Roberta’s gray and yellow bathroom fixit — World of Tile to the rescue

gray tile bathroomroberta and michaelRoberta’s 1953 bathroom — with its gray tile walls and yellow Crane Oxford plumbing fixtures — was chock-full of charm — and high quality, too. It just needed a little bit of un-remuddling to prepare it for another 60 years of happy service. Read on for Roberta’s sunny Buttercup story, which includes “cue music” a pilgrimage to see Chippy at World of Tile, who, of course, delivered the goods  –>

love the house you're in

gray tile bathroomRoberta writes:

Hi Pam!

We are now delighted by our gorgeous, nearly-all-authentic 1953 gray/yellow bath! We removed a grungy shower door and added the shower curtain rod, painted (the trim color matches the original Crane Oxford Buttercup tub and toilet) and removed the Formica vanity and plastic sink with which the previous owners (aka, Those Morons) had replaced the old sink. The sink is white, and a compromise, since we have not found an original Crane Oxford sink in Buttercup to match the tub and toilet. The backsplash they had put in was literally glued to the tile, so it remove it we had to break eight of the original tiles.

That is when I discovered Retro Renovation, and through it, The World of Tile. I spoke to Chippy on the phone and was about to send her a piece of the broken tile to color match when my fiance, Michael, suggested we drive to Springfield, New Jersey, instead. It was an hour-long drive complicated by heavy rain most of the way up and back, but it was well worth doing. When we gave Chippy a sample piece of tile, she disappeared into the mysterious back of the store. While she was collecting possible replacement tiles, we explored the rest of the store — it is simply an astonishing place. I was particularly excited to see a large selection of vintage style ceramic soap, toothbrush, tumbler and paper holders in great colors.

vintage bathroomWe also struck up a conversation with a couple who were there to replace the 1960’s pale blue accessories in the bath they are restoring. When Chippy returned, she had five possible gray tiles from which — with considerable difficulty since they were all close matches — we choose the one we felt was the best fit. Meanwhile, the other couple had an equally difficult time picking from several pale blue options for their project. When we had all made our decisions Chippy looked over our choices and confirmed that the Stylon tile we had picked was indeed from the 1950’s, and the blue the other couple had chosen was a 60’s color. This made us all feel like geniuses, so the $12/tile price did not hurt a bit.

We had to cut two of the replacement tile (they are the ones directly under the soap and tumbler holders), and although I researched how to do it we were terrified to try. I found a local tile store — Del Val Tile Distributors, in Langhorne, PA — who cut them for us while we waited.

The actual tile installation was amazingly easy. Once we added the new pedestal sink it really is nearly impossible to tell the new-old tile from the original-old tile, even for us. I also took a piece of tile to Lowe’s and had a quart of gloss paint made as a color match. After I filled them in with spackle, I used the paint to touch up the cracks and chips in the old tile as well as long cracks in the floor and the holes left in the tub-surround from removing the shower doors. Worked great!

Thanks for all your help; Retro Renovation saved us a lot of time and trouble and is the main reason we were able to keep the wonderful old bathroom we love! We are currently doing the same restoration to a Mamie pink bath and hoping this time to get the (god awful) plastic sink out without breaking any tile, but if we do now we know that Chippy will be there to help us out!



roberta and michaelWhen I was reading Roberta’s emails, I see she is an artist and writer, and I ask if can include a link to her website. She quickly responds:

I’m delighted to share my story with others, especially since (just like all my novels) it has a happy ending.

Yes, sure, links to www.RobertaLeeArt.com are always welcomed. My Suburban Sprawl series of novels include a female character as obsessed with the charm of the old and DIY as I am, as well as a great old (and haunted) house based in part on mine, but it’s bigger and the plumbing is in better shape. So I think a few of your readers may be kindred spirits.
I’m sending a recent photo of Michael and me with two of our dogs, Bungee and Mugsy. Michael is an attorney, and never knew the world of DIY existed until he met me 2 1/2 years ago. Now he jokes that if we don’t show up at Lowe’s by noon on any given Saturday, they send a car to our house to get us. He’s been a quick study and tends now to be the optimistic one who says, “No, wait, I think we can still do this,” when I get all, “Oh shit, I think we’re doomed.”
Thanks again for your wonderful websites. Our house is in a neighborhood here in Cheltenham PA (a suburb of Philadelphia), that was developed in the 1950’s, and I have so far talked two neighbors out of ripping out their gorgeous old bathrooms. I just wish I could save them all…… sigh.

Great job, Roberta and Michael. I love your idea of taking tile to a paint store and getting a high quality paint match to fill in cracks. Another idea, if your tile is high-gloss (not matte): Nail polish, which is available in so many colors today. Maybe go to a nail salon so you can test their multitude of colors, and buy the bottle from them… Either way: Great tip.

And yes, so sad but so true: The plumbing is always better in fiction.

  1. Karen says:

    I have a 1956 gray and yellow bathroom in desperate need of restoration – I can hardly wait to get started!

    Roberta, thanks for showing me how beautiful my bathroom could be.

    Pam, thanks for this wonderful website.

    1. Roberta Lee says:

      Karen – So glad to hear you want to restore not destroy! This morning a neighbor told me she’s having a bathroom “done” and that the main reason is that it was (and she said this with a sneer) gray and yellow! I smiled politely but made no comment. Sad that her vintage bath is gone, but glad that yours is about to be reborn.

      1. Karen says:

        To my shame, I was ready to gut it, until the contractor who gave me an estimate told me he’d have to cut the cast iron tub in half to get it out the door. Destroying a useful, functioning object just didn’t sit right with me, so I started looking into other options and found this site. Yours is the first vintage gray & yellow bath I’ve seen besides my own. I am looking at my whole house with new eyes, and it is so exciting!

        1. Roberta Lee says:

          The first time we looked at this house it was the vintage bathroom tile that I liked the most. Trust me, we have ignored many, many helpful suggestions from well-meaning but misguided friends about the old bathrooms, and all involved first gutting the entire room.

          I’m nearly done restoration of our Mamie pink bathroom, which centered on installing a 1950’s wall hung sink that I trash-picked years ago, long before I had a use for it. This house’s original 1953 sink had been replaced with the 70’s version of cool and modern: a Formica and plastic vanity. And *that* was picked up from my curb, I hope by someone restoring a newer house than ours. So it all goes around. My best advice on stuff you pull out and don’t want: Put it at the curb and run a “curb alert”, stuff-for-free ad on Craigslist with a photo of the thing. I do not believe there is *anything* that will not be recycled if you do that!

          1. Karen says:

            I am always amazed by the things that are taken from my curb. Luckily, all our fixtures are original but we will need to replace a few cracked tiles.

            What is the brand/shade of your window trim paint?

            1. Roberta Lee says:

              Yes, I often wonder what would *not* be trash-picked from my curb…..

              The trim paint is from Lowe’s: Olympic One, color is Sunbeam. I looked at a *lot* of color chips before choosing this one; it’s a terrific, creamy yellow that is a great match for my Crane Buttercup tub & toilet!

  2. Kathy Laskowski says:

    Hey I was wondering about the tile floor. Is that the original because it is exactly what I’m looking for and was hoping it was new and you could direct me to where you found those great colors.

    1. Roberta Lee says:

      Hi Kathy! We are very lucky because that is the original floor. Take Pam’s advice and explore her articles; she has done a lot of research and can offer you amazingly helpful guidance on this. I will only add that that floor–in all its vintage glory–was one of the reasons we bought this house. It is just as gorgeous as it looks in the photos.

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