Renovating a 1950s Cottage Bathroom

The quaint, cozy bathroom of a 1950s cottage holds undeniable vintage appeal. However, the plumbing and amenities in these bathrooms are typically outdated and lacking by today’s standards. Taking on a bathroom renovation in a midcentury cottage is a balancing act – incorporating modern fixtures and design elements while preserving the unique retro charm. This undertaking presents many challenges but ultimately pays off in a beautifully updated yet still nostalgic space.


Renovating a 1950s cottage bathroom requires careful consideration from start to finish. These lovely vintage spaces with their pastel tiles, pedestal sinks, and clawfoot tubs capture an aesthetically pleasing moment in time. However, the plumbing, lighting, storage, and layout frequently no longer suit most homeowners’ needs. Updating these components while maintaining the cottage’s authentic vibe calls for insight and vision.

Understanding the 1950s Cottage Bathroom Aesthetic

A 1950s cottage bathroom has distinctive features that create a retro, nostalgic style. Typically small in size, these bathrooms utilize every inch of space efficiently. Common design elements include:

Fixtures and Materials

  • Pale pink, mint green, or baby blue fixtures
  • Clawfoot bathtubs or built-in tubs with tile surrounds
  • Pedestal, wall-hung, or vanity sinks
  • Black and white hexagonal tile floors
  • Subway wall tiles in light colors
  • Porcelain or ceramic accessories

Space Utilization

  • Corner shelving and cabinets for storage
  • Narrow spaces with shared toilet/tub rooms
  • Low ceiling heights with a confined feel
  • Small frosted windows for natural light

Finishing Touches

  • Metal fixtures and accents in brass, chrome, or nickel
  • Patterned shower, sink, and tub curtains
  • Vintage artwork, wallpaper, and home accessories

Preserving these details during renovation maintains the comforting, quirky cottage ambiance that homeowners cherish.

Importance of the Midcentury Cottage Look

For homeowners with deep affection for the storybook quality of a 1950s cottage, maintaining the vintage bathroom aesthetic carries deep emotional significance. Beyond mere visual appeal, these design elements evoke cherished memories, eras past, and the enduring craftsmanship of years gone by. During renovation, it’s important to retain the bathroom’s old-fashioned essence for sentimental reasons even while modernizing appliance functionality. With careful attention to detail, homeowners can refresh the space while still conjuring fond recollections of the past through decor.

Challenges in Renovating a 1950s Cottage Bathroom

While refreshing a cottage bathroom has tremendous upsides, overcoming common renovation challenges takes skill and diligence.

Overhaul Needed for Outdated Plumbing

By modern standards, the plumbing in a 1950s cottage bathroom desperately needs upgrading. Galvanized steel supply lines and cast iron drains should be replaced entirely with copper, PEX, or PVC. Old fixtures and faucets likely need swapping out for new water-efficient models as well. Adjustments to the plumbing layout may be required to accommodate new bathtubs, shower stalls, and relocated sinks.

Making Room for Modern Fixtures and Amenities

The small size and compartmentalized design of most original cottage bathrooms often makes incorporating contemporary features tricky. Clever solutions must be implemented such as pocket doors, “his and hers” built-in sinks, narrow floating vanities, and smaller shower stalls. Storage space is also limited, so creative shelving ideas come in handy.

Respecting the Original Layout and Footprint

Major structural changes to the bathroom’s walls, doorways, and exterior lines are rarely feasible or advisable. The quirky, compartmentalized floor plans common in 1950s cottages can pose obstacles when trying to carve out an open, airy spa-like feel. Respecting the existing footprint while maximizing every inch is key.

Feature Before Renovation After Renovation
Fixtures Outdated electric pink sink, tub, and toilet from 1959 New water efficient models; antique clawfoot tub refinished
Flooring Cracked mint green 4″ x 4″ tiles with black grout Same tiles restored and regrouted
Wall Finishes Fading yellow structural tile around tub surround Structural tile patched and repainted
Lighting Single overhead fixture on yellowed ceiling Discreet LED fixtures on cleaned ceiling
Storage Rusting wire shelves in the corner by toilet Glass corner shelves and custom narrow cabinet under sink
Hardware Tarnished brass fixtures and accessories Polished brass fixtures and ceramic knobs
Windows Foggy 3-pane glass block window Same window restored and insulated

Design Considerations for a Modern Yet Timeless Bathroom

Blending modern elegance with vintage cottage style requires careful design decisions regarding fixtures, materials, colors, and layout.

Select Durable Finish Materials That Stand the Test of Time

Finishes that lend well to subtle distressing or wear effects suit the vintage cottage aesthetic beautifully while still delivering durability.

Tiles: Choose hexagonal, subway style, or mosaic tiles for floors and walls. Stick to white or very light neutrals or pastels to emulate the era. Adding an inlaid border or singular focal mosaic detail elevates the look. Consider natural stone tiles like marble or travertine in a honed, less glossy finish.

Paints: Look for midcentury-inspired hues from retro paint brands. Soft, soothing tones like robin’s egg blue, buttermilk yellow, or rose beige epitomize the 1950s palette. Use high-quality paints with sheens like eggshell or satin that withstand moisture and cleaning.

Hardware: Seek out ceramic or porcelain knobs and pulls as well as unlacquered brass, chrome, or nickel in traditional shapes for cabinetry and drawers. These choices are at once modern but reminisce of the utilities of the times.

Choose Fixtures That Blend Old and New

Pairing vintage design with fresh conveniences creates a bathroom that marries nostalgia with updated function.

