Noelle’s 1930s bathroom with pink panel walls

vintage-pink-bathroom-panelingReader Noelle is in love with the unusual pink bathroom in her 1930s home, but it has her puzzled. Just what are the panels covering the walls and built-ins made of, and how might she go about repairing some of them that are water damaged in the tub area? Noelle has tried to seek help from professionals, but the only advice she’s received from them is to gut and start fresh — something she is trying to avoid.

vintage-pink-bathroomNoelle writes:

I am so glad that this site exists! I can recall my grandparents’ drafty victorian mansion circa 1907 with the most luscious pink bathroom -it was such a tribute to creative beauty and charm to my child-mind. Vintage homes have an identity all their own; they’re a character in the story of our lives. Thank you for preserving that value!

midcentury-pink-bathroomI found your site while living in Long Beach, California — a mecca of preserved duplexes and bungalows. I had an amazing teal and yellow kitchen that I was hoping to duplicate when we had a home of our own. Searching the site led me to your pink bathroom series, and I only hoped to someday have one of my own. Not two years later, in the heart of Central Washington, we found a perfect little gem built in 1930 with a rounded front door, sparkly, speckled linoleum, yellow/gold appliances, and (hallelujah) a PINK bathroom!!

vintage-pink-and-white-bathroomThe bathroom, however, doesn’t quite look like any featured on your site, so I’m writing to see if you might have some insight into the era so that I can authentically replace some of the worn features, mainly flooring and the bathtub/shower.

40s-pink-bathroomThe most notable difference is that the bathroom does not have any tile. The walls have large pink panels that aren’t wood (perhaps plastic of some sort?), and the perimeter of each wall is edged with chrome. I have several built-in drawers, a bench, and a vanity area with original chrome accents, and a laundry chute on the floor that runs to the basement.

The floor is linoleum in blue and red speckled squares similar to that in old school buildings.

vintage-pink-paneled-tubThe tub is built in, but has a rounded conversion kit that encloses the area for showering.

I have sought professional advice, but the response is always to gut and remodel to a fully contemporary bathroom. No way! I want to save this pink bathroom.

I would appreciate any response to the following questions:

  1. What decade does this reflect?
  2. I found glazed, pink, 4″ hexagonal tiles that perfectly match the color of the bathroom for only $.20 each at the Habitat for Humanity thrift store that I plan to work into flooring, and I am wondering which accent colors go with pink in traditional, original homes — or is that where creative license comes in?
  3. The shower enclosure causes irritating convection/suction from the two-sided shower curtain. Unlike a claw foot tub that sits in the middle of the room, this tub is built into the wall and has a fully functioning enclosure; however, the wall panels are not waterproof so an additional shower curtain is required. Is there a way to waterproof the wall panels so that I do not have to have a shower curtain on the wall side? Have you seen others do this?

Noelle, your bathroom is amazing. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. I’ll have to pass the buck to Pam on these questions though, as she is more knowledgeable in this department. This bathroom does however, remind me of the pink bathroom Pam visited in The Wilson House, which also had paneled walls.

Pam responds to Noelle’s questions

What decade does this bathroom reflect? Well, I think it reflect the 1930s, actually. My first guess is that your bathroom is original — although the sink and toilet are replacements of a more current vintage.

Back in the day — including through to the 1950s and possibly even later — companies like Masonite (see image above) sold wall panels with glossy top finishes like those in your bathroom.

micarta bathroom
A circa-1930 bathroom with walls covered in Micarta. Micarta (owned by Westinghouse) was an early form of laminate. Yes, they seemed to be promoting this for bathrooms — like yours! Photo credit: Canadian Centre for Architecture provided to archive.org Building Technology Heritage Library. image cropped from 1930 catalog.

Moreover, companies like Micarta (above) also sold laminate just for this purpose.

Your bathroom panels — with the chrome or steel connectors between each panel — look like they would have been marketed to do-it-yourselfers. This would have made lots of sense in 1930 — the Great Depression had just hit.

Note, my second guess is that the panels went into the bathroom later. Tile could be underneath. You will only be able to find out by removing a panel.

marlite panels
Click here to see Larry’s similarly paneled kitchen

I have seen panels like this on occasion. In our archive, we have photos of Larry’s kitchen, which had similar panels (one photo at right). Cool, huh?

  • Noelle, we do not know what your panels are made of. It could be that different manufacturers used different compositions for their panels. Yes, time for a Precautionary Pam warning: Our old house can contain vintage nastiness such as lead as asbestos; get your own properly licensed professional to determine what you have so that you can make informed decisions how to handle. Noelle, this goes for the panels, their adhesives and the substrate below… and same for the flooring. 


1940s colors

Adding a tile floor is very practical indeed. Looks like you need “dots” for your octagon and dot tiles — Chippy at World of Tile has dots in 72 colors — however, they are quite expensive. You should check Daltile to see if they have mosaic pieces the right size… then you could pop them in.

