apartment progress: a very vintage bathroom.

March 2, 2021

In a very vintage bathroom, my motto is to leave well enough alone. If you’ve ever looked for a rental apartment in an old building you’ll know this is not everyone’s motto. Partially renovated bathrooms are more the rule than the exception. In the best cases, there’s a mismatched toilet or a handful of replaced tiles in a different shade of pink (or yellow, or blue). More often, there’s also a lopsided particle board vanity where a pedestal sink used to be, or a hardware store medicine cabinet that’s twice as big as necessary and semi-detached from the wall. There’s nearly always laminate that’s bubbling up in a corner and grout that’s gone missing. In the worst cases, there’s a poorly constructed tub fitter that squishes underfoot when you shower and ceilings that sometimes rain and eventually collapse.

Needless to say, our very vintage bathroom feels comparably like a real diamond in the rental bathroom rough. It’s pink. It has an enormous pink tub and a pink toilet and pink wall tiles bounded by maroon. The floor tiles are a color that can only be described as yellow-pink, which is probably just a convoluted way of saying brown. The bath and sink hardware are original or close enough and I’m grateful for their occasionally leaky, slightly squeaky charm. When we moved in, the shower head was a plastic handheld with a rubber hose that knocked us in the back as we stood to shower and so we replaced that with an inexpensive rain shower head that’s made all the difference.

Mostly, we’ve recognized our good fortune and left things as they are. One of my friends is very hopeful I might still go the grandmother route and add in a matching 3-piece rug set, lest I (or the commode) catch a chill. I’m not tempted to wrap my toilet in a towel, but I do sometimes wonder if we should embrace some drama and go whole hog with some woodland wallpaper on the portion of the walls that aren’t tiled.

Here, a few things that have made small improvements in this space, in case they’re helpful:

+ Matching Bath Toys. These silly little stacking cups are of relatively little consequence but most children’s bath toys are a scourge and my sister found these and I love them very much. They come in four different color ways, one of which is pretty much guaranteed to match a similarly vintage pink (or blue, or yellow, or green) bathroom. We have the original set and we keep them stored stacked up. They do sometimes need a scrub so when that happens we declare a toy cleaning morning and the kids have at the nooks and crannies with toothbrushes and forget entirely they’ve been put to work by their fastidious mother.

+ DIY Hooks. I made three little towel hooks out of vintage glass knobs and hung them up with Sugru Moldable Glue by tesa. I have a small partnership with this company going live on Instagram later today, but suffice to say, I could not love this stuff any more. It’s a small DIY miracle for renters or anyone; apologies in advance for getting lost in their Youtube Channel.

+ First Aid Cabinet: In my humble opinion, trying to squeeze more storage into a small vintage bathroom is usually not worth the effort. That said, some of you might recall that I replaced the bathroom medicine cabinet and hung a shelf in our last bathroom and I never regretted either upgrade for even a minute. Here, the original medicine cabinet is still in place and we added the same enamel first aid kit that we’ve used for years now. (I can’t find the larger size that we have anywhere these days, but even the mini version linked here would be useful for stashing first aid items.)

+ Towel bars, toothbrush holders, and other built-ins: We replaced a broken built-in towel bar in the tub when we moved in. I try hard not to buy new plastic, but I made a concession for this $5 towel bar and I don’t regret it. The handle on the built-in soap dish, alas, is ceramic and long gone, leaving the broken off bits something of an eyesore on the tub wall. I don’t have immediate plans to fix it, but I did very much enjoy this 1978 gem on the subject. I’m still on the hunt for the perfect-fitting, eco-friendly-ish, pretty toothbrushes for the whole family to fit in our built-in vintage toothbrush holder. Now, as in 2008, the struggle is real! For now, let’s pretend I live alone like some kind of Brooklyn Amélie Poulain and my precious toothbrush is the only one that need be propped daintily in a cup. Tra la!

+ Book basket: Kids, and sometimes adults, need books in the bathroom. It’s a fact of life. We keep our bathroom books wrangled in a little wire basket I found a few years ago, which is raised a bit off the ground and not too big for a funny shaped bathroom. My friend Chelsea’s gorgeous book, FIELD, FLOWER, VASE came out today and it matches the tile and Silas will sigh and tell me it’s “so beautiful” and so here it is.

