Adventures in Remodeling & the cost of “unobtainium” — Donna and Steve’s 1957 bathroom

vintage aqua bathroomDonna and Steve waited 18 months after moving into their 1957 ranch home before tackling the renovation of their main bathroom. The original soft blue-green Rheem-Richmond tub and toilet were in great shape and could be reused, but they would need a matching vintage sink, new wall and floor tile, and a new vanity. So a gut remodel — which ended up including a memorable adventure to the famous World of Tile liquidation sale — was in order. Of course, Adventures in Remodeling don’t usually come cheap — and we get Donna’s hilarious calculation: The cost of “unobtainium” — we love it!


^ The bathroom “before”

Donna and Steve were able to source most all of the elements for the new bathroom using resources found here on Retro Renovation.

And most of them sound pretty affordable: The wall tile is plain white Daltile. The flooring, American Olean Chloe. The sink and even the laminate countertop are from craigslist. Steve designed the vanity and had it custom made. As with most of the stories we do here, we asked for a complete list of resources, and Donna generously sent them along — they are at the bottom of this story. Thank you, Donna.

vintage aqua bathroomThe real stickler item, though: Donna and Steve wanted the bullnose trim tile to match the Richmond-Rheem fixtures. After comparing their original qblue-green fixtures to every known tile manufacturer under the sun — including our go-to B&W Tile — they had almost given up on finding a match — until they read about World of Tile. But wait! While waiting for Chippy to produce a tile match for their aqua green, the couple heard that World of Tile was closing its doors! But… Donna and Steve were planning a vacation to the East Coast. Could they divert a portion to attend the World of Tile liquidation sale (November 2014) — and possibly score some tile for their project? Yes! Adventure: On!

  • Finding wall tiles to match the original features proved to be a challenge — one that Donna chronicled over on her blog Mid Century Make Under.

How much did their World of Tile treasure hunt cost?

Thankfully, the pair did manage to find the perfect tiles (and a few other things) at the WOT liquidation sale. Donna wrote all about it in her hilarious blog post The True Cost of Unobtanium.

vintage tilevintage tileExcerpt from the blog post:

We’re all familiar with unobtanium, right?

From the Wikipedia:

“…any fictional, extremely rare, costly, or impossible material … needed to fulfill a given design for a given application.”

Color-matching tile for the bathroom has been our most recent unobtanium quest.  We long ago gave up on trying to find enough in a perfect color to do everything, and were just hoping to find some accent pieces to relieve the (planned) solid white.  Which is why we found ourselves in a New Jersey hotel at 2am on Friday, hoping to get a couple hours of sleep before visiting the World Of Tile liquidation sale.

We frequently talked about needing to make the pilgrimage, but when faced with the store’s closing, the urgency ramped up considerably, and we decided to squeeze in a side-trip to already-planned vacation.  However, this meant that while we only had a 3-hour drive (instead of 10) there were some other expenditures, adding to the “true cost” of our treasure.

True-costOur favorite part of their story is the chart (shown above) that Donna made to illustrate the true cost of the great tile bargain that the couple managed to score at WOT.

After the Adventure and once all the treasures were in hand, the bathroom came together beautifully:

vintage aqua bathroomvintage aqua bathroomvintage aqua bathroomvintage aqua bathroomvintage aqua bathroomvintage aqua bathroomvintage aqua bathroom

List of resources used in Donna and Steve’s bathroom remodel:

With this epic bathroom renovation finally complete, what’s next for the dynamic duo?

Donna writes:

With that put to bed, we will sign contracts tomorrow for our kitchen makeover, featuring salvaged custom-color St. Charles cabinets (ETA mid-2016).

Never a dull moment in Retro Renovation land!

Never a dull moment indeed, Donna and Steve! Thanks so much for sharing your renovation — another stellar example of how doing things The Hard Way can pay off! — with us. It looks fantastic.

Link love:


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  1. Joe Felice says

    It’s a big improvement, for sure, but personally, I would have put more color on the walls, probably even some wallpaper. But that’s just I; I’m a “color” person. And guess what! They can always add that, if they like, down the road. Would you look at the size of that toilet tank! OMG! I’m glad they were able to match the color of the toilet and tub. Not sure what to call the color–light aqua, or jadite? I really like the vanity, which matches the door and woodwork. (I assume those were refinished.) But the most-important thing is that the beautiful kitty approves!

  2. yellow says

    Gorgeous! This gives me hope that we can find a matching sink for our similar tub/toilet, which is a blue-green color smack in the middle of classic vintage blue bathroom and the green shown here. I am amazed you were able to find yours on craigslist. Thanks for sharing your story here!

  3. Alicia says

    As I am currently in the middle of renovating a 1960′ rancher, I sooo related to Donna’s hilarious description of finding the perfect everything to fulfill her vision. I’m afraid to calculate the true cost of obtanium for my house because it would just be ridiculous. Oh well, it’s become my hobby and I can envision how it will all look in a couple of years when all the rooms have been updated. I bought the house 6 months ago so I have plenty of time…

    Donna, thank you for sharing your experience, resources and photos. The bathroom is beautiful. Gives me some great ideas for when I get to my hall bath.

  4. Sandy says

    When I look at this, I can see some of those retro ceramic fishes on the wall. You should have no trouble finding them in a shade to totally match your sink & toilet!

  5. Suzie says

    Unobtainium–since there’s a name for it, I now know I’m not the only one holding out hope for a by-gone material for my remodel. My kitchen has the yellow splatter lino coved up the toekick–but it was glued over in vinyl. Can’t find it anywhere or anything with the same feel. Love that they used Habitat Restore. I find good stuff there, too.

  6. Mary O. says

    I would never be happy if I didn’t find exactly what I know was needed to make the room look perfect. I’m sure they feel the same and can now use the bathroom with a serene air.

  7. Natalie says

    Just wanted to say that my bathroom vanity is nearly identical to this one and is original to my 1959 house! (mine has only one drawer and doesn’t have the vents under the sink) Great choice and design. 🙂

  8. Bronwyn J says

    Hi! I love your vanity! I wondered if you would be willing to send me a close-up picture or a link to the photo that inspired you? I am asking my brother in law to build me a custom vanit(ies) for our sadly gutted mid century house. Any direction you provide would be great. If you are willing, I can pass along my email.

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