As colour is starting to reappear in our gardens this month, so too is it making a return in bathrooms with colourful, retro-inspired sanitaryware. Perhaps it’s a knock-on effect of our desire to use reclaimed materials coupled with a renewed interest in Art Deco silhouettes. Or maybe it’s just a nostalgic whim for the pastel pleasantries of the 1950s. Whatever you chalk it up to, there’s no denying that macaroon-coloured baths and basins are once again de rigueur.
How then, does one make it feel current rather than looking like a vintage advert? First and foremost, leave the wall-to-wall carpet in the past. Then think about historic references, preserving original features where you can and paying homage to them where you can’t. That’s just what designer Sheila Bridges did in the guest bathroom of this 1936 country estate, left. The luminous green tile, freestanding sink and built-in bathtub were original to the house—even the way the tile frames the mirror. Taps and fittings were also refurbished rather than replaced. Installing a delicately patterned wallpaper and shower curtain lend softness to the space while a black and white floor mosaic keeps it all from feeling too sweet. If you’re lucky enough to inherit original features with your project, try a company like Alscot Bathroom Company for everything from bath re-surfacing and re-enamelling to tap and tile restoration.
If you weren’t so lucky, fear not, there are vintage ones to be found. Salvo Web has an extensive online directory of salvage yards across the UK (and beyond). Mongers of Hingham has a few butter yellow pedestal basins from the 1930s in stock at the moment—brands like Twyfords and Steventon are a few hundred quid. And the amusingly named Broken Bog has loads along with a rather handy group of colour charts from the various manufacturers for reference. One thing to check when buying salvaged pieces is whether they fit modern plumbing or will need adapting for standard tap threads and wastes. Some vintage makers sold basins that were designed to fit only their own taps for example.
If you’re looking for a higher end prize, keep your eyes out for a George Sakier-designed washstand like this pink one, centre. Sakier, who worked as an art director for Harper’s Bazaar in the 1920s, later became the head of the Bureau of Design of the American Radiator and Standard Sanitary Corporation (American Standard today). There he designed taps and units like this now iconic Art Deco silhouette in the 1930s. This one is from the Carnegie Museum of Art (and there’s a navy blue version at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) but 1stDibs sold a similar style listed for USD $6,800.
Modern makers are also taking note of the interest in colourful sanitaryware. Take the enameled bathtubs on offer at Bette. The family run company, based in Westphalia, has been operating since 1952 (cue the height of pastel-fever) and today offers more than 400 colours. When architect Sophie Hicks helped her daughter, model Edie Campbell, design her Northamptonshire home, Bette’s watery green freestanding tub took pride of place in the bathroom, right. The colour is a nod to the lake outside a large picture window the tub is perched in front of.
Photographs © Frank Frances; The Carnegie Museum; Simon Watson