Reader Design Dilemma: Freshening up a beige- and maroon-colored bathroom

bathroom-designsDesignDilemmaThis week’s Retro Design Dilemma comes to us from reader Pat — who has just become the caretaker for the 1953 ranch home where she grew up — after moving back in to care for her aging mother. Pat is trying to clean up the home little by little — and is a little overwhelmed with the task at hand. Deciding to start the process by fixing up her peachy-pinky-beige and maroon bathroom — Pat knows the peeling wallpaper and missing grout will need to be fixed. What she’s not sure of: What kind of treatment should replace the aging wallpaper? Pat needs help with ideas on how to decorate this mid century bathroom. 


vintage-retro-bathroomPat writes:

I have a 1950s bathroom in a ranch-style house that was built in 1953. (I grew up there and have now moved back in to assist my mother who is no longer able to live alone.)

The bathroom has maroon floor tiles, and in the 80s my parents replaced the tub surround with beige 4″ x 4″ tiles because water got behind the wall and the original tiles had to be removed.

vintage-bathroom-wallpaperThe tub and toilet are the original “flesh” color (for lack of a better description, but I’m sure you know what I mean).

laminate-countertopMy parents also replaced the original vanity, not sure when but now have an oak one w/matching mirror, probably from Home Depot or something similar.

retro-wallpaperIt’s got a few layers of wallpaper; the present one is peeling, but underneath it’s all rough and bumpy from the old glue and the previous layers.

bathroom-lightI’m just wondering about what kind of wall treatment I could use after I remove the old wallpaper, and if we replaced the vanity and mirror, what would look appropriate?

vintage-vanityThe dark lines you see between some tiles are missing grout (the whole shower enclosure needs to be regrouted), and there is some rust along the seam on the tub.

There is so much to do in this house, this is just a very small part! I’m doing the best I can but it’s overwhelming.

Thank you!

Readers, what should Pat do with the walls when the peeling paper is removed? How about the mirror and vanity situation?

Kate’s solution: warm & woodsy

retro bathroomAside from tackling the removal of  all of that peeling wallpaper and missing grout, I would remove the shower doors and replace them with a curtain. The curtain will be easier to keep clean — plus the right shower curtain will help tie the room together. It is hard to tell the exact shades of maroon, peachy-pink and beige that are found in your tile, tub and toilet, but this butterflies shower curtain from seems like it might have the right colors for your space.

Since the shower curtain is patterned, I would keep the walls a solid color. To add more interest and contrast to the space, picking a light green from the shower curtain and using it as the wall color will help visually pull the space together. Red (maroon) and green are complimentary colors that work well together.

For the mirror, I’d choose a simple, frameless oval shape — like this Moen mirror from Home Depot — which will feel light and airy by comparison to the large, oak framed mirror currently in place.

To finish up the look — green hand and bath towels will repeat the green wall and shower curtain color again, for further cohesiveness. For a slightly retro kitschy look, add a pine cone bath mat and a shelf over the toilet with some cute vintage knick knacks, like this family of chipmunks Pam found on Ebay. Alternately, if kitsch isn’t your thing, a solid bath mat in one of the colors found in the room would also work wonderfully.

Pam’s solutions: Playing up the ruby red jewel box

shower-curtainsWhat a wonderful daughter you are, Pat, to be there to help your mother! Here are my thoughts on your bathroom:

  • As other readers have mentioned in their comments: Safety First. Please consult with properly licensed professionals to ensure you know latest safety guidance on securing this bathroom against slips and falls. I bet that they even have this advice at the doctor’s office!  Now on to decorating….
  • To me, that rich red mosaic tile floor file seems to be the major star of your vintage bathroom. It sure looks gorgeous. However, that beige-colored tub and tile and toilet. Umm, not so much. So, I would most definitely play up the ruby red… and treat the beige like a neutral.
  • If your safety experts agree with the advice to take out the sliding door and install properly secured hand rails instead, I would take out the slider. That way, you could use a bold shower curtain to add color and pattern — and it would play down the expanse of beige tile. I would find gorgeous ruby-red towels to go with.
  • I would add a beige-colored toilet seat… and as another reader suggested this morning, I’d change out the sink to match the other fixtures.
  • Since in this design I added a very bold shower curtain, I think I would just paint the walls — probably a classic ivory. Nothing too harsh.
  • I might leave the oak vanity as is… the oak tones kind of meld with the beige-colored fixtures. I think I’d change the pulls though — I might choose an oak pull to keep it simple.



