before and after

Before & After: A Mismatched 1950s Bathroom Gets Simplified

by Maxwell Tielman



Sometimes the biggest transformations take the longest amount of time to achieve, especially if you have something specific in mind. This is exactly what happened when Michelle Engel Bencsko, Creative Director at Cloud 9 Fabrics, decided to tackle her 1955 cape house’s downstairs bathroom. “Everything except the sink and toilet were original to the house,” she notes, “and it has been 15 long years I’ve had to endure it. We treated it accordingly and as you can see it was a downright eyesore. Over the years I started buying pieces for this room, hoping if I had enough that we could will the project to happen. Finally, this year, we took the plunge and we have our dream bathroom.”

It was not an easy process. As soon as the contractors set to work, they discovered what Michelle termed as “all sorts of wonders and horrors.” The original pipes in the wall, for instance, were so thick that the contractors needed to build a frame out with 1/2″ slats. The home’s original builders also used two sheets of sheetrock and an inch for tile and grout—things that needed to be removed. Ultimately, though, the headache of removing these things allowed Michelle to gain an extra seven inches of width in the space, something that, she says “really made a huge difference to this standard-size bathroom.” The room seems to have been worth the wait (and the frustration of working with contractors), though, because the final product is spectacular. All of the fixtures and furniture collected over the years are beautifully considered and compliment the newly simplified space wonderfully. The white paint (Benjamin Moore’s Decorator’s White) allows for the room’s moldings and permanent fixtures (like that awesome radiator vent) to shine. Check out the rest of the photos plus more of Michelle’s decorating notes after the jump! —Max

ba_michelle_2 ba_michelle_3 ba_michelle_4 ba_michelle_5

“Since it’s a main floor bath and not used as the main washing area,” Michelle notes, “we really went for aesthetics over practicality. However, it is the only tub in the home and so we opted for a luxurious – and rather diminutive – soaking tub. It measures only 53″ but it holds 18″ of water. We wanted things clean and bright and at the same time warm and inviting. ” Porcher Toilet from Faucet Direct.


Sink console, faucet, and medicine cabinet from Pottery Barn.


Ceiling light from Schoolhouse Electric.


Minka Lavery Vanity Lighting from Lamps Plus.


Marionette Tub from The Tub Connection.

Contractor Budget:

Plumbing: $3000
Electricity: $1300
Contractor: $7000

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  • Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful (except I would want the blue tub to stay – I used to have a blue sink toilet tub combo and it was cool).

  • Wow! I have always thought the 50s bathrooms were quaint, sometimes charming, with their colorful tile. But this looks amazing! Quite a transformation.

  • @fripperyvintage It actually says $15,000, which I was super surprised by. That seems pretty costly for such a small room; although the structural work that needed to be done probably added up.

    Love the simplicity of it! The white really brightened everything up.

  • Fripperyvintage…it’s not only 1,500…it says 15,000!

    The layout of my 50s bathroom is exactly the same – I have the same floor tile but someone has replaced the wall tile and tub. We replaced the vanity but we kept the floors because they are in perfect condition.

  • My bathroom is pretty identical to the before with regards to the layout but I don’t have the extra depth this one has.

  • $15,000???

    It’s pretty and all but the original had character and if restored would have looked a million bucks for the price of a colour matching toilet, glass shower screen and a lick of paint.

    Sorry but I think a mistake was made.

  • Double sheet-rock and an inch of grout? What on earth were they doing? It’s really awesome that you were able to gain all that extra space though. It really looks amazing!

  • I like the final bathroom, and I know the ENTIRE WORLD disagrees with me, but I fricken love 1950s and 60s bathrooms with the coordinated color tile and fixtures. Love them! Reminds me of my grandma’s all mint green bathroom. :)

  • 2 layer of rock and insanely thick tile cement is totally normal for 50’s construction. its odd to make a room try to look earlier than the period of the home. its a nice craftsman-y type bathroom. lots of things i liked about the original that are lost.

  • I preferred it before, would have been cool to see some of the original 50’s fittings and quirkiness being incorporated into the renovation.

  • I like it better before too! With a vintage (or vintage-style) sink and toilet, it could have been really adorable. Or, as Vicki says, at least incorporate some of the style into the reno.