As to your question about color palettes: How about considering my 1940s Crane toilet seat palette (above) for inspiration. I see these all as color that would harmonize with your prewar bathroom.

sunken cinderella tubEven though companies like Masonite and Micarta marketed these panels to be waterproof, I am a skeptic about their long-term functionality in the wet, steamy environment of a bathroom. In addition, all the minerals in our water is likely deleterious to the finish, unless you take great care to wipe down the shower wall every time.  To ideas to consider: (1) Remove the panels surrounding the tub and apply 4″ pink tile from B&W (assuming the match is good) in the panels’ place. I know this idea might sound like preservationist heresy — but golly, you want a shower wall to be waterproof or else bad things can happen behind the wall. In fact: Do you know what’s happening behind that wall? Second: Replace the laminate. When I visited the Wilson House — and saw the shower with laminate walls — I asked Wilsonart about the viability of laminate for this purpose. They told me that, yes, laminate can be used for wall panels in tub/shower enclosure — you will just need to be sure it is applied correctly and in a way that seals all the edges. Noelle, we have identified numerous laminate suppliers. Perhaps you can find a pink laminate in the color you need.

Good luck, Noelle — let us know what you decide. And thank you for Saving another Pink Bathroom!

Readers: What else could Noelle do as a solution to the issue with her shower walls?

CategoriesPink Bathrooms
  1. Chris says:

    Does anyone know what the 4 little squared off circles are at the end of the bench? Is it like a little trivet for your behind? 🙂 Can’t figure out what that is!

      1. Chris says:

        Oh my gosh — that’s funny! My husband looked and looked and speculated… hysterical! 🙂

  2. Jacki says:

    I remember as a child our newly built 1965 home had a gray and white marble design Marlite on the tub walls. I know it was Marlite because that is what my parents called it. It also started to decay after several years and there wasn’t even a shower in the tub. It’s neat to know the product still exists.

  3. Gus says:

    The original sink would have had a high-back/backsplash, and separate hot and cold taps. Whoever installed this replacement placed a piece of laminate to hide the unfinished portion of the wall that is not covered by the new sink. The mirror is definitely early 1930s. I have the exact same mirror, given to me by my grandmother, who bought it when they built their house in 1932. The lights are typical early 1930s as well. Chrome/stainless hardware was big then.

    1. pam kueber says:

      Yes, the sink is newer. 1960s, I’d guess. The toilet, as well – even newer than ’60s, I’d say.

      And I very much agree: the tub, the mirrored cabinet and the lights all look very 1930s. That is why I am guessing that the pink paneling could be from that time frame, too…. Plus the fact that we have marketing material that indicates it was available at that time. That said, yes, the paneling and flooring could have gone in later… Although that sink, I wouldn’t call contemporaneous with even the flooring…. it’s later, I think.

  4. Holly Kohler says:

    The panels look very similar to what my Mom called “Abitibi”…I googled it, and it came up under “Abitibi paneling”…I remember we had it on our bathroom walls, and surrounding the tub. Not sure about shower though. Great bathroom!!

  5. RD says:

    Looks like the bathroom was possibly redone in the 50s with the current finishes. I agree with all those who suggest putting in a waterproof shower surround. This would accomplish several things. It would allow you to see if there is any water damage in the walls. You could also find out if the laminate is covering a 1930s tile, which may or may not be salvageable, but would be interesting to know. Finally, you could redo the walls in a nice pink tile which is waterproof and get rid of the shower curtain problem.

    Love the bathroom and applaud your decision not to gut!

  6. Ann says:

    If you’re looking for replacement tiles, check out Hippo Hardware in Portland, OR. A couple of years ago, there were two to three boxes of these tiles (many in pink) in the basement. I doubt there’s a large demand for them, but you might call in advance to be sure.

  7. The panels are MARLITE, a masonite covered in a laminate, just like in Marti Brom’s house featured on retro renovation as the Stream Line Moderne Portland OR Time Capsule home, as well as in Atomic Ranch. They were meant to mimic the italian glass walls of the 30’s, and were used from 40’s – 70’s, as far as I can tell.

    I believe Atomic Ranch delves into it’s history in Marti Brom’s house article.


  8. Sandra says:

    Some of us remember the Woody Allen movie where he used steam from the shower to heat his apartment, and when the front door opened the cold front from the door would meet the steam from the shower, and it would rain in the living room (he said).

    In the meantime, having had the same problem of the “convection suction,” I suggest you try cutting the shower curtain as short as you can without making it so short it causes a problem. Because you have different height surroundings, that might mean shorter on one side than the other. The rising heat released by the water draws colder air in under the curtain, so you’ll notice it’s a bigger problem when the room is cold. Making the curtain shorter means the air doesn’t need to move it out of the way (it worked for me).

    I suppose it might be possible to make small holes or flaps in the curtain the way they do to reduce wind resistance, but I haven’t tried it — it might actually work with a flap as the air coming in would tend to prevent the water going out, but when the room is warmer, the flap would hang down.

  9. Amy Richcreek says:

    Great bathroom, and kudos on your commitment to keeping it pink!

    If I were in your shoes, I’d be very concerned about water damage behind the wall, and the possibility of mold, deterioration, carpenter ants, etc. that goes along with water damage. Dry, solid walls outweigh preserving the original finish in the tub surround.

    Gut the shower enclosure, and use a beautiful pink tile. Put a matching or coordinating tile on the floor. Make it yours, and don’t worry about being true to a particular decade. Swap out the wall hung white sink for a wall mount or pedestal in pink.

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