How To Give Your Retro Bathroom Some Love

feet up in a retro bathroom
Ana Olaberria Egiguren / Moments / Getty Images

Recently, I was having brunch with a few lady friends of mine, and we started talking about home decor. I often ask for suggestions about what to write from my friends, and one of them mentioned how they'd just moved in this 1940s house, but that the previous owners had changed the beautiful retro bathroom into something too modern for her taste.

Retro bathrooms are beautiful, but can be more difficult to maintain than other types.

Exposed plumbing, older toilets, cracked tile: if it hasn't been renovated or at least updated in a while, you have a bit of work to do.

But you don't have to completely transform your bathroom to give it style that's retro yet current. Small changes can make all the difference: fresh tile, a polished sink, a few decorative elements. Want to show your retro bathroom some love? Have a look at some renovations you can make.

Freshen up the tile

This is probably the biggest renovation you can make in a bathroom, aside from completely changing the bath/shower. But if you're moving into an older home with a retro bathroom, you might have to do it anyway, especially if the tile hasn't been changed in a while.

Updating the tile has many benefits: you can freshen up the look with something a little more current (yet still retro), renew the protection of your walls and floor against humidity, and change the colors or style if you like.

One popular style for retro bathroom is subway tile. This white subway tile by Hammersmith is a great choice if you like the mid-century white look. Add some black tile accents for a little bit of visual interest, like this one.

Other trends include pastel tile: pink, turquoise and even baby blue will suit the retro look quite nicely.


For the floor, think marble tile (this basket weave pattern is wonderfully retro; this octagon style a true classic that'll define your bathroom style right away). Cararra marble, a greyer kind that's find in Italy, is quite affordable. You don't need to spend a fortune for it.

Take this beautiful retro bathroom, for example: a fresh white subway tile with hexagonal marble floor, a modern walk-in shower, and retro fixtures look classic yet current. 

Keep your pastel fixtures--with a little help

There used to be a time when bathroom fixtures (baths, sinks, toilets) came in pastel colors. Suitable for an otherwise white bathroom, these fixtures scream retro (in comparison to today's modern, sleek white items.) Pink, mint, baby blue, turquoise: there are all common colors you'll find in retro bathrooms.

If you're just moving in to a retro home that needs a few renovations, maybe your bathroom fixtures are still the pastel ones from years ago. If they've been well maintained, that's amazing: go ahead and keep them as is.

However, some homeowners are less careful. If the bathroom fixtures are covered in rust and dirt, you might have the reflex to just throw them away. But if you want to keep the retro style, resist it!

 There are ways to restore and refinish old porcelain tubs, sinks and toilets that will bring back their retro beauty. 

It's also possible to purchase retro fixtures on the used items market. Sometimes homeowners want a complete change of style and sell their otherwise perfectly usable old fixtures. Scour your local classifieds website, and you'll find something that suits your idea for your bathroom.

Change the bath, if you like

There's no denying the popularity of standalone baths these days. They can look modern... but also retro. Think clawfoot bath with an all-around shower curtain--what's more retro than that?

If you have an integrated bath, you'll need to make some renovations to have enough space for a clawfoot bath. But if your bathroom already features a standalone bathtub, why change it?

It'll give your bathroom the retro style you're craving. 

Clawfoot tubs come in all kinds of sizes. Some are great for small bathrooms and are nicer on the budget, while others are large and more expensive. It all depends on the style of your bathroom.

Otherwise, an alcove bathtub can be perfect for a retro look, especially if it's pastel (see previous page). You can also increase the retro look by choosing the perfect shower curtain--which we'll discuss in the next section.

Add some retro decor elements

Last but not least, adding some retro decor elements to your bathroom can improve its style appeal. If you're moving in a bathroom that hasn't been renovated in some time, you might want to look into updating the light fixtures, the shower rod, the faucet, etc.

Keep the shower curtain simple: white, with maybe some delicate and subtle embellishments like lace or a small organic pattern. For something more feminine, you can have something like a white frilly cotton-like fabric on the outside.

Can't find anything you like in store? If you're capable with a sewing machine, make your own. 

Mirrors in retro bathrooms usually have small or no frames. A frameless mirror will do best, but the shape is up to you: round or rectangular, it'll look great. Think simplicity and minimalism.

To add more retro style, choose industrial-type faucets and fixtures.

Brushed iron suits more color schemes, but brass is a great choice if the color fits right in your bathroom. Brass has an older, more industrial feel, while stainless steel looks more hygienic and minimal.

Retro bathroom: always in style

"What's old is new again" is an old adage in fashion and design, and these days, truly, anything goes. So if you like your retro bathroom to stay retro, but if it needs a few updates, don't be afraid to look at how you can improve both the look and functionality of the space.

A retro bathroom doesn't mean non-functional: it just means keeping the style and aura of the period the house was built it, with modern updates like tile, restored porcelain fixtures, and maybe some fresh decorative elements.