Reader Paul has come up with another way to get a bathroom sink in the retro color of your choice: Tapping his knowledge of vintage car remodeling, he had a friend at an auto body shop paint three new fiberglass sinks custom-colors to match the tubs and toilets in his 1961 split level house. The sinks turned out great and a year later — no chips in sight. Let’s take a look — including at the gorgeous “Belgian Glass” tile in two of Paul’s bathrooms.
In the past 18 months, I have restored/renovated a 1961 midcentury split level house. One of the biggest challenges was replacing vintage Eljer sinks in the bathrooms and how to match the existing toilets and bathtub that didn’t need to be replaced. Long story short, CorStone fiberglass sinks [Pam update: no longer available] can be painted to match at an auto body shop! I’d love to share the story with you and your readers with before and after pictures.
In 2013, my Mom passed away leaving us with her 1961 mid-century California split level needing to be brought back to its former glory. This ‘California’ split level is actually located in Connecticut. The term California was because the design was done in California and it has redwood siding. This was a wonderful project and was a great way to cope with grief at the same time.
“There is NO SHAME in laminate counters and wall-to-wall carpeting!”
At the very beginning, I hired an interior designer to come over and help. That proved to be a mistake, as she looked at all the mid century charm with contempt and wanted to convert the house into a modern mass-produced contemporary (‘you need hardwood floors, granite counter tops, etc. etc.’) It didn’t take me long to figure out, I had to stay true with the house’s mid-century heritage. It was built when Jack and Jackie ruled style and fashion. These were happy, optimistic times reflected in clean simple lines and design. So, I think my Mom was whispering in my ear, ‘Get that woman out of my house’ and directed me to your website, which affirmed what I wanted to do. There is NO SHAME in laminate counters and wall-to-wall carpeting!
My theme for the house was “The Same But Different!” This meant keeping the mid-century features and character in their same place but updating with new fixtures and brighter lighter colors. The bathrooms were going to prove a challenge. I was keeping the Eljer toilets and bathtub as they were in great condition and work fine. Unfortunately, the sinks were shot and the aluminum trim around the sinks, though vintage, is a pain to keep clean.
My dilemma was where do I find sinks (and toilet seats) that could match vintage 1961 colors. I looked at Kohler sinks — and the pale yellow and the periwinkle blue I needed don’t exist.
New sinks were expensive, so I looked at CorStone sinks, which are made of fiberglass with a painted acrylic finish. After visiting your website and reading about someone having a toilet seat painted at a body shop, I thought, ‘fiberglass with acrylic finish sounds a lot to me like a Corvette!’ So, I called a good friend who owns a body shop and I talked him into custom painting three sinks. Body shops have a computerized paint matching scanner so I gave him the bolt covers on the toilets so he could match the colors for the sinks.
Last spring the sinks were painted and are an almost exact match of the original color. I couldn’t be happier. My only complaint about CorStone sinks is they have an overflow hole that is unfinished and unpainted.
Fortunately, there is a little $1.42 trim piece you can buy on Ebay to fit into the hole that finishes it nicely. The holes need to be enlarged for the piece to fit. I’ve had no issues with the painted surface. I wax them once a month and they are easier to keep clean than the old porcelain! And boy can they shine! (I’m still waiting for the toilet seats!)
As you can see, the house had Hallmack hideaway toothbrush holders and towel racks. The medicine cabinet for the blue bathroom is also by Hallmack (I have to have the sliding mirror replaced).
The wall tiles are “Belgian Glass”
The tiling for both bathrooms is Belgian Glass. I haven’t been able to find anything on Belgian glass so I don’t know if that was a mid-century craze or not. The vintage white Formica was replaced with Wilsonart HD laminate, ‘Luna Frost’ for the yellow bathroom and ‘Carrara Santorini’ for the blue bathroom. Cabinets are painted Benjamin Moore Advance ‘Limestone’ and ‘Paper White.’
For this bathroom, I went with a stock CorStone color, Fawn Beige, which matched the commode pretty much. Again, I used Wilsonart HD Laminate to replace the old Formica (which had the wonderful gold speckles). The wallpaper is original from 1961. I think it still looks great! I did decide to replace the medicine cabinet with a new unit from Lowe’s.
I did not want a backsplash for the sink. The old unit just had the metal trim and I had the counter raised two inches as the wallpaper was going to be look damaged where the old counter was. Unfortunately the person who installed the counter cut it improperly and there were gaps that just couldn’t be caulked over. He wanted to put in a four-inch backsplash. So, thinking on my feet and under pressure, I came up with the great idea of using the matching beveled edge product as a ‘backsplash’ as a way to finish the unsightly edges! It worked out great and using that product to finish the top is something I have never seen before!
Thank you for your inspiring website!
Keeping painted sinks clean
We asked Paul how the sinks were holding up and how he kept them clean. He replied:
I can’t believe that the sinks were installed a year ago this week! I have to tell you, they look amazing. Once a month I do the liquid car wax, and they are as shiny as a car on the showroom floor! Absolutely no issues with cracking, chips, stains or anything! And easier to clean than the original porcelain! I wouldn’t say I baby them at all. The monthly wipe down with liquid wax and a paper towel is a lot less work than using Comet on the old Eljer sinks! In between waxes, we use 7th Generation All Purpose Natural Cleaner.
Paul, even though I would worry about the longterm durability of this finishing process, it sure looks like your sinks turned out great. Sounds like: If you are careful with how you clean these sinks, they are another great option for a Retro Renovator’s bathroom product arsenal. Note, though, we really tend to think that for a kitchen sink or a bathtub — which both get really pounded with dirt and in the case of a kitchen sink, lots of sharp-edged bumping and banging — a painted surface is not likely to be happily durable.
And: No Comet on our old sinks! Too abrasive! See this epic story on the cleaning products that Kohler recommends for its porcelain-enamel coated cast iron sinks. I would think the same advice would hold for porcelain-enamel coated steel sinks, which is what I had and it looks like Paul had. Nix to any abrasives!
We heart hudees
And… thoughts on the hudee ring issue: We won’t get too upset at your pulling out those hudee-rimmed sinks — because you said the sinks were shot. My hudee-rim steel bathroom sinks were all chipped, too. Remember, though, dear readers, that there is no shame in a hudee rim sink either. In fact, we quite love them and have many stories on them: Where to buy metal-rimmed kitchen sinks … and bathroom sinks new – my favorite is the Kohler Tahoe, also see our story on Cecos … Where to order metal sink frames in one of 18 custom sizes or in any size made-to-order … Even our original research on the history of the hudee.
Paul, we’re sure your mom would be proud of your determination and ingenuity — and for all the tender loving care you are giving her house! And… wow… that Belgian Tile! Fantastic! Thanks for all your help with this story — and for so generously sharing it with the Retro Renovation community!