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. Kersten says:

    Ha! These are the details that I LOVE! Switch plates have been known to be a big discussion in our house. In our previous 1952 cape cod type house, we bought chrome switch plates since that house had a more “fab 50’s” feel, with its pink kitchen and swirled marble plastic tiled bathroom. This house, however, is more the danish modern 50’s. All around our house are the switch plates that Pam linked (3rd on right). I have seen many of them at the habitat store here, so there’s no shortage, but here’s the issue. We had to go with white because of the white grout and white on the wallpaper. I’ve only found the vintage switch plates in off white.

  2. Lynne says:

    Thanks to everyone who responded. I am VERY glad I wrote. We will be working with a matte finished floor tile, so this grout hazing could potentially be a problem. Especially since I was planning on using a grey grout. From what I gather, the safest procedure would be to lay the tile, then seal the tile, THEN do the grouting. The sealer should then be protecting the surface of the matte tile to make the grout wipe off cleanly.

  3. Gavin Hastings says:

    I stick by my vintage chrome.
    BUT….when you see those plastic ones with the vertical stripes BUY THEM ALL.
    They are paintable…don’t peel or scratch…and are impossible to find!

  4. pam kueber says:

    Again – I think that Kersten’s issue was with the variations in color of the GROUT. I have been calling that “hazing” rightly or wrongly. CONSULT WITH PRO’s.

  5. Gavin Hastings says:

    Ever the compromiser….

    Buy Pam’s striated plastic switchplates and paint them with chrome spraypaint!

  6. donna says:

    Very nicely done! Love the wallpaper, and love that the vanity was custom-built with that angled lower cupboard front. We have an angled-front vanity in our 1/2-bath, with gold-specked formica countertop and white hudee-ring sink. I really like the angled front. You guys did a great job, and I envy you your summer wardrobe!

  7. stacey says:

    You guys did a very very good job! I especially love the light fixture above the mirror, the chrome vanity and wallpaper. It’s all so on-point with an original midcent bathroom, you should be proud of yourselves!

  8. Rachel says:

    What a fabulous bathroom! I’m in love! The wallpaper is awesome!

    Thanks for sharing the info about the grout and tile. I never would have thought to ask about it, and I read your post literally 5 minutes before my contractor came out to talk to me about our bathroom tile. Fortunately, he was aware of the issue and mentioned sealing the tile before I had a chance to bring it up. Whew.

    I also love seeing two sinks in a small vanity space. We have a small vanity counterop (60″) and are doing double sinks. My husband was worried it was too small, but I think it will work. We’re doing the Kohler Tahoe metal-rimmed sinks – just got them in this weekend, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited about sinks in my life! 🙂

    Regarding the shower curtain – maybe check out simple ones that you could spruce up? I got a couple of fabric shower curtains on clearance at Target a few weeks ago – for $3 and $6 – and plan on doing some large-scale embroidery on the grey one that will go in our pink bathroom. Maybe starting with a ready-made one would make it less daunting and time consuming.

    Beautiful work – thanks for sharing! 🙂

  9. Patty says:

    Keep an eye out for open houses in the neighborhood — someone else might still have the original bathroom in those colors so you can see what it was like.

  10. Patty says:

    I think it could be a matter of the nature of using little tiles…you see the variations in the grout so much more than in the larger wall tiles. Also, you are probably being extra critical of your own work.

    My original little tile floor shows slight variations in the width of the grout and some tiles don’t line up exactly perfect.

    Also, I have the matt finish, and the only time it looks clean to me is when it’s still wet. I wish it was glossy tile.

    I thought all tile was sealed when it was made/baked.

  11. CindyD says:

    Wow – that’s some payoff for all your effort! I love your ‘new’ bath and your home really has great curb appeal! I’m sure your kitchen will be equally impressive!

  12. It was probably more expensive going the colored route, but we have a countractor friend who got us a discount because he has an account with Daltile. They do charge if you don’t order the minimum, which we didn’t. So that was an extra $125. And yes, I am definitely taking mental notes on the grout and plan on asking our contractor friend about it/getting someone to grout the floor for us.

  13. pam kueber says:

    I think that Daltile has a lot of great colors now. I don’t know how much they charge per s.f. for their 4×4 wall tile these days. You should also check Ann Sacks – I believe they have some 4×4-ish wall tile at approx. $12.50 / s.f.

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