Bathtubs: Salvaging and refinishing an original cast iron or porcelain tub preserves authenticity. For new tubs in keeping with the era, rolled rim, clawfoot style tubs raise the charm factor. Install modern filler/drain assemblies for convenience.

Faucets and shower systems: Retaining existing fixtures is optimal, but new water efficient models with classic spouts and lever handles retain the old-fashioned essence. Handheld showerheads lend practicality while decorative spouts maintain romance.

Sinks: Wall hung sinks or stand-alone pedestal basins occupy limited space while recalling the days of old. For more storage, a narrow vanity adapts well. Modern vessel sinks also align with the sleek forms prevalent in the midcentury style.

Toilets: Choose a comfortable elongated bowl model that includes base or wall mount tank combinations to conserve square footage. Soft close lids and lever flush handles discreetly update the necessary fixture.

Craft a Layout That Feels Fresh Yet Familiar

Since major layout changes are usually not possible, focus on opening up the traffic flow in subtle ways. Use pocket and barn style sliding doors rather than traditional doors that impede movement. Float corner sinks or vanities to lend an airy quality and make small rooms appear more expansive. Where possible, remove partial walls between the toilet/tub/shower to promote openness. Any adjustments should still pay homage to coveted nostalgic floor plans.

Incorporating Sustainable Practices in Your Renovation

With environmental responsibility in bathroom design a higher priority than ever before, today’s renovations call for green materials and efficient appliances without sacrificing period-appropriate style.

Seek Out Salvaged and Upcycled Fixtures

Search architectural salvage warehouses, antique stores, and online listings for quality previously owned fixtures that lend authenticity. Refinishing and restoring these vintage finds with low VOC paints or seals enables updated functionality paired with eco-friendly reuse.

Install High-Efficiency Appliances

While retaining beloved retro tubs and toilets possesses undeniable charm, significant water savings result from replacing old models with current ENERGY STAR-rated fixtures and faucets. Look for low-flow shower heads, dual flush toilets, and automated sink faucets that help conserve this precious resource.

Choose Sustainable and Natural Construction Materials

Opt for FSC-certified wood, low-VOC paints/stains, recycled glass tiles, natural linoleum flooring made from sustainable sources, and composite stone vanities/tops containing recycled materials. Using products made from renewable, recycled content reduces ecological impact.

Incorporate Smart Energy-Saving Features

Take advantage of technological advancements that increase energy efficiency like instant hot water heaters, LED lighting, occupancy-sensing switches, insulated windows, and Energy Star-rated exhaust fans. The environment and household energy bills both benefit from these inconspicuous updates.

Successfully planning and executing bathroom renovations in a beloved 1950s cottage requires strategic preparation, capable experts, and seamless oversight.

Create a Realistic Master Plan

Generating a comprehensive project plan avoids delays and confusion down the road. Be sure to:

  • Identify must-have improvements and nice-to-have add-ons
  • Nail down start/end dates accounting for contractor availability
  • Establish an accurate budget with contingency funds
  • Collect product specs/layout plans for clear communication

Revisit and adjust the master plan frequently as a living document.

Secure Specialized Contractors for the Job

Seek referrals to find licensed pros experienced specifically with:

  • Period restoration projects – Ensures respect for vintage elements
  • Bathroom remodels – Necessary for complex plumbing and layouts
  • Sustainability practices – Optimizes eco-friendly updates

Verify qualifications thoroughly before hiring.

Closely Oversee Progress and Communication

While letting professionals do their quality work, carefully oversee progress via:

  • Periodic on-site walkthroughs and photo documentation
  • Regular progress meetings
  • Prompt verification of orders and subcontractor bids
  • Timely payment submissions upon inspection

Provide approvals promptly, action feedback, and voice concerns early on. Open, honest dialogue fosters the best results.

Maintaining the Charm: Finishing Touches and Decor

Attending to special details that enhance vintage flair makes a sensitively updated 1950s cottage bathroom feel complete.

Incorporate Color and Patterns Reminiscent of the Era

Select paint hues, tiles, and textiles in soft muted pastels, bold retro geometrics, or cute cottage motifs to drive home the midcentury theme. Pale pink diamonds, sky blue chevrons, or buttery yellow polka dots in linens or accent tiles breathe playful whimsy into newly modernized spaces.

Display Decor That Tells a Story

Curating decorative items that suggest generational history infuses upgraded rooms with layers of nostalgia. Framed black and white family photos, collected blue glass bottles, weathered books, or handcrafted ceramic knickknacks add a timeworn quality. Create tasteful vintage vignettes on open shelves or in glass-front cabinets.

Choose Furnishings with Character

Seek out furniture and fixtures touting nicks, natural variations, timeworn patinas, subtle visible repairs, and other imperfections indicating age and provenance. Refinished salvaged wooden ladders as towel racks, factory carts for rolling storage, and carved camphor benches with faded paint communicate artistry shaped by decades of use.


Preserving the unique charms of an original 1950s cottage bathroom while sensitively enhancing livability promises a beautifully nostalgic updated space. With careful planning, respect for existing architecture, and attention to time-appropriate finishes, homeowners can overcome common renovation challenges. The resulting light-filled, functional bathroom retains the cozy vintage essence so central to a cottage’s long-standing appeal. Ultimately, safeguarding this irreplaceable heritage while improving daily comfort rewards homeowners with enduring pride and enjoyment.

Roger Angulo
Roger Angulo
Roger Angulo, the owner of, curates a blog dedicated to sharing informative articles on home improvement. With a focus on practical insights, Roger's platform is a valuable resource for those seeking tips and guidance to enhance their living spaces.