  • I think it’s gorgeous and worth every penny. It’s timeless and elegant now. Kitsch begone.

  • This makes me sad. The after looks “great” but where is all the crap they had cluttering up the bathroom before. This room would have looked GREAT with some white paint (for the walls and trim) and and stand alone sink. They lost a shower and linen closet.

    “we really went for aesthetics over practicality.” Yep, 15K of aesthetics.

  • I LOVE this bathroom. The after shots are simply amazing. Also really liking that you’re including budgets now. It gives me a much better idea of what goes into something like this!

  • Awful. Tragic. Ugly. Boring. White. Instead of working WITH the midcentury charms of this ultra cute blue bathroom, she’s created yet another boring white and fake barn wood Ikea/Pottery Barn/Restoration Hardware hybrid. All ready for Pinterest. A damn shame. Every time a blue or pink bathroom dies, an angel cries. Or at least I do. ;) Save the pink bathroom!!!!!!

  • $15K?! I would have just replaced the sink and toilet with some that matched the tub and swapped out the yellow paint for something a little subtler. The bathroom could have been brought back to its 50s charm for a few hundred dollars and the rest of the money could have gone to something else, seeing as this isn’t even “used as the main washing area.” Why buy a 50s Cape and then gripe about the style of it? There’s a plethora of spa/hotel baths in various shades of white, off-white, and greige. Be unique and keep the original. Too late for this one, I guess.

  • $15,000! That’s how much we paid for our entire HOUSE!!
    While it does look nice, I’m sure there could have been a much cheaper and still simple yet lovely solution.

  • they spent fifteen thousand dollars on this bathroom? i’m not impressed with a makeover that sacrifices practicality for aesthetics. if they could do aesthetics and keep practicality, that impresses me. if they could do it for a decent price tag, that’s really worth writing about. the end result really seems kind of humdrum to me.

  • Our original bathroom was the pink variety, Jenee. And along with the vintage tile comes the vintage fixtures, the vintage teeny tiny shower (in ours, anyway), and other “vintage problems.” Yes it was cute but I was very happy to remodel it when we could. Now we have a white bathroom with blue Moroccan tile and I couldn’t be happier. And by the way, 15K is actually a very low budget when it comes to a full remodel. I know it’s a lot of money — but most bathrooms cost far more.

  • This looks great! That being said, for 15,000 it should! I mean yowwza! Perhaps this is the broke college student emanating from me, but why not thrift for some of the updates? It’s disheartening to see that kind of money poured into corporations like Pottery Barn… where’s the originality? It’s style-rich, but charm-poor. Just my personal opinion…

  • I think the bathroom turned out beautiful. My favorite part is the bathroom door and the hardware. I am actually looking for old doors and hardware to remodel my 50’s lake cottage which was made over in the 80’s… and I so wish they would have left it alone. They took out all the doors and hardware and put in flat plain boring doors with brass knobs. The only two things I have remaining are the blue tub, and the tile on the floor. I am trying to find away to incorporate the blue tub back keeping the vintage feel in a modern way if that makes and sense.

  • Beautiful, but I cannot believe you spent $15,000 on a bathroom renovation and you don’t have a shower. This may be great for you, but what about resale? If this were an episode of “Bang for your Buck” there would be a HUGE red downward arrow on that! :)

  • It looks like it was actually more than 15K. At the bottom of the article, it says the contractor budget for plumbing, electricity and labor was 23K. So my guess is the 15K is just for the materials and fixtures. Total is actually 38K. We redid our master bathroom; it cost about 20K. Amost half of that was repairing the damage from a leaky shower pan and creating a window. (The city made us hire a structural engineer to certify the window.)

  • $15,000? Guess I’m blessed to have a husband who could do it all for only the price of materials… love that guy.

  • Is the floor wood or the ceramic tiles made to look like wood. Also, I’m hoping that the $15,000 is only that high due to the complications mentioned, and not just the aesthetic. That’s a boatload of money to spend on one tiny room.

  • What did you do to waterproof the hardwood floors? My dad is a contractor and wants to know your secret.

  • Decorating a kitchen does not need to be an expensive undertaking.
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    do to eliminate this problem and prevent future problems.

    They are produced using hydraulic presses and high heat.