Pink bathrooms: Hot or not?

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Much-maligned pink-tile bathrooms are acquiring some champions of the style popular in the 50's and 60's.

When Stacey Lopisí friends see the bathroom in her 1960-vintage Hawthorne ranch, they all say the same thing: "You have to get rid of the pink tile."

Pink bathrooms.

They were built by the millions in 1950s and 1960s ranches, Capes and split-levels, but they get no love from todayís home buyers ó even the young buyers who are drawn to other midcentury styles in architecture and design.

"As much as the midcentury modern look is back, itís still something that people are not going to find appealing," said Gary Silberstein, a real estate agent with Keller Williams in Woodcliff Lake, N.J. "Barbieís not back."

But one lover of 1950s design says pink bathrooms deserve more respect.

"Pink bathrooms are emblematic of the design of the period," said Pam Kueber, who started the websites Save the Pink Bathrooms (savethepinkbathroom.com) and Retro Renovation (retrorenovation.com) after buying a 1950s ranch in Lenox, Mass. "If people could get their heads around pink bathrooms, theyíd understand why something that looks so shocking today is actually a very appealing and wonderful thing."

Kueber said developers of suburban tract homes started installing pink bathrooms after Mamie Eisenhower popularized the color when she wore a rhinestone-studded blush ball gown to her husbandís presidential inauguration in 1953.

Kueber started Save the Pink Bathrooms after watching people rip them out with "sledgehammer glee" on TV home-improvement shows.

"Theyíd throw the toilets out the window and guffaw. I was appalled. Thatís disrespectful," she said. "That bath was put in by somebody who loved that color."

Pink wasnít the only pastel used in postwar home design, as the nationís mood turned sunnier. Builders also put in bathrooms that were yellow, blue or green, often with black trim.

"They were exuberant years, and people chose these colors," Kueber said. "Walking into a pink or yellow or robinís-egg blue or turquoise bathroom is going to be more uplifting than walking into a greige bathroom, donít you think?"

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Many home buyers who shun pink will accept the other 1950s pastels. In her house hunt, for example, Lopis saw a yellow and black bath that she loved.

"Yellow and black totally work," Lopis said. "You could make it funky and fun. But pink is a little much for me. Pink just wasnít really in my repertory of colors. Pink, to me, is like a little girlís room."

"Itís usually the man who reacts," said Maryanne Elsaesser, a Coldwell Banker agent in Wyckoff. "Theyíre opposed to the fact that itís a female color."

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Jean Armstrong, a retired chemistry professor, has lived for years with a pink bathroom in her 1950 Bogota condo.

"I really donít like it," said Armstrong, who is selling the condo.

But sheís always been too thrifty to replace the bathroom. "Why should I?" she asked. "Nothing is wrong with it. Ö I knew that if I took care of it, it would last another 50 years."

On that point, everyone agrees: These bathrooms were built to last. The tile was generally sturdier, and set into concrete.

"Much of tile from that era was literally twice as thick as the tile of today," said Ron Aiosa, a Coldwell Banker agent in Butler, N.J. "They donít make materials like that anymore, thatís for sure."

Elaine Jochmannís parents bought their Rochelle Park, N.J., split-level when it was new in 1957. The house, which Jochmann is selling, still has the original bathroom. The floor and wall tiles are gray; the tub and toilet are pink, and the vanity is a Formica faux-marble swirl of pink and gray. The bath is still in excellent condition.

"Are you going to get 58 years out of anything you buy today?" asked Jochmann, an accounting and project manager at a pool construction company.

George Rosko, a real estate agent with Coccia Realty in Lyndhurst, N.J., recalls how difficult it was to rip out the pink bathroom in his North Arlington Cape Cod two decades ago.

"What a job," he said. "The tiles were on concrete embedded in a heavy steel mesh. I was bleeding trying to remove them."

"I have to say in many cases, theyíre in really fantastic shape," said Robin Baron, a Re/Max agent in Saddle River, N.J.,who helped Stacy Lopis find her home in Hawthorne. "I say to people, if itís not in your budget to take it out, you can make it work with new curtains, towels and decorating. Or you can paint the tile and tub."

Changing the color of the tile and tub requires special paint. It costs from $1,000 to $1,500 to refinish a tub and tile in a typical 5-by-7-foot bath, said John Emmons of American Bath Resurfacing in Boonton, who often works on "pink, blue, yellow or green" baths from decades ago.

Lopis is making plans to have her pink tile painted white. For now, she has tried to dilute the pink with a delicately patterned white-and-gray shower curtain.

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That kind of decorating is the approach often recommended by real estate agents and stagers trying to sell homes with pink baths.

"For todayís buyer, we generally try to combat the pink," said Maria Rini, a Re/Max agent in Oradell. She recommends neutral wall paints and shower curtains.

Bernadette Flaim, a home stager and designer based in Leonia, said she has toned down pink bathrooms by bringing in more "contemporary, updated elements" while at the same time acknowledging the color.

"Letís bring the problem into the solution," she said. For example, she has used a shower curtain with stripes of pink and khaki. "It was very subtle and neutral, but still connected with the pink."

She has also had sellers leave the tile in place, but replace pink vanities and toilets with white versions ó much cheaper than a gut job.

"You want to get (a reaction of) ĎThis is so charming, itís retro,í rather than ĎIím going to have to rip it out; this is going to cost me thousands,í" Flaim said.

And she recommends that sellers make sure the rest of the house is very clean and freshly painted, with gleaming hardwood floors. If the house is move-in ready, Flaim said, "it makes it easier for them to live with the pink bathroom."

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Pam Kueber is convinced that homeowners can learn to not only live with, but also love, their pink baths. For one thing, the rosy glow can be very flattering.

"You go into that pink bathroom, with all that pink bouncing off your face, you look 10 years younger," she said.