Tile countertops for midcentury bathrooms

50s-tile-in-sink

CERAMIC TILE is a totally appropriate and authentic material for midcentury bathrooms — and for kitchens, too. I’ve had several readers ask about this over the past few months – so this post is long overdue. Q. Why don’t I focus on tile countertops as much as laminate? Hmm. A. I think it’s because my two bathroom vanities both had laminate so I’m stuck in that mindset. Second, we talked about it when we renovated the bathroom, but my husband really hates tile countertops – says it’s too hard to keep the grout clean. Although: Bronwyn and Greg’s vintage original bathroom sink looks pretty darned good. Dig the green and color combination! Also, this must be tile countertop week – because we featured Jane’s new bathroom vanity yesterday, too. Jane, why did you choose tile. Any tips?

All that said, here’s what I think I know about tile countertops:

  • I’ve researched so-called “tile in” sinks, and the only ones available that I could find are (2) round sinks from Kohler and (2) vintage. I guess the round sinks from Kohler would be fine if you can find round-edge trim pieces???

    Kohler Caxton tile-in or metal-rim bathroom sink

    Kohler Caxton tile-in or metal-rim bathroom sink

  • I think you should not use glossy tile on a countertop. Will scratch. Use matte, which I think may also be called satin finish by some manufacturers. (You always use a matte/satin or unglazed tile on floors. Even matte/satin can get slippery when wet.)
  • You’ll want to use L-shaped bullnose around the edge of the counter. There are corner-pieces, too.
  • If you need/want thick tile or bullnose — I don’t have an answer for you. The tile today — which is not mud-set like the old stuff — is much thinner.

Tile countertops actually can be the most affordable solution, especially if you are handy and can do this job yourself. I also think they are quite cheery and functional – with the potential to last longer than laminate.

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Comments

  1. says

    Oh my goodness, that is beautiful!

    CalTrans condemned a corridor of houses in Pasadena, CA, to build a freeway and then it got caught up in litigation for years. Still might be, I don’t know. But the houses were falling apart, so they rented them out to people who would care for them while a decision was being made, and a lot of them had gorgeous tiled kitchens and bathrooms with all kinds of neat details like different levels and angles, beautifully set by master tilesetters. This reminds me of one of those houses.

  2. Elaine says

    I redid one of my 1964 bathrooms completely because I wanted a walk-in shower instead of a tub. I chose an earthy ceramic tile for the countertops because I wanted them to match the walls. Unfortunately, I didn’t know about this site then, so we lost the sinks because the Hudee rings were destroyed on removal. (Great to find out the name of those things, we have more.) They were an odd size oval so the only ones we could find to fit in the hole were Kohler vessel style. I saved the builder’s handbuilt cabinets and medicine chests. The original was white tile walls with black trim, and white formica countertop with blue and white sprigged wallpaper. I will try to attach a picture of the new look.

  3. says

    The hall bath in my 1957 home is all green tile. My 11 year old is not a fan of all the green! But after reading sites like this I really have come to appreciate it. The shower pan in our small master bath was leaky and the tile guy said he could not match the existing blue tile, so we had the bathroom completely retiled in black and white. I do like the simplicity of black and white. Thanks for this site, I really do enjoy reading it!

  4. Justin says

    When my partner and I remodeled our house, we went with black and white tile for the kitchen countertop and backsplash. It was my first time ever doing tile, but it turned out great. I’ve also had people come over and when they see the tile countertop they think its original to the house (which was built in 1949).

  5. says

    I love the idea of tile in a 50s bathroom. It seems like a much higher-end finish, regardless of the grout issue. That said, I inherited the most amazing bright yellow linen-pattern laminate main bath counter that my husband adores. So no tile for us, at least in that bathroom.
    But I’d really love to have counter and floor tile in my master bath. It has a probably-original-but-rather-atypical flesh colored laminate on the counter tops. I daydream about redoing that bathroom. And if I can’t have tile on the floors, I want marmoleum (in my dreams, of course!)

  6. Lisa says

    I need to replace some 6 x 6 aqua tiles in my mid-50’s bathroom- very close to color in picture above. Any suggestions on a resource? Love your site!

  7. Eucritta says

    This looks very much like our bathroom counter, which dates from 1952. Ours is all green, though, and a bit shabby save for the modern faucet … among other things, someone somewhere along the line painted over the grout with what looks like white epoxy.

    I would dearly love to find these sorts of tiles new. Does anyone make anything similar? I’ve had no luck in finding a source.

    • pam kueber says

      Hi Eucritta, check out the Bathroom Fast & Easy page – go to the tile section – we’ve identified a number of places where it looks like you can find decent retro colors/styles. Good luck!

  8. Culver City Bronwyn says

    Hi! I’m the owner of that lovely green tile 🙂 Regarding the grout thing, we’ve really had no problem keeping it clean. We had to do a serious clean-up on it when we bought the house in early 2005, but since then I don’t do much than scrub it with Bon Ami for regular maintenance. We’ve got tile floors in that bathroom and since the super-cleaning they got in 2005, they haven’t shown much dirt (or I’m more forgiving as to what constitutes dirt!)

    Also, we had to add tile in our bathroom/shower in order to be able to use the shower without saturating the walls (tile only went halfway up since it was originally just a tub). Not surprisingly, we had a heck of a time trying to match that tile and weren’t able to do it, but we found a nice mintier-green in the exact same style at B&W tile in Gardena, CA (recommended by Pam): http://www.bwtile.com/ . It’s a nice contrast and many people don’t realize that the added tile is not original.

  9. says

    Hi Pam,
    I’m doing some research as I ponder renovating my bathroom. It’s a 1920s house but the bath was renovated by a previous owner who created this weird rounded sink cabinet with a tile countertop (all hand-done) which goes over the sink (I have pictures if you’re curious :).

    I’m trying to decide what era to recreate when renovating (thinking of subway tiles and hexagon floors like your mom’s new bath). With the tiny size of the bathroom and limited storage, the counter is actually pretty handy, but we’ll probably move to a pedestal sink (hopefully a salvaged one). Trying to figure out if I should replace the tile counter with a new one (but that might be too odd with the pedestal floating out there). I’m a bit stumped, looking for inspiration here. Any ideas or other places to poke around on your site for ideas?

  10. Haley says

    Hi!

    I have a question, or rather a cry for help. We are about to buy the cutest 1952 time capsule house. It has a ton of original character- original kitchen and bathrooms, intercom system and some great lighting fixtures through-out. One of the best things about the house is the BEAUTIFUL pink and black tiled bathroom. Here comes the bad news…I’m searching through your archives trying to find a place to look for a replacement sink because the perfectly pink existing sink has huge cracks in it. Did someone drop a bowling ball in it??? The answer remains a mystery. Anyhow, this post caught my eye because the sink in the picture is very similar to ours, hexagonal with square edges and tiled in the same way. Is there a name for this shape that I can use when searching online? Is this actually an “under-mount”, or is it a wall mount set into the vanity?

    Best,
    Haley

    • pam kueber says

      Use the search box, it works pretty well. It’s just called a tile-in sink.

      Methinks you will need vintage, if it’s tile-in. Try deabath.com and salvage places.

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