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Elegant, historic and traditional, classic bathrooms are always on-trend. And today’s vintage-style bath products work as beautifully as they look, so you don’t have to sacrifice performance. Consider the following tips to create a period-style bathroom you’ll love for years to come.
Browse books on architectural styles like Mission and Victorian, and look for niche publications that cater to specific periods. Go on home tours and visit museum exhibits on period architecture and interior design, taking note of such details as paint and tile colors and accessory styles. Use this research as inspiration to create a classic bathroom in your own style.
Steer clear of using synthetic materials that weren’t available in the early part of the 20th century such as modular tile or anything made of plastic. If you must use man-made materials, strive for a natural look.
Stone, tile, brick and wood are good choices for period-style floors, walls and cabinetry. Soapstone, slate, and marble also work well.
Linoleum is another classic to consider. While many regard it as a more modern material, linoleum 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, but there has been a recent return to all-natural versions.
To recreate the timeless white, "sanitary-style” bathroom that came into popularity after the turn of the century, use white subway-style wall tile and hexagonal-tile flooring. It’s a classic design that’s elegant in its simplicity, and works with many different fixtures. Best of all, tile surfaces boast the same easy-care advantages that first made them popular.
If authenticity is important to you, consider using salvaged building materials whenever possible. The aged patinas of vintage materials can lend even a brand-new bath a charming sense of history, and reusing them is environmentally friendly. 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: 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 some vintage materials in your renovation, think twice before using antique fixtures and plumbing. That 100-year-old gravity-fed toilet might look charming, but some older toilets waste water and getting parts can be difficult or impossible. 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.
You can add drama with vintage or vintage-look lighting, including restored lighting fixtures and frosted glass reproductions. But be aware 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.
Decorate your classic bath with antiques and personal pieces. 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.
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. Towel racks, robe hooks and other accessories can nicely complement your faucet and bath finishes for a coordinated look.