+ Sized-to-fit Shower Liner: As with many vintage bathrooms, we have a tub that’s partially freestanding with an l-ring corner shower curtain rod installed above it. When we had one of these years ago, I did what most people do: hang two regular-sized curtains and curse them out daily. This time, I searched for an extra-wide shower liner to span the whole length of the rod and I’ve been so happy I did. It means less plastic, less cleaning, less billowing liner as I sing (or scream) in the shower. (If you embark on your own search, just measure carefully! Our rod is hung strangely high and I had to hang our liner on a double set of hooks to make it long enough to extend beyond the tub.) TMI: Our liner recently had a rather aggressive wash at the laundromat which has left it sadly beat up, so I think the next step might be to get a linen curtain custom-made to cover the battered liner.)

Those are the details I can think to add. If you have questions to ask or vintage bathroom tales to tell, the comments are all yours!


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  • Reply Chelsea March 2, 2021 at 3:18 pm

    Erin, I love that you are leaving your bathroom as is! It is super refershing and you´ve made it super cozy and charming. The book looks lovely there:) Haha! Thanks for including it!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 2, 2021 at 4:00 pm

      Thanks so much, Chelsea! I couldn’t help myself with the pairing! Too good! Can’t wait to put your book to use!

      • Reply Celine March 7, 2021 at 11:52 pm

        Beautiful and lovely. So neat and tidy. I’m wondering if the only storage you have / require is the medicine cabinet? We are also living with a tiny bathroom with partially vintage details (circa 1941 Vancouver) and can’t figure out how to store stuff for a family of 4.

        • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 8, 2021 at 8:47 am

          We have the small enamel medicine cabinet and the built in mirrored medicine cabinet over our sink! Beyond that we store toilet paper in a crate under our bed and a few extra towels in a box in the closet in the kids’ room!

  • Reply alexis March 2, 2021 at 3:18 pm

    I absolutely love this pink bathroom!!! Do you know what year your place was built? I’m sure that sink and toilet are all original. We live in a 1929 Tudor duplex and all the bathroom tile is original, although we had to replace the original sink last year which was a bummer, it was a beautiful pedestal sink. One thing that is unfortunate in a very vintage bathroom is that there is no electrical socket in our bathroom!! I’ve made do with an extension cord when dire need arises but that’s been an annoyance for sure. There is also no storage or shelving, so we’ve had to get creative with a hanging basket hooked over the towel rode inside the shower, and a narrow set of extendable shelves that fit into a corner. All the other usual ‘this lives in the bathroom’ stuff is now stored in the tiny linen closet just outside the bathroom door.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 2, 2021 at 3:59 pm

      Oh man! In our old place we didn’t have an electrical socket either! I paid a guy from the hardware store to swap out our light switch with a switch/plug combo. Best $50 I’ve ever spent!

      • Reply Celine Hart March 7, 2021 at 11:53 pm

        We also have no outlet and this is a genius idea!!!

  • Reply Madeline March 2, 2021 at 3:22 pm

    It warms my heart to see another pink tiled bathroom just like our 1961 special ♥️ In the three years we’ve lived in our shoebox apartment, I have grown to love the peachy pink tile, the dainty pedestal sink, and the endlessly convenient medicine cabinet, all original to the place. There is something to be said for embracing the era of the living space you’re in, and although I didn’t know how to feel about our teeny pink bathroom when we moved here, it is now one of the spaces I will miss the most when we move out. Thank you for sharing your own appreciation for your pink bathroom, as well as so many helpful ideas for small space living, as always ♥️

  • Reply Ramona March 2, 2021 at 3:23 pm

    Why oh why were bathrooms “Pepto Bismol Pink?” I do not know! I just don’t get it! But yeah if everything’s in good condition you just gotta go with it. Sigh. And tell yourself….it’s not forever….

  • Reply SJ March 2, 2021 at 3:29 pm

    Omg. I love that bathroom so much I could cry. Pink tile forever Thanks for keeping her charming!!

  • Reply MK March 2, 2021 at 3:38 pm

    I love love love vintage bathrooms. I wish everyone with the good fortune to stumble across one would leave well enough alone. Sadly people are too busy renovating and flipping to do this most of the time 🙁

  • Reply Allison Zimmerman March 2, 2021 at 3:54 pm

    Who doesn’t love a matching toilet cover,/toilet rug/bathmat combo?!

