Vintage bathrooms – retro and heritage inspired décor harking back to the romance and elegance of days gone by – have become increasingly popular over the last few years.
For many, the appeal of a bathroom that appears plucked from the past is down to the assumptions we make about those eras. Namely, that they produced timeless design styles and fixtures that were built to last by classically trained craftspeople.
Real Estate Analyst, Emile L’Eplattenier, offered some insight on why retro style bathrooms have seen a resurgence: “Vintage bathrooms are popular for the same reason that the artisanal movement – everything from beard oil to craft cocktails – has exploded in popularity: it’s a backlash against our increasingly online world. In a city like Manhattan, the sheer volume of pre-war buildings means many people associate vintage style bathrooms with high-end apartments since many landlords left old tiles and fixtures intact.”
Vintage Style Bathroom Ideas
We caught up with classic bathroom manufacturer Herbeau (established in 1857) to learn more about achieving that perfect heritage effect: “Vintage is a very broad category – it can mean anything from a Victorian-inspired bath with a clawfoot tub, wooden wash stands, and a hand-painted basin to an Art Deco delight with gleaming chrome fixtures.”
One of the most enjoyable things about a retro style décor is collecting and developing the features you include: “Keep an eye out for antique drawer pulls, handles and knobs – nothing says vintage like a soft, aged patina. You don’t have to get everything all at once – the best collections are built up over time. Besides, you can always change your mind – the average person remodels or moves every seven years!”
Vintage Bathroom Tiles
White metro tiles can be an excellent way of producing a clean, vintage style décor based on the iconic bathrooms of the past.
Real Estate Analyst, Emile L’Eplattenier, explains how subway tiles can be effective: “Subway tile is one of the defining characteristics of a classic New York City vintage bathroom. For flooring, simple black and white octagonal mosaics are also very common. Like with most trends, the resurgent popularity of vintage bathrooms means that subway tiles or anything that seems authentic, have surged in price.”
Reclaimed tiles will always be saddled with a weighty price tag, so we recommend looking for an affordable replica, which can be purchased at most tile retailers.
Where To Find Vintage Bathroom Features
For genuine retro fixtures and furniture, antiques fairs can be a great place to pick up a stunning cabinet, elegant mirror, or a small addition like a soap dish.
John Linden, interior designer and decorator, explained how the internet can also be perfect for sourcing special touches to create that old school aesthetic: “One of the great parts about the internet is that finding high quality and slightly used vintage fixtures and decor is simple. This is one of the best ways to capture the essence of a time period in your bathroom – use products actually from that era.”
That isn’t to say you have to spend lots of money on antiques, either: “If you can’t find them, look for reproduction period pieces. Etsy, and other big online marketplaces, have so much beautiful mid-century woodwork that you can find almost anything in a really high quality.”
Etsy is just one of the online locations where you can source period features for your bathroom. Online auction sites – like eBay – can be a useful location for bargains, especially if you have the ability to pick up local items in a van or car. Smaller touches can have a big impact, for example a classic framed travel poster can be a welcome addition, or perhaps a quirky hand-wash dispenser.
Different Styles of Heritage Bathrooms
Nicola Croughan, Interior Designer at Blinds Direct, offered her advice on creating a stunning retro feel: “There are many features to consider in order to achieve a vintage bathroom style, whether it’s a full-on transformation or several subtle nods towards the trend. Tongue and groove painted wall panelling is an effective way to channel vintage vibes, along with a combination of mixed fabrics and pastels in your window dressings, which will evoke a cosy, comfortable and classical feeling.”
Vintage bathrooms can fall into many styles, from white minimalism that lets your fixtures speak for themselves, to bold floral print on a feature wall, or wholesome wooden features. Nicola explained more: “Simple additions include old style taps, a roll top bath, and overhead cistern are great options for those that prefer an all-out vintage look. In terms of accessories, look to include geometric metals and glass for an art deco twist, or wooden frames and flourishes for a vintage country look.”
Pastel shades the ideal way of giving your space a heritage inspired mood. Your colour scheme doesn’t need to be limited to walls either – giving old or reclaimed furniture a lick of paint can help create a washed out, shabby chic effect.
Small Vintage Bathroom Ideas
Vintage bathrooms don’t need to be grand, expansive spaces – even small bathrooms can be decorated into a retro style to achieve that coveted historical décor (if you’re looking to make the most of the available space in a small bathroom, check out our guide).
A feature wall can also be a simple way of achieving a heritage space in a small bathroom, especially if you choose a pretty floral pattern, or classic wallpaper with hints of nature.