A mid century bathroom featuring vintage decorative tiles from American Olean


Mid Century Modern Megan has inherited a sweet New Jersey ranch house that includes a beautiful 50s bathroom with gray tile … a retro blue sink, toilet and tub … and how about this – a vintage American Olean decorative tile set featuring little fishes on five different tiles. (Identified courtesy Bungalow Bill.) Oh, and Megan still owes us photos of her knotty pine kitchen! 9 photos in all…

Megan writes

Hi Pam! This is the blue and grey bath in the mid-mod rancher I grew up in and recently inherited, in southern New Jersey. Thank you for renewing my appreciation for all things mcm (my intitials by the way!) The bath is all original except for the faucet on the sink. If anybody has any ideas for decorating, I’m all ears! One of my decorating issues is that the blue is very hard to match, so buying towels is a challenge. I’ve tried pink towels, but am not crazy about it. [Pam: how about medium blue towels to match the blue in the fish tile?] And yes, I’m planning on picking out some wallpaper. We moved in about 6 months ago and haven’t done much yet beside paint.

I’ll send pics of our knotty pine kitchen next!

When I asked Bungalow Bill about the tile, he quickly reported:

That’s an easy one. They were made American Olean, c. 1930-50’s. Many of the designs and inspirations of series such as those were originally from the Franklin Tile Company of Landsdale, PA and were incorporated into AO’s line when they merged with the American Encaustic Tile Company in the 30’s after the Depression. They made 8 inch tiles as features and 4.25 inch tiles to use as go-with’s / accents.

You can see tiles from other series on my site here and here. The middle and later period designs were made on a thin, dust pressed clay body. The earlier designs from Franklin were on a hand pressed thick faince tile body, giving them a hand made, Arts and Crafts period feel. You can see the earlier Franklin tiles by typing “Franklin” into the search box

I remember getting excited when I discovered an 8 inch pink flamingo tile from their series installed outside the bathrooms in the Mohawk Diner, one of those ORIGINAL big old shiny aluminum ones, on the way to the Berkshires in Mass.

Hope that helps!


Bill – thanks as always! Megan – beautiful bathroom, you don’t have much work to do. Those little fish tiles are a gift from the retro decorating gods – and give you a great starting point to choose additional decorative elements for the bathroom.

  1. Lawrence Bill says:

    This is a bathroom to envy in many respects. Love the tile floor and the long, big mirror above the vanity. The fish are cool. I wouldn’t change much, just clean, clean, clean and take Pam’s good advice, which is to accessorize to get the look you want.

  2. Milster says:

    This bathroom is amazing! Maybe you can find some of those “embossed” vintage towels (at estate or garage sales to go in there). Megan – after seeing the close up of your floor (I have the same one in beige in my master bedroom – right around the corner from my 9 foot louvered closet doors) you may want to check out the tip on cleaning grout using the Zep product. I bought it but haven’t applied it yet as all the warnings on the bottle have me a little gun shy…But, your bathroom is amazing.

  3. vacationbarbie says:

    Don’t be afraid to use the Zep, it’s not as scary as the package directions make it. Just be sure and wear gloves and I wore my glasses (Instead of contacts) when using it. It worked great on my kitchen countertops….not so great on the gunk on the bottom of the shower. (Which by the way…I have finally figured out the ‘what and the why’ of that. We haven’t really been staying here why we’re remodeling…but we spent the night the other day…I have a plumbing problem. It’s in the line out to the street. The toilet, tub and shower back up with sewage if used too much. Yuck. The sewer gunk is what I’ve been trying to scrub off. Double Yuck.)

  4. Elvis says:

    Beautiful colors and accent tiles, MCM. Of all the tiled bathrooms Pam has shown us, this is by far my favorite. I just love those fish swimming in their quiet sea of blue and gray.

  5. RetroRuth says:

    Just a note about the Zep products: I didn’t buy the grout bleacher, just the tile cleaner and it bleached sections of my colored grout. Luckily, I was planning on regrouting that portion of tile anyway because my grout wasn’t in good shape, but it turned my gray grout a splotchy white-gray mess. I did follow the directions on the bottle, and the grout was vintage so it probably wasn’t sealed properly anymore, but I just thought I would throw that out there. Most of the veterans are probaby disgusted with me, and shaking their heads, but it was my experience. Err on the side of caution with those products!

  6. sablemable says:

    Cool bathroom! I think gray and medium blue or dark blue towels would look smashing. Even a yellow shade, since there’s yellow in the fish tiles.

  7. sarapj says:

    Love this bathroom with the fish tile! And I agree with sablemable — yellow towels would look great You could also look for ivory or white towels with a blue or yellow edging. Our house was built in 1946 (and fortunately not “re-muddled” too much when we moved in in 2006). My bathroom has yellow tile with black edging and a tiny strip of turquoise, black and maroon decorative tile in a geometric pattern around the top edge of the tub surround. I’ve given up trying to match towels to either the turquoise or the maroon — today’s colors are just not the same as the vintage ones — but yellow towels, white and yellow towels and even white towels with a black edging look great with the black trim tile and black and white floor. Pam, you are right — the 1940s were all about color — the original wall color of our bathroom walls was maroon! The maroon is long gone (the owners previous to us painted the bathroom white), but I changed the wall color to a very pale yellow and it keeps the vintage feel but doesn’t make the room feel too sterile or too small.
    Happy decorating!

  8. Jenda says:

    Wow, I have those same recessed toothbrush holders! I had no idea that they were called “Hall Mack” until I saw this post. I have two in my mid-50s pink bathroom, but they’re unusable since any decent contemporary toothbrush is too large for them.

    By the way, thank you for making me love my pink bathroom!

  9. VacationBarbie says:

    Yep…it’s either tree roots or grease.

    Another idea on the towels is to buy the white or yellow as others have suggested and then sew some seam binding, in black or grey to match. It comes in lots of colors. Or, for kitchy look….some of that trim with the little balls on it.

  10. Charlie says:

    Is there anyplace where I can find some of the 4-1/4 square tiles in pale yellow that were common in the fifties? Also, the 6 inch trim pieces. We’re trying fix up our bathroom in the original style. Thanks for any advice.

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