Noelle’s 1930s bathroom with pink panel walls

vintage-pink-bathroom-panelingReader Noelle is in love with the unusual pink bathroom in her 1930s home, but it has her puzzled. Just what are the panels covering the walls and built-ins made of, and how might she go about repairing some of them that are water damaged in the tub area? Noelle has tried to seek help from professionals, but the only advice she’s received from them is to gut and start fresh — something she is trying to avoid.

vintage-pink-bathroomNoelle writes:

I am so glad that this site exists! I can recall my grandparents’ drafty victorian mansion circa 1907 with the most luscious pink bathroom -it was such a tribute to creative beauty and charm to my child-mind. Vintage homes have an identity all their own; they’re a character in the story of our lives. Thank you for preserving that value!

midcentury-pink-bathroomI found your site while living in Long Beach, California — a mecca of preserved duplexes and bungalows. I had an amazing teal and yellow kitchen that I was hoping to duplicate when we had a home of our own. Searching the site led me to your pink bathroom series, and I only hoped to someday have one of my own. Not two years later, in the heart of Central Washington, we found a perfect little gem built in 1930 with a rounded front door, sparkly, speckled linoleum, yellow/gold appliances, and (hallelujah) a PINK bathroom!!

vintage-pink-and-white-bathroomThe bathroom, however, doesn’t quite look like any featured on your site, so I’m writing to see if you might have some insight into the era so that I can authentically replace some of the worn features, mainly flooring and the bathtub/shower.

40s-pink-bathroomThe most notable difference is that the bathroom does not have any tile. The walls have large pink panels that aren’t wood (perhaps plastic of some sort?), and the perimeter of each wall is edged with chrome. I have several built-in drawers, a bench, and a vanity area with original chrome accents, and a laundry chute on the floor that runs to the basement.

The floor is linoleum in blue and red speckled squares similar to that in old school buildings.

vintage-pink-paneled-tubThe tub is built in, but has a rounded conversion kit that encloses the area for showering.

I have sought professional advice, but the response is always to gut and remodel to a fully contemporary bathroom. No way! I want to save this pink bathroom.

I would appreciate any response to the following questions:

  1. What decade does this reflect?
  2. I found glazed, pink, 4″ hexagonal tiles that perfectly match the color of the bathroom for only $.20 each at the Habitat for Humanity thrift store that I plan to work into flooring, and I am wondering which accent colors go with pink in traditional, original homes — or is that where creative license comes in?
  3. The shower enclosure causes irritating convection/suction from the two-sided shower curtain. Unlike a claw foot tub that sits in the middle of the room, this tub is built into the wall and has a fully functioning enclosure; however, the wall panels are not waterproof so an additional shower curtain is required. Is there a way to waterproof the wall panels so that I do not have to have a shower curtain on the wall side? Have you seen others do this?

Noelle, your bathroom is amazing. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. I’ll have to pass the buck to Pam on these questions though, as she is more knowledgeable in this department. This bathroom does however, remind me of the pink bathroom Pam visited in The Wilson House, which also had paneled walls.

Pam responds to Noelle’s questions

What decade does this bathroom reflect? Well, I think it reflect the 1930s, actually. My first guess is that your bathroom is original — although the sink and toilet are replacements of a more current vintage.

Back in the day — including through to the 1950s and possibly even later — companies like Masonite (see image above) sold wall panels with glossy top finishes like those in your bathroom.

micarta bathroom

A circa-1930 bathroom with walls covered in Micarta. Micarta (owned by Westinghouse) was an early form of laminate. Yes, they seemed to be promoting this for bathrooms — like yours! Photo credit: Canadian Centre for Architecture provided to archive.org Building Technology Heritage Library. image cropped from 1930 catalog.

Moreover, companies like Micarta (above) also sold laminate just for this purpose.

Your bathroom panels — with the chrome or steel connectors between each panel — look like they would have been marketed to do-it-yourselfers. This would have made lots of sense in 1930 — the Great Depression had just hit.

