*timeless* … *dated* … *hideous* … “unfashionable”: A discussion re kitchens and bathrooms

Elkay Lustertone stainless steel sink top

I have been thinking a lot lately about whether it would be possible, today, to create a truly *timeless* kitchen and bathroom. That is: Focusing on the past 70 years, when our *modern* American way of life began after World War II: Make a list of all the pieces in a kitchen and then a bathroom that could put together so that, when you saw the finished room, you could not peg it, or any of the pieces in it, to a decade or window *when everybody did that.* Alas, I could not get very far in my little interior design parlor game. I wracked my brain and could think of only two products, so far, that met my rigorous criteria for remaining in pretty much continual use in residential homes… but without getting so *hot* that they ultimately crashed and burned into a sad pile of once-trendy *hideous* *dated* ashes.

4" ceramic bathroom tile like this "Spa" blue from DaltileMy fascination with the timeless comes, I think, as the flip side of my conniption fit whenever someone spits out the word *dated* to describe a home feature that is perfectly functional but no longer popular. Oh, how I hate that word.

While dictionaries may recognize “dated” as meaning “unfashionable”, my issue with the word is that probably 99% of what’s in your home is *dated*. That is, show me a kitchen or a bathroom installed during any decade in the 20th or early 21st century, and I can give you a *date* for it. Continuing on: Tear out a *hideous* [sic / also hate] *dated* kitchen, and replace it with what’s fabulous today — and you will have a kitchen *dated* 2012… Which some homeowner about 20 or 25 years from now will think is *hideous* and spit on and call *dated* and rip out and replace with a fabulous 2022 kitchen… and the beat goes on.

I thought and thought and you know what I think: It’s virtually impossible to put together an entire kitchen or bathroom that cannot be *dated* — and therefore, won’t become “unfashionable”.

So, that leads back to the design ethic of this blog, which is kinda sorta: If you’re gonna have a *dated* kitchen, which is inevitable (I *think*), you might as well have it *dated* to the *date* of the house, which is usually extremely very difficult to hide, especially if there are other similarly *dated* houses all around it.

As you can see, the two products that I pegged as pretty timeless are: Elkay stainless steel sink tops — which I believe have been in pretty continuous use since the 1920s… and 4″ ceramic bath tiles, also in continuous popular use since at least then. Tile colors with relatively timeless appeal: “Spa” (Daltile) blue aka heron blue or robin’s egg blue; rose beige; bone, almond, light grey. White or self- trim. Pretty liner tile.

At certain points in time, both the Elkay sinks and 4″ ceramic bathroom tiles have been very fashionable… but I don’t think they were ever particularly un-fashionable — and never *hideous*.

What do you think?
Are there other kitchen and bath products
that you believe would pass my tough threshold for timelessness?

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Comments

  1. Karen says

    Sadly, the only things left of my 1920’s cottage are the outside wood, wood flooring, some studs, wall and ceiling board – both of those horribly damaged. At some point, the house was gutted, walls and up and down stairways moved, garage moved from one side of the house to the other and a room added over the new garage. And plywood was nailed over the wood floor in the kitchen – I’m scared to see what’s underneath though that is where the original basement stairs were. 90% of the workmen I have had come to give estimates for repair say they’ll get back to me and don’t. One got a foot inside the door and said the whole thing should be torn down. And the only thing in the file at the village is a “cease and desist” order for work being done without a permit! This is the extreme of “out with the old”.

  2. Melissa I says

    I think that basic standing sinks, toilets and tubs in white or other plain colors may survive the test of time. For kitchens, perhaps simple wood cabinets.

    I’m neither a slave to current trends or to what was once a current trend. I’m not a fan of harvest gold and never will be. I don’t like the stainless steel/granite kitchens that are so prevalent either.

    I was raised by artist parents who loved antiquing and “junking” – they were the precursors of today’s trash-to-treasure movement. I was dragged to more auctions than I care to remember. They has a unique design aesthetic for the 1970s and passed along their love of the eclectic and the antique. There is a sense of continuity and history we don’t often find these days.

