lilac bathroom

My dad lives in an apartment building in Brooklyn that opened on April 1, 1951. I assume the bathroom is original. The bathroom floor tile is a (true) gray and white in a simple checkerboard pattern. The wall tile is a funky purplish-gray field with a black bullnose border. It doesn’t really go with the floor.

We’re going to renovate the bathroom, and I’d like to be able to keep at least the wall tile, but the color is impossible to coordinate. It’s not gray and it’s not purple. Have you seen this color before? What should I do with the walls and floor if I keep it?

Thanks so much,
Alexa in Brooklyn

Thanks for the photos, Alexa – what a gorgeous gorgeous color that tile is! In the palettes of the late 40s and early 50s you do see some dusty lavenders, but I have to admit you are the first reader to send in a bathroom this color. Here are some thoughts:

  • This bathroom definitely has a deco feel to me. For additional tiles, if you need replacements, the only place I know to send you is B&W Tile in California.
  • And I must say: Unless that floor is destroyed, please keep it! The photo does not show it in great detail – but from what I can see, it’s gorgeous as well! And I think you can work with the grey. It is neutral.
  • Put a black toilet seat and lid on that toilet to play up the black trim. The best you can buy, like, really substantial. I need to do some research on this…It’s bizarre to even think about “good” toilet seats, but I think there are truly deluxe ones out there worth the investment – like, with marbling and stuff. This will be fun. I think: Kohler…Barbara Baker or some high-style designer. Wicked expensive.
  • Finally, how about vintage wallpaper to perk that bathroom right up: I had to work hard to find the possibility below for you, it’s from Hannah’s. Can your dad handle a floral? If you’re doing wallpaper, you want to be careful regarding the scale – you’ve got 4″ tiles creating one kind of pattern, and then those smaller floor tiles creating their own thing, too. A wallpaper must complement but not compete. I really kind of like this floral, although if you can hunt some more and find something more deco, maybe with some metallic shine, that might be the very best. As I recall, Secondhand Rose is right there in Manhattan – maybe you could go hunt through their stocks? Yowza, what fun. I’d also recommend Bradbury & Bradbury – but nothing in purple family there.
  • Oh and accessories: Put in a brushed steel-style hamper, the wicker is clashing, it’s jumping out too much. Can you find one built-in side towel bar to fit the sink-from a salvage place perhaps? That way, the hand towels could move there. (Do you understand this suggestion?) For shower curtain, towels and rug: I would tend to think darkish grey, you want these to recede. But no need to make a final decision on this, until the other elements are completed.

Alexa, let us know how it all turns out! This is a really beautiful bathroom – the quality is amazing. What a wonderful daughter you are!

  1. caitlin says:

    Our 1954 home has the same tile! I originally thought it was a neutral grey and wanted to paint the walls mint green. Every greenish/blue I tried just made the grey look lavender, which I was not thrilled with the idea of a mint and lavender bathroom.

    We ended up painting the walls Hazelnut Cream by Behr, which is a pretty standard cream/ivory, and hung a yellow and grey ikat shower curtain from West Elm. It matches the tile perfectly.

    Our newest project is going to be to have the floors re-tiled, new toilet, and new vanity. The house was a rental (slum, basically) when we bought it, so the current vanity is a rotting Big Lots special and the tile is terribly stained beyond repair. I’m thinking this tile for the floors (, this vanity (, and a Cadet Pro toilet from American standard. I’m not sure though of what to use for the counter top and sink, if anyone has any suggestions. Am I straying too far from the period?

    We also have a few issues with the tile fixtures, I would be happy to hear someone’s thoughts…
    The soap dish is broken, the towel bar hits the back of the door, so that needs to be removed, and the previous owner knocked out the toilet roll holder and filled it in with cement! We’ll probably be making a call to B&W to see what they have. Does anyone know if Daltile is sourcing these colors nowadays?

    Thanks in advance for any suggestions!

  2. Michele says:

    I have the same EXACT wall tiles, I didn’t think of the as dusty lavendar but rather slate blue but really they’re a little bit of both.

