Home & Garden Columns
By Jane Powell
Pink is not my favorite color. Perhaps it comes of being a redhead—while other little girls had pink frilly dresses, mine were always yellow. I do like many things that are pink: peppermint ice cream, cotton candy, flowers, and cat noses. But I do not care for pink tile. Unfortunately, pink tile, and sometimes pink fixtures, is found in many old houses, especially those built or remodeled between about 1925 and 1960. Pink is especially common in bathrooms, and that’s what I want to address here.
In the late teens and early 1920s, color began to creep into previously all white, sanitary bathrooms. Initially it was only as a decorative border in the tile, and all else remained white. But the introduction of colored fixtures in 1926 (one of the colors was, of course, pink) ushered in an era of wildly colored tile and fixtures in bathrooms that lasted well into the 1950s. Some of these bathrooms were fabulous, with tile in colors like jadite green, lavender, peach, yellow, or black. Often featuring art tiles previously found only on fireplaces, or elaborate borders and combinations of three or four tile colors, some of which one would think could not possibly go together, make these some of the most fabulous bathrooms you’ll ever see.
Some of them, however, were pink. Pink is actually okay with me, provided it is combined with another color, like green, or black. Even combined with blue it’s sort of okay. But in the 1940s and 1950s it was often combined with burgundy—doesn’t work for me. And by itself, yuck. The problem is, old tile was set on a mortar bed, and demolishing it is difficult, and not ecologically sound. (Archeologists don’t call ceramics pot shards for no reason—pottery really is forever.) And often the tile is actually in really good condition, and I hate to destroy stuff that’s in good condition, even if I don’t like it. So if you’re stuck with a pink bathroom, here are a few suggestions for dealing with it that don’t involve ripping the entire thing out.
1. Go with it. Realize that pink does wonders for your skin tone. Get pink lightbulbs, pink soap, pink towels, pink bath rugs, pink accessories. Paint the walls a light tint of the tile color. Accessorize with pink flamingoes, pink elephants, pink poodles, or whatever else you can find.
2. Hire a decorative artist to paint a very elaborate mural on the walls above the tiles- it should contain some pink to tie in, but it should be so elaborate that no one will even notice the tile.
3. Add black. Some black towels, black bath rugs, a black border on the curtains, and some other black accessories, maybe the addition of an Art Deco style black porcelain sconce, and your bathroom has gone from merely pink to Art Deco fabulous. (I actually used this trick on a lemon yellow 1950s bathroom—it works.)
4. If you can’t add black, try adding green. A pale green tint is the complementary color for pink, which is a tint of red (complementary colors are opposite each other on the color wheel). The green should help to tone down the pinkness a bit.
5. If the fixtures are also pink, it is possible to have them “re-glazed.” Technically “re-glazing” is high-tech paint, and will last anywhere from five to fifteen years, but will eventually have to be re-done. There are several companies who offer this service, including Miracle Method, Porcelain Genie, and Mr. Bathtub (yeah, it’s MISTER Bathtub to you, bub). Look for companies in the Yellow Pages under bathtub refinishing. These companies can also change the color of the tile. Another option is a company called Re-Bath, which will cover your tub with an acrylic liner. “Re-glazing” will not work with a pink toilet- you’ll have to get a new one. Nor will it work on pink floor tiles.
6. There is one kind of pink tile I find particularly obnoxious, and it was prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s. The worst part is, it’s still being made! The company that still makes it, B and W Tile, (www.bwtile.com) calls it Ripple. I call it scabrous. It’s a mottled, textured sort of tile, which comes in pink, yellow, light blue, or tan mottling on a white background, or the reverse, white mottling on pink or other colored backgrounds. It is beyond hideous, but not in a good way. It is the original tile in some mid-century houses (Eichlers, etc.), so I guess in those houses I could make an argument for leaving it. Otherwise, I give you permission to rip it out.
Besides, there are things worse than a pink bathroom. I’ve seen bathrooms with fixtures that were pea soup green, and I’ve seen tile the color of refried beans. It makes pink seem tasteful.
Jane Powell is a restoration consultant and the author of Bungalow Details: Interior. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org