Before and After: A $500 Redo Restores a Blue-Tiled Bathroom to Its 1950s Glory Days

published Apr 24, 2023
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Blue bathroom before renovation.

If a home or apartment was built in the 1950s or ‘60s and has wall-to-wall colorful square tiles, there’s a good chance its original fixtures — the tub, the toilet, the sink — matched those tiles. Have pink tiles? The tub and toilet were probably pink, too, at one point. (Check out these 15 retro bathrooms that’ll prove the point.) In Libby Paulsen (@libpaulsen) and Sandor Hizo’s bathroom, the fixtures were missing, but the original tiles were still there.

“We fell in love with this home’s 1950s bathroom, with its blue wall tile and uniquely shaped floor tile,” Libby says. It was a great foundation for a retro-inspired bathroom, or so they thought. Unfortunately, upon inspection, Libby and Sandor were told that there was rotting in the subfloors (so the literal foundation was, in fact, not great), and the tiles would have to come up. “We were devastated,” Libby says — but they were determined to save the tile.

“We wanted to make this bathroom a true period piece of the mid-century,” she says. Much of Libby and Sandor’s work involved tenderly removing the arabesque floor tiles one at a time and then adding them back later. “We used a putty knife and a hammer to get behind each individual hammer to pop it up,” Libby explains. “We then went through the tedious process of scraping all the old mortar off of the tiles. After all the tiles were up and clean, we laid a new subfloor and taught ourselves to tile.”

The biggest challenge was getting the tile spacing consistent, level, and straight because the blue tile originally came in sheets, Libby says. “This tile was probably the hardest shape for our first time,” she adds. On the re-install, they used hundreds of spacers to evenly place each piece.

“After the tiles were set, we grouted and were so proud of our work,” Libby says. “We took our time, and the floor came out so great.”

Once the flooring was repaired, Libby and Sandor could focus on the rest of the bathroom. They knew they wanted to swap the old vanity and mirror, which lean more toward the era’s Mediterranean style, for more streamlined fixtures. They also knew they wanted to be true to the mid-century monochrome trend and go big with blue, so they began a harder-than-expected hunt for matching fixtures.

“We scoured Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist for blue fixtures with no luck,” Libby recalls. “After a few months, we found a listing for a demo sale with blue fixtures. The sink is a Crane Drexel sink, a very popular mid-century piece. The toilet is Kohler.” Libby and Sandor brought their tools to the home that was set for demolition and removed the pieces themselves, and they also installed them themselves in a couple of hours, thanks to a few YouTube tutorials. 

“Installing the blue toilet and sink took a few trips to the hardware store to figure out all of the pieces we needed, but they made such a huge impact on the space,” Libby says of her salvaged fixtures. “We were so happy to save them. Being able to salvage the original tile and bring in even more mid-century features to the bathroom was such a win for us.”

Best yet, because Libby and Sandor were working with their existing materials (or saving materials from the landfill!), their redo only cost about $500. 

Libby’s renovation advice? At least try to do a project yourself before calling a pro — don’t feel like dialing the phone has to be your first step. “There are so many great tutorials out there,” she says. “Do not be intimidated if you haven’t done something before. Take your time, and be patient with the process.”

After seeing the blue sink, toilet, tub, and tile all together, Libby was inspired to paint the walls blue (Benjamin Moore’s Mystical Blue), too. “Everyone thought I was crazy and that the blue would be overwhelming,” she says. “The results were a space that appears so much larger and bounces the light around beautifully… the room is now so cohesive and spacious.”

And down the line, she adds, they might paint the doors blue, too, “to solidify the monochromatic look.” For accessories, Libby went with blue’s opposite, orangey-gold, for a true pop. She hunted for era-appropriate decor at local estate sales. One of her favorite parts of the new room is the built-in shelf decked with ‘60s accessories.

“It looks straight out of an old magazine,” Libby says of the space. (Straight out of a Wes Anderson film, too, perhaps?!) “We are so proud of how this project turned out … We love it.”

Inspired? Submit your own project here.