Kersten and James create a retro blue bathroom for their 1957 ranch home

retro bathroom before and afterkersten and jamesKersten and James are gold-star Retro Renovators: With determination, imagination and good spirits to survive more than their fair share of speed bumps, they transformed the blah bathroom in their 1957 modern ranch house… into a blue, midcentury delight. Read on for Kersten’s story – which includes lots of salvage finds, help from another Retro Renovation reader, troubles with floor tile grout, wallpaper that fell right off the wall the first time around – but a happy ending.

Kersten writes:

Thought I should write and tell you that, besides finding a better shower curtain, the bathroom is DONE.  We started this project in October 2009 — on a whim that I hated the big box store bathroom vanity.  Put it up on craigslist, sold right away, and although the original thought was just the vanity, it turned into much more.

old bathroom vanityblue bathroom renovation

Two weeks after pulling out the vanity, I tore my achillies tendon (dancing).  15 months later, a 2nd tear to the same tendon, a floor mess up, and a wallpaper do over — WE ARE FINISHED!

We had a vanity built by a local woodworker to mimic the one that Chris from Milwaukee with the killer time capsule has in his bathroom.  Chris sent me awesome pics and measurements and the woodworker used them to make the vanity.

The cabinet maker, Dave, is pictured with me with the cabinet when it was going in.

A friend gave us a beautiful old piece of carrera marble for the vanity top and we found 2 perfect sinks (with hudee rings) on ebay.  It took our friend about hour hours to carefully cut two round holes in the marble for the sinks.  It can crack easily, so he went slowly, and my DH stood alongside and sprayed the saw blade with water while he cut.  He was amazing with his assistance and precise measurements from his rockin’ bathroom vanity.

Some of my favorites from this project include:

  • free low profile toilet from craigslist
  • $2.50 for the mirror- habitat store
  • $60 for the matching sinks- ebay
  • free piece of carrera marble (which took HOURS to cut the two round circles for the sinks)
  • $2.50 for the ceiling light – habitat store

Oh, one other thing that I wanted to mention is that one of the best decisions that we would not have considered (brought up by our new friend that helped us with getting the wall tile up) is the new shower and tub knobs.  Before we started, it had one of those one arm faucets that you find in hotel type bathrooms.

retro style bathtub faucets

Our friend told us we *may* want to consider buying a more period appropriate set of faucet knobs, and it was a jackpot idea!  It was the perfect time to change it.  I attached a photo of our new knobs that didn’t cost a ton (I think $100 through efaucets.)

daltile mosaic bathroom floor tile

Floor tile is Daltile “Random.” Only offered in Almond. If I were to do it over, I wouldn’t get almond.  It shows every fuzz and hair that falls on it.  Originally, we wanted to order one sheet of one-inch pink and one sheet of one-inch blue and pop out random tiles here and there and place them in a way that we see in many midcentury bathrooms of this style, but they wouldn’t allow us to order one sheet – had to order an entire box.

renovating a bathroom in a 1957 ranch house

[Update: Wall tile is Daltile Spa.] Grout from Home Depot is Polyblend non-sanded grout in Delorean Gray. [In emails back and forth, Kersten explains how the first installation of the grout turned out poorly – I think what the issue was is called “hazing.” She spent hours… weeks… removing the grout and then continued:] We found a professional restoration guy that now is our friend.  We wanted to hire him for the tile work, but he insisted we could do it ourselves so he got us (us, means my DH) started and trained DH to do the tile work himself.  Took a while, but it is done. (I think another reader had the same trouble I did with the inconsistency of color.  It is really very sad.)  We (we meaning DH) did 2 or 3 tries of the dehazer (myric acid), and it helped a little, but not much.

bathroom sinks with metal rims and carrera countertop

Thanks to your support, I didn’t give up on the idea of the double sinks!  (Almost everyone thought the space was too small, but since there were 2 sinks in the original blue prints to the house, I knew it was worth a try!)  Once you said “marital bliss”, I knew it was the right way to go!  Not to mention my kids don’t spit on each other’s arms anymore when brushing teeth!

