Americans spent the last three or four decades tearing out pretty-in-pastel bathroom tiles. Pale pinks and greens surrounded every toilet, every shower, every sink. After spending decades finding the same shades everywhere, it’s no wonder we grew tired of the trend.
But it’s time to break out your mortar and grout: Colorful bathroom tiles are coming back.
“Colorful tiles are making their way back to bathroom design,” says Ellen Lindgren, an interior designer in Medfield, Massachusetts. That means New York City residents, where pale pink and blue tiling jobs are rampant, can stop wincing every time they step out of the shower, and vintage homebuyers can erase at least one thing from their endless to-do list.
Despite our collective efforts to scrub pink bathrooms from our institutional memory, a lot of candy-coated en suites lurk in American homes. Experts estimate that there were once five million pink bathrooms in the country. Thank Mamie Eisenhower for this saccharine shade: She kicked off the trend when she redecorated her private quarters in the White House. Even Electrical Merchandising magazine lent their support to this colorful craze. “If forced to pick one color as leading this year, most industry men say pink is tops,” they said in 1958.
But soon America tired of the fad. Decades passed. Pink bathrooms became a turn-up-your-nose, ‘Can you believe it?’ relic of the past. We painted the walls avocado green in the ’70s and carpeted the floors in the ’90s. And over the past few years, we’ve slathered every surface in pristine white.
“The trends of the last decade included so much shiplap and white subway tile and I think this is a movement away from that,” says Lindgren. “I think people are craving more custom interiors that don’t look like every other image on Pinterest, and tile companies are listening.”
For all the good Pinterest has done in teaching the average American about clean, stunning interior design, it’s also promoted a homogenous aesthetic that’s infiltrated every corner of our homes—including the bathroom. It’s a beautiful aesthetic, to be sure, but it can feel samey-same.
“We designers are getting tired of the same classic marble bathrooms,” says interior designer Kelly Taylor.
For homeowners that are similarly tired of white—but not quite ready to go full pastel—she recommends trying color in a powder room. “They are small, not a huge investment and can be a bit of a fun surprise for guests,” Taylor says.
As with all good reinvented trends, designers aren’t simply copying those dated ’50s bathrooms. Today’s colorful bathrooms go a step beyond pastels.
“The color saturation is what has really been dialed up: deep blues, deep rose pink, even lots of lavender and emerald green,” says designer Cynthia Ferguson.
Another method of modernizing vintage-chic color palettes is by adding a bit of stark, contemporary minimalism. Designer Natalie Kraiem recommends “Adding a border or mixing neutrals like black and white with the bold colors to make the colorful tiles stand out more and keep the room contemporary-looking.” And don’t forget plants: A bit of greenery makes any room feel stylish.
(Image credit: Sarita Relis Photography)
There’s one pastel that didn’t get its full mid-century due—and designers are determined to give the shade a moment in the spotlight. “What I am loving right now is mint,” says designer Laurie Slater. The color is “soft and appealing and easy to pair with. It looks great with other pastels or classic black and white.”
This ice-cream-esque shade melds perfectly with bright whites or bold blacks. Or, pick a graphic floor tile to up the ante. You can keep the remaining accessories simple if you’re looking for the toned-down look—or pick vivid neon accents to amp up the drama. Whichever route you choose, you’ll get vintage appeal with a uniquely modern flair.