72-year old bathroom remodel

sable_caOctober 31, 2005

We are about to embark on a necessary rehab of our front bathroom. Our house was built in 1933 and is rather Spanish revival in style. I have two questions (and more later).

First: I had always thought that I'd replace or cover the floor. However, the other day I looked at it again and wondered if we should keep it (it's original). It's a standard one-inch white hex tile with occasional black hex inserts. It is not cracked or damaged in any way and has never even remotely leaked. The white tiles have, however, dulled a bit. Now I think that I can live with this if it means being true to the house. Can anyone think of any reason why we should not keep this floor? Any suggestions as to how to clean it (I've never used anything but the most mild soap and water)?

Second: the tub surround and bottom half of the walls are covered in white subway tiles with black trim, also original. They are deeply cracked and chipped in some places and must come down as there is no way to repair them. We will retile the surround, but I don't want to put new tile on the walls. I don't like the black and white motif on the walls, and in general am not fond of the tile look on a wall. I would like to resurface the bottom half of the walls with beadboard. Does this sound reasonable as to style? I love the look of beadboard and it's certainly being shown a lot in catalogs and shelter magazines. I would paint it a warm off-white.

I should add that we'd like to hold down expenses in this room, as there's so much else to do in our personal This Old House. Also, the room is very small and has an odd shape. The fixtures can't be moved and the footprint has to stay. The most I can do is to make it as true and charming as possible.

All suggestions are deeply appreciated!

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I have the same tiles on the floor in my 85 year-old bath, and when my plumber said that he might have to go through them to get to some pipes, I practically threw myself on the floor, telling him that he could go through the dining room ceiling to get to them, but he wasn't touching those tiles! So, that's my opinion about your floor tiles. Mine are also dull. I don't think it's a question of cleaning them, it's that their finish is worn. I'll be interested to see what kind of advice you get about that.

It's too bad that your subway tile is damaged, but since you're not all that fond of it anyway, I suppose that it's actually a net plus for you. You don't have to wonder about removing damaged tile. I personally like beadboard a lot. It's all over my house, but in places like walling off a part of the basement. They seemed to use it in places where it wouldn't be seen. I don't know what that's all about, but I don't see why you couldn't use it if you like it. It's appropriate to the age of the house.

Are you keeping your old fixtures? We have one original toilet in this house and I spent quite a bit of time and effort finding a new bowl for it when the old one cracked, but it was worth it.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2005 at 7:48AM
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I have white tile floor in bath I make it soaking wet spray on cleaner with bleach,scrub with brush to get in cracks.Let it sit a few minutes,when done rinse.It gets really white.I use diapers to mop up excess and just launder them when done.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2005 at 8:15AM
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I would never get rid of that original tile on floor! But then, I am all about keeping the old stuff if possible! I have the same thing in my 1928 bungalow and I love it. No, it is not shiny or new looking, but has such a "soft" feel when you walk barefoot on it. I just wipe it down with a mild cleaner with water. It is not truly "white" anymore, but has such a nice "patina" that I wouldn't trade it for anything.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2005 at 10:40PM
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Thank you all so much for your validation of our old floor! I hadn't thought about its having a 'patina', but you are right! And it is indeed rather soft on the feet. I will try Bulldinkie's cleaning suggestion, though my bad back won't allow for regular brush-scrubbing on my hands and knees! DH and I will share this job! And thanks, Vjrnts, for validating the beadboard idea. Suddenly the entire solution for the room has fallen into place!

    Bookmark   November 1, 2005 at 3:02AM
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Fori is not pleased

Do keep the floor tile! I'm concerned that beadboard would be wrong for that style house, so do make sure!

    Bookmark   November 1, 2005 at 10:35AM
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Keep the tile! Chances are it is an unglazed porcelain tile, so was never "shiny" like we think of tile today. It ages more like marble.

My house is Spanish/Mediterranean, too. I have floors and five feet of wainscoting of blue-green tile. The wainscoting is finished off with a crown-molding-like matching tile. It is not cracked, but it is very crazed. I love it, and wouldn't change it. But I like the look of tile.

Personally, I wouldn't use beadboard in the bath in my home. The design of my home (and, I'm guessing, yours) is too formal for that. If you're going to remove the tile anyway, how about paneled wainscoting? Maybe a raised panel (like cabinetry) with a nice top piece. That would give a bit more formality, but would eliminate the tile.

Do you have a separate tub and shower? If not, how are you going to handle the tub surround?

    Bookmark   November 1, 2005 at 3:48PM
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Your tile floor is irreplaceable. I've lived with tile like that & remember the feel & the patina. Friends are lucky enough to live with it now. The hexagon manufactured today is of lesser quality, stains, cracks etc. And it simply isn't worn smooth.

As for cleaning, I occasionally resorted to bleach in my old hex days. My tilesetter recently advised me to use vinegar so that's my latest cleaner to try. There is nothing like a velvety old hex floor, skinny grout lines.

I agree with Fori and Jakabedy about the beadboard. I don't think it's a good fit for the style, age, or attitude of your house, never mind the utilitarian function of the room. My big regret about our 1914 bathroom remodel is that we didn't take the wall tile line higher than the line we found. I should have considered showers, insulation, and heating have changed drastically since that room was born.

Your bathroom hales from a fabulous bathroom era! Have you seen any bath tile you like from that time? Have you checked out Jane Powell's Bathroom book? You may find something inspirational. The trick is to find a wall treatment that does justice to your floors. Since you're committed to tiling around the bath, your bathroom deserves a little research and dreaming!