Kersten also reported on a first, failed attempt to hang wallpaper:

peeling wallpaper

My mom and I did the first round of wallpaper, and when DH saw it sadly falling off the wall, and my face to match, he told me he’d help me do it all over.)

preparing to wallpaper

So, “we” (meaning DH) resanded, then we got all the dust sucked up and then we sized it (again.)  I LOVE this wallpaper and ordered it all over again when the first try did not work.

I’m really enjoying the bathroom!

I’d really like other suggestions for the shower curtain.  It will be okay until I decide what to do.  I bought it used on ebay and it wasn’t a very good picture and listed it as “pink shower curtain with valance” – so I assumed it was two separate pieces.  Thought I’d use the valance as a window curtain.  But, it is actually all sewn together, and I considered trying to separate the two, but I don’t know if it is worth it.  The floofie-ness of the valance is growing on me.  When my friend saw it, she called it my 1989 pink prom dress shower curtain.  It splits in the middle and came with 2 tie backs, so I might try it that way too.  The liner is white, so the pink would actually stand out more if I brought it back to each side with the tie backs. 🙂 I knew it would be a bit tricky with the pattern of the wallpaper, but I don’t know what direction to go.  Initially, I wanted something bright and more atomic, but I can’t find anything that comes close.  I looked at many of the new barkcloth patterns, but that means I’d have to make the shower curtain myself, and at this point, I don’t want another project.  Ideally, I’d love a matching shower curtain and window curtain.

kersten and james

NOW — onto the kitchen!  Where I’m going to want massive amounts of ideas!  The set of St. Charles in the garage want to come out and play!


Of course, I get the photo of Kersten and James. And forget the bathroom — I want to know about that dress! Yes, she explains:

Yes, the dress is vintage.  When my grandfather’s niece died about 2 years ago, the house was FILLED with 60 years worth of *everything*.  This relative lived 2 doors down from my parents, and somehow, the son and his wife knew I’d LOVE all the vintage clothes!  It was amazing.  For weeks, she’d drop off boxes and boxes of dresses, shoes, purses, hats, etc.  Luckily, the coolest ones fit me!  They are my summer wardrobe!

Kersten – Your bathroom turned out beautifully. It looks like it’s always been there – but it’s new! The color is terrific – in fact, it appears to be a close match to my blue bathroom with its heron blue tile from the now-discontinued Maple Leaf tile. It’s great this is now offered by Daltile.

1957 modern ranch house

I’d actually place Kersten in one of the blog’s first wave of regular readers. My first email from her was 9/9/09 (and in reality, sooner, because even then I couldn’t keep up with email.) What’s also typical, I think, is that a Retro Renovation journey is the road less travelled. Speed bumps? Yes. Potholes, too. You just gotta trust you’re going to end up someplace extra special good.

You can see more of Kersten and James’ lovely 1957 ranch-modern house on flickr. Thank you, two, for sharing!!!

  1. Hi Pam. A little late reading you this morning. Digging out in Minneapolis from 13″ of snow! As for all this hazing. Tile, whatever kind it is sometimes hangs onto the grout. Shiny ceramic tile – no problem. Matte finish tiles will hang onto the grout. The remover can help but it will eventually wear off.
    The answer is the beginning. There are two different kinds of product. One is called a “Grout Sealant” the other is a “Grout Releaser”. The “Grout Sealant” is something that is put on the tile after installing bur prior to grouting. It will protect the tile from the grout. You should be able to just wipe off the grout but you might still need the haze remover. The “Grout Sealant” will remain on the tile for a period of time as a protection. This is a good product to use with a matte tile.
    The “Grout Releaser” is a temporary product. You use it the same as the “Sealant” but it will come off when you clean the tile.
    I was just dealing with someone in the same situation and my great tile installer/source Jan Hohn, says she used 510 Porous Plus. So, long story short, everyone Google that product. Even Jan said she can’t really say the difference between “Sealant” and “Release”. Be careful though. If you’re working with stone or other kinds of tile there are different products for them than ceramic tile.
    Hope this helped. Sorry it’s so long. There is so much to know about tile and want to make sure it’s the correct information. I’m really happy to help with the tile stuff. I love tile and have a lot of experience from selling it and installing and have excellent connections. I know of numerous sources for all the mid century tile and would be happy to share the information.

