | Lowe's bathroom refresh | via Yellow Brick Homeblack and yellow vintage bathroom | Lowe's bathroom refresh | via Yellow Brick Home

The sconces have been a thorn in their side for as long as they’ve lived in their home, and the mirror on the medicine cabinet extended a good 6″ above the frame itself, which gave us pause. Out of curiosity (and on a whim), we decided to remove the large rectangular mirror, which was held in place with a handful of screws:

black and yellow vintage bathroom | Lowe's bathroom refresh | via Yellow Brick Home

And underneath, we found the original shape of the mirror! I was in love. Rachael was in love. We’re looking to have a new piece of mirror cut to mimic the original shape, which will be so sweet in this vintage bath, don’t you think?

black and yellow vintage bathroom | Lowe's bathroom refresh | via Yellow Brick Home

The real star of the room is this tile. So. much. tile! It’s currently overpowered by the black ceiling (oh, and that yellow crown!), but we think it has the potential to shine.

black and yellow vintage bathroom | Lowe's bathroom refresh | via Yellow Brick Homeblack and yellow vintage bathroom | Lowe's bathroom refresh | via Yellow Brick Homeblack and yellow vintage bathroom | Lowe's bathroom refresh | via Yellow Brick Home

We can’t wait to dive in and polish her up, and we think it can be done by scaling back. A makeunder, so to speak. Right now, the bathroom is dark, heavy. The tub spout leaks and there’s no shower head at all! The ceiling and crown and fixture medallion are on the chopping block. The black window frame is chipped, the sconces need to go and we’re itching to remove the window shade, like, yesterday. Here’s what filled our Lowe’s shopping cart:

black and yellow vintage bathroom | Lowe's bathroom refresh | via Yellow Brick Home

1. portfolio composite ceiling medallion | 2. pinehurst white 3-towel set | 3. culmington sconce | 4. kohler fairfax shower head | 5. moen kingsley shelf | 6. kohler memoirs toilet | 7. kohler chrome bathtub spout | 8. barclay polished chrome shower rod | 9. allen + roth waffle shower curtain | 10. valspar signature eggshell paint in ultra white

So, friends, welcome to our vintage bathroom refresh! Vintage bath lovers, are you with us? We’ll report back with how our plans look in place, with all of our efforts set on reclaiming the charm.

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  • Sam2.27.19 - 5:43 AM

    Yes! Thank you (and them) SO MUCH for saving it! It’s going to be a beauty ?ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.27.19 - 8:29 AM

      We’re excited about this one! Thank you. :)ReplyCancel

  • Rebecca2.27.19 - 6:48 AM

    LOOOOOOOOVVVVVVEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!! We recently bought our first single family home on the northwest side (we also own a 3 flat in Bridgeport). Although our bungalow unfortunately does not have original tile, we saw a couple houses with original bathrooms while house hunting. One in particular had an almost identical bathroom but in a purpley pink tile. My 2 year old son and I were over the moon about it but for other reasons it didn’t end up being “the one” for us. The 1925 bungalow we purchased does have kitchen cabinets from the 40s though. The previous owner was apparently very insistent about keeping them. (We are only the 3rd owners!!) although the kitchen definitely needs some updating, they really are growing on me. We have some other projects that will come first so we probably won’t get to the kitchen for a couple of years anyway. I was pleasantly surprised though when we had people over this weekend and got a few compliments on them. Anyway the yellow tile YYYYEEEESSSS. SO GLAD the homeowners are keeping it.ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.27.19 - 8:28 AM

      Aw, bummer about the first house, but how cool that you inherited a vintage kitchen! Another thought: If for any reason the original cabinets make it difficult for you to have a functioning kitchen (sticky doors and drawers, for example), you could always made a media cabinet or floating storage credenza somewhere else in your home!ReplyCancel

  • Karen2.27.19 - 8:16 AM

    I thought that was the after picture! I’m a pink and baby blue vintage bathroom hater who normally does rip them out and put in a modern bathroom, but I looked at those photos and thought, “Wow, this is really well done.” I love how the dark paint snuggles up to the dark border tile and eases the transition from tile to drywall — normally those border bands make my eyes burn. I love the yellow crown — it lightens up the dramatic ceiling. I love the frilly medallion, it feels like it fits perfectly with the era of the patterned tile trim. I love how the tile goes higher behind the mirror to make it a feature. It feels like a jewel box as is! New plumbing fixtures for sure, and I love the original mirror shape, but I also love the dark paint and ceiling medallion!ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.27.19 - 8:26 AM