    But in all seriousness, I’ll be getting some Sugru, stat.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 2, 2021 at 3:58 pm

      you know i’ve gone bananas with this stuff. it’s amazing.

    • Reply DFH March 2, 2021 at 8:35 pm

      We recently moved to a new state and my secret hope was a pepto pink bathroom and we found a place that happened to have one! I have scrubbed all the grout to shining and we made and hung a towel hook rack at kid height, just above the tile. Our biggest project will be restoring the wooden trim window that’s in the shower, but we love a good challenge. I will never understand why folks are gutting these beauties, fun, durable, and easy to clean, unlike some of the more popular tile patterns we are seeing today.

  • Reply Alessandra Massaro March 2, 2021 at 5:01 pm

    Love the vintage bathroom! Reminds me of my nonna’s bathroom before my mom and uncle insisted on renovating!

    For the toothbrush holder, maybe try this? https://www.grinbrush.com/

  • Reply Lisa March 2, 2021 at 6:27 pm

    Do you mind sharing where you got the metal book basket? I’ve been looking for a simple metal basket to hold play food for my child’s kitchen, and this fits the bill perfectly.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 2, 2021 at 7:11 pm

      I found it a few years ago in person at Muji, but they don’t have anything like it on their site now!

  • Reply Gill F. March 2, 2021 at 7:14 pm

    Ha I didnt know those bathroom rugs were a grandma thing. My mom has always used those in our bathrooms and I find them kind of nice. A bit weird for sure but they’ll always remind me of home

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 2, 2021 at 9:36 pm

      Maybe a generational thing! My grandmother and great aunts had them in every bathroom!

  • Reply Kelsey O'Donnell March 2, 2021 at 7:47 pm

    I love the book basket. Books in the bathroom, simply a fact of life. I’m glad my toddler isn’t the only one who requires a bathroom book.

    What do you do for floor rugs? If you don’t mind me asking. I struggle with a pretty and practical floor rug in my bathroom.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 2, 2021 at 9:38 pm

      we have a tiny rug from willaby and a fog linen bath mat! hardly any floor space in here so not much space to cover!

      • Reply Kelsey March 3, 2021 at 10:51 am

        Thank you!

        • Reply Alana March 3, 2021 at 10:38 pm

          Would you mind sharing details about the extra-wide liner? We have the same L-shaped hanging rod with our tub (though our bathroom tile is blue) and I curse our shower curtain situation every day!

          • ERIN BOYLE March 4, 2021 at 9:38 am

            spent 30 mins searching when i wrote this to try to find the receipt of the online shop i bought mine from and i’m afraid it’s gone, but you really need to go specific to your bar, anyway! just measure the bar and search for an extra-wide shower liner in a size that will allow for a bit of wiggle room!

  • Reply Chelsea Payne March 2, 2021 at 8:00 pm

    So lovely! May I ask where your towels are from? I’m guessing they are linen! The diamond quilting is really nice

  • Reply amanda March 2, 2021 at 8:04 pm

    I secretly love vintage colored tile! It’s beautiful. I love what this designer did with her blue tile to get a tonal look, or the yellow tile with pink striped wallpaper. genius! https://stylebyemilyhenderson.com/blog/a-colorful-vintage-home-tour-paint-ideas
    (scroll down to see the before and after) Maybe you could do some kind of tonal wallpaper on top, or even hand painted stripes? (sounds horribly tedious though…i like to dream the dreams, not always follow through! ha. also, it’s beautiful as is)

  • Reply Michele March 3, 2021 at 4:01 am

    Oh Erin, I am SO in love with the Old School look and the feeling of it. Its like having a little bit of the past and history in our lives!
    It looks like and sounds like it is in good nik, as in no huge gaps in the floor or tiles crack or missing! Makes it so special. Just the much needed shower update change.
    Dont think the wallpaper should be added. Just add (as you have) things that are needed for a workable family bathroom!!!
    Is this case you are truly sticking to what you represent. Less is more, only have what need, save the planet, spend time on what is importanr, make do with what you have, only adding tiny tweaks that are needed!
    Your children Might Never have this ‘realness’ in their future life.
    If it aint broke dont fix it!!!

