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Historic Bathroom Tile Designs: ORC Week Two

Designing historically accurate tile designs for a vintage bathroom renovation

Our California Bungalow is almost 100 years old and it only makes sense that we would try to bring back as much historic character as possible during our rebuild. That’s especially easy with bathrooms! Restoring a vintage bathroom can be costly but it doesn’t have to be. Let me show you cheap ways to replicate the look and character of an old bathroom…

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VINTAGE BATHROOM TILE IDEAS: Getting a historic bathroom tile look doesn't have to be hard or expensive. Here are cheaper ways to get a vintage vibe in your bathroom renovation.

When we left off last week, I showed you how our bathroom had been stripped entirely of its historic character and charm over the years. When we bought this house, we knew the style of the spaces wasn’t exactly to our taste and it especially wasn’t authentic to the style of the 1920s Bungalow home.

bungalow bathroom BEFORE renovation

The white tile in the bathtub surround was cute enough but the sandstone tile floors and the fake tile sheets on the walls were offensive to my sentimental heart. So we were happy to learn we’d have to replace them.

You can read more about our tornado damage and rebuild here: Historic Bathroom Renovation


I didn’t have to look far for inspiration for our bathroom renovation. When we first moved into this house, Christine found the above image from French Interior Designer, Marianne Evennou, and fell in love. She told me her secret dream was always to have a traditional black and white bathroom. That photo was taped to the back of our bathroom door as a reminder of her wishes until we ripped the bathroom apart for the rebuild.

From the beveled tiles to the skyscraper schoolhouse light fixture, that space is beautiful. But it’s also a space for an upscale Parisian loft. Our home is a 1920s California Bungalow. Since I wanted to remain somewhat true to the original style of the home, I knew a bathroom of that caliber would be too fancy for our little middle-class cottage house. So we dissected the image together, tearing apart the elements in the room that Christine loved the most.

For her, the two major elements of importance were the historic replica light fixtures and the color scheme. For me, I loved that Marianne incorporated square tiles into her design. So many people have opted for subway lately and I’ve gotten a little bored with the look. In fact, the entire industry has gotten bored with plain subway. That’s why so many tile manufacturers are creating upgraded subway that’s a lot more expensive than the 10-cent-a-piece stock tile of yesteryear. I knew I could use both subway and square tiles together to achieve an elevated look without the major expense of a fancy tile.

By combining a 15 cent subway tile and a SEVEN CENT square tile with charcoal grout, I was able to save a ton of money and still achieve the look of a gorgeous and unique historic bathroom.

vintage tile look on a budget - combining subway and square tiles for a modern bathroom with historic vibes.

For me, a handheld shower head is a must so I saved money on purchasing a full shower kit and just bought the trim kit separately from the manufacturer. Then I found a matching shower head for less than the one I would’ve inevitably placed in a closet and never used.

Black and White Bathroom: Shower tile pattern with a vintage flair - I combined subway and square tiles to create a more modern look in my historic bathroom.

Since so much of the original bathroom was lost to damage or prior replacement, we were adamant that we save the original tub, even with its flaws.

Historic Bathroom - Shower tile and floor tile ideas

We’re entirely charmed by the chipped cast iron and the fluted front. While it’s not the cast iron tub most people think of when they consider a historic bathroom, it’s exactly our style.

historic bathroom tile designs: playing up the charm in this original bathroom


While we originally considered mimicking the square and subway pattern of the bathroom with a squared porcelain mosaic (pictured below, courtesy of a recent AirBNB trip in Memphis) in the end, we knew we would be remiss if we didn’t opt for the hexagonal tile of our dreams.

Black and White tile floor in old bathroom

We live in a part of town where a lot of the commercial buildings are historic and have either the original entry tile or have created an homage in their entryways to commemorate the age of the building. We wanted our bathroom floor to have a similar “walking into an old business” feeling.

designing a hexagonal floor tile pattern

To achieve this look, I used my digital floor planning software and played around with black and white hexagons until something felt exactly right.

Here’s a high speed video of the process (which shows how I originally got the date wrong and Christine had to correct me):

Then, I handed the design over to our tile installers (Nashtile, for you locals) and let them work their magic.

planning a hexagonal floor tile pattern

The installation process was slower than usual because this crew is meticulous and they wanted to get every single element exactly right. They started by laying out the basic tile pattern in an adjacent empty room and then transferring it to the bathroom floor for installation.

installing a custom hexagonal floor tile design

Then they installed the entire floor pattern, minus the custom date design, and played with the black hexagonal accent tiles to get the placement of the date exactly right.

Renovating a historic bathroom - using a date in tile

We worked together to determine the best placement and they removed each white tile individually and replaced with black pieces BEFORE the grout was in place.

Black and White Bathrooms: A bold look on a budget

We opted to carry a border of black hexagonal tile around the entire bathroom floor in order to transition the space from the floors to the black walls. Once the appropriate black caulk is installed, this will make the whole room feel much bigger.

Black and White Bathrooms: Updating a classic black and white bathroom in a historic home to replace the original character

The tile installers used a piece of Schluter trim to butt up against the new hardwood flooring – negating the need for any additional threshold in the doorway and creating a seamless transition. (oh! and look at that little wallpaper sample sneak peek!)

An Homage to History In Tile: How we used our bathroom tile to make a statement about the age and character of our California Bungalow after losing (almost) everything original in a tornado.

I love the finished product! Not too frilly but definitely ripe with history.

Black and white tile designs for an old home

While we may have lost (almost) every retro element in this space, I love that the floor can serve as a reminder of how far this house has come. I hope it remains for another 100 years.


I’m featuring this project as a guest participant in the Fall 2020 One Room Challenge™, a biannual event in which interior designers take some time off their workload to focus on their own homes for a change. Participants are encouraged to spend six weeks finishing a room in their houses and cheering on their peers as they do it.

To see the other participants’ projects, click here.

Historic bathroom renovation - black and white tile

So now you’re caught up to speed! A lot of work in this bathroom was done by our contractors before we were able to move back in but there is still a TON of work to do in this room to call it complete.



We still have no storage (hello, floor towels!) and are using a tiny mirror over the sink. We have plans for a custom ceiling and wall moulding. And you saw that wallpaper up there, right? Plus, I can’t stand a shower curtain that doesn’t graze the floor and we do need a hint of color!

So stay tuned. I promise you’re going to want to watch along.

Until next week, stay safe and sane, loves. xoxo

tile design ideas for historic bathrooms


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