    I have also found that many items of the past were better made. In many cases, furniture was made of wood and not the cheap press board prevalent today.

  3. Rascal says

    You might want to coin a new term– “classically fashionable”. It could refer to things that have enduring value and can be fitted into any time period.

  4. Catherine says

    My question was really just whether you thought all-white tile bathrooms were ever built during the 1950s.

    Also, ceramic tile refinishing is not the same thing as tile painting (I would never think to paint my tile bathroom! It peels and looks terrible.)

    • pam kueber says

      I apologize if that sounded rude. Hmmm. I don’t see too many all-white bathrooms in my personal travels into 1950s houses. Nor do I see many in ads. But, I tend to believe sure they existed. How about “bone” and white? My mother-in-law always said this was a classic combo. Here are some bathrooms in very soft shades, circa 1956: http://retrorenovation.com/2012/03/05/gorgeous-gray-and-turquoise-1956-tennessee-dream-kitchen-and-4-bathrooms/

      All that said, Catherine, I still tend to believe there is no substitute for the look of real tile. That’s essentially a Glass finish on top. I don’t tend to believe that can be replicated with any in-place process, because it takes very high heat to fuse that sort of finish…

      It’s your bathroom, though: The colors should sing to you!

      • vintigchik says

        I’ve pondered this for a while and it’s why I’m responding so late to this post. I grew up in my grandparent’s 1959 ranch home and both baths had white tile and fixtures. Color was, and still is, more expensive when talking tile and fixtures. My grandparents, being not so wealthy, probably couldn’t afford the upgrade.

        • meb says

          Vintigchik,

          We just bought a mid-sixties ranch style, and the only bathroom left with some of its original features is the largest one between two bedrooms. The sink, toilet, and flooring have been updated (ugh!), but the tub, window, tub faucet, and wall tiles are original. The window is a medium stained wood, which fits the exterior aesthetic, but the tub is white with a push-pull faucet, and the tiles are a softened with a teensy bit of a grey (in some light looks like a certain colour of bone I’ve seen in nature) hue, with random medium blue tiles interspersed. I’m grateful for this because of the reasons you state. I hope finding flooring, sink, and faucet will end up being easier to restore to a more original look because of this. I’m DYING to repaint that bathroom, BTW, because the most recent colour is yellow based, and looks icky next to the white tile. I don’t think the owners noticed, partly because they seem to had little sense of aesthetics, but also because the room has industrial style fluorescent lights,with the plastic films hung in suspended feeling fashion, and the film turned yellow. Headache city!

          Oh, and we do plan on replacing the window because the space can not be used as a shower, and has s shower head. We’ll do what we did with our 1920’s bathroom by going with glass block, and will not be as much as a clash with the house’s exterior. None of the other windows are original, and the previous owner went with plain white vinyl – the less expensive choice, I’m sure. They do not compliment the house at all, and seem to be the choice most made in this neighborhood when they got replacement windows.

  5. tenantproof says

    For timeless things in a kitchen or bathroom last 60 years or so I would add to the list hexagonal tiles both black and white, subway tiles, basketweave bathroom tiles, in gray, black and white and one inch tiles in white and black. I would also add the classic wooden medicine cabinet painted white. For cabinetry in the kitchen I say full inset drawers with a slab or full inset drawer style. For cabinetry cabinets I say full inset doors with full inset panel. For lighting in both kitchen and bathroom perhaps schoolhouse lighting in white milk glass and chrome such as Rejuvenation Hardware’s Rose City and Jefferson. Also in kitchen and bathroom the following styles from Rejuvenation wall bracket light such as the Umpqua, St. Helens or Enright, or the two arm variety such as the Walton, Pendleton or three arm variety such as the Chesire and Three Forks all in chrome or nickel finish. http://www.rejuvenation.com/catalog/categories/lighting/period-basics

  6. The Atomic Mom says

    Just read this post for the first time, from your 2012 wrap up. I 100% agree with you on these two features. My Grandparents house, a 1957 ranch, has both of these. An Elkay Lustertone, drain board sink and 4 inch tiles every where. I love Grandma’s house even more after reading your wonderful blog. This last Thanksgiving we stayed there as a family and I just soaked in all of the MCM and just enjoyed the fact that these things were her choices for her home. It was an amazing experience.

