A vintage 1949 bathroom — simple pleasures for people who’d been through a lot

1949 kohler advertising

1949-kohler-ad372.jpgVintage advertising from Kohler is usually quite wonderful. These Wisconsin folks sure understood how to capture a time and a place and a mood in a … simple and truly engaging way. Look closely at this illustration, and you see they aren’t really selling much – just a tub, and a sink. But it was 1949, remember, and these things meant so much more — they were the fruits of freedom after the war, and after an even longer stretch of economic deprivation that stretched before that, all the way to 1929. A sink, a tub – a happy little boy in striped pj’s and fuzzy slippers. We can make fun, all we want, of the seemingly unfettered materialism of the postwar 40s and 50s. But consumers, during this time, were celebrating some well-deserved and long-time-coming … simple pleasures.

You know, I think this is also the underlying reason that I have trouble dumping on all the colonial revival stuff from this era… or 70s Mediterranean, etc. The women who chose these things did so with such great love (and probably with much greater care than most today, in our disposable economy). It’s…mean…to mock them. I’d rather celebrate all the heart that they put into making their homes nice. Isn’t that what we all try to do? Sentimental diatribe over. It’s all good.

Check out this other Kohler photo. I’ll find and post them all, over time…

  1. ellen says:

    After my father passed away, I moved back into the house I grew up in, complete with the sink in the photo (only mine is turquoise). I’ve learned to do my own plumbing after asking one plumber to replace the seal between the toilet tank and bowl; he wanted to put in a new white toilet instead!

    The toilet tank (Crane, desert sand) in the other bathroom cracked so my husband & I went hunting. In L.A. there are a couple of salvage yards that have inventory of hundred of sinks, toilets, etc. if any of you are ever in the area, it’s worth walking around. We couldn’t find a replacement, but they direct us to someone who could repair the old one. Valentine’s Day 2005, my husband drove there (5 hour round trip) and came home with s toilet tank filled with red roses; wish I had taken a photo (I was too busy crying).

    However, that’s not the end of the saga; in Sept. 2006, we had a house fire (kitchen into attic, living room ceiling fell due to weight of water), and are only now rebuilding the damaged areas. It took us over a year to find a contractor who understood I wanted to restore the house not remodel it. At times I thought I should give up, but I just couldn’t walk away from my home. I hope to be able to move back in June, but am living in a 1936 house in the meantime (yes, I am crazy).

    To all of you who are advised to get rid of all that old stuff, all I can say, is hang in there! Those houses were homes.

  2. Sumac Sue says:

    My husband grew up in a house with a bathroom very similar to this one. Wayne says his dad could listen to the sound of his children running their bath water, and he knew just when the level had reached two inches. He’d shout, “That’s enough!” He had been born in the early 1920s, served overseas in WW II, and was happy to be back home, working at a job that allowed him to buy things for his home such as bathroom fixtures. But he didn’t want to see his money just “go down the drain.”

    People of his generation sometimes had been born into homes without indoor bathrooms, and their heating and cooking might have been done with coal or wood. When they purchased an electric range or new bathroom fixtures, it wasn’t just to follow the latest decorating fad, it was a major life change. They didn’t just replace such things on a whim.

    I appreciate it that Retro Renovation doesn’t just focus on “getting the look” of a bygone era, but also acknowledges the reasons behind the purchasing decisions of previous generations. We might laugh at some of their choices, but, it wasn’t all about frivolity, that’s for sure.

  3. Jen says:

    No way – “sentimental diatribe”? I agree with you 100%. My dad’s father fought in WWII and Korea; the other couldn’t do so but did the sort of things George Bailey did while Harry was off to war in “Wonderful Life”. I don’t think it was brash materialism as all…these folks (all of whom lived through the Depression) were doing their best to give their family what they could to make life comfortable, warm, and often give them what they didn’t have as kids (like, oh, running water).

    The colours and playfulness of the designs really make me think of exuberance, joy, and great hope for the future, too. Nothing wrong with that at all! 🙂

  4. Ronn says:

    PS: Note the subtle but still existent use of a red/white/blue theme. It’s NOT an accident.


  5. Ronn says:


    And you are absolutely right. WE have NO business using contemporary sensibilities and our dilettante life style on that generation. Most of us have NO clue what 1929-1946 was for everyone in this country (not to mention the rest of the world). And, if we really believe it could never happen again – to US – we are in REAL trouble.

    If you don’t mind, this is a passionate subject for me, and I’ve written a few things about it. I’ll go retrieve some of it from my website, and paste it in, if it’s okay with you.

    Ronn Ives of FUTURES Antiques

  6. Esti says:

    And I had that sink (and have that bathtub). Actually, my sink had a ceramic spout. Unfortunately, according to my plumber, it is almost impossible to repair faucet leaks when the faucet is embedded in the “backsplash” like that without taking it apart. So we had to replace it. At least I still have another one in the master bathroom (in peach) w/matching bathtub. That one also has a ceramic spout. And another in the powder room (wall mounted w/no legs or towel bars but same spout configuration). Before I met all of you, who knew????? Thanks for helping me appreciate things I never gave a second thought to before.

  7. Tera says:

    I agree with you 100%! I believe the decisions that were made in regards to many things back then were carefully thought out. A friend of mine who owned a vintage store once commented on how much thought and care went into a photograph because that was money. The people from that era knew how hard things could be.

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