Note, my second guess is that the panels went into the bathroom later. Tile could be underneath. You will only be able to find out by removing a panel.

I have seen panels like this on occasion. In our archive, we have photos of Larry’s kitchen, which had similar panels (one photo at right). Cool, huh?

  • Noelle, we do not know what your panels are made of. It could be that different manufacturers used different compositions for their panels. Yes, time for a Precautionary Pam warning: Our old house can contain vintage nastiness such as lead as asbestos; get your own properly licensed professional to determine what you have so that you can make informed decisions how to handle. Noelle, this goes for the panels, their adhesives and the substrate below… and same for the flooring. 

 

1940s colors

Adding a tile floor is very practical indeed. Looks like you need “dots” for your octagon and dot tiles — Chippy at World of Tile has dots in 72 colors — however, they are quite expensive. You should check Daltile to see if they have mosaic pieces the right size… then you could pop them in.

As to your question about color palettes: How about considering my 1940s Crane toilet seat palette (above) for inspiration. I see these all as color that would harmonize with your prewar bathroom.

sunken cinderella tubEven though companies like Masonite and Micarta marketed these panels to be waterproof, I am a skeptic about their long-term functionality in the wet, steamy environment of a bathroom. In addition, all the minerals in our water is likely deleterious to the finish, unless you take great care to wipe down the shower wall every time.  To ideas to consider: (1) Remove the panels surrounding the tub and apply 4″ pink tile from B&W (assuming the match is good) in the panels’ place. I know this idea might sound like preservationist heresy — but golly, you want a shower wall to be waterproof or else bad things can happen behind the wall. In fact: Do you know what’s happening behind that wall? Second: Replace the laminate. When I visited the Wilson House — and saw the shower with laminate walls — I asked Wilsonart about the viability of laminate for this purpose. They told me that, yes, laminate can be used for wall panels in tub/shower enclosure — you will just need to be sure it is applied correctly and in a way that seals all the edges. Noelle, we have identified numerous laminate suppliers. Perhaps you can find a pink laminate in the color you need.

Good luck, Noelle — let us know what you decide. And thank you for Saving another Pink Bathroom!

Readers: What else could Noelle do as a solution to the issue with her shower walls?

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Comments

  1. Manon Fournier says

    Great pink bathroom! I won’t add to the comments, as I read them all and agree with what is said. I googled Asbestos and Abitibi, since it’s a place I know in Quebec, my province. That area is well known for its unfamous huge mining companies. The site I found suggest habing the pannels tested for hazardous materials such as asbestos.
    http://www.emsl.com/index.cfm?nav=Pages&ID=284
    Forgive my English skills for I am a French-speaking.
    Please post other pictures of further transformations!

  2. Neil says

    If this wonderful, eccentric bath were mine, I would look into replacing the damaged panels with panels of semi-gloss stainless, in the most tasteful way possible. The stainless could still look, if not original, at least period and becoming.

  3. Barb S. says

    Noelle, while you still have to use that additional shower curtain for protection, why not try some magnets to hold it in place? Is your tub metal? I would get 4 or 5 heavy duty magnets (I get mine at the craft store), and line them up along the edge of the tub. That’s what we do here to keep the curtain from climbing on us when we shower – yuk! I actually pounded big-head nails into the wall next to the tub and fastened my magnets to the nails. It gives a little extra elbowroom, too. Be sure to put the curtain flat down the wall before you magnet it in, or it will probably billow from the air pressure. Good luck and I LOVE that bathroom. thanks for sharing

