They added the light

How to add storage to a small mid-century bathroom?  With all the postwar focus on hygiene, why is there so little space for soaps, lotions and towels? We look at some minimal-clutter solutions today.
Stacie, who is in Texas, sends in the official question:

Hi Pam! I adore your site…it’s in my Google Reader and I read every post! My husband and I have a 1962 ranch we’re working on, and I was wondering if you had any knowledge of where to find a nice modern bathroom/over-the-toilet etagere. Our bathroom is small, (only about 30% of the original pink remains, alas…at least the tub and tile surround are still there!) so it would be great for extra storage. The only thing I can drum up online are either a) shabby chic/country or b) too contemporary. Any ideas?

Thanks so much!

Thank you, Stacie! This is a great question. I had the same issue in my small master bath with a wall sink. Some solutions:

1. Recess one or more cabinets. If you are, or can consider, opening the walls… you can use this space for built-ins. In fact, I think it is somewhat common to have 6-8″ of depth to accommodate the stack.  I had 8″ to work with, so we moved a pipe that was in the way and built an 8″ deep cabinet recessed into the wall above the toilet. We used vintage window shutters for doors, and framed it in. It looks great – and I’ll tell you, there is no beating recessing storage  to keep a smooth clean line in these small bathrooms.  I also have 8″ to work with behind the medicine cabinet above my sink. I did not use this space because a manufactured medicine cabinet 8″ deep cost too much. In retrospect, I wish I’d had something fabricated. I bet I could have solved the problem affordably…but you know how reno’s go, I was already at wit’s end with the details.  Note: In my husband’s bathroom, which is in the basement, we actually took over some space in the adjacent, unfinished basement area to build him a recessed bathroom linen closet. He loves it.


2. A vintage metal etagere. The only etagere solution I really truly have ever seen that I really liked is the vintage shelf-thingy featured in the lead photo at the top. Shortly after Stacy sent the question, Scott and Beth from S.E. Portland sent me photos of their 1962 ranch home including the etagere. They bought it at an antique store.  You may have to squint – but those are metal shelf/racks on chrome-plated poles. Scott said they added the clip-on light. Readers: Let’s be on the lookout for these, they are fabulous!

3. CB2. CB2 has a shelving unit similar in concept to Scott and Beth’s. It might look good in a very sleek modern bathroom (I am assuming you can adjust the shelves to position this above the toilet). They also have a long, low sliding-door cabinet that might look good right above the toilet – a small solution for small items.

4. Very basic cabinets. Other than the solutions above, other styles of etageres aren’t really my cup of tea.  I really needed the storage, opt for a simple cabinet above the toilet like those featured below from J.C. Penney and Target.

One final note: I agonized over whether to ‘cut into’ my tile to add more space for my built-in cabinet, and ultimately decided not to. I think that having one smooth line of tile all the way around a small bathroom looks much better. Too many jigs and jags in a small space is…jarring. At the end of the day: Think of this whole “problem” as an opportunity to pare back and simplify!

I’ll keep a lookout for more solutions. Hope this helps.

  1. lisa says:

    I’m looking for a slimline sliding door shelf like the one over the sink in these photos. I’m not sure what to search for or where to find one. I remember them from this time with frosted plastic or glass for the sliding doors.

  2. San Diego Amy says:

    I’ve seen this on ebay for some time and I thought that I would share it with everyone just in case it might work for someone out there.

    It’s not a metal etagere that Pam describes, instead a plastic one – but with the same sort of grandma appeal as the jc penny bathroom rugs Pam shared.

    The item number is: 300188764720
    Seller is: the-royalston-attic
    The title of the listing is: Vint 1975 Bush Bros Bath Storage Maker Shelving Unit OB

  3. Bob says:

    I solved my storage problem by “building” a storage unit out of closet-organizing units; two base cabinets with double doors (one was converted to a tilt-out hamper) with a bunch of shelves made for shoe storage stacked on top. Trim out the edges with some iron-on edge tape and it looks like one big piece.
    Not being able to leave well enough alone, I covered the doors on the base units with marble Con-Tact paper and fitted knobs in the center of the doors. It always makes me think of Caesar’s Palace for some reason, but it works. I now have plenty of room to display my collection of vintage hair-care products.

    At this point, I only have pictures of individual shelves, nothing of the ‘tout ensemble’, but I can certainly take a couple if there’s any interest.


  4. Robert says:

    I have a small bath and have a cabinet above the toilet. Love the storage; BUT…

    How many of you have had to take pill bottles, combs or whatever else falls out of the toilet when your let loose too soon or knock it over when your getting something else!!

    What a wonderful way to start of finish your day. 🙂

    1. Mid Mod Pam says:

      Robert – agreed. But we should all be keeping that toilet lid down anyway. Bad feng shui to keep it open when not in use – all your ‘energy’ especially your ‘money’ flows right down. bad bad bad

  5. stacie says:

    Pam! Thanks so much for including my question and for the great tips. I’ll let you know what we end up with! Merry Christmas!

  6. MidCent Keith says:

    I’m not sure Pam, but you’re the best tutor (tooter?) ever … I always use my basement shower (never the one upstairs) so I don’t have to work so hard to keep the black tile upstairs spot free – its bad enough trying to keep the toothpaste spittle in check. Merry Christmas Pam!

    1. Mid Mod Pam says:

      A private tooter. You got it! Hey, my husband CHOSE the downstairs bathroom because he gets up early and doesn’t want to disturb those of us who desperately need our beauty sleep. Plus, he got to choose flamingo wallpaper. So your upstairs bathroom is a museum? Alas. But it IS drop dead gorgeous!!!! I don’t think I’ve shown it here. Will do, for sure. Happy Kitschmas to you, too, MidCent Keith!

  7. jessimarie33 says:

    We just moved into out first home and the bathroom is also really tiny. The previous owners had already installed an old cabinet above the toilet. I like it, it works with our vintage aclectic style. Check it out here:
    Also, since there wasn’t a whole lot of storage for extras in the bathroom, I used an old metal medicine cabinet from a salvage place and painted it black and hung it above our dresser in the bedroom. You usually have a mirror here anyways, so why not add more storage too! You can see pictures of that on the same post!

  8. MidCent Keith says:

    “In my husband’s bathroom, which is in the basement…” Oh, this comment made me laugh. Thanks Pam 🙂

Comments are closed.