      At the very least, I’m glad that this bathroom converted you! :DReplyCancel

    • Christina2.27.19 - 10:08 AM

      Yes, I thought this was the after too, haha. I’ve seen many a pink bathroom thought that just can’t be saved. There’s good pink tile and then there’s bad pink tile.ReplyCancel

      • Jean2.18.20 - 7:09 PM

        I had a house with the bad pink/burgundy tile. It was all plastic. If it had been ceramic I would have kept that vintage lookReplyCancel

    • AP2.27.19 - 11:16 AM

      Agreed! I thought these were afters at first and am totally digging the black paint and ceiling medallion.ReplyCancel

  • Emily2.27.19 - 9:41 AM

    Excited to see this transformation! Such a great niche project for your guys’ style too. I grew up in a 1920s purple and black bathroom (with floral wallpaper) and now I have a 1950s pink and white (used to be light green, if the peeling is accurate) bathroom and it’s so much fun. Everyone comments on it!ReplyCancel

  • Barbara Flynn2.27.19 - 9:56 AM

    I can’t wait to see the re-do! I love the new sconces, so much lighter feeling. The toilet base is awesome with the sink. I’m excited to see what you do with the medicine cabinet. I LOVE that you are saving the original mirror? I know it’s crazy but there’s something about the bold pattern on the shade that I love. What are you planning for the window? Do you ever do any stained glass? Would it even fit with the period?ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.27.19 - 1:29 PM

      Stained glass would look so pretty, but this time around, we’re keeping it more minimal. The glass is actually frosted, so we’re removing the shade altogether, and we’ll see how that looks! If we think it looks too bare, we may add a more neutral roman shade (maybe bamboo?) to bring in some warmth without distracting from the pretty tile.ReplyCancel

  • Amanda Kent2.27.19 - 10:12 AM

    I can’t wait to see what you do! We have a 1962 Mammy Pink tile bathroom we are longing to bring into this century without losing the original tile! There are also green terrazzo floors. Every realtor and home inspector told us to rip out the bathroom and put wood over the terrazzo. No way Jose!

    I’m curious to see how you handle the”built in” tile bath towel/soap/tooth brush holders. I cannot stand them in ours, but don’t know what to do with them.ReplyCancel

  • southern gal2.27.19 - 10:32 AM

    love the bathroom .. glad you are saving it.
    however (this is IMHO) i am sad at the replacemnet of the scones and the ceiling light and medallion…

    too bad the scones could not be cleaned and polished.
    i hope they are going to be regifted or sold to someone who would like them (sadly i rent so cant offer to re home them).

    agree about the black paint – a really pale yellow might be pretty or a soft white or one of the colors in the tile.. in a pale version . maybe that red orange of the dot in the tile … love the shade and hope it stays!ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.27.19 - 11:46 AM

      The sconces were an upgrade by the previous homeowner, and they are really, really misplaced. I promise. Everything removed will be salvaged and donated!ReplyCancel

  • Melissa A MacGregor2.27.19 - 12:49 PM

    We have significantly less exciting original black and white tile in our 1940 hall bath. We have barely done anything to it but I think it still looks great. I can’t wait to see where you go from here. I still miss our black and white wallpaper but it was a little too much in that small space with the black and white tile too.

    • Kim2.27.19 - 1:25 PM

      Oh my gosh, that tile is so pretty. Love, love, love.ReplyCancel

  • Ann2.27.19 - 1:53 PM

    I also love vintage tile. But I think the window shade fabric is perfect for this vintage yellow and black tiled bath. Perhaps you’ll like it better when you paint over the black wall?

    I agree about the sconces needing to go (though I’m not sure I like your inspiration choice either). And I don’t love the medallion or ceiling fixture – I like schoolhouse shades, but this one seems wrongly sized for this space.

    I think their solution to a medicine cabinet door that probably needed some work wasn’t a bad one at all, but they will probably be happy to have a new or refurbished door.

