Thursday, September 25, 2014

Vintage Bathroom Remodeling: The Essentials

The bathroom is a perfect spot for the charm of vintage designs and fixtures. It's no surprise, then, that many homeowners choose to go retro with their bathroom remodeling projects.

But what does a "vintage" remodeling project really mean? The words "vintage," "retro," and "traditional" are often used interchangeably in home remodeling circles; yet, often these words are meant to describe entirely different styles. Of course, these words all refer to a distant past, but some homeowners might prefer a "retro" 1970's-style, while others prefer "vintage" 1790's style.

Thankfully, the bathroom, more than any room in the house, looks back to a specific past for most of its inspiration. We might not use the old brick stoves of yesteryear, but the porcelain bath is a true classic that remains as viable today as when it was first put to wide use--in the Victorian Era! Pedestal sinks are still the standard for elegance and charm. And vintage tiles can lend any bathroom character and style.

And so, with the first bathrooms in mind, we offer three vintage-inspired must-haves for your next bathroom remodeling project.

A porcelain bath was an essential element of this vintage-inspired MKBD project.

The Porcelain Tub 

Before the nineteenth century, only wealthy homeowners bathed in free-standing tubs. Yet, as the Victorian Era welcomed a new sensibility about cleanliness and hygiene, the free-standing tub became more widely available.

These tubs were simple affairs, formed from steel or cast iron and enameled with brilliant white porcelain. They were distinguished, at first, by roll tops with ball or claw cast iron feet. Even today, free-standing porcelain tubs might also be called "roll top tubs" of "claw foot tubs." The first tubs did not include taps; in fact, early tubs did not enjoy the benefit of plumbing. In most homes, hot water was supplied by a bucket of water heated in the kitchen. With the advent of plumbing, however, faucets (see below) became an essential element of the free-standing tub.

Today, the porcelain tub is an excellent retro addition to any bathroom remodeling project--old or new. And, of course, the classical design of the porcelain tub is a definite must for a vintage theme.

Happily, the porcelain tub is an investment worthy of your budget. Porcelain tubs are durable and very heavy. They're beautiful, too. And they're perfect for soaking--which is another name for this classical design: the soaking tub.

Jut note: because of the weight, you might need extra floor support. And although the tubs can be expensive to fix, the porcelain is very resistant to cracks and chips.

Stylized faucets, like this one from Victoria Elizabeth Barnes bathroom remodeling project, can add a vintage appeal to any bathroom.

The Pedestal Sink

The Victorian emphasis on cleanliness and hygiene meant that most vintage bathrooms were styled simply, in white themes. The lack of indoor plumbing, however, meant that freestanding fixtures like the porcelain tub and pedestal sink fit both the theme and the needs of the home.

Like the earliest tubs, pedestal sinks were originally made of cast iron enameled with porcelain, but, according to This Old Home, "in 1915 manufacturers began fabricating them from vitreous china, a glass-like porcelain."

Today, the pedestal sink is simply known as a freestanding sink with a bowl sitting on a column which hides the plumbing. In the past, pedestal sinks were truly "free-standing" but today most pedestals are attached to the bathroom wall. The great advantage of the fixture (beyond its vintage appeal) is its space-saving design. Yet, of course, the vintage appeal of this piece makes it a de-facto choice for any retro-inspired bathroom remodeling project.

A pedestal sink from Kohler was an elegant and efficient choice for this Langhorne-area powder room

Vintage Flooring & Walls: Tiles

With Victorian elements like a clawfoot tub and a pedestal sink, you're vintage remodeling project will be set for success. However, the most transformative element of a retro remodeling project is the flooring and walls.

The de-facto vintage choice is tile, which traditionally covered not only the floor but the walls and showers of most 19th century and early-to-mid 20 century bathrooms. Some bathrooms used the same tile, from floor to ceiling, but wainscoting on the lower walls was the norm for most bathrooms.

If you're set on another floor or walling material, however, think tiles accents, like the colorful ceramic trim on this vintage-inspired MKBD project (also pictured above).

Unlike the porcelain bath and the clawfoot tub, products of the Victorian Era, vintage tiles might suggest a diversity of eras. Home Guides has a wonderful breakdown of "The Best Colors and Patterns for Vintage Flooring in a Bathroom." We suggest reading this article for inspiration from the 20th century.

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