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*timeless* … *dated* … *hideous* … “unfashionable”: A discussion re kitchens and bathrooms

Elkay Lustertone stainless steel sink top

I have been thinking a lot lately about whether it would be possible, today, to create a truly *timeless* kitchen and bathroom. That is: Focusing on the past 70 years, when our *modern* American way of life began after World War II: Make a list of all the pieces in a kitchen and then a bathroom that could put together so that, when you saw the finished room, you could not peg it, or any of the pieces in it, to a decade or window *when everybody did that.* Alas, I could not get very far in my little interior design parlor game. I wracked my brain and could think of only two products, so far, that met my rigorous criteria for remaining in pretty much continual use in residential homes… but without getting so *hot* that they ultimately crashed and burned into a sad pile of once-trendy *hideous* *dated* ashes.

4" ceramic bathroom tile like this "Spa" blue from DaltileMy fascination with the timeless comes, I think, as the flip side of my conniption fit whenever someone spits out the word *dated* to describe a home feature that is perfectly functional but no longer popular. Oh, how I hate that word.

While dictionaries may recognize “dated” as meaning “unfashionable”, my issue with the word is that probably 99% of what’s in your home is *dated*. That is, show me a kitchen or a bathroom installed during any decade in the 20th or early 21st century, and I can give you a *date* for it. Continuing on: Tear out a *hideous* [sic / also hate] *dated* kitchen, and replace it with what’s fabulous today — and you will have a kitchen *dated* 2012… Which some homeowner about 20 or 25 years from now will think is *hideous* and spit on and call *dated* and rip out and replace with a fabulous 2022 kitchen… and the beat goes on.

I thought and thought and you know what I think: It’s virtually impossible to put together an entire kitchen or bathroom that cannot be *dated* — and therefore, won’t become “unfashionable”.

So, that leads back to the design ethic of this blog, which is kinda sorta: If you’re gonna have a *dated* kitchen, which is inevitable (I *think*), you might as well have it *dated* to the *date* of the house, which is usually extremely very difficult to hide, especially if there are other similarly *dated* houses all around it.

So what products are modern-era timeless, in my book?

The first two I identified were Elkay drainboard sinks and 4″ ceramic bathroom tiles. At certain points in time, both the Elkay sinks and 4″ ceramic bathroom tiles have been very fashionable… but I don’t think they were ever particularly un-fashionable — and never *hideous* (unless you are very rude).

Timeless kitchen sink:

The first product I’ll declare as timeless — and this one, even pre-WWII: Elkay stainless steel sink tops — which I believe have been in pretty continuous use since the 1920s… and 4″ ceramic bath tiles, also in continuous popular use since at least then. 

Timeless bathroom tile colors:

Tile colors with relatively timeless appeal: “Spa” (Daltile) very light blue aka heron blue or robin’s egg blue… rose beige…  bone… almond… light grey. White or self- trim. Decorative liner tile is less timeless; a solid liner tile, timeless.

Timeless bathroom vanity:

Update 2017: A modern-era timeless bathroom vanity looks approximately like this [story here]:

What do you think?
Are there other kitchen and bath products
that you believe would pass my tough threshold for timelessness?

  1. Jordanna says:

    Not very Mid-C at all, but distinctly vintage, my grandmother had a large framed print of Jenny Lind, the famous soprano and “Ugly Duckling.”

    Since my grandmother listened to more Patsy Cline than opera, this is a mysterious thing, but it’s a really pretty and LARGE portrait, and it always had a place of honour in her apartment and it’s over my mother’s fireplace today.

  2. Chris H says:

    In many cases isn’t “dated” exactly what is wanted? If you’re renovating a ’70s house you want those avocado appliances.

    1. pam kueber says:

      yup 🙂 . when you’re buying a house, though, be sure to pretend you don’t want them and negotiate down down down. they don’t need to know.

      1. Anastasia says:

        EXACTLY my thoughts Pam, and them come HERE to figure out to live with a perfectly useable house. (I also came here to figure out what I “hate” about older homes as well, lol)

  3. Janet says:

    Oh how I hate that word, too (dated). I hear it all too much on home renovation shows (room crashers, etc.) and it absolutely breaks my heart when they take the *dated*, beautiful stuff out (usually with a sledgehammer! ouch!) and put some trashy, low-quality junk that the next homeowner will just rip out, anyway, because it will be *dated* and fall apart in 10 years anyway. I don’t know if there is anything that is timeless, but I do know this–I am doing everything I can to keep those *dated* things in my house (beautiful kitchen cabinets, wood floors, bathroom tile, brick fireplace) as long as I live there. I am so thankful that it doesn’t have granite countertops (talk about things that will be dated 10 years from now), and that the previous owner had the sense not to completely renovate the home and leave some of the *dated* things alone. I like it that way.

  4. Andi says:

    Two nominees for timeless:
    First is leather club chairs. These seem to have always been at least acceptable if not all the rage.
    Second thing is stained glass, in one form or another. Has stained glass ever really been completely “out” or dated? Certain shapes of lamps, etc. become dated, but stained glass in general seems timeless to me.

