‘Get me out of the ’80s!’

April 17, 2022

By Jeb Breithaupt, B. Arch, MBA

If your master bathroom looks more like it belongs in a museum than in a modern home, it’s time to do some major upgrading.

Homebuilders in the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and even ’80s treated bathrooms as utilitarian and made most of them the size of a closet, with the sink, toilet and bathtub all lined up in a row. Back then, the home’s most-used room wasn’t a place where people spent an hour or more getting ready for work in the morning or a destination for relaxing after work.

Today, homeowners like to use their bathrooms as multipurpose rooms, for primping, dressing, unwinding, storing clothes and even exercising.

Many of the homeowners who ask Re-Bath to modernize their bathrooms have the same request: “Get me out of the ’80s!” (Or ’50s, ’60s or ’70s.)

Here’s how to bring your bathroom into the 21st century:

  1. You can relocate the toilet, sink, and bathtub or shower to a different place in the room, but this will cost more than if you leave them where they are. You’ll need a plumber to determine whether moving the fixtures will require moving plumbing pipes, which can get expensive.
  2. Nothing ages a room like wallpaper, especially if it’s flocked, mauve or avocado green, so tear it off the walls. You can choose a stylish new wallpaper but consider painting the walls instead. A fresh coat of paint in a light color will make the room look like it was designed for today.
  3. Boxy light fixtures concealing harsh fluorescent bulbs over the vanity mirror were popular mid-century, but that look is no longer stylish, and fluorescent fixtures aren’t flattering to the person looking in the mirror. Replace the fixture with recessed lighting in the ceiling or with decorative sconces on both sides of the mirror. Soften the lighting with CFL or LED lights that have a low “color temperature” to soften the glare as you’re preparing for the day.
  4. At least a few of those four-inch by four-inch bathroom tiles that were so trendy when your house was built probably are missing or have cracked by now. And chances are good that the color is Mamie pink (named for First Lady Mamie Eisenhower) or a shade of blue, yellow, green, or brown that was all the rage way back when. Today, you have an unlimited choice of tile, colors, sheens, and materials when it comes to wall and floor tiles for your master bathroom. A tip: Take a look at glass tiles for borders and backsplashes.
  5. When you remove the old shower, wall, and floor tiles, don’t be surprised if you find a few water-related problems, like wood rot and mold, underneath. A bathroom that hasn’t been remodeled since the house was built probably has sprung a leak or two over the years. A remodeling project gives you an opportunity to clean up the damage and properly seal new wall and floor coverings. A tip: look for materials for your shower and tub walls that prevents water from penetrating your walls to prevent water damage in the future.
  6. If you haven’t used the bathtub in the master bathroom since your kids were toddlers, and if there’s a tub in another bathroom elsewhere in the house, tear yours out. That will give you room for a shower with a low curb that’s a lot easier to step over than the edge of a bathtub.
  7. A new toilet not only will look nicer in your freshly remodeled master bath than your stained, scratched older model, but you’ll have the chance to buy a taller one that’s easier on the legs and back. Plus, you can opt for an ultra-low flow toilet, which uses far less water than the one that came with your house. Look for the Water Sense label on your new faucets and showerheads if you’re interested in saving on water bills. A tip: Stay away from “shiny” when you choose faucets and hardware for the bathroom. Muted, brushed metals have a timeless appeal, and finger-prints show up less on brushed metal finishes.
  8. A slab of granite or quartz on the vanity countertop can become the centerpiece of your bathroom. Nearly every mid-century home features a cultured marble vanity counter and integrated sink. If yours is scuffed and dull, now’s your chance to make the change. Look for a sink bowl with a bit of flourish and set the pair atop cabinets painted in a light paint or stain color to make the room look clean, bright and roomy.
  9. Perhaps the most useful improvement you can make to a master bathroom is enlarging it. If it’s next to another small bathroom, or if you don’t mind sacrificing some space in the bedroom, consider expanding the bathroom so it’s large enough for two sinks, an extra-large shower, and a bit more room to move around. If you’re open to adding on to your home, you can make both the bathroom and the bedroom larger, and incorporate roomy, walk-in closets into the suite.
  10. Another way to make the space roomier—or at least feel that way—is to invest a bit more to move things around. The master bathrooms in most older homes are compartmentalized, with a small room or niche for the toilet, and two small closets—one on either side of the tub, which sometimes is isolated into a tiny room within the room. The vanity and sink are out in the open. Removing those closets and tearing down the walls that enclose the toilet and tub will open the room, making it look larger and giving you more space to move around—even if the room isn’t actually bigger. A tip: Removing walls isn’t a do-it-yourself job; you’ll need a professional to advise you about whether it’s safe to knock them down.

Of course, whenever you remodel a bathroom, you have an opportunity to add safety and convenience features, like grab bars, a wider doorway, and a low-threshold shower, which will be more comfortable to use if you decide to stay in your home during your golden years when you might need some help getting around.

Jeb Breithaupt, B. Arch., MBA, is the president of Re-Bath in Shreveport. You can contact him at 318-216-4525 or by visiting www.rebath.com/location/shreveport.