Three ideas for the vanity in Cathy’s narrow gray bathroom

Pam here: Kate and I continue to work on new ideas for the blog — and voila!, here is our first Retro Design Dilemma in a new, video format. If you click to watch, you’ll notice right away that we are using a groovy new online tool — Google Hangouts — to do a live chat — in which we also can share slides and videos. We also can tape and record the whole thing live to YouTube.

In the very near future — we will be taping these LIVE. And you can tune in and ask questions — and contribute your own ideas — too!

How to participate? You need to join Retro Renovation on Google Plus — and add us to one of your circles. That way, we can invite you to our upcoming live Hangout Events. I know — you already feel like it’s too much to keep up with Facebook. But from what I’ve seen, Google Plus is not Facebook — it’s something altogether bigger, with tons more functionality. Join us and see for yourself –>

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The old-fashioned write up for this Retro Design Dilemma also is featured, below.

Kate writes:

Reader Kathy has a serious retro design dilemma. Her narrow retro bathroom was originally fitted with a too large vanity — making the room feel cramped. Kathy was living with the vanity as best she could until a pipe broke in the wall and it had to be removed. She took this opportunity to find a more narrow vanity which will help make the room feel bigger, but she has a problem — there is a gaping hole in the tile where the vanity used to be. What can Kathy do to fill the tileless void? Read on for our solutions.

retro-grey-bathroom-with-missing-tileKathy writes:

Hello!! I am asking for some help on my 60’s bathroom remodel! We needed to change the vanity in the bathroom because it is a VERY small bathroom that had a huge vanity in it. Well, we ended up having to fast forward the remodel because a pipe was cracked and the vanity needed to be removed. We found that there was nothing ever done behind the vanity…just a gaping hole! Not really what we were expecting for sure! We cracked some tiles removing the old vanity and broke the soap dish! We are not sure what to do…I had to order a special mortar for the floors since we are tiling over bare terrazzo (that is not in good shape) and it will take 3 weeks to come in! So, we have time to get ideas of what to do!!! I really don’t want to knock all the tile down since it wraps around the entire bathroom!

bath-vanity-removed-with-missing-tilevanity-for-retro-grey-bathroomThe sink base in the picture is the new one I bought from IKEA…our intention was to eventually redo the bathroom and use smaller stuff because it is really small…its 4 feet wide……my husband could barely turn around with the old vanity in there! The vanity had a big cabinet that came up from the floor angling outward with a marble top that stuck out… We have another bathroom that butts up against this one….its wider and uses the same size vanity….like they got a bulk deal!! Thanks for taking the time to look at our mess!

missing-grey-tile-retro-bathroomThe measurements are: Floor to tile 30.5 inches. Door jam to tile wall 21 inches. Length of dry wall hole 61 inches. Total length of bath room to tub 89 inches.

Any ideas would be really awesome and helpful! Thanks so much!

Instead of suggesting that Kathy try to match the grey tiles and patch the wall up (which can be very difficult to do), Pam and I brainstormed to try and think of a way to fill the void left by the missing too-large vanity with a narrow solution that is also big on storage space.

Bath-vanity-solution for missing tile retroThe first solution — the most retro styled of the three — involves having some cabinetry specially made to fit the space. A small and narrow vanity would be positioned next to the toilet — providing enough counter space to drop in a retro appropriate bathroom sink, such as the Kohler Tahoe sink with metal trim that Pam says is the go-to sink for retro bathroom renovations. To fill the rest of the wall space, narrow shelves (only about 8 inches deep) could be constructed. This would maximize the available floor space, retain some storage lost by the vanity and fill the entire area that is missing tile. Pam suggests getting louvered doors — like this set on Etsy — to cover the shelving. Louvered doors are a great door style choice for a retro bathroom. To top off the design, using a Cararra laminate countertop — with curved corners — would blend well with the grey tiles and allow for more counter space than only a small vanity top would provide.

