After decades of derision, vintage '50s bathrooms - in the decade's signature hue - are now retro chic.
Nothing screams '50s louder than a pink bathroom.
But that's fine with Meghan and Jeremy Wilker, who have a well-preserved specimen in their Golden Valley rambler.
"I call it my Doris Day house," Meghan said. "It has all these little '50s things we like," including a breezeway, blond woodwork and that bathroom, which still sports its original rosy tub, toilet, sink and ceramic tile. "For a lot of people, it's a turn-off, but for us, it was a selling point."
The pink bathroom, ubiquitous during the Eisenhower era, fell out of favor in the '70s, when earth tones ruled the palette. Suddenly, pink sinks looked as dated as poodle skirts, and homeowners started replacing their cotton-candy fixtures with plain vanilla.
But now vintage pink bathrooms are starting to get some respect from a new wave of homeowners who appreciate their practical durability, midcentury character and quirky signature color. There's even a website, "Save the Pink Bathrooms" (www.savethepinkbathrooms.com), where owners can show off their retro relics and pledge not to destroy them.
"I did sign the pledge, and tweeted about it," Meghan said. "Some people say, 'Why would you save your pink bathroom? They're so gross.' I don't know why I'm so attached to it. It's such a marker for that era. And it feels totally right for our house. It's a little different and weird" -- in a good way. "So many people want their house to look like the Pottery Barn catalog."
Perspective on pink bathrooms has shifted dramatically in the three years since Pam Kueber launched "Save the Pink Bathrooms," a spinoff of Retro Renovation (www.retrorenovation.com), the site she created while renovating her own midcentury home in Lenox, Mass.
"My readers and I got into a conversation, a mini-rant," she recalled. "It was the 'Flip This House' era, with all these TV home decorating shows, and every day we'd see somebody going in with a sledgehammer. Not just ripping out a pink bathroom but doing it with evil glee. I said, 'C'mon, these pink bathrooms aren't horrible.'"
Sentiment for pink bathrooms became contagious, with more than 500 pledging not to destroy them, she said. But Kueber doesn't take all the credit; TV's "Mad Men" helped glamorize the look, she noted. (The Drapers had a pink powder room.)
And the economic downturn has been a huge factor, she said. "The Great Recession has saved countless pink bathrooms. People can't get a home equity loan just to rip things out. They have to live with what they have."
Fiona Ruthven and Joel Ingersoll weren't in love with the blush-pink bathroom when they bought their 1951-built house in St. Paul's Highland Park neighborhood. "It was kind of a minus," recalled Ruthven, who originally wanted a '20s bungalow. "I never thought I'd end up in a ranch." But once they saw their house, "we knew this was our place. It's laid out really well."
She's warmed to the pink bathroom, partly because "pink gives a flattering glow," she said. The room is small, by today's standards, but it suits their home. "If you put a modern spa-like bath in this house, it would feel anachronistic."
Even her husband has come around. "I think it's totally fine," Ingersoll said. "Fiona likes it. It's functional. There's no sense renovating just to renovate. And we didn't have to do anything to be retro cool," he said with a laugh.
That so many '50s bathrooms remain functional and pretty in pink is a testament to their durability. Most were built with quality tile and craftsmanship that exceeds today's standards. "They used mud-set tile, which is a lost art," Kueber said. "That tile is not moving."
Designer Carri Carlson of Array Kitchen & Bath of Edina advises clients to preserve, not destroy, their vintage pink bathrooms. "How can you take something out that's so perfect?" she said. If a client insisted, "It would probably break my heart."
Carlson practices what she preaches, and is now on her second pink bathroom. When she was ready to sell her previous home, a friend and fellow designer told her she'd have to paint the pink tile white. Carlson declined -- and received multiple offers.
Still, most of her clients resist pink, she admitted. "Everybody wants white or stone," she said. "To me, it's boring." But a few embrace the color, and not just in older homes. In fact, she's designed three new pink bathrooms for clients who wanted to re-create a vintage '50s look.
Just getting started
Demand for salvaged pink plumbing fixtures also is rising. "That color palette languished for years, and now I can't keep pink toilets in stock," said John Vienop, operations manager for California-based DEA Bathroom Machineries.
Minnesota has been slower to jump on the pink bandwagon, said John Eckley, owner of City Salvage in Minneapolis. He's sold some vintage pink fixtures on the West Coast, "where the trend is happening a little more."
For Kueber, pink bathrooms are just a part of a broader retro revival. "It's a way to spotlight one feature, to shed light on a bigger whole," she said. There are millions of '50s ramblers and ranches all across the country that are worthy of preservation. She calls them "midcentury modest. It's not high-falutin' midcentury modern. It's midcentury for the masses."
And the time is right for '50s nostalgia, she said. "It's history -- 50 years have passed, enough time to give us perspective. A lot of first-time homeowners remember Grandma's house. It's a whole new generation with fond memories."
Carlson agrees. "Midcentury is just starting," she said. "We are on the verge of this taking off."
Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784
This report includes material from the New York Times News Service.