Add some black to update 1950s bathroom

The glossy black walls give a dramatic uplift to a dated bathroom.


Q It’s time to renovate our ’50s-style bathroom, but how far do we go? We will be moving in two years or so.

The tiles are in great shape, but green with black trim. The bathtub is green. I’m a retired cabinetmaker, and am thinking of installing a new vanity with white rectangular inset sink on top of a green crackle-glass countertop and reddish mahogany cabinets. I don’t like the look of painted tiles. We really enjoy your talent and would value some guidance on how to proceed on a moderate budget.

A: The dilemma of the green tiles and bathtub is a common one found in homes and apartments built in the ’50s. If you can’t replace the tile and tub, then turn the tables and paint the walls in a color that will dominate more than the green. I went full-out dramatic decorating a bathroom in an apartment where replacement was not an option. The glossy finish reflects the light, making it theatrical but not too dense. I broke up the monotony of the green by painting the grout black as well.

However, since you own the house and have the skills to do some of the work yourself, I would opt for a major reno. Remove the tiles and tub. The glass-top counter and wood cabinetry you describe indicate a detailed contemporary sense of style that you should follow.

Replace the bath with a walk-in shower. Research what you can do with glass tiles. The variety in tiles is amazing, truly art on the wall. Enjoy personalizing this room; you will be delighted with the results, and it will be a big selling feature when the time comes.

Q: We are decorating our 14-year-old son’s bedroom. He chose a football mural, which hangs on a wall with his football trophies. That wall is black, the other walls are teal blue with gray metallic silver trim.

The dresser and desk are sturdy oak in warm gold tones. What would you suggest to refinish these pieces to suit a teenager? Thanks for any ideas.

A: I have always been fascinated with how teenagers and some preteens gravitate toward black as a favored bedroom color choice. My first reaction is no, that’s too dark and dismal for a growing child or young adult’s room. But I’ve learned that the dramatic, theatrical nature of black and other dark hues is the reason they are drawn to it.

Black makes colors and shapes around it pop; think of black picture frames, theater curtains or a black leather couch.

Your teenage son’s room has a good amount of black in place, and the metallic trim is suitably futuristic. Continue the theme by painting the dresser and desk black. Use a high and low paint sheen for contrast.

Another option is to apply a gray colorwash or solid gray to the furniture, and paint the tops high-sheen black. You could use blackboard paint on sections of the dresser and desk so your son can label or draw, easily erasable as he grows.

Before you paint, prepare the surface of the wood carefully. Clean and sand to rough up the smooth surfaces, and apply a high-adhesion primer designed for slippery surfaces.

Debbie Travis’ House to Home column is produced by Debbie Travis and Barbara Dingle. Email