Bath-vanity-solution-for missing tile retro bathroom The second solution is similar to the first — using the same Cararra laminate countertop — but this version mixes more modern into the bathroom. Using a floating vanity — like the GODMORGON bath vanity cabinet from Ikea — provides storage and also makes the bathroom look streamlined. Care would have to be used to choose the right sink with plumbing that would only take up the space of the top drawer, leaving the bottom one for storage. To fill the rest of the under counter area — building a sliding door cabinet to span the rest of the width of the missing tile would allow for more storage and continue the streamlined look. The area under the floating cabinets would then be tiled with the closest match of grey tile Kathy is able to locate. The separation caused by the countertop will help hide the possibility that the tiles will not be an exact match.

Bath-vanity-solution-for missing retro tile bathroomThe final solution works with what Kathy has already purchased — The FULLEN bath vanity from Ikea. By purchasing a few other key pieces also from Ikea, Kathy could add more storage, fill the rest of the void and create a finished look. Using a LILLÅNGEN wall cabinet from Ikea — installed with the door handle at the top corner instead of the bottom — adds more storage with minimal effort. To help fill the rest of the space, Kathy could put in additional open shelving by installing two LILLÅNGEN end units on either side of the cabinets — providing extra spaces to stash toilet paper and other necessities. This set up would also be topped with the Cararra laminate countertop — this time in a slightly different configuration to accommodate the new set up. The remaining wall space around the cabinets could then be painted the same shade of grey as the tile.

Hopefully one of these solutions will prove to be a winner in Kathy’s book — allowing her to save the fabulous retro grey tiles in the rest of the bathroom.

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  1. Janet in CT says

    Great video, Pam and Kate! I will be looking forward to seeing more of them! I like the first one too but thought the third might work the best. You can always install “fillers” in between like they do on kitchen cabinets to take up any space not covered/left showing at the ends. I would have gone in an entirely different direction. I could not figure out the depth of the Ikea cabinet that is there to determine if it could work or not, but I would try to find an old fifties dresser and paint it whatever color works. That way it would take up the space without trying to make everything fit, since dressers around that size are pretty common. I love the idea of the sink that sits on top of the dresser, which we just saw recently but can’t remember who did that. This is a long shot but might be cheaper and easier to do than piecing things together. Dressers are usually about the right height and about eighteen inches deep which may be too deep again, but older ones may vary. Just a thought but re-using those old dressers seems to me a great idea.

  2. Janet in CT says

    I see my first post is waiting for moderation so this one may appear before that one does. I forgot to ask if there is any problem moving the plumbing. my husband, who is Mr. Fix-it personified, can do just about anything and he always says “you can’t do that” when it comes to plumbing, which he HATES to do. That plumbing appears to be centered and if it can’t be moved, then that changes everything! I don’t know enough about plumbing to say if it can be just diverted over somewhat to accomodate the plans, but it if has to be moved inside the wall from under the floor, and can’t be done easily or at all, then we are back to start? Do we have a plumber out there who can answer this?

  3. Jay says

    Since I am at work I am unable to view video so am glad you did the old way as well. All the solutions are great, I like 1 and 2 best. Also replacing the missing soap dish and existing cup holder with white ones. This sounds like a job for Super WOT. (World of Tile). What a shame the terrazo is in poor shape.

    • pam kueber says

      One of the things about Option 2 that I don’t think Kate said in the video — the reason it would be good for Cathy’s bathroom is that it still allows PLENTY of “foot room” in a tight space.

  4. Sandra says

    I like all options but number one is my preference. One observation I would make though is that louvred doors in a bath are nightmarish to keep clean. The humidity seems to condense in the shaded part of the louvre and then dust, hair and what ever sticks. This gets worse if any type of aerosol is used in the room. Even with fastidious cleaning the upper corners of each slat seem to get dirtier and dirtier with time. Maybe someone has a solution for this problem? The older I get and the more cleaning I have behind me the more attention I pay to little things like this.

    I do love the narrow cabinet shelf solution though.

    • pam kueber says

      You are making an excellent point, Sandra….! Hmmmmmm… Maybe just slab doors with radius edge, made out of high quality MDF. Our readers are so thoughtful — thank you for this!!!!

