Looking for today’s most of-the-moment interior design cues? Try yesterday.
Yup, what’s old is still new again. While transitional design—that elusive mix of throwback and modern—has been a tastemaker favorite for the last few years, vintage elements are bursting out all over these days. And the perfect place to showcase your love of all things retro? Well, it could be in the most surprising space of all: the bathroom.
That’s right—if you’re hesitant to plunk down a ton of cash on pastel-hued appliances or mint shag carpeting, the bathroom provides the just-visible-enough vehicle to try a few old-school trends on for size.
“We are definitely seeing a fatigue from the all-white bathroom,” says Kathryn Scott of Kathryn Scott Design and author of “Creating Beauty: Interiors.” “My clients tend to have historic homes that come with an identity and purpose. Bringing vintage fittings and fixtures into a bathroom creates an illusion of a home’s early life.”
Read on for seven vintage bathroom design trends that are making a serious comeback.
1. Vintage-inspired washstands
Photo by JK Design
Want to ease into the vintage style? Consider swapping out your existing faucet with something more low-profile—then pair it with a simple washstand instead of a bulky vanity.
“Faucets with delicate features and porcelain handles are a great way to introduce a vintage-inspired look in the bathroom,” says Gretchen Kennelly of Gretchen Kennelly Design Group in San Diego, who favors models from Lefroy Brooks.
“And vintage-inspired washstands are a fun way of introducing a sculptural shape in the bathroom,” she adds.
Plus, experts agree that exposed piping brings a certain airiness to powder rooms. Of course, stand-alone sinks have no storage, so modular medicine and linen cabinets “are an absolute necessity” for function, Kennelly warns.
2. Skirted sinks
Photo by Leverone Design, Inc.
Tired of your vanity sink, but not ready to go completely bare-bones? Enter the skirted sink, that mainstay of late-’70s Midwestern basement bathrooms that’s found new life among mildly ironic millennial homeowners.
(True confession: Growing up, I loved hanging out at my granny’s house mostly because she had rad skirted sinks that I used as a secret hideout. I’m betting your kids will love them, too!)
If you’re the DIY type, consider making the skirt yourself (or pick a fabric you like and hire a seamstress to do the heavy lifting).
3. Vintage hardware
Photo by indigo & ochre design
For an easy nod to bygone days, swap out your vanity’s hardware and fixtures.
And if you’re a child of the ’80s? You can rejoice, because brass is back and better than you remember.
“Brass is very warm and adds a little bit of glam to any space,” says New York City designer Highlyann Krasnow. “It’s an easy way to upgrade a piece to make it feel more custom.”
4. Checkerboard flooring
Photo by Eva Quateman Interiors
The checkerboard pattern—which some experts say dates back to ancient Egypt—was a mainstay of linoleum-tiled kitchens in the 1920s and ’30s. Today’s modern resurgence of the pattern (also sometimes referred to as “harlequin”) is driven primarily by the print’s versatility, visual interest, and ease of installation.
“A black-and-white floor paired with new finishes such as shiplap or frameless glass gives you a blast from the past in an entirely new way,” says Leigh Spicher, national director of design studios at home builder Ashton Woods.
Interested in trying the trend on for size? Forgo the linoleum of yore and install ceramic checkerboard tile in the bathroom—it’s more durable and a cinch to clean.
5. Terrazzo everything
Terrazzo tiling was huge in custom homes built in the 1950s and ’60s, but began to fall out of fashion in the disco era. Today it’s back, in part because of its gosh-darn durability. (That might also be why terrazzo tends to be pricier than marble or granite.)
“Remember that stone-like substance they had on the bathroom floor of your elementary school? It’s lovely and tough as nails,” says Justin Riordan, principal at Spade + Archer, who has recently seen terrazzo tile used to cover bathroom walls, countertops, and floors.
Pro tip: If you’re using terrazzo for your washstand and sink basin, use a water or solvent-based sealer immediately after polishing the stone to ensure that water doesn’t penetrate.
6. Clawfoot tubs
Photo by Historical Concepts
It’s no secret that clawfoot tubs have clinched their spot as the darling of the bathroom design world. With their elegant features, these romantic throwbacks have achieved peak luxury status—the ultimate in aspirational bathroom fixtures.
But beware: As beautiful as your clawfoot tub is, you might also find it to be a major pain in the tush. If your tub is free-standing, spillage will be an issue. The tubs aren’t known for being easy to clean around, either. If you decide it’s worth the hassle to have a clawfoot tub, make sure to plan accordingly.
“You should absolutely have a stand-up shower which is separate from the tub,” Riordan cautions.
7. Retro-modern wallpaper
Photo by SHOPHOUSE
Wallpaper—the stuff we spent hours scraping off our parents’ and grandparents’ walls—has been having a (pretty extended) moment. And while it’s not specific to the bathroom, that’s a great space for it.
“I’m obsessed with wallpaper in general, specifically vintage-inspired wallpaper,” Harmon says, adding that today’s patterns are modernized, to be larger and brighter than the wallpaper of yore.
“I love the application in a small, container space like a bathroom,” she says. “It gives the space a special, jewel-box feel.”
Embrace the retro trend with a bright floral or palm print, or even a bold geometric pattern. Just make sure to look for products that are labeled as moisture-resistant.