  5. Steve 66 says:

    Do a Google search of Julia Child’s kitchen. I think it’s as close to timeless as you’re ever likely to find; probably because she designed it for function rather than fashion

    1. pam kueber says:

      I don’t agree with this one. Subway tile is not historically appropriate for mid-century houses. 4″ ceramic tile is, for 50s and 60s. Into the 60s and 70s, there was more diversity – but never subway tiles.

      1. Rachel says:

        You may have stopped me just in time…I am about to have white subway tiles (the small rectangular ones) put in my 1946 bungalow basement apt. If you don’t think these work, what do you recommend?

        1. pam kueber says:

          Type 1940s kitchen into the search box and all kinds of stories will come up – including several design boards boards. Also see Readers and their Kitchens under Kitchen category. Tile: 4×4 pastels in 40s colors….

  6. Beth says:

    I despise the word dated… I heard it a million times when I worked for a design-build firm. I wanted to clobber some clients cuz they were destroying the history of their home (even though they were my bread and butter).

    But if someone came to me to “undate” or “decade-neutralize” their home (those are my phrases that I coined) to prepare it for sale, I would recommend:

    simple WHITE bath fixtures, period sensitive to the home’s history

    pale taupe (yuck) or “Navajo white” (also yuck) on the walls throughout

    brushed or polished chrome plumbing fixtures and cab hardware

    white (or something like it) Corian or Silestone tops

    stained wood cabinets with simple full overlay doors

    12 x 12 white or off white porcelain tile

    wood floors, mid level color NOTHING DARK

    Seriously, that is the list to undate a home. I would admonish them then to decorate or stage with rugs and accessories and simple wall decor from Hobby Lobby.

    Notice there is NO natural stone anywhere on the tops or floors. That is one thing that I can assure you will “date” a home from the early 2000s.

    For me, I resolutely prefer to dress and design a home based on the home’s design, architecture (inside and out!), and floor plan. There is nothing more goofy looking that a fully redone 2000-2012 interior on a mid-century modern or even a Victorian home.

    My own home was built in 1977. Yes I removed the harvest gold appliances when I bought it (a couple didn’t work anyway). I replaced with stainless since by the time they die off a natural death, then they’ll need to be replaced anyway.

    I did not take out my very hard to find yellow Formica tops in my guest bath! Instead I dressed around it because it is indiginous to the house and frankly, it’s really retro cool! I redid the floors in there with 1 x 1 tile. See my site. It’s cute as it can be and it WORKS with my home’s era. I get tons of compliments because it actually is NOT dated.

    I did have faux butcher block in the kitchen. If I had real BB, it would have stayed. But you simply have to see what I did to it (can you click on my name to see my website?). I have created an entire home that mixes the original stunning woodwork with a bit of whimsy and fun, all with the original layout and floorplan in mind. I’ve even repainted the exterior to uplift it’s appearance so it “goes” with my eclecticity on the inside.

    Oh, and I HATE granite! After we have raped and pillaged the earth foraging for it, and left all of those gaping holes, this fad will die off and they will tear it out in a couple decades. So sad. The only outdoorsy thing that I feel no conscientious qualms about is wood. It is renewable. So is bamboo and cork (and its very pretty).

    Okay, I’ve overstayed my welcome. But really, this fad that we designers are enduring now to rip out what BELONGS in a vintage home and make it look like this decade is just wrong. I had a client whose home was modeled after an original floorplan and interior style (wood, catwalks, stone, exposed beams, etc) of a Frank Lloyd Wright home. After I recovered from the initial shock of its beauty and Mid-Century style, I actually talked her into decorating around it! And it’s stunning now.

    My eternal recommendation will to always design around a home’s era, with pretty colors and nice accessories, mixed in with period sensitive permanent fixtures.

  7. Robert S says:

    As a Realtor specializing in Houston’s first and recently created, post WWII Historic District, I come across this issue all the time. There are so many one or two owner homes here that have pristine original finishes, and too many people see them as “dated” and want to rip it out. I have seen some heartbreaking things at the curb on heavy trash day. To me, they are dulling out the house to make it look just like any other. Now that we are a historic district, it has helped attract more people who appreciate the vintage style. Some of my highest priced sales in the neighborhood have been homes that were restored, but retained their original baths and kitchen cabinets, etc. Even so, I still get people coming in saying I should drop the price because the pristine vintage tile baths NEED to all be “ripped out!”

  8. Michele Campbell says:

    There are some decorating books that have been useful to the idea of timelessness–the old Better Homes and Gardens ring binder books. If you can start with a theme and build on it over the years, and not get distracted by new this or that you can create an atmosphere(just my opinion, of course,) that suggests a timelessness. Like, say, colonial. When you redo a bath or kitchen you look for the elements of whatever particular style in which you are interested, in the tile, the cabinet wood, paint, accessories, etc. It can be done, and on a shoestring too! But, it can’t be done right, overnight.

  9. Ally Cat says:

    What about Asian-inspired design? Black or red lacquer, chippendale chairs, etc. These elements have shown up in every era and live happily with modern and traditional settings…

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