    I like the glass shelf – but where is it going? They’ve got a great little niche over the sink already.

    And, to the person who doesn’t like the toothbrush holder tile, I thought my similar one was useless (as today’s toothbrush handles are too fat to fit through the holes anyway) – I started to love mine when I found that the little round indentation in the middle made to hold a cup was sized perfectly to hold a solid little stainless steel or chrome bud vase I had (matching the other metal things in my bathroom), and loved it as a vase holder with a real flower in it after that.ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.27.19 - 3:23 PM

      The flower bud idea is so sweet! You’ve got us thinking…

      The glass shelf is slated to go above the toilet, where the homeowners currently have a handful of odds and ends. However, we’re planning a reorganization and purge of things they no longer need, so it’s up in the air. The plans may bend as we forge forward, as always seems to be the case with an older home! We will see…ReplyCancel

  • Meredith2.27.19 - 2:23 PM

    Yes! I’m in total agreement with you on the vintage bathroom. I live in a neighborhood where people are buying and flipping houses. I get so mad when I see the house back up on Zillow with the original bathroom torn out and one of those dinky half-sinks in it’s place and usually accompanied by some really awful subway and glass tile.

    Hooray for working with what you have! I can’t wait to see how this turns out.ReplyCancel

  • Cici Haus2.27.19 - 2:35 PM

    So excited about this!! I love a good vintage bath. We’re in the process of potentially buying a house right now that has an incredible pink bathroom! The bathroom itself is so tiny we’ll have to renovate, but I want to find a way to keep as much pink tile as possible because I love love love it.ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.27.19 - 3:21 PM

      Ugh, how we’d love a pink bathroom! How exciting, good luck!ReplyCancel

  • Heather2.27.19 - 3:29 PM

    Oh my goodness, I am SO excited to follow along!!!!!! The yellow tile is what dreams are made of but the black tile throws me for a loop. I’d have no idea how to update or what accents to use as a home owner. Can’t wait to watch the magic ❤️❤️❤️ReplyCancel

  • Julie2.27.19 - 3:58 PM

    I just renovated my vintage pink bathroom, keeping as much tile as possible plus the pink tub and sink. After looking at a ton of pictures, I’m pretty sure the best way to go in the case of most vintage tile situations is keeping everything else white and letting the tile and fixtures be the star. So I’m with your instincts on this. I have seen vintage bathrooms with dramatic wallpaper that looks great (see yesterday’s post for examples), but I still think white is the winner.ReplyCancel

  • Courtney2.27.19 - 4:35 PM

    Awesome post! I can’t wait to see how it turns out!ReplyCancel

  • Ryan2.27.19 - 4:38 PM

    I love seeing the original tile in a bathroom. When we first saw our house we thought we had original tile on the walls until we took a second look and realized they’re plastic tiles. It’s our second house with plastic tiles in fact and maybe they’re worth keeping in an appropriately 1950/60 home ours is 1925. My plan is to renovate the bath with appropriate colored tile and black trim although we can never fully replicate the variation in the old glazes that give those bathrooms such dimension (maybe we could but it would be SO expensive). Luckily the house next door has its original pink and black tile and one of the recent owners removed the paint that had been applied over it. I’m loving that detail of the square tile trim around the border of the floor. We did put tile in our bath (it was originally real linoleum, with vinyl over it) but had trouble getting a clean edge as we cut the tile to fit around the J-shaped tub. Using a square tile border around the outside and then hex interior would really help clean that up.ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.27.19 - 6:44 PM

      I’m trying to picture plastic tiles… like tiles made to look like old original tiles? So interesting, I don’t think I’ve encountered that before!ReplyCancel

  • Emily2.27.19 - 9:00 PM

    I’ve got two vintage bathrooms – one pink and one a creamy yellow and black, so I am excited to see how this refresh turns out! To be honest, I go back and forth about renovating it. I would love to do a weekend refresh on both of ours and just see how much better they look without the outdated wallpaper and window treatments!ReplyCancel

  • eva2.27.19 - 9:51 PM

    can’t wait to see this unfold. I always love the finish on the tiles, if not the colours. But I do really like the yellowReplyCancel

  • june2.28.19 - 6:53 AM

    Sorry, I rarely comment , but I too feel that this update is going in the wrong direction. Count me among the ones who thought the before photo could have been an after shot. These changes do not honor the beauty of the original style.

