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Plastic bathroom tile: 20 pages of images from 3 catalogs

Plastic tiles seem to have been very popular in the 1950s and, my mom tells me, into the 1960s. In estate sale houses, I see them in both bathrooms and kitchens.  I attribute their popularity to the fact that homeowners could install them themselves — and we were a very DIY nation at the time. Also, these tiles could be easily installed over existing plaster walls — meaning that they were good for renovating the “imperfect” plaster walls in old farmhouses, Victorians and bungalows and to get that  “modern” look.

In fact, the benefits of plastic were highly touted during the entire postwar period. I kind of have a feeling folks thought plastic and ceramic were equal in attractiveness? We were fascinated with the lure of the man-made and technology — this is a critical part of the American identity, even still. Also, I am pretty sure it’s a good guess that plastic tiles were significantly cheaper than ceramic tiles, and that must have been part of the allure as well. In my very recent travels I have picked up three vintage brochures — from Church, Pittsburgh and Coronet Tile Companies — and have scanned the prettiness, and info, for all to share.

Check out the complete slide show…. Click on first thumbnail to launch it, then move forward via the arrows below each image:

Mind you:

  • I am not necessarily the world’s biggest fan of plastic tile. All three of my bathrooms were outfitted with the stuff. The bathrooms had seen some hard livin’, I think, and the stuff was…. nasty. The plastic tiles in my tub/shower surrounds had all rotted through. So much so that previous owners had then pasted marbleized vinyl panels on top of it. The seams were grucky and moldy and oh, I shudder at the memories…. I had that plastic ripped out with joy in my heart and replaced it with ceramic tile all around. Bottom line: I fear that if plastic tile has not been installed well, and if the bathrooms or kitchens have been used heavily, it may not be worth salvaging. I am all for function, folks, and in a bathroom especially, there is nothing that beats waterproof ceramic tile, in my mind.
  • All that said, I did buy a bundle of vintage plastic tile for my kitchen backsplash. Two (gulp) years later, it’s still in a box waiting to be installed. (I’m nerve wracked about how it will look, and yes, simply procrastinating regarding launching yet another house project, one of a gazillion always in the works, or at least, rattling around in my head.) So, you can see, I am not “anti” plastic tile, either.
  • And importantly : Precautionary Pam here: If you do decide to rip your plastic tile out, Lord knows what’s in the old adhesive… smart to have it tested.

Finally, hey, remember this post? Kurt’s kitchen with the large 8″ tiles all around. Wow!
!

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  1. Wendy Keller says:

    Does anyone know what kind of grout I should use to reapply thin 50s plastic tiles?

    I bought a mid-century house with brick sized pearlized yellow plastic tiles in the kitchen with shiny 1″x3″ black trim tiles. Someone must have been fond of bumblebees! Alas, I am not.

    I carefully took off the black tiles and painted them – they’re rather cool now, believe it or not.

    Apparently, they had been adhered way back when with some kind of lightweight fine sandy grout, with a wide-toothed trowel, and zero space between tiles. Does anyone know the name of that grout type, and where in the world it comes from?

    Thank you advance. I’m thinking about just Elmer’s gluing them!

  2. Wendy Keller says:

    OMG!!! I can’t believe this. I looked more closely at your images of the old catalogs. The Coronet company design, where the tiles are sort of a 1/4 sunburst thing with the black trim…that’s exactly what’s in this kitchen! Oh my!

    The next person who owned it ripped out a few inches of the tile, replaced it with 80s stone backsplash – in brown and tan – and added very poor quality brown “granite” Formica. Yikes.

  3. Pam Kueber says:

    Hi Wendy, on questions like this I’d try to find a professional who could help with an answer/solution. Off the top of my head, I think I would contact a company like Mapei, which makes tile adhesives, to see what they recommend. There are other such companies making tile adhesives, too, that might be able to point you to a workable product. Finally, where I live, there are some very longtime tile stores with installation services — I might try reaching out to them to see if there are still folks around who used to install these tiles, to see what they used. Good luck!

  4. Colleen says:

    What is the best way to cut the plastic tile? I have tried many ways and have broken so many. Please help.

  5. Wink says:

    A month or so ago we bought a 1956 ranch in great part because of the original birch kitchen cabinets–original underneath one streaky-thin coat of paint, at least, but that’s a project for warmer months–as well as the original plastic-tiled master bath (actually a tiny half-bath) in remarkably good shape. From peering at the fine print in these catalogs you’ve shared, I believe what we have might be Church tiles in Coral Marble with Gray bullnose and lining strips. And obnoxiously out-of-place modern white fixtures, but that’s ANOTHER project for another day! 🙂
    I want to thank you for holding our collective hands as we stumble down this slippery slope of restoring our homes safely, (mostly) sanely, and in a community of like-minded, helpful people.

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