  • Since you asked for wallpaper, Pat, how about something like the design above. As described above, I looked for a wallpaper with a ruby red design. It was actually difficult to find this color in the several places I looked. But finally, I found this light and airy floral by Brewster at American Blinds. Wallpaper is such a personal design decision… and this is not particularly retro — I’d call it traditional… but I wanted to show it to illustrate how I got to it: (1) the color of the pattern is close — ideally you want to match that ruby red floor, (2) the field, or background, seems to work — I did not like how brite white fields looked in this bathroom; a color that picked up a bit of your beige tone (but not toooo much) seemed to work best, (3) the scale of the pattern looked right — you need to bridge the mosaic of the floor and the squares of the shower/tub surround when you choose the wallpaper, (4) the wallpaper kept the room airy, and (5) the price was not too bad.
  • I’d add ruby red towels and a creamy shower curtain in the same color as the field color of the wallpaper.

Thank you, Pat, for submitting your Retro Design Dilemma — good luck with all — and let us know what you decide!



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  1. Scott says

    If for safety reasons or easier access I’m 100% on board for removal of the glass shower doors, but purely from a looks perspective I’m surprised so many people seem to prefer a curtain. Growing up I always thought glass shower doors (along with lighted doorbells) were sure signs you were in swankyland.

    I will say however grab bars are great idea for every age and every bathroom set up, but especially if you have glass doors.

  2. Mike S says

    Yes, there is nothing much left to do with all that red than to add some greens to it. And to add a dash of ’40s “woodsiness” to it is brilliant. Gotta go with Kate on this one:)

  3. JKaye says

    I want to add my salute to Pat for becoming her mom’s caretaker, and also the home’s caretaker. My only suggestion to add is to point out that her mother had picked a rather feminine looking wallpaper at some point, and perhaps staying with a feminine look would still be pleasing to her. Kate’s shower curtain choice, and Pam’s wallpaper choice, either one, would be a really nice choice.

  4. Pat says

    Wow, you’ve all given me so many great suggestions my head is spinning! I certainly have a lot to think about.

    Thank you everyone…I’ll keep you posted!

  5. TerriLynn says

    Wow, I gotta say that first one looks fabulous.

    And I also have to say thank you to all of the people here at retro reno. Pam, your rule of not saying the h or u words and making sure others here are respectful of other people’s design decisions and homes, has really touched me today. I made the mistake of going to an interior design site and discussion board for help in sprucing up my bathroom. I have had some of the rudest comments made to me today, it was horribly painful. I wish everybody had a little more respect for other people’s feelings.
    I so appreciate all of you. I do wish you had more of a discussion board for vintage design dilemas so that we could help each other too.

  6. Cynthia says

    Why not go 50s tiki style and make it feel like a tropical getaway rather than piney-woodsy? Imagine the tile, tub and toilet ( and even the sink and counter) as beigey sand and the red floor tiles as the blooms of tropical flowers. Yes, strip the walls, remove the shower doors and regrout all tile as needed. Use a vintage-looking tropical Hawaiian shirt print fabric shower curtain…at look for the “Tropical Palm” pattern which has 3 colorways…sea-turquoise blue background, red background, or very light yellow background, all with green palm fronds some beiges too, and red tropical flowers. The Blue background especially will break up all that beige and look super fresh. Tommy Bahama has the tiki-looking “bonny cove” pattern on a white background with palm fronds and red flowers too; get it on Also on, look at the Brewster faux grasscloth vinyl wallpaper in olive – it’s a light olive with lots of beige and some of the red too. (Grasscloth is very mid-century and the olive goes well with the palm fronds, vinyl is good for the bathroom and the texture will cover the walls if they are uneven after old paper is removed. Or, paint a very very light olive green or even a warm sage to go with the color of the palm fronds…rather than a minty or piney green…or, a warm off-white. Towels and rugs, off-white. I’d leave the sink, top, vanity cabinet and mirror alone, change the vanity knobs to match the sink faucet, and maybe go for a different light that looks more mid-century. The window over the tub is high, I’d leave it uncovered or maybe a removable frosted-look vinyl on the glass, not a blind. Accessories in bamboo look for added tiki charm. Good luck and God bless with your caregiving, and I think you’d all get a kick out of the tiki-fied bathroom every time you used it!

  7. Linda says

    I highly recommended Zinzer “perma-white” for the ceiling. My roof leaked and the bathroom ceiling bowed, forcing us to replace it, in the meantime, not ONE spot of mildew or mold! Great product.

  8. PDX says

    We were able to strip layers of wallpaper with very hot water and vinegar in a squirt bottle. Spray it on, and in 10 min, scrapes right off!

  9. samantha anastasiou says

    has anyone tried re-glazing their porcelain tub and sinks? I have vintage porcelain kohler sinks, but they are worn and stained. I’ve noticed companies that do re-glazing and was wondering if anyone knows anything about it.

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