Before and After: This Bathroom’s Nostalgic Redo Leans into Its Original 1950s Tile

published Dec 6, 2023
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The 1950s saw lots of bold, colorful bathroom tile choices — and there are lots of 2020s bathrooms that make the retro tile shine with a more contemporary design style (see: this blue-tiled (and blue-toileted and blue-sinked) beauty, this bathroom that makes its pink tile work, and, now, this $1,000 bathroom makeover by homeowner April Salazar). 

The hue of her bathroom’s original 1950s tile was a spearmint green, and it’s just about the only thing she liked in the 40-square-foot space. “The good: The wall tiles were in great shape, and the original medicine cabinet with etched flowers was left unscathed,” April says. The bad? “The walls were painted an unbecoming pale yellow, and there was a light fixture and cabinet added circa 2000, that both looked … bleh.”

April says there were practical considerations that went into remodeling the bathroom, too; it’s a high-trafficked room on the main level for her family and guests, and she desperately wanted a larger vanity with a door that opened on the correct side, unlike what was there before. “But really?” she says, “I was in love with the green and black tiles … I wanted to spotlight them and honor the incredible craft that went into building our bathroom.”

Credit: April Salazar
Credit: April Salazar

The bathroom project was years in the making. 

April and her husband (with the help of April’s dad) actually started on the bathroom makeover a few years back. They started by replacing the light fixture with a black one from Schoolhouse, and they replaced the vanity with an IKEA cabinet base, a Semihandmade walnut front, a new sink, and new faucet. Then, April painted over the yellow walls with crisp white paint. “I also made a plan with my dad, a retired bricklayer and mason, to replace the tile floor with something more period-appropriate,” she says. 

After the first few changes and the floor plan in place, setbacks began. “We knew we’d need a plumber to remove the heating cabinet from the wall, but it was such a small job that when we set up appointments we’d get ghosted,” April says. “Then the pandemic happened, and there was a good year when we weren’t letting anyone outside of our bubble into our house. Just as the air was starting to clear, my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and life was put on hold.” For a while, the renovation took a backseat to much more important things.

Credit: April Salazar
Credit: April Salazar

The floor was a first-time DIY. 

When April and her husband picked the project back up, April’s dad had already passed. But his previous lessons still helped her along in the floor tiling process, and April even used his old masonry tools to get the job done. “My dad showed me how to tile floor when I was a teenager, but I’d never done it on my own before … but by the end, I felt like he was right there with me,” April says. “I remembered him flicking mortar from his trowel — something I’d seen him do a thousand times — and I knew exactly what it needed to look like. I also learned I’m very good with a trowel!”

Credit: April Salazar

Lots of prep helped ensure a successful tiling process. 

April says the hardest part of the project was ensuring the tile was lined up straight and cutting the odd pieces cleanly. “I used a plum line and did two dry runs to make sure the tiles would fit and be square — as square as can be in my crooked bathroom!” April says. “But the perfectionist in me wishes I had also been more particular with the level as I was laying the tiles. I was so focused on keeping the most visible part of the bathroom straight that I neglected the less visible area behind the toilet and the cabinet.”

Her advice for fellow first-time tilers is to watch lots of YouTube videos demonstrating installation, take notes, and make a list of the tools you’ll need. “There’s nothing worse than being in the middle of a project and realizing you can’t proceed because you don’t have the right tool,” she says. 

Lastly, “Before you start laying cement board or tiles, cut everything to fit the space and do a dry run to make sure everything fits and looks right,” April says. “When you’re satisfied with everything, use painter’s tape to number each piece and stack everything in order. This makes life a lot easier when you’re ready to mortar and the clock is ticking on your thinset!” 

After all this, remember to be patient with yourself, April says.

Credit: April Salazar
Credit: April Salazar

The peel-and-stick wallpaper embraces the bathroom’s bold palette.

Eventually, April and her husband found a plumber to take care of the heating cabinet, and April also installed a bold peel-and-stick wallpaper that perfectly complements the tile. “I was stumped by the bold color palette,” April says of the existing green wall tile. “I learned pretty quickly that the key wasn’t to fight it with neutrals, but to lean into it.”

Now, she says, the elements in the bathroom look meant-to-be. “It looks like a cohesive room rather than a bunch of items randomly thrown together,” she says. “I smile every time I walk into the room now.”

She loves almost every detail of the bathroom, but her proudest DIY, of course, is the tile floors — and she looks forward to more tiling projects to come.