  7. Richard Douglass says

    The Kohler Delderfield sink has been mentioned on this thread. It is shown in a 1939 catalog in my collection and is still being made here in the USA. That’s pretty timeless.

    Simple Shaker style upper cabinets with glass inserts are pretty timeless, too.

  8. Valerie says

    Well, I’m a little late to this party, but I’m going to put in my two cents anyway. 🙂

    I have been looking at ALOT of kitchen photos from different decades recently. We are going to be redoing our kitchen floor and counters and putting in a back splash. The house is only 8 years old, so I’m not worried about finding things that are historically appropriate or anything. We’re replacing because the people who built this house did a bad install job and we have uneven counters, no back splash, and cracked floor tiles. However, once we get new ones installed properly, I expect to keep them long term. (Like, until they carry me out on a stretcher!) I’m not a fan of ripping out things that are perfectly good and sending them to the landfill or even the re-store. I’d rather get it done right and keep it as long as it functions.

    So my thought was that I would look to find things that are more timeless. I pretty much agree with all the comments here about the thigns that are more timeless than others – but also about the premise that most things are dated. You just want to date them to the date of your house. What I noticed in looking at old photos is that the things that look the most dated 15-20 years later seem to be to be the things that were most extreme.

    So from the current time, I think the things that will look most dated the soonest will be the really ornate, Tuscan villa cabinets and the stone counters with lots of color variation in them. Let’s not forget that carerra marble and soapstone have been used in kitchens for many years, so I’m guessing that the marble-ish and more solid color stones won’t be considered dated as soon – or at least will be acceptable again sooner. Makes me glad I tend to prefer things that are simpler and more classic anyway. 🙂 I’d love a 1930-40 colonial revival house or a cottage, but I have no plans to move. I’m just going to keep it simple where I am.

    • pam kueber says

      Hi Valerie, thank you for your comments and additions. Yes, Carrarra marble and soapstone go on the “timeless” list, I agree. My concern re marbles in the kitchen is maintenance. Hey: How about one of the new carrerra marble laminates! We have a story on these, and I see that Formica just came to the party and added another one to their lineup this year. There are some nice looking soapstone laminates, too.

      Let me know whey you have your “new” timeless kitchen in! I’d love to see what you choose!

      • Valerie says

        Oh, I’m all about the low maintenance! Yes, real marble is out for precisely that reason – at least in my kitchen. But there are alternatives, as you point out. Laminate is one. There are also solid surface and man-made quartz that look VERY much like marble to my eye.

  9. Richard says

    The whole concept of timeless design is interesting. One designer made the comment that the only way to do a timeless designed interior is to use antiques. You cannot do a timeless design by shopping in stores for new things. IMHO there is a whole lot of truth in that. New things are not timeless. They are at best upscale trendy, and of course new, and at worst cheap junk to be used and quickly discarded. And there is everything in the middle. Something becomes timeless by surviving over a long period of time.

    It is easier to do timeless in other rooms of the house besides the kitchen and bathroom. These two rooms are more difficult because of the improvements in technology. While a 300 year old oriental carpet could still be used in the living room, it is doubtful that many kitchen or bathroom items that old would be used in these rooms today.

    But besides floors and countertops, many smaller older things get used on a regular basis and fit the timeless category. In my kitchen these include a 1936 GE refrigerator, a Sunbeam T-9 toaster, Ekco Flint stainless spoons and spatulas, a Gilchrist ice cream scoop, a Swing-A-Way can opener and Edlund Top-Off jar opener.

    One last comment. I don’t believe that one must always hold to the era of the house in creating a kitchen. Does one really want a Victorian kitchen in a Victorian house? Then too, there are many houses that are really are so general in style (or lack of specific style) that one has lots of leeway in what to create. In the end it’s alway a matter of the taste and skill of the person doing the design to integrate a modern kitchen into the old house. It’s a pleasure to see that many people who can do this well are posting on this site.