  • Reply Michele March 3, 2021 at 4:18 am

    Oh dear, I happened to click on your old bathroom now!! I ADORE the old one !!!!
    The combo of subtle old school pale yellow, black and white hardware, make it the perfect bathroom!
    I would wish that that one was in your new lovely spacious home!! It would actually add to the airy lightness you have now!

  • Reply MC March 3, 2021 at 9:28 am

    I find the pink and maroon so soothing! In my past apartments, whenever I’ve had that type of tiling, the “outline” has always been black, which makes for a starker contrast. This combo feels good on the eyes 🙂

  • Reply Alex March 3, 2021 at 11:53 am

    I have almost the exact same bathroom in my studio here in New York and I love it so much! My pink tiles with a maroon stripe are completely floor to ceiling in the whole bathroom, so there isn’t a spot to even hang an extra hook or picture frame, but I love how warm and engulfed in pink it makes me feel. I never was a fan of pink before, but now I’ve becomed obsessed with that dusty rose vintage bathroom tile pink and slowly have wound up with a pink mug, a pink bathroom trash can, a pink phone charger… my boyfriend had to talk me out of painting my non working fireplace pink.

    This is my first apartment on my own and I love feeling as if my bathroom is an extra ‘room’ in my tiny studio. I go in there and take a bath with a book and a warm colored light and I feel like I’m floating in pink. I’ve also dragged a chair cushion in there from time to time to read and be somewhere other than my bed. When I’m feeling especially sentimental about how much I love this pink bathroom I like to imagine a kid decades ago washing their hands in the tiny low size sink.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 3, 2021 at 11:59 am

      yes to all of this! (and seriously! if you need to hang a hook, this sugru glue is incredible! works best on tile!)

      • Reply Alex March 3, 2021 at 2:52 pm

        that’s great to know thank you! i think i might get some to fix my laptop charging cord

  • Reply cathy March 3, 2021 at 4:25 pm

    If you need any pink bathroom inspiration, there are pages of it on Retro Renovation. In fact, there’s a whole bunch dedicated to Save the Pink Bathroom. Gotta say, though, the first thing I noticed was the lovely colors of the stacking cups. Too bad they didn’t make those when my kids were little. I always thought the bright rainbow combo was a bit much.

  • Reply E March 3, 2021 at 4:43 pm

    I absolutely love all of it and after living with my grand 90s bathroom for so long, with STAIRS , I will go out on a limb and say yours is my dream bathroom- just like my grandma’s!

  • Reply Maria March 3, 2021 at 8:22 pm

    We have the same winning pink combination in our circa 1938 bathroom. I’m not even much of a pink person, but I adore the bathroom and its sense of transporting me back in time. Our daughter’s closet has wallpaper in it from decades ago, and recently up in the attic, we found a newspaper clipping about WW2 dated December 1941. If these walls could talk, imagine the stories!

  • Reply Barb March 4, 2021 at 7:37 am

    You don’t need a plastic shower liner. A fabric curtain works perfectly well keeping the shower water in the tub. The ends go inside the tub while you’re showering and then when it dries, you can hang it outside the tub to look pretty.

    Wonderful bathroom. When my husband and I were looking at our apartment for the first time, the superintendent offered to replace the pink tiles before we moved in. I begged him not to. They make me smile every time I look at them.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 4, 2021 at 9:35 am

      okay, but do you have a windowless bathroom, three small children, and no washing machine in your apartment? i’ve always wanted to give it a try, but all i can think of is the damp and dirt!

      • Reply Sari March 4, 2021 at 9:46 pm

        No sure this is the same as “fabric curtain”, but we have a polyester curtain with no plastic lining in a small fan-less bathroom (two kids), and it keeps all the water in. To be fair there is a window that is open during the summer months, but closed all winter (currently actually frozen shut…sigh). I wash the curtain occasionally in the washing machine (maybe once every few months?), and it is in very good shape almost 10 years after its purchase. No one would have called it cheap when I purchased it, but by now the price per year is the same as for the cheapest IKEA polyester curtain.

  • Reply verena September 7, 2021 at 10:46 am

    Such a nice atmosphere, sweet and beautifully old-fashioned !! No need for books in the bathroom when eating plant based… 😉

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 7, 2021 at 1:26 pm

      never say never.


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