  5. Marta says

    This is FUN! I wouldn’t worry so much about the plumbing. If you do want your sink offset from the supply and drain lines, you’ll have carve up the side of your cabinet, but with flex supply lines and angling the drain line it’s not that hard.

    But, given the narrow width of the room (4′, right?), you might consider leaving the sink in front of the supply/drain lines, which would give more room in front of the tub area where it’s typically needed. You could then use 8″ or 12″ deep wall cabinets to fit width-wise (kitchen cabs are sized in 3″ increments). We used wall cabs top and bottom for 12″ deep pantry cabs in our kitchen. My pick here for a sink, though, is a wall-mount sink. Easy clean, period appropriate, and it’s amazing how much bigger it will make the room feel.

    • pam kueber says

      Thanks, Marta — yes, it is FUN! I agree, a wall mount sink would provide maximum wiggle room — but what to do about the gaping wall lacking tile? Not matching the tile would drive me bonkers.

        • Marta says

          Actually, I’d use the white solid stuff made of some kind of plastic/pvc stuff. We lined the gross (think food explosion left to rot) pantry closet in our kitchen with it. Perfect for a bathroom as it’s waterproof.

  6. Robin, NV says

    I’m torn between options 1 and 2. I think the louvered white cabinets would help alleviate some of the grey and provide storage but option 2 seems a bit more period appropriate. I know Cathy’s not asking for decorating tips but I think painting the walls above the tile a soft yellow would look super.

    This bathroom could be the twin of mine in layout and size (mine might be a teensy bit wider). I never thought of it as small. But mine doesn’t have an oversized vanity in it either.

  7. lisa says

    I like #3. Actually, all the options are good, but #3 is the one I’d be most likely to pick if it were my house. I am guessing it is the least expensive option, and it solves the sink and tile issues.

  8. says

    I like the looks of #1 best, but agree with lisa that #3 may be easiest to implement of those options.

    As another option, just this spring I finished gut-remodeling the upstairs half-bath in our 1950s Cape Cod (nothing retro worth saving in there, unfortunately), a room which was also about 4′ wide. In looking for a cost-effective, shallow but wide vanity to maximize counter space without interfering with the door, I found two nearly identical offerings at both of the big-box stores. Check out St. Paul Del Mar at HD and Style Selections at L’s. They’re 36″ wide but have a cabinet only 12.5″ deep, and they would be tall enough to fill the vertical space. The centered sink bulges out to allow a nearly full-depth basin on the narrow base. I think they would look suitably modern for the room.

    I would place it offset to the right (there’s plenty of room to offset the plumbing like this), and make up the extra 2′ with a tall cabinet on the left; the vanity design accommodates off-center plumbing to the left. This option would be almost entirely off-the-shelf, without even requiring a custom countertop. It would limit counter space over Pam and Kate’s suggestions, though.

    That is essentially what I did, except with a narrower cabinet on the right, due to the arrangement of my room. My “website” link goes to a Photobucket album with a few pictures. They’re not great, but they give the idea. And I’ve got the louvered-door thing going, too!


    • pam kueber says

      I like your solution. More modern than retro, but surely functional considering the narrowness of the bathroom. Maybe work to match the vanity base with adjacent built-in shelving, and figure out how to integrate a countertop with some modicum of elegance…

  9. Kkmk says

    Maybe you could use a piece of the counter top laminate on the wall to cover any gaps in the tile not covered by a new vanity.

  10. Mary M says

    I think you should keep the tile too if you can. If you have sort of a piece there are places that can find it. I also have a small grey bathroom and tore out the vanity to find no tile on the wall of the floor. The rest of the bathroom is tiled, floors, walls in the shower and the other walls to about 4 feet. I found some names, I think maybe on this site when I started searching and the guys at Greenwich Tile in Greenwich CT found my tile. It is almost the same color grey as your tile, but all of my tile is like the tile in your shower. It is about 3 1/4 squares but it is scored to look like 1 inch squares with the grout. I love the way my bathroom looks now and I’m so glad i took the time to try to find the tile.

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