    • pam kueber says

      Thanks for your comments, Richard. Please note right up in the top of the story: My “timeless clock” starts: “Focusing on the past 60 years, when our *modern* way of life began…”

      • Richard says

        Hi Pam,

        i did in fact forget the part of the “last 60 years”. But must admit to having a small problem with the “when our *modern* way of life began.”
        When my parents built their first house in 1946 it was as modern in every way as the houses in the mid 1950s, except somewhat smaller, with the kitchen being a separate closed off room. But the appliances and features were totally modern. Interestingly, in 1956 we moved into a house built in 1810 where the kitchen had a fireplace and was open to the dining area and living room. In 1960 my father built a house in Virginia that might be called mid century southern traditional. So please forgive me for my warped sense of mid century timing! LOL
        If your mid century begins in 1953 and goes about 20 years forward, then I’m being the mid century devils advocate and going 20 into the past. In any case, I absolutely love your blog and what you are doing.
        But… I think you’ll like my non-purist 1939 kitchen when it is finished. Oh, heck yea you will. ;-D

        • pam kueber says

          My mid-century begins 1945/1946 — when World War II ended. I should correct this to say “last 70 years.”

          When I wrote this originally, I was likely putting the marker at 1953 — that’s the start of Populuxe. That was an important economic/aesthetic/consumer break — the housing shortage was resolved, meaning that materials shortages also were resolved, and consumers also started feeling more confident about discretionary spendng. But in terms of this discussion, I will update and put the milestone at 1945/46 — “modern” houses began being built and appointed, en masse, then. They were just not as fancy as beginning in 1953.

          There were “modern” kitchen and bathrooms before 45-46, of course — but few folks could afford them.

          Anyway, that’s my thinking on the subject… and how, in terms of this “parlor game” exercise, I tried to put a starting date on where to start the “timeless” design clock for kitchens and bathrooms…. I continue to think about this entire story a lot. I need to do a follow up that incorporates readers’ builds — of which there were some really excellent ones!

  10. Ellie says

    Super site! Thoughtful responses.
    as a designer, I work really hard to put together interiors that “belong” in the homes esthetics & time period, but with a modern twist of new appliances & features consistent with today’s lifestyles. As some have commented, there are many period homes that were well appointed & had really thoughtful interior details so unless worn out, its a shame to tear it out. If its already there, utilize those trims & moldings as inspiration. I don’t believe in wholesale ripping out. Too much of that was done to modernize by stripping homes of all their personality. The reality of older kitchen installations though, are most very, very basic. Little storage, disjointed space planning & traffic flow that is often transecting the working areas. These issues need fixing. I love the list developed. Yes to stainless sink work top like Elkay shown, 4 x 4 tiles, subway tiles, wood floors (light to mid tone), pencil listel inlaid, artful tile setting with combinations of sizes, penny tiles, cork floors, white trim, mullioned windows (heritage), bringing garden into the house with french doors or banks of full height picture windows (mid century & beyond). Clerestory windows. Transoms. white bath fixtures, crystal chandeliers or wrought iron, accent glass panels. Marble as mentioned. beautiful forms & proportions. High ceilings-classic Post & beam-classic, The most beautiful homes have an integrated look no matter the era. the list goes on! strange trendy colours & aggressive patterns will date a space faster than anything.

  11. Pia says

    I renovated my entire house (a 1958 construction), tearing down almost every part of the old structure – in fact we did tear down every part – but kept our 96″ lustertone Elkay sink counter top. I refuse to send this timeless and functional piece to the recycle center. It continues to serve me well in my new 20 x 25 foot kitchen. In fact, I am searching for a matching lustertone counter top, without any sinks or other features, to install on the back side of my my 96″ unit. The idea is to create a lustertone island with a center back splash. What I currently have is a half Lustertone/half temporary piece of maple plywood island that is function but ugly. If anyone has a lead on old lustertone counter tops, I’d appreciate the info.

    • pam kueber says

      Pia, have you reached out to Elkay to see if they can get you the material? I am guessing: They don’t manufacture it — they buy it from someone…

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