Tiles in tub surround only go halfway up — what to do if you want a shower?

“Can This Bathroom Be Saved?”
MacGuyvered PVC fix ain’t cuttin’ it

bathroom with tile only half way up the wallChristi has a problem that I think is fairly common: In her original 1950s bathroom, the tile only goes 5/8 of the way up the wall around the bathtub surround. Back in the day, it seems, folks took lots of baths and few showers. In addition, the tiles look like mud-set tiles — the big thick ones. And, there’s a window — if you stand up, well, neighbors get quite the show. Readers, Christi is looking for help, ideas. What should she do? Can this bathroom be saved? Read on…

pink bathroom tile

Christi writes:


“Sadly, I am considering a whole rip-out of my pink bathroom tile. It’s in beautiful condition; even the 4×4 pink floor tile has held up over these 60+ years.

The problem is the tub surround. It’s tiled only up to about 4′ high. Another problem is the block glass window, placed conveniently where I have to stand in order to take a shower. It’s all plastered in, and while we’ve MacGuyvered a sort-of circular quasi-shower curtain rod out of HIS favorite, PVC, I just want something permanent and comfortable.

Is this the only home with the pink bathroom intact with this problem left? Somebody suggested I simply add tile above the elbow-shaped top tiles, but frankly it looks just as dorky as the PVC.

Any tried and true methods for preservation balanced with a dash of reality for those of us who need that 5-minute shower?

I have attached pics of the bathroom. The block glass tile window sill is about waist-high — and right next to my neighbor’s garden!  Thanks for your consideration in helping find a solution to my problem.

Have a great day!


Christy, thank you for sharing. The PVC shower curtain — it’s just wonderful, absolutely made my day! 🙂 Give the man a big hug for me.

I think this has come up before in emails I’ve received, but I’ve never put the question on the blog, as I can recall.

If it were my house, I think that the first potential solution I would explore would be to consult with a tiling professional to see if the top row of maroon bullnose around the tub could be carefully removed… making way to seamlessly continue the pink tile upward. If the removed maroon bullnose tile (what you call elbow-shaped) could be kept intact during removal, you could use it to finish the front edge of the new pink; that is, make an L-connection with the bullnose running horizontally through the rest of the room. I hope you can follow this… Perhaps you could get a match for your existing pink tile from B&W… or you could try World of Tile. The whole project would likely be ridiculously expensive as it would be “fussy”.  On the other hand, gutting and replacing the entire bathroom also will be expensive — and as you say, you sure have a beautiful pink bathroom. There just ain’t nothin’ like mud-set tile.

Important update May 10 — A lot of readers suggested using enamel paint on the walls in the tub/shower surround above the tile, saying this would be waterproof. Another reader in particular said, essentially: “BEWARE painting those walls — water and water vapor can still get in them and behind them and lead to rot and mold and otherwise, destruction.” This last comment rang true to me — as water is DESTRUCTIVE to a house. To further explore the issue, I asked the folks at Rust-Oleum, who specialize in surface solutions, whether they had a paint or other type product to use on tub/shower walls like this. Here is what they said:

“We really don’t have a product that they would be able to use – and quite frankly I don’t know of one.  It’s going to be very difficult to give drywall the type of water resistance that would be needed for this kind of exposure.”

Bottom line: Beware this idea, readers. My advice: Consult with a properly licensed professional regarding the wisdom, or not, in this  idea.

Regarding the window… I am not sure. I bet readers will have suggestions.

Readers — have any of you confronted the same tile problem as Christi? If so, what did you do?
And, what’s best to shield a window view in a tub-shower? 


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  1. Mimi says

    Two years later, if it’s not fixed, rotted or sold…….what about custom cut safety glass or plexiglass on the painted wall above?

  2. Betsy in Michigan says

    I know this is very late, but I’m surprised no one seems familiar with readily available solid surfacing material – Corian is only one brand – (which comes thin, for walls) to use above the tile, and its cheaper cousin, acrylic in sheets (which we used years ago for an entire tub surround, all the way to the ceiling (but in our ignorant youth, didn’t use enough adhesive, so it rippled!). Countertop laminate is not designed for that much water. If I ever re-do a tub, this is what I’m using (the Corian or Wilsonart or whatever, INCLUDING for the ceiling above the tub!). And in Michigan, lots of 20th century houses have that goofy problematic window inside the tub/shower. Back in the day, I think it usually got a plastic window curtain over it.

  3. Emily Chua says

    Has anyone used glass panels above their short tiled bath with shower? I am considering this as being one of only two options in order to keep my original 1942 tile. The tile is mortar set with metal mesh, so no removing the bullnose in one piece 🙁 Our home will eventually be turned into a rental and having a track curtain around the entire surround does not seem like a practical solution with renters. I’d love to see pictures if someone has used glass panels above their tile!! I have yet to find a picture online.

    • pam kueber says

      Hi Emily, I have never featured a story in which someone did this. Did a story once where homeowners tiled in a complementary tile, though.

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