Do you have any photos to share? I would love to check out your bathroom tile! Floor and walls, everything!

(And are you sure there's no way to work around your wall tile? Keep some? Take inspiration from it but go further?)

Here is a link that might be useful: Bungalow Bathrooms

    Bookmark   November 1, 2005 at 7:12PM
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Ask at the John Bridge forum about cleaning it. Good website with lots of info.


Here is a link that might be useful: John Bridge forum

    Bookmark   November 1, 2005 at 7:57PM
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I really appreciate all these suggestions and ideas. At the very least, I have fallen in love with the old tile floor and will definitely keep it. Yes, it does feel velvety, and we'll try the various cleaning suggestions.

Interesting comments about the beadboard. However, I don't know the condition of the wall underneath - probably not good, as the tile went in with the house. If we don't cover the bottom half of the walls, we'll have to resurface them to match the smooth thick plaster of the visible walls.

Jakabedy - our house is not the formal Spanish-Mediterranean style typical in California. It does have Spanish elements, but it's very long and narrow with a high-pitched roof (with red tile). Tub and shower are together and I'm retiling the surround with ceramic tiles with decorative inserts. The room is long - 7' and narrow - 30" - with a tiny toilet alcove and larger tub alcove. Two people cannot be in it at the same time unless they are very slim and have just fallen deeply in love!

Athomein - I have both Bungalow Bathrooms and Bungalow Kitchens. I love B. Kitchens, but was disappointed with B. Bathrooms, as virtually every picture shows tiled walls. I don't have a picture of the wall tile, but it is definitely not salvageable. From before our time here, it's deeply cracked in various places. Just a few days ago a ceramic bracket holding a small marble shelf (very ugly) collapsed, taking with it the shelf and some tile and chunks of plaster behind it. Also, although I know that the Paris Metro black and white subway tile look is popular now, I don't care for it for myself. My other option is to restore and paint the walls and have a tile 'chair rail' running the length of the walls. I would carry that into the tub surround. I don't know if that's an 'acceptable' solution though! Because the walls are only 30" apart, I have to be careful not to chose a treatment that will make them seem to close in on each other.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2005 at 3:54AM
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I would agree with the others about the beadboard. Even if your house is not heavy on the Spanish side the beadboard I think will be so 'country' looking that it just wouldn't look right. But that doesn't mean I would give up on the idea of putting something like that on the lower half of your walls. In both of the bathrooms that we've remodeled in our house we had to break out tile on the lower half of our walls and put in new drywall. After a whole lot of work you can't see the line between the old plaster above and new drywall below, but it was a LOT of work. It will be much easier to find a treatment for the lower wall.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2005 at 9:47AM
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An option occured to me,if you don't want to go with the expense of retiling, and don't care for it anyway, what if you plastered the lower part of the wall in a somewaht rougher texture, sort of that Venetian plaster look? It can be thicker than the upper smooth section, you would put in some kind of chair rail divider between the 2 sections. Not actual chair rail that they sell labeled as such, that wouldn't be quite fitting in this case. You'd need to look around for some kind of other trim. Maybe even something with a narrow ledge, not quite as wide as plate rail, since the room is so narrow you'd probably be bumping into it, but something similar.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2005 at 10:43AM
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I bet the tile in your bathroom is put in cement (mud). That stuff lasts forever. Best tile job you will ever see or get is in that floor. Keep it forever.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2005 at 11:36AM
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I am totally with kennybunker. I think just a chair rail and doing something different on the lower wall would make your life easier. What about just plain drywall (or whatever) below the chair rail with a different paint color than above? I see that alot on the HGTV shows. Please let us know what you do.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2005 at 6:09PM
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Sable-- you said the white isn't as white as it should be any more. One thing you might think about-- that white hex is, in fact, the ORIGINAL thru body color porcelain. The way they used to get the floor so flat was by, as lynxville suggested, mudsetting it, and then going over it with terrazzo grinders. You could do a variation of the same thing now, by getting in touch with a company that specializes in marble floor restoration. The same machines they use for refinishing marble would also do the same thing for your 1" white hex tile.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2005 at 7:44PM
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Wow, Bill! That's got to be the single most amazing thing I've heard on this forum. Seems logical. Have you ever seen it done?

    Bookmark   November 2, 2005 at 11:34PM
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I own an historic home in an old mining town in Nevada (Goldfield). We are about to embark on a total bathroom upgrade. We have the original clawfoot tub. All else will be new: pull chain toilet, tub surround, sink vanity, medicine cabinet, etc.

AND we would also like to install a new tile floor like the one being described in this forum - 1" white hexagon tiles with occasional 1" black hexagons. But I haven't been able to find a source of this flooring. Any suggestions?

Thanks--Jim, jnprice@pacbell.net

    Bookmark   November 17, 2005 at 1:32PM
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Fori is not pleased

Try Daltile or American Olean for the hex tile. Pretty sure one (or both) of them still make it, possibly even in the solid stuff. (I do know one of them makes the solid stuff in squares, but not sure about hex. By solid I mean the color goes through the entire tile; not just a glaze.)

    Bookmark   November 17, 2005 at 2:47PM
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Jim, I just did the same floor myself for my 80 y.o. bungalow. I got the tiles at a real tile store, but they did have to order them---good luck!

    Bookmark   November 17, 2005 at 2:56PM
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i used daltile for my bathroom hex tile floor........

    Bookmark   November 20, 2005 at 8:36PM
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