The Period Bath Takes on a New Luster

Vintage-look bathtubs and decor take you back in time without sacrificing convenience or style.

What was old has a new shine these days, as evidenced by the period-inspired bath designs found in the modern showroom.

Vintage bathrooms, especially those that embody the design values of the early 20th century, have never been hotter and our grandmother's bathroom (with modern conveniences and better plumbing) is exactly the inspiration we're looking for.

"People just like the appeal of old-fashioned things that remind them of the past. They're a classic," says Peter Jouchmans, owner of Baths from the Past, a shop in Rockland, Mass. "All the new modern stuff is like a flash in the pan and it gets dated really quickly."

"The designs themselves seem to bring a sort of balance to a room — they're very organic, very soft and it's a perfect environment for the bath where the emphasis is on relaxation and renewel," says Marion Hendricks, director of marketing for Herbeau, makers of French kitchen and bath fixtures.

Today's "vintage" bath designs function as beautifully as they look with the latest in design and materials, says Marion, so you don't have to sacrifice performance for the period style. Many of the company's products are reminiscent of fine porcelain and fixture pieces designed from the 1850s to the early 1900s.

"They are definitely different from your grandmother's choices," she says. "Although the products are authentic in terms of the various time periods the insides are definitely 21st century."

But there's more to capturing the vintage look than choosing a turn-of-the-century style faucet. Following are some ideas to help you turn your new bath into a vintage dream.

Do a Little Homework
Browse books and magazines to get ideas for the vintage look you want. If you really want authenticity, choose the colors for paint and tile that were used at that time, or be brave and use your own favorite shades — remember, you make the rules. You can go with a pristine all-white bath (and there are many shades of white from which to choose) or choose warm wood accents and a splash of color here and there. Or, if you want the room to be part of your master bedroom suite, transition the look into your bath with the same color palette, lighting and furnishings.

Claw-Foot Tubs Big Enough for Two
A large claw-foot tub can be the focal point of today's period-look retreats. These luxurious, curvaceous tubs are often the starting point for homeowners and come in a world of finishes and colors including copper. Unlike grandma's bathtub, however, there's actually room enough to stretch out or even invite your partner. Reproduction tubs come with a variety of high-end interpretations of the classic claw foot and are made of lighter acrylic as well as traditional cast iron. A good site for browsing is

Vintage Is in the Details
Natural materials that are time-appropriate will also enhance the vintage vibe so avoid synthetic materials unless they replicate a natural one like marble or stone. In addition to tile, you can evoke a nostalgic feel by using wainscoting or beadboard to cover the walls, with period-appropriate window treatments and wide baseboards to finish the look.

Lighting is also key for the period look of your bath. Restoration Hardware and Rejuvenation Lighting & House Parts both specialize in lighting fixtures (and other accessories) that celebrate the past.

The Old-World feel of decorative tiles will also help frame your vintage look. The choice of tiles can be dizzying but going to a specialty store and seeking an expert's opinion will make your choices easier, say designers. Classic white subway tiles, which are the size of bricks, are the standard for creating a period look. They can be combined with black or colored tiles for a clean, crisp style. Combined with hexagonal-tile black and white flooring, you'll create a timeless bath that will also work with most any fixtures you choose.

Fixtures Set the Mood
Chrome and brass fixtures say vintage, but polished nickel or copper will lend a sophisticated, modern take to your bath. Wall-mounted faucets for the basin or the tub will streamline the appearance without the clutter of complicated plumbing, and enable you to incorporate a trendy raised sink bowl without compromising your design. Free-standing console sinks, rather than a cabinet or counter-mounted sink, were typical in the early-20th century. Today's take on the classic sink includes a variety of colors beyond white.

Another design element of the period look is exposed plumbing. "In a vintage bath some people really enjoy the look of having the plumbing exposed," Marion says. "It's part of the beauty of the design."

It may look old but the "thermostatic" shower by Herbeau features the latest in plumbing technology and maintains your chosen temperature from the instant you turn it on. Now that's something grandma never had.

HGTV. The Period Bath Takes on a New Luster, [Online]. Web address: (Page consulted on May 26 2011)