  2. pam kueber says:

    Carri, the issue isn’t the tile — it’s the grout. It’s randomly colored rather than consistent. I thought this was called “hazing” also????

  3. pam kueber says:

    Also, everyone, I am adding this DISCLAIMER: This is not a DIY site. Carri is providing info based on her experience out of kindness. My official recommendation remains: that if you want a warranteed outcome: Personally consult with or use a professional.

  4. Kersten says:

    Thanks for your kind comments. The grout removal was a nightmare. It took weeks and caused many chips to the corners of the small tiles, which in turn, caused much cussing. I did this when I was recovering from my tendon tear, and with a cast up to my knee, I had to crouch down in a way that actually messed up the nerves right below my knee where the cast pushed into my leg. It was numb in that spot for months after the casts came off! All part of the story, right? The really devastating part is that even after hiring a pro to do it the second time, it doesn’t look much different. Sigh…
    I love hearing your story about your buffet! Amazingly, my hutch was found at the Salvation Army too! I’ve only had it since Christmas. The inside drawer is marked Garrison Furniture Co. Does yours have the same marking? That’s all I know. With a very small dining room, I knew I needed a petite hutch. I love it. I’d love to see pictures of your buffet!

  5. Gavin Hastings says:

    I was going to give everyone a well deserved rest today….but:

    I love what you have done with your bath. It looks great and authentic.

    When you are ready…do not hesitate to make a shower curtain! Easy to make and you can customize it to your room. I make mine to fall just above the floor…but I think my next one will be just to the top of the tub rim (since there is a liner-why hasn’t THAT idea caught on…maybe in bold horizontal stripes?)
    My current shower curtain is that tufted stripe cotton chenille fabric being sold for bathrobes and it really adds texture to an otherwise “hard surface room” and an “only in the1940’s” touch.

    The possibilities are endless when you do it yourself- Keep going!

  6. Kersten says:

    Gavin, I am glad that you did not take the day off! I hoped you’d respond with curtain ideas! What type of pattern or color do you see as a good fit? I guess I’m open to hauling up the 1936 Singer from the basement and giving it a whirl once I find the right fabric!

  7. Kersten says:

    Natalie, that custom tile link seemed so cool and would’ve been the answer to our desire to mix in some pink and blue tiles, but we figured it would be cost prohibitive. If it was spendy, I recommend long chats with Carri to get the grout (or tile prep!) right and not let it ruin the tile. Our floor tile is matte finish, which sounds like it can be a touchy surface for the grout — if only I knew that earlier!

  8. Gavin Hastings says:

    STRIPES! Almost Circus-y.

    3-4 inch ones in blue/gray and white with maybe a tiny stripe of pink, of course to the floor. This bath is great, but I’d be looking for one more punch.
    A valance for the high window.

    The only other thing I would suggest is chrome switch plates…otherwise…PACK YOUR BAGS…I”M MOVING IN !!!

  9. Jeanne says:

    The only label in the buffet was removed from the drawer, so I don’t even know who the manufacturer is. All I know is it fits perfectly, is exactly (almost) what I was looking for and I got it for $40. It was 30% off furniture day!

    I’ve been working on my dining room and it’s getting near completion. I’ll probably have some pictures available soon. I’m actually working on pinch pleated valances, which I hope to have done by this weekend.

  10. Gavin Hastings says:

    Ok…maybe 2 inch stripes if you are not that bold!
    Cotton.. Chrome grommets and hooks.
    Pillow ticking is readily available…but might toss your into an “updated in 1982″ catagory!

    Grommets are easy once you figure it out. The ANVIL is the flat bottom piece you use to mold the actual grommet.
    I thought an anvil was the thing the Roadrunner drops on the Coyote….Duh..it’s in the package. Buy two packs (4.99 tops) and practice.

    The first time I tried these: I read the directions, and thought…”I don’t have an anvil”
    So I took my shower curtain outside and hammered it on the curb!

  11. Pam, I agree as far as consulting a professional. Tile installers are so smart and I think worth the money. I”m sorry about the confusion on hazing. I will look into this more. Chances are that it has to do with the consistency of the grout. How much water is mixed with the grout. I will check with my pro and see what she says.

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