    My floor tiles are blue/grey with black, similiar styles to the floor tiles in this picture just a different shade.

    I would rather not wall paper, have any suggestions on paint color?

    I painted the grey/blue similiar to the floor but am not thrilled!

    How about shower curtains as a pattern?

    Ideas would be so appreciated.

    I have been trying to find a shower curtain to blend and have yet to find one I like.

    I am willing to re-paint and would consider wall paper too.

    I like the retro style.

    I put a black toliet seat and love it.


  3. Kathleen says:

    I have a similar tile color combo in the 1960 home I’m buying… the neutral gray set on the diagonal … I love it! There’s also an original vintage medicine cabinet under a round mirror that the owner has “temporarily” (temp ’cause there’s some sort of adhesive on the glass holding it in place but it’s hanging from a wire) installed over the sink. Good problems to have I’m thinking.

  4. Jesika NYC says:

    HI Neighbor,

    this may be a year too late but….
    i think the tile color is great! since the black tiles act as a frame why not paint some sort of art piece on the walls. Id say something abstract and soft-modern similar to Jean Miotte or perhaps these latin american artists can be of inspiration .

    if you dont know how to draw/paint, try looking up some art students at a local college (they could always use some cash) so for a few bucks you can have a masterpiece on your bathroom wall. Id chrome out the appliances (chrome double shower head, a nice glass dish bowl sink with chrome faucets, chrome lighting, add a venetian mirror & monogramed towels) you can get that stuff cheap on ebay. I imagine for less than $600 you can have an amazing retreat

    i can see how you would want to get rid of the floor tile but i agree, its a neutral and if you paint the walls a bright color you might want to keep those floor tiles as is. if you want to do something with them without killing yourself & your budget use tile paint and color it all a lavender grey or glossy black to frame the appliances & the wall art 😉

    I am renting an old apartment with pepto-pink wall tiles & white walls and Im not allowed to change anything so Ive worked around it by turning it into a Balinese retreat. pink is a color often used on that beautiful side of the world so i used the islands common color schemes and Im happy with the results 🙂

    i studied interior design & color for 2years & i hope Ive helped 🙂

    good luck!

  5. Ceren Laydon says:

    I am so happy we found this website! This bathroom with the “funky purple-gray” tile. When I was reading this and looked at the pictures I nearly jumped out of my chair thinking thats my tile!!! The only difference is the writer didn’t mention that the tile can look blue at times too. I have been searching for almost two years for the tile to match. I just called B&W tiles and am going to be sending them the picture of my tiles for a match up.

    Thank you so much for a wonderful website! I will keep you posted as to my progress and hopefully will be able to send pictures when it is done.

    1. Pam Kueber says:

      Welcome, Ceren. What a gorgeous gorgeous color of tile to have! You are so lucky – and I can’t wait to see photos. Where do you live?

      I have to call B&W to see if they’re happy – or not – with all the business they seem to be getting from the blog!

  6. Sumac Sue says:

    I agree with Femme1, I wouldn’t rush in and rip out that floor. They might not seem to go together at first, but, the white and gray actually seem to let the walls do all the talking. I really love the color of the wall tile.

  7. Pingback:Retro Renovation » Retro bathroom: Black pearlescent toilet seat from Kohler

  8. Femme1 says:

    Alexa, don’t rip up that floor! To my eye, it definitely “goes” with the wall tile. One of the hats I wear is that of publication designer, and I often use a neutral gray to balance out complementary colors. It allows the eye to rest and also adds a classic touch.

  9. chriss says:

    Sigh…I wish I had these kinda problems! My bathroom was updated some time in the Eighties and really, before that, I don’t think it was a beauty. I did notice, when I was installing my vintage medicine cabinette, that the walls (plaster) were likely originally painted Seafoam Green! So it might have been cool!

    My problem is “how much will it cost to re-create the style of tile that Alexa has?”! I’m going to have to do it some day. I keep looking at all that nice vintage tile down at the Restore and wondering “how much do I need?” Hmmm…maybe I’ll go measure my bathroom right now!

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