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Classic Baths

•Learn how to update your bathroom with classic style.
•Get tips on classic design.

Elegant, historic and traditional, classic bathrooms never go out of style─which makes them an excellent choice for anyone looking for a bathroom update with true staying power. And today’s vintage-style bath products work as beautifully as they look, so you don’t have to sacrifice high performance in the bargain.

There’s more to capturing the vintage look than choosing the right fixtures and faucets, however. Consider the following tips and features we’ve compiled to help you create a period-style bathroom you’ll love.

Do the research

This is the fun part. Poke around to your heart’s content and borrow ideas along the way. Browse books on architectural styles like Mission and Victorian, or look for niche publications that cater to aficionados of a given style, like American Bungalow magazine. Sign up for home tours, and visit museum exhibits on period architecture and decorating to get familiar with the design elements of vintage baths. Find out which paint and tile colors and styles of accessories were popular during the period you’d like to capture.

Always remember that your historical research should serve to liberate you, not confine you. It’s your home and you should please yourself, even if it means departing from strict interpretations of a given style.

Architectural details

Modern design is often characterized by a lack of ornamentation, with a very clean, spare look. To evoke nostalgic architecture, consider adding period flourishes such as ceiling medallions, wainscoting, and decorative tin or zinc ceilings. Other grace notes include adding a picture ledge or bead board to walls, plus window moldings and baseboards for an elegant, finished look.


Keep it natural

Steer clear of using synthetic materials that weren’t available in the early part of the 20th century, such as Formica, modular tile, or anything made of plastic. If you must use man-made materials, make sure they have a natural look.

Stone, tile, brick and wood generally work best as materials for period-style floors, walls and cabinetry. When selecting stone surfaces, some types are more evocative of earlier periods than others. Granite, for example, was readily available a century ago, but glossy granite is more a product of modern times. You’ll do best to consider classic surfaces like soapstone, slate, and marble.

Another classic to consider is linoleum. While many regard this as a more modern material, it actually dates back to the 1860s, and was wildly popular in the Victorian era for its durability, low maintenance and seemingly endless color and design possibilities. Later versions of linoleum tended to be made of plastics, which can off-gas volatile organic compounds, but recently there has been a return to all-natural versions.


The sanitary bath

To recreate the classic clean, white, "sanitary"-style bathroom that was popular after the turn of the century, consider using white subway-style wall tile and hexagonal-tile flooring. It’s a timeless design that’s elegant in its simplicity, and can also work with neutral-colored fixtures. Tile surfaces boast the same easy-care advantages that first made them popular, making them great functional choices as well.

Reuse and recycle

If authenticity is important to you, consider using salvaged building materials whenever possible. The practice is environmentally friendly, and the aged patinas of vintage materials can lend even a brand-new bath a charming sense of history. For the best of both worlds, hang leaded- or stained-glass windows from an old church or cottage in front of energy-efficient modern windows.

Reclaimed wood, another period option, is not only an excellent green choice for flooring, but is frequently made of old-growth lumber with tighter grains and wider planks than are currently available. Another benefit of old-growth, reclaimed wood is that it is stronger and denser, and therefore may not be as subject to expansion and contraction as new wood.

While it’s great to use vintage materials for some applications, think hard before using antique fixtures and plumbing. That 100-year-old gravity-fed toilet might look charming, but good luck finding parts for it, and you might want to take out a line of credit at the bank to pay for all the water it will waste. Modern toilets that echo the style of those funky originals pair the old-world style you love with the 21st century technology that makes life easier and more efficient.

Vintage furnishings

Decorate with antiques, which can be used as storage pieces, and add old family portraits or other heirlooms as accents in the room. This is a great opportunity to go rooting in your own attic for family keepsakes that can connect you to your own history. Whether it is a family portrait in a gilded frame, a vintage piece of art glass, or an old decorative mirror, adding elements from your own past creates a sense of continuity that can both tie your bath to the rest of your home and make it more personal.


Light the way

Seek out vintage or vintage-look lighting, including restored lighting fixtures and frosted glass reproductions. Two sconces flanking a mirror or medicine chest are classic for illuminating a period-perfect bath. Be aware, however, that an antique fixture from a hundred years ago is no longer compatible with modern safety codes, and will need to be rewired by a professional to avoid the risks of malfunction and possible electrical fires. Modern lighting that emulates the style of a bygone age can often be the best way to go, as it offers the desired look with all the benefits of modern technologies.

Period-style accessories

It's often the little things that make the difference in creating a classic bath. Towel racks, robe hooks and other accessories can nicely complement your faucet and bath finishes for a coordinated look.

For more design ideas, check out this New Orleans cottage -- it's vintage with a twist.


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