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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. Kathy says:

    Is there any chance it is Magnesite? which is shaped in place. It is hard for me to believe that anything like Masonite would last that long next to a bathtub/shower, even if it was carefully wiped down each time.

    http://www.tracyking.com/northeast-los-angeles-magnesite-flooring.html (Not aware if it was made into panels, but the stuff wears like iron, and is fireproof too!)

    http://www.oldhousejournal.com/managing_magnesite/magazine/1198

    Also look into getting some ventilation in there. They have some nice light fixtures/fans now that can blend in.

  2. Kathy says:

    Vitrolite isn’t made anymore, although there is a German manufacturer of something similar. Best bet is salvage. Too bad, it was great stuff and used a lot for store facades, although installation can be difficult–best outside with hot tar mastics. Not sure about installation inside–may be like a mirror. There is a Preservation Brief (#12) on structural glass that covers it–Vitrolite is a trade name. Plus lots of other good information on preserving old buildings: http://www.nps.gov/tps/how-to-preserve/briefs.htm

    Sometimes back-painted tempered glass is used as substitute. Seen it done for kitchen backsplashes. Not sure about bathrooms, but might be worth looking into. Color might be hard to match, and texture will be different. Might be kind of a neat look in a contrasting color to match. The stainless strips are neat, but a source of water penetration I would think. There are liner strips in metallic finishes to use with tile that might be worth looking into..

  3. Joe Felice says:

    Oh, that’s right! Marlite! I had forgotten about that, but I’m thinking it was just another brand of Masonite. It did have cutsey little designs, but I think it was mainly for kitchens. As I recall, the Masonite back then had a thicker finished surface. Care would have to be taken to keep moisture from getting behind this, as the actual Masonite absorbs water like a sponge, and it expands. Similar panels I see at stores today have a very-thin finished surface, and I would never use them in an area that is exposed to moisture. Actual laminate is a completely-different animal, and could be used, but still, I personally would not. As Pam says, great care would have to be taken to seal the edges and joints, and you would constantly have to be resealing them. I like Pam’s idea of replacing the bathtub panels with matching tile. No one will ever know! (Except the hairdresser!) Coordinating colors used with pink in bathrooms were gray, black and dark burgundy. We have also seen some on this site that have pink with turquoise, and, while it never occurred to me to intermingle the two colors, they are, in my mind, truly beautiful, I also find the bench in front of the sink most interesting and unusual. I’m sure this bathroom was custom finished. Because of the amount of space the bench takes up in the tight area in front of the sink, I might be inclined to remove it. I do love all the in-wall storage cubbies.

  4. MM says:

    You might consider FRP (fiber reinforced plastic) or GRP (glass reinforced plastic) panels as a replacement instead of laminate. This material is often used in commercial kitchens as a waterproof and easily cleanable wall surface. Pink wont be a standard color, but many suppliers of FRP also offer custom colors. You would have to do a bit of searching to find one willing to supply a small quantity at a reasonable price, but it seems to me like it could be the perfect solution. The seams between panels are covered with a plastic strip in the same color as the panels but it should be easy to find chrome strips to use instead. The panels are available in many different textures as well (pebbled, glossy, etc). Good luck!

  5. Yvette says:

    I can’t believe contractors would want to gut that gorgeous bathroom! There has got to be one willing to work with you who would get excited about doing something creative and different. When I remodeled my apartment, my contractor was wonderful, had really cool mid century cabinets custom made for me and even built me a “Dick Van Dyke Show” type wall in my entryway!

  6. Jen says:

    I’m loving all the pink bathroom pics! I am wondering if anyone can help me determine which shade of pink I actually have (or the manufacturer of the sink I have)? There is no makers mark anywhere that I can see on the sink, and unfortunately it has a crack all the way through and needs replaced.

    The photos in my link below are not all taken in the same light (and the toilet is not original – I’m guessing possibly replaced in the 1980s). The two photos taken with the toilet, tub and sink/vanity uninstalled and laying on the wood floor are natural light. Other photos of the sink are included in hopes that someone can help me identify the manufacturer or year, which may help me find the color…so that I can order a new sink for my bathroom from one of the great sources you shared on this site (we are ok with rebuilding the vanity to accommodate a sink that will work).
    Thanks in advance for any assistance you can provide!

    https://drive.google.com/open?id=1c0HQbeRhQS4iF99Nu4uB7uRbfyilp_CW

    1. Pam Kueber says:

      Eljer toilet, may be “Aqualine”. So, likely Eljer tub too. Yes, sink is older. Search apron front bathroom sink on the blog, use the Search box, and see what you can find, I have some catalogs. American Standard, Crane, Kohler – those are always the first-guess possibilities.

      1. Jen says:

        Thank you! The tub and sink are the same color, the toilet is newer and does not match the sink and tub. I will continue to dig – thank you!

  7. Angela Fuller says:

    I have a bathroom very much like this in red and ivory with chrome. It was added to the upstairs attic of my 1929 house in 1954. I assumed they were a solid color Formica sheet. 🙂

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