  4. David I says

    My2cents
    I have had a number of vintage travel trailers that were built in the 40’s and 50’s and some of them had Masonite kitchens and bathrooms.
    For cleaning I would use rubbing compound to bring back the finish and a paste wax for the final finish. They would look new. The trim was most likely alluminmim and you can use a little steel wool and Motheres to bring back the shine.
    If you have another bathroom in the house I’d get rid if the old shower line/curtain and put in a nice period fawecett with a hand held sprayer so you can shampoo and rinse off when done bathing! I had an apartment in San Francisco in 1978 that had a claw foot tub and no shower. It was huge so to rinse out the shampoo I’d just lean my head back into th water. So…..I know this can be done. I’d find a period sink too

  5. Kathy says

    Is there any chance it is Magnesite? which is shaped in place. It is hard for me to believe that anything like Masonite would last that long next to a bathtub/shower, even if it was carefully wiped down each time.

    http://www.tracyking.com/northeast-los-angeles-magnesite-flooring.html (Not aware if it was made into panels, but the stuff wears like iron, and is fireproof too!)

    http://www.oldhousejournal.com/managing_magnesite/magazine/1198

    Also look into getting some ventilation in there. They have some nice light fixtures/fans now that can blend in.

  6. Kathy says

    Vitrolite isn’t made anymore, although there is a German manufacturer of something similar. Best bet is salvage. Too bad, it was great stuff and used a lot for store facades, although installation can be difficult–best outside with hot tar mastics. Not sure about installation inside–may be like a mirror. There is a Preservation Brief (#12) on structural glass that covers it–Vitrolite is a trade name. Plus lots of other good information on preserving old buildings: http://www.nps.gov/tps/how-to-preserve/briefs.htm

    Sometimes back-painted tempered glass is used as substitute. Seen it done for kitchen backsplashes. Not sure about bathrooms, but might be worth looking into. Color might be hard to match, and texture will be different. Might be kind of a neat look in a contrasting color to match. The stainless strips are neat, but a source of water penetration I would think. There are liner strips in metallic finishes to use with tile that might be worth looking into..

  7. Joe Felice says

    Oh, that’s right! Marlite! I had forgotten about that, but I’m thinking it was just another brand of Masonite. It did have cutsey little designs, but I think it was mainly for kitchens. As I recall, the Masonite back then had a thicker finished surface. Care would have to be taken to keep moisture from getting behind this, as the actual Masonite absorbs water like a sponge, and it expands. Similar panels I see at stores today have a very-thin finished surface, and I would never use them in an area that is exposed to moisture. Actual laminate is a completely-different animal, and could be used, but still, I personally would not. As Pam says, great care would have to be taken to seal the edges and joints, and you would constantly have to be resealing them. I like Pam’s idea of replacing the bathtub panels with matching tile. No one will ever know! (Except the hairdresser!) Coordinating colors used with pink in bathrooms were gray, black and dark burgundy. We have also seen some on this site that have pink with turquoise, and, while it never occurred to me to intermingle the two colors, they are, in my mind, truly beautiful, I also find the bench in front of the sink most interesting and unusual. I’m sure this bathroom was custom finished. Because of the amount of space the bench takes up in the tight area in front of the sink, I might be inclined to remove it. I do love all the in-wall storage cubbies.

  8. MM says

    You might consider FRP (fiber reinforced plastic) or GRP (glass reinforced plastic) panels as a replacement instead of laminate. This material is often used in commercial kitchens as a waterproof and easily cleanable wall surface. Pink wont be a standard color, but many suppliers of FRP also offer custom colors. You would have to do a bit of searching to find one willing to supply a small quantity at a reasonable price, but it seems to me like it could be the perfect solution. The seams between panels are covered with a plastic strip in the same color as the panels but it should be easy to find chrome strips to use instead. The panels are available in many different textures as well (pebbled, glossy, etc). Good luck!

  9. Yvette says

    I can’t believe contractors would want to gut that gorgeous bathroom! There has got to be one willing to work with you who would get excited about doing something creative and different. When I remodeled my apartment, my contractor was wonderful, had really cool mid century cabinets custom made for me and even built me a “Dick Van Dyke Show” type wall in my entryway!

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