    Good changes: Return to original mirror shape. Replace tub shower head. Update toilet, but I love a concealed trap style and would never purchase a visible trap model . Also I’d change both the ceiling and vanity lights… but I think a more retro design for lights would be more appropriate. Something from Schoolhouse or Rejuvination?

    Not so good: Why white paint? Boring! The black color on my monitor reads like a dark blue, especially on the ceiling which has lighter reflections. I think a darker dusky blue could really show off the lovely tile. I also kind of like the old medallion. Instead just eliminate the molding.ReplyCancel

  • june2.28.19 - 6:55 AM

    Oops, one more thing. I also like the window covering. If it needs to be replaced i think a similar dark print would be nice.ReplyCancel

  • Carrie2.28.19 - 10:59 AM

    We just tore out a blue-tiled bathroom, and while there were many times I tried to think of how we could save the tile because I felt guilty. People kept telling me, “it’s cute” and “they don’t make them like that anymore” but I didn’t like it! And it’s my house! Practicality won out in the end and the tile had o go. There was a huge, hideous, crumbling glass block window in the shower that exposed us to anyone driving by. There was no way to replace that window and save the tile. The original vanity was the perfect height for our 8 year old, but couldn’t be replaced for typical height people and still save the tile. Sometimes you just need a functioning bathroom and to get rid of tile you don’t love. I’m sure you’ll make this bathroom look cute when it’s done, but to anyone else reading this feeling guilty about tearing out old tile, do what works for you and make your house your own! Don’t live with something you don’t love! I smile every time I walk into our “new” bathroom.ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.28.19 - 2:03 PM

      Carrie, we completely agree with you. It sounds like you gave it a lot of consideration, but it is YOUR home. Your gut knows best in the end. xxReplyCancel

  • Michelle2.28.19 - 12:54 PM

    Excited to watch the transformation!ReplyCancel

  • susan2.28.19 - 1:21 PM

    First, thank you for not ripping all of this glorious bathroom out and replacing it all with gray gray gray. I love the yellow/black tile. I think the black paint really works here to make that yellow tile sing.

    Second, I realize you’re partnering up with Lowes on this so that explains some of your choices, but seriously, I’d check out etsy for vintage sconces that would fit perfectly into the style of this bathroom.

    I’m sure you’re going to end up with something really lovely though.ReplyCancel

  • Hannah Kirby2.28.19 - 4:04 PM

    So wish we had original tile like this in our new home! Can’t wait to see how it turns out!!ReplyCancel

  • Bree3.1.19 - 1:16 PM

    I am dying to see how this one turns out! I’ll be hitting the refresh button until Monday!ReplyCancel

  • Blondie3.4.19 - 8:25 PM

    The downstairs bathroom in our 1925 Tudor not only has the original pink tile but also the original pink tub, toilet, and console sink! I took some inspiration from Bailey McCarthy and painted white and kelly green vertical stripes on the walls. Shower curtain is an abstract floral and towels are Kelly green with white polka dots.

    Unfortunately it is not in good condition and we have grand plans to turn two bedrooms and that bathroom into a first floor master suite. I hated it when we moved in, but now I love it and will miss it so much!ReplyCancel

  • lsaspacey3.10.19 - 9:23 AM

    I agree with you. I also thought this was the amazing after so I’m a bit scared about what going to be changed (though I agree about the sconces). I love how dramatic and theatrical it is now, especially the crown and medallion. It reminds me of something I saw in an old issue of Domino.ReplyCancel

  • Crystal8.15.23 - 12:59 PM

    I can’t find the after photos. Can someone help a gal out?ReplyCancel

    • Scott8.21.23 - 9:49 AM

      It’s in part II of II in a slightly later post.ReplyCancel

  • Rosemary1.13.24 - 5:11 AM

    I have a the same black and yellow 4.25” tiles in my bathroom. I need to repair some. Anyone have a good source for yellow tiles that match these yellow vintage bathrooms? Thanks!ReplyCancel

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