The return of retro design trends in modern bathrooms

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The return of retro design trends in modern bathrooms

Even though white minimalism remains the norm, retro trends are making a comeback in modern bathroom designs, with homeowners incorporating pops of color, classic light fixtures, and patterned surfaces. Although they are often static and traditional spaces in homes, bathrooms have certainly undergone significant transformations over the years. While those of the 1970s brought in bright colors like avocado green and mustard yellow, the 1980s introduced ceramic tiles in softer pastel shades. On the other hand, this century has put the ideal on white and marbled surfaces, shiny finishes and silver fixtures. However, even as this all-white look continues to be the protagonist, bold retro upgrades are reborn and blend in with contemporary elements to create stylish yet lively atmospheres with strong character.

What exactly is retro?

Essentially, the term Retro in interior design refers to the revival of trends from the 1950s to 1980s by incorporating them into modern spaces – whether through color, accessories, furniture or geometric shapes and patterns. This doesn’t mean, however, that designs have to be dated or stale, but rather involves an eclectic mix of old and new. In other words, adopting a modern look with a refreshed retro feeling that conveys some nostalgia. Today, this modernized version of the retro is popular among homeowners (especially millennials) who are drawn to a more unique and playful aesthetic that escapes the classic blank canvas.

Bond Street Apartment / Home Studios.  Image © Brian Ferry
Bond Street Apartment / Home Studios. Image © Brian Ferry

From classic light fixtures to colorful patterned walls, there are plenty of past design elements that can be incorporated into bathrooms to achieve that contemporary retro style. Here we present some of the trends that have made a comeback, as well as the timeless materials used to make them.

Colorful ceramic tiles

Nothing is more retro than bright colors, whether in floors, walls, sinks, toilets or bathtubs. Bright pastel hues like dusty blue, mint, peach, and salmon all popped up in ’80s bathrooms, creating a fun vibe by combining seemingly mismatched tones. Even though this color scheme fell into disuse in the 90s, it seems to be making a comeback. But, instead of being fully saturated spaces, modern bathrooms mostly incorporate pops of color in the form of ceramic tiles.

Many modern homes epitomize this aesthetic, such as a small granite house where pale green tiles cover the fireplace-style shower. Likewise, House L&W has predominantly all-white interiors, but includes a retro-inspired shower covered in mint ceramic tile, a very popular bathroom shade in the ’70s (even featured in iconic films like The brilliant).

Small house with a monumental shower / fala.  Image © Ricardo Loureiro
Small house with a monumental shower / fala. Image © Ricardo Loureiro
L&W House / Fragment.  Image © Dennis De Smet
L&W House / Fragment. Image © Dennis De Smet

Other examples include non-residential projects like Lavabo Tri Suave or these mixed bathrooms without distinction of gender. Both feature pastel pink tiles (floor or wall) that were huge in the 50s, creating heartwarming contemporary spaces with a retro touch.

Tri Suave / Marília Zimmermann Arquitetura e Interiores washbasin.  Image © on Machado - MCA Estúdio
Tri Suave / Marília Zimmermann Arquitetura e Interiores washbasin. Image © on Machado – MCA Estúdio
Mixed bathrooms without distinction of gender / Giulia Carboni and Macarena Canales.  Image © Sebastián Mejía
Mixed bathrooms without distinction of gender / Giulia Carboni and Macarena Canales. Image © Sebastián Mejía

Thanks to their versatility and timelessness, ceramic tiles have been used in bathrooms for decades. In addition to being durable, low maintenance and lightweight, they are available in a wide range of colors, sizes, finishes and patterns, providing great design flexibility for various layouts and applications. Thus, they can be personalized according to the desired decor of the room, making this modernized retro style possible.

Bold lighting with metallic accents

When it comes to bathroom accessories, concepts like “lively” or “bold” don’t immediately spring to mind. But, a growing trend for colorful sinks, tubs and toilets with gold metallic accents will likely change that. Inspired by the 50s and 60s, tones like candy pink and turquoise are making a comeback and are combined with modern, minimalist shapes.

Private bathroom Puerto Vallarta / Studio Utkan Gunerkan.  Image courtesy of Studio Utkan Gunerkan
Private bathroom Puerto Vallarta / Studio Utkan Gunerkan. Image courtesy of Studio Utkan Gunerkan

For their part, chrome fixtures have long dominated modern bathroom designs, leaving behind the polished golden brass of decades past. But, nowadays, vintage-inspired golden tones have reappeared, whether in champagne bronze or brushed gold – and in natural, matte or shiny finishes. The golden trend is present, for example, in faucets, showers and accessories which, with colorful ambiances, convey a retro touch with a modern touch.

With this in mind, manufacturers like the British company Kast have developed a new version of its traditional sinks in pigmented concrete. Due to the great versatility and flexibility of concrete, these offer sculpted surfaces, very defined textures and vivid colors which, especially when combined with golden elements, convey a strong retro influence. Therefore, just add a few retro inspired elements to reflect the look.

Pigmented concrete sinks / Kast.  Image courtesy of Kast
Pigmented concrete sinks / Kast. Image courtesy of Kast
Pigmented concrete sinks / Kast.  Image courtesy of Kast
Pigmented concrete sinks / Kast. Image courtesy of Kast

Unique living patterns

Inspired by the pop art movement, interior design of the 60s was characterized by expressive textures, geometric shapes and saturated colors. So, he also saw a resurgence of heavy patterned walls with the use of tile, terrazzo, and fun wallpapers.

Today we are seeing a revival of these vibrant patterns in modern bathrooms, incorporating unique shapes and retro color schemes. This is the case with the bathroom at the Fagerstrom house, where the architects used green tiles for the floor and walls to create an immersive hexagonal pattern. Likewise, the remodeled bathroom in the HC house incorporates a geometric tile pattern with varying shades of bright yellow.

House Fagerstrom / Rune Claesson Koivisto.  Image © Åke E: sound Lindman
House Fagerstrom / Rune Claesson Koivisto. Image © Åke E: sound Lindman
HC / Wim Heylen House.  Image © Wim Heylen
HC / Wim Heylen House. Image © Wim Heylen

Other than ceramic tiles, terrazzo was huge in homes of the 50s and 60s until it fell out of fashion in the disco era. However, it didn’t take long for it to make a comeback in contemporary interior design, mainly due to its durability, design flexibility, and ease of installation. While modern bathrooms like the one in House P incorporate colorful terrazzo surfaces, others like in Cats’ Pink House use playful wallpaper that mimics the retro look of the material.

House P / STUDIO MDDM.  Image © Jonathan Leijonhufvud
House P / STUDIO MDDM. Image © Jonathan Leijonhufvud
Pink Cat House / KC Design Studio.  Image © Hey!  Cheese
Pink Cat House / KC Design Studio. Image © Hey! Cheese
Templo Deco, Elixir Bunn Roasters / AZAZ Architects.  Image © Abdulrahman Bayshout
Templo Deco, Elixir Bunn Roasters / AZAZ Architects. Image © Abdulrahman Bayshout

Just like in fashion, design trends keep coming back; but to survive, they must be reinterpreted, refreshed and combined with modern elements. When it comes to bathrooms, the key is balancing retro trends with contemporary, minimalist styles and setups. Only then can they be unique and vintage-inspired, while still being suitable for more modern buildings.

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